“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”
“When you start to suck, stop.”
This is mostly about business <although, I imagine, some aspects bleed into Life>.
In business we create false endings all the time. And I mean ALL the time. Milestones, quarterly objectives, standards, etc. We do this not just because people have a tendency to work better aiming at something but also because we suck at knowing when something has naturally reached its end.
Now. I have written about stopping, or closing down, when you start sucking and how difficult that is.
Back in 2012 I said “sucking is like quicksand. The harder you work to stop sucking the further you get sucked down into suckedness.” A fun idea to write about. but that is different than recognizing an ‘end.’ That is simply not recognizing you have given all you can and it is all downhill from there <diminishing returns>. I have written about ‘periods’, the stop punctuation, and the art of knowing when to stop. A fun idea to write about but that is different than recognizing an ‘end’ … that is simply about not recognizing when you should shut up.
This post is about knowing, and I mean really knowing. when something has reached its end. Knowing that it is time to close, close up … and move on.
Uhm. This is hard. Really hard.
And, speaking for myself and how I think philosophically, I know I make it even harder. I once wrote about running through the end of project … I called it “riding to the buzzer.” Riding through things you are working on makes it a little more difficult to recognize whether you ran through a milestone or through its natural end. I say that because here is where a natural end truly becomes sneaky … 99% of the time it doesn’t appear as some brick wall or solid stop.
Sure. ‘The end’ most likely does have a stop sign around if you pay attention. More often than not any sign there is, is most likely covered up by some overgrown bushes which have never been trimmed. It seems a little strange because one would think we business people would be better at seeing ends and when to close up on something and move on. I mean, what the hell, business is strewn with milestones, objectives, deadlines and a slew of ‘people created’ ending points. Yet, most business people suck at the really important ability to know when something has reached its end.
We are not particularly good at it with regard to a company <uhm … companies actually do have life spans>.
We are not particularly good at it with regard to employee initiatives <once in place we have a nasty habit of thinking it should be an ongoing ‘organizational culture tool’ which enables consistent behavior>.
We are not particularly good at it with regard to existing products & services <what happens when there is actually something better to be offered?>.
We are not particularly good at it with regard to sales objectives <what happens when our stated audience is … uh oh … sated?>.
In fact. What we are particularly good at is getting whatever it is that we want done into a “doing” mode and then developing a whole slew of ways to nudge it down the road. I imagine if I stick with that metaphor I could suggest we suck at not seeing any stop signs because we are too focused on nudging and tweaking the engine and replacing shoes so people can keep walking down that road. But ‘being over’?
Whew. We hold on way beyond the sell date. Everyone does <me included>. It is natural.
Letting go. Everyone talks about it like it’s the easiest thing. Unfurl your fingers one by one until your hand is open. But my hand has been clenched into a fist for three years now; it’s frozen shut.
All of me is frozen shut. And about to shut down completely.
It is natural because of the dreaded “what’s next?”
Yeah. In order to acknowledge an end, to close up shop and move on, you have to know what’s next. And not only that … you kind of have to already have a plan in place or at least a road to bus everyone over to where they can get off and start walking. Maybe that is where we business folk suck the most. It’s not that we don’t know when to stop we just don’t know how to start again. Start anew.
About the only time we are actually good at it is within a ‘forced end.’ As in … we have no choice.
As I typed that I thought about, well, a different kind of business — the business of having a band and the arrival of the Foo Fighters after the death of Kurt Cobain:
“There were people that really resented me for starting this band. ‘How dare you start another band?’ They asked me ‘Why did you decide to carry on and make music that sounds like Nirvana?’ and I said well, wait a minute – like, loud rock guitars, and melodies, and cymbals crashing and big-ass drums?
‘Cause that’s what I do. What do you want me to do? Make a reggae record?”
When viewing the music industry and bands and individual artist you can find a lot of examples of forced ‘doing what needs to be done and moving on’ as well as ‘well, it is time to move on’ type endings <we business people should think about that a little>. When forced … talented business people do what needs to be done.
Unfortunately most of business doesn’t really create this kind of ‘forced decision.’ Most times we simply try and squeeze whatever we can out of whatever we have. And we squeeze until there is nothing left <way beyond the ‘end’>.
Ok. What to do. This is solvable and relatively easy in the scheme of things.
It is a version of ‘planned obsoletion’ <which I have always been a HUGE fan of in business> … but your senior management team needs to sit down on occasion and not do ‘blue sky thinking’ but hunker down like a military plan of action and say “we won this ground and what ground do we attack next.” This includes an attitude which says we will aggressively pursue that plan <so it is not just a plan but a plan of action>.
Far too often we look at the ground we have won and seek to consolidate it and, well, consolidate it. Squeeze and squeeze and squeeze. And, on occasion, we fool ourselves into thinking we are truly exploring ‘what’s next’ by saying ‘let’s take that hill just outside of the area we currently occupy.’ We make it sound like some massive effort that will refresh us. Instead we are investing significant resources on a less than significant objective. I am certainly not suggesting that incrementalism does not have a role in business strategy but rather we far too often use incrementalism to ignore the stop sign we just walked past. I am not a big SWOT analysis guy nor am I a big ‘white space’ business guy. I am more a pragmatic “this is who I am and this is what I am good at and I don’t care who I may compete against or what they may be currently doing I believe ‘these x’ people will like what I have to offer and I am going to go get it” business guy.
In a growth situation <which, by the way, I tend to believe any healthy organization should always be in> you should be seeking to grow. To expand. To think of ‘saturation’ as a swear word. To always be thinking about how to shake-the-etch-a-sketch so that stagnancy <in sales, attitude, behavior, thinking> never sets in.
To be clear. Sure. I believe you should always talk with your innovations/new product pipeline people because they may have some new widget up their sleeve you can go and expand your business with but, more often, you will be successful by looking at what you have now and finding new ground to attack with that. I have found your new widgets just have a tendency to cement the ground you have already won more often than not. Keeping with the military analogy I often tell businesses to think of their business modeling with an ‘occupation force’ team with a separate “attacking army” team mindset. Especially if you are in a growing category you almost have to have a “win this ground and move on” attitude or you can get stuck in a grind-it-out business war.
Regardless. It is important to know when something has reached an end. If only because it permits us business folk to close it off, leave it behind, not invest more energy squeezing something that has really ended <even though we do not want to admit it> and move on to the next chapter of our business life.
“Do not fear to lose what needs to be lost.”
Sue Monk Kidd