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The dichotomy of persistence and stubbornness

Jan 04, 2024

You want to be persistent, but not cost ourselves money and time. How do we:

  1. differentiate persistence from stubbornness?
  2. avoid stubbornness costing us money and time?

Let's talk about it today.

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A few months back, my family went to a luncheon at our church. After a little presentation and food, my wife and I hung around to enjoy some conversation with some friends.

Not long into the conversation, are almost 2-year-old son looked at me and my wife and said “go” and pointed to the door. The message was clear: he was ready to go!

While not ready to go, we’re really careful to not put ourselves in situations of failure… where our son is too far gone and we ruin the rest of the day. So, in this moment, we agreed it was time to leave.

I cleaned him up and let him out of his seat, then turned back to finish up my conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my son turn to his backpack, grab it, and start dragging it to the door.

Now mind you, this backpack is as large as him.

I quickly said bye, then caught up to him to help with the backpack. As I lean down to grab it, he yanks the backpack away and emphatically shakes his head “no” as he refused to let it go.

He wanted to carry it himself.

He toddles along, clearly struggling, but very committed to the process.

I let him go a little ways, then got in front of him on my knees and told him ”son, here you go, let’s put it on your back.” You know… like backpacks are meant to be carried.

But again… an emphatic no.

At this point it was clear: he wanted to do it his way and nothing was changing his mind.

So, I let him be. We walked the whole way to the car… slowly, but deliberately with him carrying the bag in front of him, stumbling, stopping, then starting again.

We eventually made it, but only after 1 fall, 3 stops and a really distracting playground.

A few days later, going to Mother’s Day Out, he did the same thing.

In each instance, he wanted to hold the backpack for 2 reasons:

  1. He is his own man
  2. Mom and Dad weren’t moving fast enough

But his insistence not only made it more difficult, it slowed us down. We would have gotten to car more quickly if he’d let us hold the backpack.

Despite this, I came away impressed. He couldn’t truly carry the backpack. But as he grunted, stumbled and fell, he got back up and picked up the backpack and started again.

This persistence will allow him to be successful someday, but the stubbornness could lead to some slips and falls along the way.

As I thought about this, I realized it’s not too different from business.

We set a goal to launch the new service but investing way too much and hurting the larger business's results.

We chase after the big contract or relationship but forget about our bread-and-butter clients, causing service to suffer.

We continue with bad marketing strategies even when it’s failed over and over again.

We seek to save all our employees, instead of releasing low performers, which ultimately hurts company morale.

This is the dichotomy of persistence and stubbornness personified and it shows up in business regularly.

Persistence creates success, as you often need to stick with things long enough for compounding to work.

But it turns to stubbornness when the impact of the persistence moves outside the intended area.

Persistence turned to stubbornness costs us money and time.

So, how do we avoid stubbornness, yet remain persistent?

Be persistent, yet adaptable. Take the inputs you’re getting and tweak your approach to the circumstances. If you’re not tweaking and reassessing the situation with each new piece of data, you could be acting stubborn.

Rely on data and facts, instead of emotion and feelings. Emotions can be great for intense situations. They allow you to sprint well. But outside the sprint, the quickly become a detriment. Rely on numbers and facts to make sure you’re headed in the right direction, while not allowing emotion to continue on in stubbornness.

Pre-determine your exit criteria. Pre-determine dates and/or dollar amounts at which you’ll reassess or abandon the initiative. Not only does this force you to stop, but it forces you to acknowledge what you thought at a previous point in time and assess related to that point. Yes, take into account current conditions, but do so while being honest about the past.

Listen to wise council. We all know who the “yes men” are and who the truth tellers are. Seek out truth tellers and give them to real story. Don’t frame it for the outcome you want, but frame it in truth and this council can help hold your feet to the fire.

Assess the energy of the team. The reality is, good things can come at too high a cost. You have to ask if the goal is worth the cost and many times, that cost is the team. If the failures and setbacks are extracting too much from the team, as well as their ability to do their current job, it could be a sign you’re being stubborn and ignoring other signs as well.


Our best friends in these moments are three things:

  1. A plan
  2. Numbers
  3. A moment

If you use these three tools, you'll find it easier to stick with persistence and avoid stubbornness.

I’d love to hear from you: what ways do you assure you don’t allow stubbornness to take over?


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