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What I Learned This Week: Some Things Aren't Worth Resurrecting

04/01/2013 12:38 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT

My lord, is this blog post impeccably timed!

It combines the Passover themes of escape from slavery and death (i.e. the 10th plague, where God smites all Egyptian first-born) with the underlying raison d'être of Easter, namely the crucifixion of Christ and his eventual resurrection.

Ah, what perfect inspiration for a business lesson of the week! Said lesson is a simple, yet counter-intuitive, one, namely:

Sometimes, something has to die to make it get better

Unfortunately, I've seen the opposite occur way more often. Over my career, from trying to boost circulation for a struggling Sunday newspaper to clutching at straws attempting to sell tickets to shows that nobody wants to see, I've seen dozens of corporate corpses kept artificially alive by voodoo-esque potions, Frankensteinian surgeries, awkward organ(izational) transplants and futile (life)blood transfusions. In the process, I've also come across too many people truly believing that they were anointed saviours who could breathe life into a moribund company, product or situation. Call it the "Playing God" syndrome.

The world of business though, is not run by the same rules as the world of medicine, meaning there is no Hippocratic oath of "first, do no harm." In fact, in business, by doing everything in one's power to keep "the patient" alive, one may be doing it way more harm than just killing it off.*

Over the past year at Just For Laughs alone, I've been called on to deal with a handful of circumstances where we faced potentially dire outcomes. When my proposed solution was a calm "I think we should just let it die," the astonished looks on people's faces ran the gamut of emotions; some thought I was joking, others assumed I just didn't care about the company any more, still others saw me as an evil incarnate of Chainsaw Al Dunlap.

But in retrospect, on most of these occasions, the bravery was not finding a way to keep the projects alive; it was in being able to stand by unemotionally as they unceremoniously crashed to the ground in a pile of rubble, dust and dashed dreams...and then starting all over again from scratch.

I am 100 per cent sure that I am not alone in facing these dilemmas...and feeling that the "resurrection" decision, if taken, will eventually be regretted. As they used to say in those cinematic Newsreels, "Time Marches On!" and the only way to ensure it does is to let some things live only as memory. Anything less just halts progress.

I get the "This ain't gonna die on MY watch" ego trip involved; nobody wants to be tarred with any kind of loss, never mind be crucified and vilified as the very visible plug-puller on an ailing project.

But keeping an entity alive after its due date is counterproductive. On one hand, corporate life support sucks up capital, energy and human resources; on the other, it drives up the majestic opportunity cost of doing something else. A lose-lose if I ever saw one. Rather than "letting my people go" to start something that has the potential for greatness, these sickly projects diminish those who work on them as slaves...slaves to ego, slaves to the past, slaves to unrealistic expectations of the future.

So as you celebrate Easter or Passover, let the ancient holidays teach you something about modern-day business:

1) If you really want to play God, then don't be afraid to do some smiting once in a while.

2) And while you're at it, leave the resurrection to the pros.

*P.S. How do you know for sure when "the patient" is worth saving or better off dead? You don't. But you get hints, like slipping sales, diminished buzz, social media chatter that lauds the competition (or dismisses you), lack of partner interest, employees seeking to work on other projects, etc. And then there's always the all-important "gut feel." As I've said before, it's not always right, but it's never totally wrong.