If you can’t card count, when do you double down?

Growing a fast business can feel a lot like being stuck in a Vegas casino in the early hours of the morning – giddiness, exhaustion, fear, exhilaration, adrenaline when it works, devastation when something fails.  Essentially, the concept is the same, in that you’re making multiple bets on differing outcomes and hoping that enough work that you come out ahead.  So, without card counting, how do you know when to double down on something and when to quit and walk away?

There comes a point in every project, product build or new business initiative when you need to face the fact that in its current form, it’s not working.  At this point you have a number of options: you can carry on as you are, you can double down by increasing your spend and your focus on it, you can pivot or - you can just quit and walk away.  Whichever option you choose, here’s the most important thing to remember – you have learned something. It’s crucial that whatever happened, whatever the outcome, you have learnt a lesson and taken it on board – to fail and not to learn anything from the experience or to forget what you have learnt, is foolhardy.  So, however the ‘cards’ have fallen, the first thing you must do is work out what you learnt from the experience and what you need to remember going forward.

But still the question remains – what to do?  

In the first instance it is crucial to be objective – it’s all too easy, especially when it comes to a project you have invested heavily in from a spend, time or emotional perspective, to let objectivity slide and subjectivity take over – this is an error.  Just the same as when you make a mistake, it’s great to get the feedback from the team.  What’s working? What are the possible solutions?  What went wrong? What could have been done better? What can be salvaged, if anything?  However they too can be consumed with subjectivity – no one wants to call time on a project when they have invested so much effort trying to make it work.

One really useful trick is when you’re first starting out on a project - any project - always clearly define what the parameters for success and crucially the parameters for failure are.  It’s easy to define success but more important is to define partial success or by another definition, partial failure.  Where is the boundary between partial failure and actual failure?  What are the soft boundaries and where are the hard boundaries when it comes to spend, timelines, a minimum viable product, etc.  While it’s one thing to decide these, what is really important is that they are both written down and communicated to the whole team.  Which is important for two key reasons. (1) it holds you accountable to a third party and (2) it ensures that even if you don’t want to call it, your team members have a documented and agreed mechanism for forcing you to face facts.  

There’s a third positive psychological reason as well...  

Everyone knows that if you want to run a marathon, take part in some fitness event or any other kind of challenge, it’s good to do it for charity.  This is not just useful motivation and for a good cause, but it has a more proven benefit – by publicly stating what your goal is and what your intentions are, taps into a deeper human instinct, that the only thing worse than failing is being seen to fail by others in your social group. Humans are social ‘group’ based creatures and psychologically, the motivation to visibly succeed in the eyes of the group will always help drive determination to succeed.

So, whether you double down, pivot or quit, the important thing is to have objective, pre-agreed definitions of not just failure, but the boundary with and definition of partial failure, and to have communicated this in detail at the start of the project to the entire group.  Even if you quit at least you will have learnt something.

Who needs card counters anyway?

If you like this blog, find it useful, or think it’s interesting, please share it and if you have any questions at all please feel free to comment – I am always open to a conversation.

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