We All Know About Success, But When Do We Quit?

Success is all around. It is splashed on the front pages of newspapers, on the covers of magazines and books, and on all forms of electronic media, including television, radio and the Internet. Being successful, and being focused the quest for success, is now part of the DNA of the American culture. Ask almost any elementary, junior high or high school student what they want to be and they will respond “popular.”
Of course, being popular isn’t technically the same as being successful. Most adults would say getting good grades and learning what is required qualifies as a better definition. But for a young person, that is how they equate and define success. John D. Rockefeller was extremely successful as a business person but hated by many people, not just his competitors.
In business success is defined as a growing company, solid customers and a good working business model with strong cash flow. Private companies tend to want to minimize profits for tax reasons and public companies try to maximize profitability for shareholders.
Allegedly, on the flip side of the coin there is failure. There isn’t much written about this topic, primarily because no one wants to admit that things didn’t work out. The spin is that even though something doesn’t work, say something positive, put on a happy face and move forward regardless. Considerable money can be made when failures are public; a good example is the story of the collapse of Enron. 
Talking about failure almost runs counter to everything in business. When something doesn’t work, the goal is to quickly and efficiently as possible, clean up the situation and never discuss it again. John F. Kennedy stated that “Victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.” Someone has to take the fall, be blamed, and forever more, be tagged with the burden of being the parent of something that failed, be it a business, a department, a project or a responsibility.
Elbert Hubbard (not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology) is credited with saying that “There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat from within, no insurmountable barriers, save our own inherent weakness of purpose.”
However, at some point, when things are not working, quitting is an option. Closing the business is possible. Stopping the project might be worthwhile. In other words, failure is an option. Getting out is possible, perhaps even preferable to continue doing what is being done.
The option of quitting runs counter to sage advice in books and movies and has been drummed into heads since childhood with the words of Vince Lombardi that “Quitters never win and winners never quit.”
Peter Drucker counseled Jack Welch many years ago. Drucker posed two questions that changed the course of Welch’s tenure: “If you weren’t already in a business, would you enter it today?” he asked. “And if the answer is no, what are you going to do about it?” Based on those foundation rocking queries, Welch established the dictum that if his company, General Electric, was not either first or second in every business they were in, they would swiftly create plans to jettison the underperforming businesses. 
Exiting those operations through shutdowns and sell offs could be considered failure. Isn’t quitting a business or an industry defined as an action taken by a loser? Yet the numbers proved that it was the right decision to make for the company. It seems that Welch had the good sense to admit wasn’t working, cut his losses and move on.
Failures abound, they are all around us. It is a shame, but more businesses fail each year than we care to imagine. We often choose not to see failure because it might strike just a little too close to home. George Lorimer said that “Because a fellow has failed once or twice or a dozen times, you don’t want to set him down as a failure till he’s dead or loses his courage.”



Thomas Duffy


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