Strategic Abandonment

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?