Don't be a hero

TJL #148

Story

Don’t be a hero

A lot of times it’s better to be a quitter than a hero.

For example, let’s say you think a task can be done in two hours. But four hours into it, you’re still only a quarter of the way done. The natural instinct is to think, “But I can’t give up now, I’ve already spent four hours on this!”

So you go into hero mode. You’re determined to make it work (and slightly embarrassed that it isn’t already working). You grab your cape and shut yourself off from the world.

And sometimes that kind of sheer effort overload works. But is it worth it? Probably not. The task was worth it when you thought it would cost two hours, not sixteen. In those sixteen hours, you could have gotten a bunch of other things done. Plus, you cut yourself off from feedback, which can lead you even further down the wrong path. Even heroes need a fresh pair of eyes sometimes—someone else to give them a reality check.

We’ve experienced this problem firsthand. So we decided that if anything takes one of us longer than two weeks, we’ve got to bring other people in to take a look. They might not do any work on the task, but at least they can review it quickly and give their two cents. Sometimes an obvious solution is staring you right in the face, but you can’t even see it.

Keep in mind that the obvious solution might very well be quitting. People automatically associate quitting with failure, but sometimes that’s exactly what you should do. If you already spent too much time on something that wasn’t worth it, walk away. You can’t get that time back. The worst thing you can do now is waste even more time.

(Source: Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried)

How this can make you a better leader

Sometimes it makes sense to give up. You don’t have to do everything alone. Don’t try and be the hero. It is often much more productive to stop, take a breather, and ask for some outside perspective. Then, with this new perspective go at it again.

Try to follow the guideline described in the story. If you’re stuck on something for more than a week try to bring in other people to take a look. You won’t be able to play the hero, but you’ll finish what you wanted and that seems to me like a great deal.