We’ve talked about a few of the problems that business owners fall prey to. A failure to plan, poor budgeting of time and resources or starting off in the wrong business structure. Those instances when we know things aren’t going quite right, but bull ahead anyway and fall victim to the imaginatively named Sunk Cost Fallacy.
In economics a sunk cost is simply a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be refunded, and should be excluded from further decision making as it has no impact. Regardless of what we decide, the money/time/effort has already been spent.
The Sunk Cost bias (and Fallacy) is when we believe and act as though the sunk cost does have an effect on the decision.
X has already been invested in project Y.
Z more investment would be needed to complete project Y otherwise X will be lost.
Therefore, Z is justified.
Some of these traps are obvious, even if only in hindsight:
Other sunk cost fallacies are harder to spot;
Don’t get us wrong, we are not saying to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble, far from it. Persevering through difficulties is one of the key characteristics of all great business owners and leaders.
However if you decision process hinges on; justifying the previous costs, ignoring the opportunity costs and, pushing blindly onward without a plan or accountability…
Then you are guilty of the Sunk Cost Fallacy.
To continue with the earlier car example;
If you could get a different car, with working air-conditioning and real seats for $3000, then that is the better decision. The choice isn’t between the $500 car and the $3,000 car, as the $500 has already been spent. The real choice (and real Cost/Benefit) is between the $3,000 new car and the $5,000-10,000 repairs.
Alternatively, if there are no other options available, or if the loss of the lemon and time cost of replacing it would cause you to lose your job, then continuing to fix the car is the better choice. The loss of the job increases the cost of replacing the lemon exponentially, over and above the cost of the repairs. Even in this situation however, the $500 doesn’t have an impact on the decision process.
Do you genuinely believe that this choice will ‘come good’ in the end?
Or are you simply trying to prove that you were right, even if it commits you to a potentially disastrous course of action?
People may snicker when they hear that you’re pulling the plug on your new product or business. But if your “Bottled Water for Goldfish” product ends in bankruptcy they’ll laugh themselves sick.
No-one deliberately and willingly invests significant amounts of time, effort or money (like starting a business) expecting to lose everything. We always have a particular goal in mind, whether that’s a fulfilling career, a name-brand business or a house with all the trimmings. When your investment’s trending away from that goal, and you can’t see a way to get it back on track, that’s a good time to sit down with your advisor, and develop either a plan to get back on track, or a way to intelligently cut your losses.