Expensive Sentences: “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now”

There’s a fine line between perseverance and stupidity.

If you’re Caesar at the Rubicon, or President Muffley in Dr. Strangelove, you may be out of options. You have to stay the course.

Business scenarios, however, rarely reach that level of drama or total commitment. Even so, you may have heard some of these Expensive Sentences® on your team recently:

  1. “Implementation was a nightmare… I’m not going through that again.”
  2. “The contract’s already in legal – it’s too late to talk to another vendor no matter how good or cheap they may be.”
  3. “It took months to get the board’s approval on this plan – we can’t go back now with a re-work.”

All are variants of that ancient wisdom that “you can’t change horses in mid-stream.”

So… can you? The answer depends on the horse, the stream, and the rider. Here’s a three-part method to sort it out:


Part One: Should you change?

Walk your team through this instant diagnostic:

  1. Knowing what we know now, would we start with this plan/solution/vendor, or something else?
  2. If a competitor came to town without your constraints or history and was determined to do it the best way possible… how would they do it?

Note that 1. and 2. are essentially the same question, but you may need to push 2 to foster blue sky thinking outside your current situation. If you can get an honest answer that implies change, then it’s time for the next part…


Costs of Delay Whiteboard


Part Two: What would it REALLY cost to change course at this point?

Take ten minutes at the whiteboard to brainstorm three columns:

  1. All areas of cost / impact to date
  2. What’s been invested so far (not exaggerations, but valid ballpark estimates)
  3. From this starting point, what would it cost in investment and delay to get up and running on the alternative path?

The imperative in column 3 – and the real value of this process – is to ignore all sunk costs and focus only on future outlays. Don’t assume that everything spent to date would be wasted if you change course. Which of your learning / training / setup investments would still retain some value in a different scenario?

Despite the clarity in economic textbooks, ignoring sunk costs seems to be one of the hardest things to do in business. (In life, too… have you ever held a grudge?) But if you don’t “get past the past,” your decision will be dominated by memory and emotion rather than of opportunity and data. Maybe you’ll get lucky and land on the right solution; maybe you won’t.


Part Three: Decision Time

This is subtraction – Part 1’s opportunity minus Part 2’s cost. If it’s close, you may need more depth in your analysis, or maybe you can conclude that the scale of benefit isn’t worth further pursuit. But now you can stand on analysis instead of cubicle theatrics. (“Alas, we’re past the point of no return!”)


A political proviso…
Know your environment: some cultures embrace failure, learning and change more than others. A change of course invites questions and (sadly) can be viewed as a failure. Major projects are ALWAYS political, so a naysayer may be defending his own reputation and career. It’s better not to corner the guy in the corner office…


The trash-heap of failed endeavors is littered with teams that stayed on the wrong path too long. On each of those teams, one person had the regrettable distinction of being the first to say: “it’s too late to turn back now…”

Don’t be that guy.

Here are some other Expensive Sentences® that you need to be aware of in business:

Expensive Sentences: Common Buying Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Bottom Line

Expensive Sentences: Urgency Doesn’t Have To Cost You

Expensive Sentences: Why “We LOVE Your Product” Can Hurt You


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