Staying Too Long

By Lloyd Graff

Maria Konnikova, doctor of psychology, journalist and professional poker player, said that the hardest but probably most rewarding lesson she has learned is that to win consistently you have to fold when you see you are likely to lose, even after making a sizable bet on your hand.

This is a life lesson I see playing out vividly in the days of COVID-19 for people in business. In the machining industry, smart leaders shut down plants early in April, cut people or furloughed them, even if some were great workers they would have recruited with bonuses in 2019. Many also saw it as an opportunity to trim the marginal troublesome people who they will figure out how to do without even when business is strong again.

We also see the wrestling match between staying the course and cutting your losses in pro sports. 

The Chicago Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback who played only 13 games in college but was considered by some to be the next coming of Tom Brady out of high school in Mentor, Ohio. Ryan Pace, the Bears general manager, traded up one spot with the San Francisco 49ers to draft Mitch #2 in 2017, ahead of Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson. In his three pro seasons, Trubisky has been mediocre at best, ranking last among starting quarterbacks in the NFL last season. 

Yet Pace is bringing him back this year, though he signed journeyman QB Nick Foles to compete with him. Pace has refused to cut his losses. He has apparently not been willing to fold his losing hand after making a high stakes bet.

In baseball, the Cubs threw in their cards in 2011, hired new management, and cleaned house on the field. After three miserable seasons but several great draft picks and trades, the Cubs made the playoffs in 2015 and won the World Series in 2016. GM Theo Epstein is at the crossroads again this year with a fading team. He still has young players like former MVP Kris Bryant, who appears already to be in decline, and he has a pitching staff with no young stars. The question Cubs fans are asking is whether Epstein is waiting a year or two too long to throw in his cards for another tough rebuild.

Personally, I have found that changing course in business is the single hardest thing for me to do. Admitting an investment is a mistake, firing a nice person who is a mediocre employee, or worse, changing a direction that proved successful for many years but seems like it has lost momentum now, is extremely difficult for me.

I have also seen bad marriages linger for decades in some cases because of the sunken costs of children, familiarity, and financial security, which hold people together when the love is long gone.

Maria Konnikova said that she gave up more than one long-term relationship after internalizing the lesson of walking away from a losing hand in poker. Teaching this kind of resiliency and flexibility to children, and hopefully making it a part of your own DNA is much harder than tossing in a pair of aces. 

Question: When have you stayed too long?

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8 thoughts on “Staying Too Long

  1. fred f

    I read trade magazines for news and ideas about the machining industry. I have zero interest in ball sports. If I did, I’d read Sports Illustrated, etc. It’d be nice to read articles about machining here instead drivel about the authors favorite sports news,
    Maybe I stayed too long with TMW.

  2. Dan M.

    In an abstract way… I see your request as akin to asking a Michelin star Chef to serve you chicken parmigiana… Its gonna be good, no doubt…. but at the same time a Chef needs a deeper effect to intrigue those taste buds…. especially when you can offer the best analogy (suffering cubs lore) for making the point as delicious as possible for the reader…
    Lighten up, Francis.

  3. al

    dan, i loved the lighten up Francis ending. gave me a good laugh.

    i was smart enough at 13 to give up on the cubs in 1970, so i dont have a big problem with staying too long. i have only been married for 39 years, so we are just getting to know each other by now.

    my shop has has only made 8 huge changes in the last 20 years. those changes required reprogramming all 300+ jobs. 1. cam brownies manual secondary equipment 2. cnc brownies 3. servocam brownies 4. a&k full cnc brownies 5. automated loaded manual equipment. 6. edm carbide form tools in house 7. haas vertical cnc 8. swiss machines. from 25 people to 3, same sales.

    i think it is important to constantly improve, its the only reason i am still in business.

    lloyd, obviously i am not interested in the cubs, but i understand your love of the cubs, machining and writing. you always have an interesting point.

  4. Todd

    I also don’t care about baseball, however I really enjoy the way you write about it. In this article specifically, I think it reflects a a great analogy to the machining business and life in general. You always provide a thinking man something to think about. Keep up the great work!

  5. Lloyd Graff

    Fred, this particular piece was not really about “ball sports”. It was about sticking with a bad hand too long because of the investment you have already committed to the hand. Winners jettison the cabin furniture when they see their boat sinking no matter how nice the pieces are and what their emotional attachment is to them. This is the idea I was hoping to get across by using the sports analogy that I and many of the Swarf readers do connect with. I am sorry it did not work for you, but the concept is extremely important to me and most readers.

  6. Mark

    We are living in an incredible time. It’s being on a train that has come off the tracks and is headed into a swamp. Over half of the shops I’ve serviced hold on too long because of personal attachment to their team and/or product. It’s extremely painful but choices have to be made. Survival of the fittest, almost sounds like a pun. There is a chance of new work, brought back from China. Necessity breeds ingenuity and it’s going to take some serious ingenuity in the coming years. Keep it small, Keep it all. Stay alert, match your feed to the speed and do go too deep.

  7. Bill Badura

    I prefer survival of the most adaptable over survival of the fittest. Knowing when to
    make a move is part of that. The world is constantly changing, but what most of us reading
    TMW do will be needed in the foreseeable future. It might look a bit different though.
    Just a thought: Maybe ask for some machining related topics that fred f and others are not seeing discussed.
    Personally, I have an interest in any tips to putting valuations on shops. Also, thoughts on buying and selling used cnc mills and lathes.
    Please keep up the good work.

  8. Leo

    MLB Baseball, unlike most businesses, has the benefit of being “fail-proof”. As you know, the Cubbies stink more often than not, yet they still manage to come back every year and usually make profits. However, even in baseball, change is coming. The game needs to adapt to garner younger viewers even at the risk of driving away the purists.

    My business is in the middle of a deep strategy review. Is what we’re doing the right path post-Covid? What about the next 20 years?

    It’s hard to change, but absolutely necessary in business.

    Love reading the blog. Keep writing about sports – fred f can drivel off.


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