When we make a choice that doesn’t work out, we find it remarkably difficult to cut our losses and walk away. Think about the last time you waited for 45 minutes at a restaurant, and there was no sign that your table would be ready in the near future. You should have probably headed to another restaurant, but you’d already waited 45 minutes, so how could you leave?
Or you hired an employee who struggled to master the key skills for the job, and after several months of training and coaching, things hadn’t improved. You rotated him to two different positions that seem like a better fit, and he underperformed there too. Three years later, it’s probably time to encourage the employee to start looking elsewhere, but after putting so much energy into him, can you really give up on him?
If you kept waiting at the restaurant or working with the employee, you fell into a trap that organizational behavior expert Barry Staw calls escalation of commitment to a losing course of action. It’s throwing good money after bad, and we see it all around us. Escalation occurs whenever we invest our time, energy, or resources in a choice that falls short of the desired return, and we succumb to the temptation to invest more.