Strategic Abandonment

Published: July 11, 2014

Make your list today. What should I stop doing? In a workplace of unprecedented complexity, running faster and working harder only grows the problem. There's no good way to pack 15 lbs. of potatoes into a 10 lb. sack. It's time to abandon something. Subtraction is useful math.

The gap between capacity and complexity is ever-widening. The resulting tension is the fuel for creativity. Sometimes, an “ah-ha!” moment explodes when we discover a new way to approach an old challenge. Other times, making a “stop-doing” list clears space for innovation. Let’s consider some criteria for strategic abandonment:

  • Is the task obsolete?
  • Is the activity in the bottom 20% of my priority list?
  • Is the project misaligned with my natural strengths and talents?
  • Have I been practicing a self-defeating habit?

Two years after publishing Good to Great, Jim Collins shared his thoughts on strategic abandonment in a 2003 USA Today essay:

“A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit—to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company, or most important of all, a life.”

What’s on your strategic abandonment list?


Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.