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talent; the flip side of this thinking is that you view failure as an
indication that you lack some of the talents you thought you pos-
sessed. The outcome is all the more important and maybe even
something to be dreaded.
Cutting your losses is at least as difficult, especially when you
have to admit a degree of failure. We naturally tend to avoid any
admission of failure, so it’s tempting just to let things continue
in hopes that somehow a turnaround will occur. It’s also hard to
let go of something you’ve started and maybe taken a liking to –
consequently you have trouble giving it up. When stopping
something means disappointing other people who have a stake
in the project, the emotions run even higher.
Let’s take a closer look.
CROSSING THE FINISH LINE
Les Hirsch received national recognition for his tenacity in keeping
Touro Infirmary operating in New Orleans in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina. Les told me: ‘I can’t overemphasise the impor-
tance of sticking with something and getting it done. So many
people have the right ideas, get started working towards them,
and may even get most of the way there. Then they lose sight of
their goal and give it up before completion. What a waste of time!’
Steve Hansel, former CEO of a large bank, added his ideas to the
discussion. ‘I always tell people that the ultimate productivity is
to do it right the first time. To do it right the first time, you have
to finish it.’
But, according to Dan Packer, ‘Everybody has trouble finishing
things. I’ve had problems finishing things for one reason or another.
I’ve always thought I had a reason – an external reason – but the
reality is there’s usually an internal reason and an external reason.
You might also call the external reason a “compelling event” that
forces you to make a decision you had already been working over
Exclusive discussion with Les Hirsch, March 2008.
Exclusive discussion with Steve Hansel, March 2008.
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MASTER THE MOMENT
Time spent working on something you don’t bring to completion
is probably time wasted.
‘Take for example, the period in my life when I stopped school the
first time and joined the Navy,’
Dan said. ‘My father just had a
heart attack, and both my sister and I were in school. My sister
had a scholarship, and I was on a partial scholarship. We still
depended on my Dad financially. He was working three jobs and
my mother was working two jobs.’
‘This was in the 60s,’ he continued. ‘We both chose to go to private
schools. My sister went to Xavier and I went to Tuskegee. It was a
very tumultuous time in the United States. One semester – just
after Martin Luther King got killed – we took over the campus.
George Wallace’s wife, Lurleen, was officially the Governor, but
George was really the one running the state.’
Dan, who is African-American, explained, ‘The Alabama National
Guard, which was all white at the time, came on campus with
tanks and personnel carriers. I can tell you that was a scary time!
Somehow we finally got that all straightened out. Everybody went
home, took a breather, then came back. We had been out five or
six weeks. I was an engineering major. That next fall I was wor-
ried about my Dad and I thought maybe what I should do is leave
Dan went on: ‘The political climate was hard and my Dad had just
had a heart attack. I added it all up and decided to leave. I could
have added it all up and decided to stay. Other people might have
done that. I’m not sure which way was right, but that’s what I did.
I left, joined the Navy, and got married.’
‘Sometimes I think about it and say that others who were with me
finished school and got their degree on time,’ Dan said. ‘Then again,
they may not have had the family problems I had. I thought Debo-
rah, my sister, was smarter than me. I thought it would be easier
for me to go in the military. I just wanted to stay out of Vietnam.