Tuesday, 28 July 2009

How to decide when to quit and when to persist


Nowadays, in these times of financial crisis, you will rarely find a business book that does not recommend you to use stop-loss orders. The idea seems to have taken over also the field of psychology, where you will be encouraged to quickly drop anything that does not make you feel good.

The justification behind this advice is that one should not devote resources to enterprises that have little chance of success. Tribal marketing, the latest trend in business thinking, has taken this principle to new heights, emphasizing that one should only embark in ventures that aim at groups that can be defined, identified, and reached.

Don't swim upstream, you will be told. Go with the flow, they preach. If it doesn't float, let it sink, you will be urged at every step. Read the writing on the wall. Follow what everybody knows. The trend is your friend. Nobody ever got anywhere by stepping out of line. There is only one truth, which is the majority view.

Luckily, this overwhelming consensus does not mean that you should quit worthwhile endeavours that are not producing positive results in the short term. Paying attention to market signals is a sign of wisdom, but more often than not, giving up is the wrong lesson to draw. Here is why:
  1. Innovative projects frequently create their own markets. This process is slow, but extremely rewarding, both in private and business terms. Hundreds of currently popular products were initially ridiculed and misunderstood.
  2. Entrepreneurs love to draw their own targets. Their efforts are not aimed at satisfying yesterday's fashions. New products and services are frequently conceived to meet consumers' desires in ways or formats that had never been tried before.
  3. The perception of problems and solutions depends strongly on the personal characteristics of the observer. Statistics can only aggregate elements of reality according to established points of view. In contrast, entrepreneurs add value by questioning assumptions, disputing traditions, and reformulating options.
Stop-loss orders are meaningless without a proper assessment of context and perspective. Saying that you will quit such and such if you do not score a certain number of points within three months is usually a foolish approach. Projects of great magnitude are frequently completed only after overcoming dozens of opposing forces.

For major life decisions, do pay attention to the market, but learn to decipher its signals to your advantage. Do not sell yourself short by quitting too soon.

In times of great uncertainty, stock market valuations are extremely volatile. The price of commodities can shoot twenty per cent upwards and then crash a week later. If your horizon for attaining happiness and success is longer than a week, reason will usually lead you to persist rather than quit.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by insane photoholic under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]