“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” — Billy Ocean
I looked up the meaning of the lyrics. When the situation gets difficult, strong people can step up and handle it.
There are times to step up and get through something difficult. However, sometimes pushing through something may not be the best answer.
For example, several years ago I thought it would be fun to learn guitar.
I’ve played music most of my life and love the sound of an acoustic guitar.
So, I bought my first guitar and signed up for lessons. Most days, I spent time practicing as it’s the only way I know to learn and improve my ability to play an instrument.
The result of my efforts is that I sold the guitar two years later.
The story I usually tell about this failed attempt is that my lifetime of experience with playing music has contributed to one part of the whole piece. (I.e. I’ve always played in concert and marching bands)
The guitar required me to be the complete musical sound, and I couldn’t overcome that challenge.
How’s that for a good excuse for not learning to play guitar?
Was I too impatient with myself? Perhaps my fingers were too wide for the neck of the guitar (I have large hands).
It’s more likely that I didn’t really want to learn to play guitar.
My reason for failing to learn guitar isn’t overly important. Although it’s telling that I didn’t give it much thought when I sold the guitar.
When you return to the Billy Ocean lyrics, should I have toughed it out until I became proficient in playing guitar?
In reality, I know, that had I tried to persist, my guitar would have been sitting in the corner collecting dust.
In business, when difficulties arise, the decision is often made to tough it out when something isn’t working out as planned.
One of the most common justifications for this is, “We’ve invested too much to stop. So, although we know there are big problems, let’s keep going.”
After the dust settles, everyone is patting themselves on the back and calling themselves resilient, successful, and celebrating the outcome.
However, at what cost?
Here are a few examples of when this happened:
The Canadian Government’s Phoenix Payroll system. Original budget: $57 million. Current budget projection: $2.6 Billion.
Throughout the program’s life, there were plenty of early indications of just how bad things were. They even had the opportunity to stop before going live, yet they decided to keep going.
After all this expense, government employees continue to be plagued with incorrect or missing payroll deposits.
And, the Phoenix story continues at $l2.6 Billion as they plan for its replacement.
To learn more about Pheonix I highly recommend the book: Pheonix: The Full Story of Canada’s Pay System Catastrophe — Author: David Sabine
Pheonix is a grotesque and colossal example of what I’m talking about.
There are also plenty of smaller examples:
- Smaller projects that don’t succeed in delivering a usable outcome and the outcome has a long—term negative impact on how people work.
- Ignoring toxic behaviours or conflict in a team, thinking things will be fine if we keep going.
- Staying in a job you hate by thinking all you need to do is be resilient. This will have a mental, emotional and physical impact on you.
When difficulties start feeling overwhelming, it’s time to pause and ask if it makes sense to be the one singing “the tough get going.”
What I like to do is ask myself or the team questions such as:
- Am I doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? (Einstein famously equated this to insanity.)
- Am I making an emotional or rational decision? (Note: Emotional decisions in business rarely work out.)
- What would be the benefit of continuing?
- What would be the impact of stopping right now?
When things are difficult, you have three choices:
- Change something.
- Accept something.
- Quit. (e.g. stop a project, find a new job, etc)
What choices are you making? Whatever your answer, ensure it’s a conscious choice.
You’ve got this.