Saturday, 22 October 2011

If it doesn't improve, let it go

Few things in life are as difficult as acknowledging mistakes, in particular those that we have made out of conviction. Choosing an unsuitable profession or marrying the wrong person generate a myriad of negative consequences. Many who suffer from those situations hang to their errors with unshakable determination.

Why do we feel such a strong urge to deny our mistakes? Why do we often devote efforts to looking for excuses rather than solutions? Refurbishing a building with structural problems is pure waste; even if you paint the ceiling and plaster the walls, problems will remain and continue to grow.

In retrospect, it is easy to identify dead-end projects. If we look back at Alexander the Great, we can see that his dream of conquering the world was a foolish adventure. Similarly, if we look back at the Byzantine Empire, we can see how the erosion of principles ruined its legal system.

On the other hand, acknowledging that a beloved current activity may be a dead-end project is a whole different question. Human beings seldom stop detrimental actions even when errors become apparent; instead, we come up with a hundred reasons in favour of continuing what is manifestly unworkable. We do not want to lose face by admitting that we have made a mistake.

Sustainability marks the difference between difficult undertakings and dead-end enterprises. A feasible plan leads to a better future; a hopeless proposition, to endless nightmares. High-quality service leads to satisfied customers; wasteful chaos, to regrets. Learning valuable skills leads to increased productivity; senseless memorizing, to unbearable boredom.

Although there is no foolproof formula for identifying dead-end projects, experience provides us with effective guidelines. The sooner we recognize a losing pattern, the faster we can correct it or escape it. The following eight questions can help establish if a project is worth pursuing or not.

[1] Does it create assets or liabilities? Valuable undertakings provide the foundation for a better future; detrimental activities destroy resources. The worst sort of ventures are those that create permanent liabilities. Never embark yourself on an enterprise that requires you to make disproportionate commitments.

[2] Does it involve dealing with nice people or unpleasant individuals? Dead-end projects attract bitter persons who relish in sharing their misery. Enterprises that possess a culture of aggressiveness hire workers who are nasty and mean. Those environments are not conductive to success; seek out kind people and do your best to avoid the rest.

[3] Is your project inspired by reason or by prejudice? Rigid preconceptions constitute a disadvantage in the age of globalisation and internet. Prejudice cannot provide a sound basis for cooperation and friendship. Avoid projects based on cultural bias; instead, choose activities inspired by reason.

[4] Does it develop valuable skills or is it just a hobby? The best games make us acquire useful habits and think for ourselves; similarly, the best sports improve our overall physical condition. In contrast, dead-end activities have restrained scopes with no wider application; they are doomed to remain hobbies forever.

[5] Does it have a local or international focus? Minority languages, despite their many charms, cannot match the array of possibilities offered by English, Spanish, French, and German. Projects with strict local focus provide few opportunities for growth and learning. Activities with a global view allow participants to meet many interesting people.

[6] Does the project encourage production or consumption? Activities that consume a massive amount of resources cannot be carried out for long. If you work in the field of development, choose projects aimed at building up productive skills in the local population. The purpose of sustainable development is to provide individuals with know-how so that they can generate a steady income for themselves.

[7] Does it create a feeling of adventure or routine? The best enterprises possess high goals that motivate participants to perform everyday activities that often are unchallenging or boring. Inspiration transforms routine into adventure. Undertakings that do not provide an ennobling vision of the future will rarely be worth your time.

[8] Does the project encourage growth or simply tries to prevent decay? History changes markets and fashions; the clock cannot be turned back. Worthy activities follow current trends and attract new customers; in contrast, unworkable projects attempt to maintain dying traditions; they have already lost the race against time.

Stop wasting time on dead-end projects. As soon as you identify a losing pattern, discard rationalisations and analyse your motivation. Shun activities that keep you running in circles; instead, seek out opportunities for growth and learning; choose projects that enhance productiveness, cooperation, kindness, and friendship.


[Image by MOmilkman under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]