Most of us are conditioned by the idea that winners never quit and quitters never win. Is that a reasonable thing to believe?
Never quit is a one dimensional response to situations where the desired result is not coming. Or not coming as quickly as we want. Quitting seems a useful response, but maybe we are near success and can’t see it yet. These are examples of what a football coach called, “Quiting on the two-yard line” Very near success.
The question should include more data. Am I on your two-yard line and almost ready to score, or am I on my two-yard line and 98 yards from success. In the real world, it is difficult to tell because we never have all the information we need to make a perfect decision.
The idea of quitting is further confused by the idea of a sunk cost. I already have invested this and if I quit I must lose it.
Sunk costs should not inform future behaviour. You should always proceed from where you are with the idea of optimizing the future.
If we are always near solutions, quitting is a poor move. Persistence is valuable. If you find yourself sticking with something only because of your previous time and money investment, you might want to reconsider.
Not quitting includes a variable many people ignore. Opportunity cost. Choosing something else might provide a reward and you don’t get it if you persist. Again the information shortage makes the analysis difficult. All the information we need to do a good analysis lies in the future and so is unavailable.
Quitting can often provide new enthusiasm and new problems to attack with skills learned in the first project. Enthusiasm is a useful advantage. Persisting in the face of difficulty can be frustrating or boring and often both. If you are going on to something else to avoid the boredom you should stop and reevaluate.
There is no perfect answer to be had.
Look outside your project. Sometimes the most difficult problems have easy solutions in another field of study.
Suppose you were concerned that Erdos-Renyi graphs didn’t deal with real world problems like clustering and closure. You could become stuck rather quickly and getting unstuck from within the problem is unlikely. Suppose instead you turned your mind to how crickets chirp together. Exactly as Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz did. You can find the result in the Watts Strogatz model. It deals with “small world problems” and is one of the 100 most cited papers.
Our minds like new problems. Too focussed is a problem. When Bill Lear was building the LearJet in the early 60s, he had the engineers working on two problems at once. The jet and 8-track tape players. When a jet engineer got stuck they went across the campus and spent some time working on the 8-track player and its tape configuration.
They often returned refreshed and creative.
It is a question of what exactly you are leaving behind. The purpose or the method. Giving up on a purpose is a much more serious issue than giving up on a method when you find another one with more promise.
Successful people reshape and redefine the purpose as they learn more and they try alternative ways, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of them to get where they are going. Good solutions evolve and evolution means giving up on the old as it is replaced by the better.
If you would not do what you are doing now if you had it to do over again, then continuing to do the same thing seems wrong. If you would try a different way you should.
Judging what problems to tackle and how, is an advanced thinking skill.
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