Last night was the finale of Australian Survivor. I'm not even going to pretend to be embarrassed about my love of Survivor, because I unashamedly love it. I love watching the relationships and the scheming and strategizing.

As is Survivor tradition, the last immunity challenge is about enduring discomfort. Last night they lasted six and a half hours! Staying up there took serious grit. But does that mean that Harry and Pia we're quitters when they asked to get down? Were they being soft by not staying until their bodies convulsed uncontrollably?

Some people would probably say yes, they gave up. Winners never quit. Grit is what it takes to be successful in life. That's the David Goggins approach for sure. "You got to callous your mind". And I think there are circumstances where this is worthwhile. But not all the time.

Just over 10 years ago, I somehow found myself taking on the role of being project manager to implement an oncology clinical information system at the hospital where I was working. I was in no way qualified to do this, but no-one else would even try. Unlike other people I was open to whatever opportunities came my way to see what I might learn. And learn I did.

There was a bit of political pressure to make this work, because the project had been funded by a charitable grant, there had been a recent error which ended up in bad publicity and it was already behind schedule and over budget by the time I took it on. But it was very obvious to me very early on that there was little to no chance it was going to be successful. As is the case with most software implementation, there's no such thing as a plug in off the shelf solution. Managing the change of workflows and all the human and governance stuff is a lot of work and it's really important. So if you can't get the key players engaged in working on it, it's just not going to happen.

It's not like I just passively accepted this. I worked really hard to try and get things happening. But no-one wanted to do the actual work and I couldn't do it for them. So at the end of the day I had to be brave and tell the executive sponsor and all the powers that be that even though they'd spent a lot of money (the project had been going for some time before I took over it) it was my advice that the best thing to do was pull the plug on it. I have to tell you, it was not an easy thing to do. It took quite a few repetitions of this message escalating over time for it to be heard. Nobody was happy with me. But it was definitely the right thing to do.

I wonder how often this happens, that people are willing to admit defeat even if it makes them look bad? I suspect it's more common to hold on to your pride and keep pushing until someone else tells you to stop. Maybe that's one of the reasons why projects blow out their budgets so often, because we're not accustomed to taking pause and checking in that everything is going ok. Instead we just react and adjust our timeline, move the targets out further and further.

I don't agree that winners never quit. I think knowing when to quit shows intelligence, and sometimes it may even be the braver thing to do.


You may also like: