“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Remember that from your high school football coach, or your piano teacher, your personal trainer, or your dad? (The original is attributed to the great Vince Lombardi.)
What if they’re all wrong? (Sorry, Vince.) What if quitting is your fastest path to success?
By now, everyone’s talking about “quiet quitting,” giving less on the job to preserve your energy, your work/life balance, or your sanity. But according to Annie Duke, author of a new book, “Quit,” staying on where you’re unhappy and doing less and less is the opposite of quitting. She defines quitting as walking away from the things that aren’t working so you can focus on the one or two things that really matter and have a chance at success.
In her book, Duke tells the story of Stewart Butterfield, who was a tech developer with a success record (he was one of the founders of Flickr), a new product, loyal investors, and millions in the bank. After a sleepless night in 2012, he decided that the multiplayer online game he was working on just wasn’t going to make it. He emailed his investors the next morning to tell them he was quitting and giving their money back. It wasn’t worth another minute of his – or their – time.
Butterfield pivoted to an idea he’d developed for his software company – an internal communications product that didn’t even have a name. Two days after he quit the game project, he named the communications tool “Searchable Log of All Conversations and Knowledge.” You know it as Slack, which Salesforce bought during the pandemic for $27.7 billion.
Duke says that winners are winners not because they don’t know how to quit, but because they know exactly when to quit. And they quit more often that average people. Picking winners is in part the art of dropping losers.
Ms. Duke, who is a decision strategist, learned about quitting in one of the best laboratories in the world: professional poker. She had to leave school because of health issues before she could finish her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology. So she finished her education playing poker, winning millions of dollars and a World Series of Poker title.
Se says poker players are some of the best decision makers in the world because their judgment is not clouded by emotion or conflicting goals. They play to win, and if the hand they’ve been given is not a winner, they let it go. In fact, professional poker players play only less than 25 percent of the hands they’re dealt; amateurs play 50 percent of their hands.
Duke says we play like amateurs most of the time, holding on to things long after they have lost their potential and their joy. We do it because we hate the idea of quitting. It feels like failure. (We mostly ignore that tiny shiver of exhilaration, relief, and freedom that also comes with quitting.)
The problem with optimal quitting, Duke says, is that it feels like early quitting. “When you’re a good quitter,” she says, “you’re reading the writing on the wall that nobody else can see.” By the time everyone can see it, the optimal quitting time has passed.
One of the most important concepts I learned in graduate school was the idea of “sunk costs,” costs which have already been incurred and which are unrecoverable. In business, they should never be considered when making an important decision because they are irrelevant. But worrying about how much time and money you’ve already spent on a project or idea is one of the things that keeps you tied to something you should quit.
“But I’ve already invested ten years at this company.” “But we just remodeled the kitchen; we can’t move now.” “I know I hate my major, but I’ve spent two years on it; I’ll have to start over.”
Duke says quitting is a decision that should stand alone as you face forward. She says Butterfield’s decision to quit wasn’t the right decision because he invented Slack. It was the right decision. And then he invented Slack.
Here’s a phrase that may help you get started. “I don’t have to do this anymore.” (You don’t.) You can quit.
What should you have quit a while ago? What will quitting free you up to do?