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Increase Your Productivity by Giving Up


When you hear that someone is giving something up, you can be fairly certain it’s either a “vice” or something they they believe is bad for them: Caffeine. Nicotine. Alcohol. Carbs.

But in the world of work, most people don’t think the words “giving up” belong in its DNA. In fact, just the opposite.

Consider the quote below. Even though Winston Churchill was specifically referring to WWII, his postwar advice would go on to become an internet meme, fueling late nights, weekend work, and boosting up failing projects all around the globe.


If you need more good examples—and a funny read—check out Sputnik’s post, Why Inspirational Quotes Are Ruining Your Career.

Holding onto poor ideas for too long can ruin productivity or even a career, as writer Matt McCue illustrates in his 99U article, The Merits of Giving Up on Your Ideas. McCue points to Mark Zuckerberg who had another, lesser known, project he was working on during Facebook’s infancy: a peer-to-peer file sharing platform called Wirehog. In an interview at the time, he told a publication that his new platform “...will probably spread in the same way that thefacebook did.” But it didn’t. In fact, in a couple years he would abandon it. Which was the right thing to do. “By no longer devoting his energy to an ill-conceived, borderline-illegal idea Zuckerberg was able to increase Facebook’s user base from 12 million people in 2006 to 845 million in 2011.”

But we don’t refer to Zuckerberg as That Failed Wirehog Guy. Any more than we tell children that the beloved Thomas Edison came up with these (and many other) massive failures:

  • The automatic vote recorder (politicians hated it)
  • The electric pen (noisy, heavy, messy)
  • Talking dolls (creepy, incredibly easy to break)
  • The home projecting kinetoscope (expensive, no one liked the Edison content)

Art directors, copywriters, designers, and other creatives are all too familiar with the idea graveyard. Somewhere there are stacks of Moleskines and Field Notes, filled folders, drawers, and file cabinets, and a mountain of external hard drives chock full of sketches, wireframes, taglines, and brilliant campaign ideas destined never to see the light of day.

The client didn’t like blue. Or black and white photography. The team went in another direction. The company decided on another agency’s pitch.

Sometimes the client makes these decisions for you. Or your boss or team. But there are times you’ll need to make them for yourself. Giving up on an idea is difficult, especially when you’ve invested so much time and sweat into it. McCue points out, “We don’t solely judge the idea – we judge it through a lens filled with beat-tired late night...and all the other trademarks of building something from scratch.”

The bonus of getting to that point is freeing yourself for other, greater things. We’re not just talking pitches and concepts here. Maybe your entrepreneurial adventure, freelance career, or the side business you always wanted to make into a full-time business.

And, if you don’t mind one more aphorism: the sky’s the limit.

If this 99U article piqued your interest, you may want to check out Seth Godin’s excellent book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). To start out, read his interview about it with the legendary Guy Kawasaki.

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