When is it OK to admit defeat?

August 19th marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe.  Of the five thousand Canadian troops that stormed the beach that day, 900 died within hours and over 2,000 more were either wounded or taken prisoner.  The Battle of Dieppe was bloody and it failed to meet any of its objectives

The first attack date, set for July, was postponed because of bad weather.  When it was rescheduled for August 19th, the original plan had been scaled back.  There would be no parachutists in place behind enemy lines and the pre-mission bombardment of the coast was off the table.  Many things went drastically wrong: 1) An accidental encounter by the Allied troops with a small German convoy meant the element of surprise was gone.  2) They landed on the beach late, in broad daylight instead of semi-darkness.  3) The tanks barely operated on the beach.  The tanks were caught in the open by German gunners, their tracks spinning uselessly on the stones.

Terry Copp, military historian at Wilfred Laurier University noted,

“As in life, the world of business and God knows, in the world of universities, when a project gets far underway, it is really, really hard for anybody to say: ‘This is not going to work.  Let’s not do it.’ And that in some ways is the most important issues raised by Dieppe.”

Looking back, it’s easy to suggest that once the element of surprise was gone, the mission should have been called off.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

Very few of us will ever have to make a decision where that many lives are in the balance, but many of us have been or will be in a situation where we need to answer the following questions:  “Do we continue?  Do we pull back and wait for another day?  Do we cancel now and cut our losses?”

In a world that preaches perseverance in the face of all odds, of never giving up, of staying the course, when is it ok to give up?

One:  When you know you or your team are not strong enough or prepared enough.   When limitations are viewed as growth opportunities instead of weaknesses, stepping back or giving up provides you time to strengthen your position.

Two: When the potential cost outweighs the benefit.  Sometimes we get so caught up in a new idea or a pet project, we forget to closely examine the real benefits associated with the project.  New projects and new ideas take time; they expend creative and financial resources that could be spent elsewhere.  Where will you realize the biggest return: on your pet project or on another one?

Three: When the cost of potential failure is too high.  I don’t believe in letting fear of “what if’s” rule the day.  Great things and deeds have been accomplished because people took great risk.  I do believe it is important to be fully aware of the cost of failure, especially when your decision to move forward puts the physical, spiritual, emotional or financial wellness of others on the line.

What do you think? When is it ok to admit defeat?

5 thoughts on “When is it OK to admit defeat?

  1. Pingback: knowing when to admit defeat « LYNN DAUE —

  2. Laurie,

    I agree with you and Broc. This is a very challenging issue.

    But the one lesson that stands out most to me is to always take the things that you and Broc mentioned into consideration, so the best choice is made at all times. However, the choice that seems best at the time may take us down a surprising path. If that happens, we just have to reevaluate the situation and do the best we can.

  3. That’s a tough one. We can never know in the moment, only in hindsight. There are so many stories of people achieving great success because they pushed on just a little bit more past the hopelessness. And there are just as many stories of the folly of pursuing lost causes. I suspect the questions to always consider are: What is the ultimate outcome I want? Is this still the best way to reach it?

    • The difference between persistence and blind obstinance is a thin one. I like the two questions you posed. Taking an objective look at the situation and the outcomes is important. It’s the objective part that is so hard!

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