by Leon Rosenshein

You're Sunk

Ever been in one of those situations where you know you’ve almost got something figured out so you keep trying? You dig and dig, making small steps until you finally reach a solution. That can feel really rewarding. But sometimes you look around afterwards and realize that while you might have ended up in the right place, the route you took to get there was suboptimal.

There are many potential reasons for that, and one of the more common is the sunk cost fallacy. The idea that you’re close to a solution and the time/money/effort spent on the current approach makes you feel like the best answer is to keep going on the same path. It’s certainly easier to just keep going. You don’t need to change direction. You don’t need to admit to yourself (or others) that you made an incorrect choice. And anyway, plugging along has worked in the past, so you expect it to work again.

The first thing you need to do is recognize the situation. And that can be hard (see above). One good way I’ve found is the WTF rate. If it starts going up, you might be in a hole. And like that digger, the first thing to do is stop digging.

The next thing to do is reevaluate. What were the assumptions going in? What have you learned since then? Are you really closer to a solution? What are you not doing because you’re so focused? Who should you be asking for help/advice?

It might be that staying the course is the right answer. You might be working on an onion problem. Getting configuration in a complex system correct the first time is like that. You don’t know what you don’t know, and the only way to find it is ask someone who’s done it or get to the problem and fix it yourself.

Or, more often, it’s an XY problem, and the best thing you can do is get out your rubber duck