The Sunk Cost of Time

There’s a meme, or a quote, or whatever you call it – I suppose if there’s a picture it’s a meme… is that how that works now? Anyway, there’s a meme/quote that goes something like, “Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a long time making it.
 
Lot of weight in that little sentence there. Powerful stuff.
 
What’s in it for us artist-business types?
 
Well let’s see if you’ve ever heard any of these phrases fall out of your mouth (or just echo in your head):
 
 
“I paid for this meal, I’m going to eat it,”
…even if you feel like you’re about to puke…
 
“I can’t get rid of those jeans, I paid too much for them,”
…never mind they’re too small/big/out of style…
 
“I paid for the tickets, I’m going to the show.” 
…even though you have a raging fever and chills and a headache..
 
“I’ve put three years into this relationship. I’m going to make it work.”
…don’t even get me started…
 
 
In business terms, a “sunk cost” is a cost that’s been paid, and can’t be recovered. You paid for the tickets, or the jeans, or the outdated business cards…. you can’t get that cost back. It’s gone, out the door, never to be recovered.
 
Sure, you can force the whole meal down. And feel awful.
 
You can leave those old jeans taking up room in your closet. You could even pull them out and wear them. While you shove down that meal you don’t want to eat that you already paid for…
 
Then you can force yourself to go to the show you were so looking forward to because you already paid for the tickets. And feel magnitudes sicker, be sick the next day or more. I have just the jeans you can wear….
 
Or you can cut your losses. 
 
Put down the fork, toss the jeans and give away the tickets. 
 
Looking at this from an objective perspective that makes a TON of sense, right?
 
Guess what? 
 
Works for business too. 
 
Any of THESE phrases have a familiar ring to them?
 
 
“I’ve always done it that way.”
 
“I’ve been doing this so long… I should be farther along.”
 
“I’m not marking them down… It took too long to make them. They’ll sell. Eventually…”
 
“I’ve put two years into this collection. I’m not dropping it now.”
 
“I paid a lot for those boxes… I’m going to use them up.”
 
 
Let’s unpack these:
 
“I’ve always done it that way.”
 
Yes, you probably have. But WHY have you always done it that way? On purpose? Or out of habit? And in the immortal words of Dr, Phil, how’s that working for you?
 
If it’s working, business is humming, and your production is fast and flawless – AWESOME SAUCE. Don’t change a thing. (and drop me a line with your secret)
 
If, on the other hand, things could be humming faster… You might could be getting more sales… Production could be easier, faster, less expensive with less culls. Then maybe “the way you’ve always done it” ain’t necessarily the best or only way. Just maybe. Unless things are perfect there’s always room for examination.
 
 
“I’ve been doing this so long… I should be farther along.”
 
Why? Have you been doing it well? Faithfully? Pivoting when the turn signals showed up? Listening to the market? Staying sharp and watching the road signs? Or have you been on cruise control? 
 
Expecting a level of success simply because of time on the clock is the equivalent of expecting to learn something just because you paid for a course. You have to actually do the work.
 

Here’s a nasty secret. Entrepreneurship isn’t like the corporate world. There are no guaranteed raises. You don’t get to “put in your time” and expect a gold watch and a 401k.

 
You can put in 40 years and have NOTHING to show for it. Nothing. 
 
Or you can spend five, and set the world on fire. It al depends on you – and the winds of luck.
 
 
“I’ve put two years into this collection. I’m not dropping it now.”
 
Everything we do in business is, to some extent, an experiment. Everything. No matter how certain your data, your hunch, or your finger in the wind, it’s ALL a guess. 
 
Remember: Even Apple Fails. 
 
Remember the Macintosh Performa? Or the G4 Cube? How about the Pippin? The Newton?
 
If Apple can fail, why on earth shouldn’t you and I be able to?
 
Failure is part of growth. If you are “doing it the way you’ve always done it”, sweetie you are not growing – and that’s probably a large part of why you’re stuck.
 
 
It’s an elusive, magical combination of luck, persistence, knowledge and networking. With a liberal application of “light on your feet” – being ready and able to pivot when the market tells you you’re wrong, and not clinging to an idea past its prime like rotten fruit because you simply can’t let go.
 
So if that collection isn’t clicking after two years… let it go. Know when to cut your losses and move on. The time and money are already spent. You can never get that two years back. But you can keep “throwing good time after bad”, to paraphrase an old saw, or you can shake it off and start anew. 
 
 
 
“I paid a lot for those boxes/stones/business cards/whatever… I’m going to use them up.”
 
I’m sure you did. Little is inexpensive these days. But if they’re  not serving you, for whatever reason – they’re not selling, they’re not cohesive with your current branding, or your branding needs an overhaul – get over it. Mark them down, give them away or pitch them. 
 
 
Basing your tomorrow on a decision you made yesterday is crippling. Our today is fluid. It’s always changing. The situation, our needs, our resources, knowledge, networking, abilities, even our desires. Why would you shoehorn yourself into a path dictated by a decision you made yesterday – that may or may not have even been the right one at the time?
 
Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a long time making it.
 
Cast off old, bad or tired decisions, designs, materials, branding, whatever it is that’s holding you back. If it’s not working, cut it loose. Burn it, mark it down or give it away.
 
Let it go.
 
NERD NOTES:
 
 
 

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