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When quitting is empowering

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Last week, I wrote about the three most powerful words I know.

You can catch up with that here.

This week, as promised, I’ll get into the two most empowering words. Again, credit goes to Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of the best-selling “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics,” and now “Think Like A Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain.”

Just like “I don’t know,” these two empowering words go against the grain. Take a good look at them and think about how they make you feel:

“I quit.”

Nobody likes to be called a quitter. Conventional wisdom is filled with pithy sayings meant to spur effort, including “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”; “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits”; and, of course, “Nobody likes a quitter.”

Even popular music gets into the act – from Sammy Kahn’s persistent ants moving rubber trees to Jerome Kern encouraging people to beat themselves into the ground trying even when success is out of reach. (“You may be sick and tired/but you’ll be a man, my son.”) By the time we’re adults, we’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated.

But those contrarians, Leavitt and Dubner, point out that knowing when to quit can be the sign of a true winner. Quitting is not the same as failing.

You entrepreneurs out there – you’re familiar with the advice to “fail fast.” It’s the same idea. It means cutting your losses sooner rather than later when you see you’ve put resources into a bad idea. The trick is in learning to let go at the right time. But the more time, money, energy and emotion we’ve invested in something – whether it’s a project, a person, a relationship – the harder that is. And frequently, the money is the least of it.

Think about the last time you let someone go from your workforce. Chances are that was a difficult decision, because to that point you tried hard to improve that employee’s performance through coaching, training, even warnings and threats.

Dropping a new product or closing a branch office can be as much about public image and personal pride as it is about the bottom line. And there’s always that nagging thought that if you try just one more thing …

All of that trying can cost you missed opportunities elsewhere.

How can you get better at failing? This blogger has a good idea: When you write your business plan, don’t include just what success looks like, define the conditions under which you will acknowledge failure.

Draw all the boundaries, not just the wall you’re aiming for when you swing for that home run.

Know when to let it go.

The week ahead

Despite waning membership, Pennsylvania remains the one of the largest union states in the country. While conservative forces are growing more vocal and active on pro-business legislation, union influence on public policy and legislation continues to be strong. Reporters Jason Scott and Joe Deinlein have spent weeks gathering data and talking to stakeholders in this usually adversarial relationship. In this week’s issue, they present their findings on the state of the commonwealth’s unions and what the future may hold.

This week’s Inside Business focus is on the retail market in the midstate, with lists on jewelers, breweries and wineries.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here. And please note, the Business Journal's’ offices will closed Friday for the July 4 holiday.

The rewind

Despite its dubious advice, I do like Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up.” It’s got a catchy tune, and nobody interprets it better than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “Swing Time.”

Finally, in honor of our nation’s birth, here’s an update on that eagles’ nest in Pittsburgh. The eaglets have taken wing! (Here’s the live cam.)

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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