I remember listening to Seth Godin talk about sunk costs and thinking “I get it, now I know what to do next time I’m facing a decision involving sunk costs.”
Well, as I’ve learned recently, there’s a difference between knowing and doing something about it.
I was waiting for my flight to start boarding when, 15 minutes before the scheduled time, people start queuing for no apparent reason. And of course I did the same, although I knew we still had 15 minutes until boarding.
Five minutes later, when there were more people queuing than sitting, there was an announcement advising passengers to go back to their seats, as there were still 10 minutes until boarding. I looked around. Nobody moved.
How interesting! I thought. “I can sit down or stand here for the next ten minutes, and it’s not going to make any difference. I’ll still have a place on the plane and a place for my luggage. I should just sit down and give up queuing.” But the thing is, I didn’t.
I stayed there, like the rest of the people, to defend my decision and not give up my privilege of already being in the middle of the queue.
When the ten minutes had passed and we started boarding I thought about how it feels to experience sunk costs, and what might have helped me to get back to my seat.
Peer pressure is huge. When people are looking and everybody is in the line you feel that you need to stick to the pack. Doing something that nobody else is doing is unsafe.
I wondered whether I was defending my own decision or the decision of the pack, the one that made me feel safe because I belonged with the group of passengers that didn’t give up queuing.
Giving up on sunk costs might sometimes feel like giving up on belonging to the group, and this is scary.
Every single movement in our world that has created something that mattered, from civil rights to women’s rights, started with someone stepping out of the line. And when you think about it, we only need to take one step: the most courageous step of them all – the one that says ‘On this matter, I don’t belong to this pack.’