When should you quit?


How do you know when to keep going on a project and when to quit?

You may have spent years and invested large sums on a particular strategy. Can you just walk away or should you just try for a little longer?

One approach put forward by Chase Jarvis, the CEO of Creative Live, is to ask yourself two questions.

  1. Is it working?
  2. Do you still believe in it / does it bring you joy?

The first question seems relatively easy to answer – it should be possible to measure it in many cases.

For example, are prospects interested, are you able to get appointents, are sales growing, are you reducing costs, have you started to do something quicker or is your team happier with the changes you have put in place?

The second question is a little more fuzzy – what does it mean to believe in something?

Soon after Jack Welch became the CEO of General Electric (GE), one of the largest companies in the world (with a history back to Edison, the inventor of the lighbulb), he decided that each of GE’s businesses would either rank number 1 or number 2 in its global market or they would exit it.

Five years later, GE was a more focused group and remains a global powerhouse of a company now.

Could this be stretched to mean that Jack Welch decided to stick with businesses he belived in?

What about hiring? Some top consultancies have policies where they routinely invite the people that rank in the bottom 10% of their performance assessments to leave.

Does this mean that they stick with the people they believe in?

Some might argue that this is a actually an absence of belief – these companies are getting rid of the ones they don’t believe in rather than keeping those they do.

Regardless of the exact meaning you ascribe to the second question, if the answer to both is no, then you should probably quit. And soon.

If the answer to both is yes, then you should probably increase your commitment, double down in betting terms, and put more effort into the project.

When you have a mixed yes/no set of responses, you need to consider things a little more carefully.

If you believe in something but it isn’t working, you need to figure out whether you’re right and everyone else is wrong, or whether the market is right and your approach is flawed.

This is a hard place to be, especially if you are personally invested in an idea.

This is often when you need to “pivot”, the term adopted by Silicon Valley to mean a change of strategy and direction.

Sometimes, pivoting is essential to succeeding. For example, did you know that You Tube was originally a dating site, Nokia was a paper maker and Nintendo made playing cards?

Then finally there is possibly the hardest quadrant, one where things are working but you don’t believe in it.

That is a time for questioning.

If you operate in an environment that is unethical, where you have forms of corruption or where you need to compromise your principles in order to make money, do you carry on because the returns are so good?

Or, in a less malign setting, what if the principles that underpinned your original entry into the project are no longer valid?

It seems like the most powerful use of this framework is when it helps you choose what to retain rather than what to discard.

It may not be easy, but you would think that doing more of what works and what you believe in is the way to maximise your chances of eventual success.

Conversely, changing direction or quitting may be essential before you can move forward once again.

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