The courage to give up

«Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change and keep going or choose to give up in the face of adversity, so we emerge stronger, wiser and more able».

I’m inspired that “choose to give up” is included in this definition of resilience. Choosing to give up can be stigmatized in the face of adversity. It’s typically portrayed as quitting, and experienced as discouraging failure and loss.

But choosing to give up is an important option in resiliency.

Knowing when and how to consciously ‘choose to give up’ calls upon two critically underdeveloped skills in leaders and change agents. That’s not a judgement; it’s an observation and learning from +3,800 interviews over 5 years with individuals working at all levels in the field of organizational transformation.


Two skills worth developing to improve your ability to choose to give up are: 

  • The ability to Influence
  • Experimention capability

As with any genuine desire to change, we start with understanding the current state. What is your current capability to influence others? How well do you run an experiment? How can you tell? 

Rather than linking you to some prefab assessment tool, take a quiet moment and ask yourself: What mental models inform my approach to influence? What tools do I leverage? How have I iteratively refined my approach with a particular group, or over time? What are the results of my efforts? When was the last time I was able to successfully influence a person? A team? What did it lead to? In what ways am I most powerfully influenced? Recall one attempt to influence that failed, and the learning it brought.

How well do I experiment? What was the last experiment I did? How clear was the hypothesis? What were the variables? Did I seek to validate or invalidate my findings? Did I do so? What did I learn? How did that change how I did things going forward? In what specific ways have my experiments improved over time? Recall one experiment that taught you nothing. Why?

Please be open to the answers reflected back at you, and give yourself time to think about this. Try not to convince yourself that you’re a top influencer and master of experimentation.

We’re seeking with great sincerity to reveal the weaknesses in our practice.

We do this honestly in order to fortify and make ourselves more resilient human beings for our families, teammates and communities in times of exponential change. 


Many well-intentioned people try things (note, trying things is wonderful, but it’s a fraction of experimentation), and either:

  • Get the result they want- and carry on. Or
  • Don’t get the result they want, and try more things.

Trying things is data collection, its investigative; wonderfully helpful, but only one piece of the puzzle. In the above results, (A) will backslide, (B) will accumulate, obfuscate and overwhelm.

Working backward from the symptoms to the disease, do these results ever happen for you at individual, team or organizational levels? Backsliding? An accumulation of data? Obfuscation of what’s happening? Overwhelment in the team? A movement then, from trying things, to experimentation.  

Experimentation is a way to discover value. Loose experiments = approximations of value: slightly better than opinions and intuition, but not much.

How to conduct a proper experiment outside of the realm of lab science? That’s another series; here let me share the WHY, and the link between Experiments and Influence as it relates to Resilience. Because if in a given situation, resilience means making a choice to give up, I want you to give up confidently, in strength, purpose and service to your own resiliency. 

In good experimentation, we seek to Invalidate our accumulated learnings, biases and assumptions. This is counterintuitive to every bit of ego and social conditioning tactic we’ve been raised, taught, promoted and successful with. It also goes against the grain of a fundamental concept underlying influence known as consistency. 

Why do we seek to invalidate our hypotheses? Because the inviolable truth is the one that, in present condition and given a falsifiable hypothesis, you can NOT invalidate; it holds up against the experiment. If you settle for validating your assumptions, you are blindly accepting false hope. Forging ahead on a false positive is commonly referred to as willful ignorance. We’re stronger and smarter than that. We’re resilient. 

However, even if we choose to acknowledge and put aside our ego and conditioning (both firmly present in the act of validating our ideas) in service to something bigger than ourselves (generous nod here to the importance of your true north), there remains a psychological factor at play obstructing us from achieving resilience by way of choosing to give up. It’s a ‘weapon of influence’ referred to as ‘commitment and consistency.’ 

When we study our problems, we: identify the performance gaps, understand the objectives from the customer’s point of view, analyze the ‘why’ for a deep and reasoned understanding of root causes for those gaps between performance and objectives, then seek to systematically countermeasure through experimentation to achieve the Value-driven outcome…. Even then, we will still encounter challenges, obstacles and barriers to enacting new outcomes: like invalidating our own ideas.


Here’s why it’s hard, and why making effort to strengthen your own abilities to influence (by learning and shaping what factors are at play when we seek to influence) and experiment (by thoroughly running disciplined experiments as a way to sharpen OKRs and scale organizational learning) is critical to your resilience and continued success, even when resilience means choosing to give up.

In his book Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini exposes specific “weapons of influence” as fundamental behavioral rules observed and repeatedly demonstrated through myriad real-life scenarios then dissected and proven through scientific studies. What Cialdini shares about the principle of “commitment and consistency” explains why the idea of choosing to give up is seldom considered the best option, even when it repeatedly proves to be.

From Cialdini, on consistency:

«Good personal consistency is highly valued by society. Generally consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life. A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. By being consistent with earlier decisions, one reduces the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations; instead one merely needs to recall the earlier decision and to respond consistently with it».

It’s no mystery how a status quo develops and how compelled people are to hold themselves consistent with prior beliefs even as conditions change. In relation to the act of experimenting to validate our assumptions, we can see through Cialdini’s work that we are conditioned and societally rewarded to do so:

«The desire for consistency (is) a central motivator of behavior».

I wonder if the concept of saving face (a core social value in Asian cultures) originates from an acknowledgement of our innate desire to hold consistent.

There’s another thing too- a good experiment will walk you straight into the unknown. You have to be willing to be wrong, and willing to face your own ignorance if you are genuinely experimenting to learn.

However, like a riverbed, our minds are deeply pre-set, and “automatic consistency can supply a safe hiding place from troubling realizations.” Change takes courage.


About commitment, Cialdini’s numerous examples demonstrate the compelling psychological need for individuals who have made an initial commitment to agree to additional requests and actions that are in keeping with the prior commitment. Once made, a commitment will start generating its own support. And then the compulsion for consistency kicks in: a mindless cycle effectively keeping you from recovering from setbacks and adapting well to change. This is when resiliency is found in choosing to give up. 

The combined understanding of [how to invalidate your hypotheses through experimentation] and [the influential forces of commitment and consistency] will support and encourage you when you «choose to give up in the face of adversity, so you emerge stronger, wiser and more able». Be it a non-reciprocal or unfruitful collaboration, an attachment to an objective, outcome, product, feature or your own bright idea that may neglect the dimension or perspective from others.

To build resiliency, stay mindful of your options, become great at experimentation, and learn deeply how to work with the forces of influence that induce behaviors.

Prepared in this way, whether we decide to keep going or choose to give up, we do so in the strength of knowing we will undoubtedly emerge stronger, wiser and more able.


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