Do you know when to quit?

- February 3, 2010 3 MIN READ

Never giving in can sometimes lead to flogging a dead horse. But knowing when to quit and when to stick is a business skill that many of us struggle with.

On reflection I’m not so sure Winston Churchill was right when he said, ‘Never give in, never ever give in’.

In the context in which he said it, it’s fair enough, but the stand-alone quote can be dangerous if just blindly followed. That’s true of many quotes of course; in context, they’re fine, but in isolation they can be misunderstood.

Sometimes it’s okay to quit

Google (Notebook), Coca Cola (New Coke), and Sony (Betamax) know this, and have all quit on products or services.

The guy down the road from me struggling to sell a heavy, paper-based time management system designed in the ‘80s doesn’t seem to know that it’s okay to quit.

He may have mastered his time, but the future of his business makes me apprehensive. He might think he’s comfortable selling what he knows, but things for him are going to get increasingly uncomfortable. I suspect he’s about to get a lesson from the school of hard knocks.

Don’t quit too easily

Part of the problem is that we enjoy a positive vision of an outcome and our initial energy and excitement for a project sees us making great progress in the early days or weeks.

But then, we hit difficulties. We lose energy to other distractions. We see problems ahead that we never saw before.

Our markets change over time and we don’t always stay engaged with them and their needs. After a while progress slows and the initial excitement is replaced by resistance and frustration.

And then? Most people quit. When perhaps they shouldn’t have.

It’s the same old pattern. Don’t be surprised by it! It was part of the deal of taking your project on in the first place. It was in the small print you didn’t read.

Most successes involve enduring this phase and just getting through it. If this phase didn’t exist, we’d all be highly successful in everything we chose to do.

This is the phase that sorts the winners from the losers. Seth Godin calls it The Dip and has written a whole book on the subject that I highly recommend to you.

But do be prepared to quit

Sometimes you really should quit. But how do you know when you’re in The Dip and when it is seriously time to pull the plug?

Simple. Define the circumstances under which you’ll quit before starting your project.

What circumstances or feedback would tell you that you’re truly at a dead end and there’s no way around? Define the information you’d receive that convinces you there’s no long-term gain to be had.

Be thorough. Write it down and frame it: “I will only quit when…” Then stick to it.

When the going gets tough, the tough read their pre-defined quitting conditions, and then they get going.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business plans section.

Don’t quit when you could change course

But be careful. If you do think it’s time to quit a market or a major vision of yours, there’s still room for error.

What if you only need to quit your various approaches, products and services and replace them with better approaches?

You don’t always have to quit the ‘big’ thing. You can quit plenty of the small things until you find what works and what suits your resources, business and brand.

You’ll notice that Coca Cola didn’t close up shop altogether after the failure of New Coke!

Fish where the fish are

I think the guy down the road should quit the heavy paper-based product and work out how to get it online or onto handheld electronic devices. His core market for paper-based time management systems, if not already, is soon going to have plenty of time on its hands anyway.

If there’s no wind, your kite won’t fly. He shouldn’t quit his market, or his desire to help people manage their time if that’s his passion. He can still do that, but if he cares about his market he should provide the tools that suit them, not him.

Unfortunately, many people fail to see this and when the going gets tough end up quitting their whole business, or the market altogether.

What have you learnt about sticking or quitting a project? Do you know when to quit? Tell us about your experiences below.