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September 11, 2008

When to walk away

Godin's Dip is as obvious as it is brilliant. When you first start something it is fun, interesting and you often get quick results. Sounds like 90% of the projects you have been on right?

And then... all of a gets hard. Hard to keep up the enthusiasm, the comments, feedback and results start to appear less frequently, and the swarm of supporters dwindles down to the hardened core.

This is when it counts. This is when you can decide to turn it into a shining success, or to do what most people do...and quit.

"We didn't have management support"
"They (whoever that might be...) didn't put the effort into cultural change"
Or even..."They weren't smart enough to implement what we advised" (Shocking when you read it huh?)
Or you could face the reality - you quit when most people quit. You quit when the going got tough.

The important thing to do when a project hits the skids, and you start to experience a low point in the roll out is to decide whether this is a Dip, or whether this is never going to improve.

A hard call... one many companies have thrown a lot of good money after. And one that takes a lot of courage to turn around.

I watched one of my mentors do this. He joined a project that was in trouble. They had spent over $50 million on an IT boondoggle, and it was his job to bring it to an end and to drag some value out of it. .

He didn't.

What he did was realize, sooner than most of the other people in the room, that this was not a dip, it was a dead end. The project was never going to achieve what was asked for in the first place, and even some of the underlying thoughts and concepts were starting to look shaky. In any case, in hindsight it didn't warrant the extraordinary spending that had been thrown at it so far - and there was little value to be gained by throwing more.

A fascinating study - watching him shut down a project worth more than I have the courage to tell you, face down the angry consultants, and explain this to an agitated, embarrassed and enraged board.

But it taught me one thing, and before I ever read Godin's book The Dip - if it is a loser, and there is no value in keeping it alive - then it is alright to quit.

But if there really is a potential upside, and you have the facts, trends, belief or just plain courage to go after it... then The Dip is what makes great careers.

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