in Leadership

When Persistence Is Not Enough

I am persistent, sometimes even tenacious. When I start something, I don’t like to quit. Persistence helps us overcome difficulty. It assists us as we attempt to make it through the dip that stops many others from completing difficult tasks. Persistence enabled Martin Luther King, Jr. to see past the injustice, opposition, and heartache to a better future. Persistence and hope formed these words in his 1963 I have a dream speech,

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – image source

Persistence undergirds every significant accomplishment and supports the efforts of every effective leader. But persistence can also hurt us.

For most of the past week, I have persisted in building an ideal Web component as envisioned by my customer. During the planning phase, I was worried that the specification would not work. I even backed away from it and suggested something simple, and that recommendation was given the green light. Still, I wanted to build the ideal component, and so my persistence overruled my better judgement.

I started building the more complex component exactly as requested, but found myself blocked repeatedly by technical constraints. When I finally stripped away everything made impossible due to the constraints, the result was a simple and elegant component that did 70% of what had been requested. The rest of the functionality will come in other ways as we build more of the application.

Although the outcome was acceptable, my persistence caused me stress as I repeatedly went down blocked paths, and it certainly cost my customer more money than if I had taken a simpler route. It also cost me the opportunity of spending time more effectively building other new features.

So persistence is a fine quality, but it needs to be engaged only after sound judgment has been rendered. It is easier to do the blind work of getting busy on a difficult challenge than it is to carefully reason it through. I am learning that persistence cannot compensate for poor planning.

For now, I settle for dream more modest than Dr. King – a dream of a future in which I exercise sound judgment and constraint in the application of persistence.

Do you also experience the pitfall of persistence without judgment? If so, what suggestions do you have for evaluating when you should persist and when you should change course?