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The first rule of holes: Stop digging

"The guarantee of the loss of a lot of money makes you stop"


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September 24, 2019 by Robert Koci

I was half way through putting a second story on a house when I realized I had made a big, big mistake on the bid and I was about to lose a lot of money. One of the advantages of being on the precipice of losing a lot of money is that it is enough of a loss that the first thing you do is stop. If it was a little money, or if it was only the threat of a lot of money lost, I might have carried on in hopes of finding a solution on the fly. But the guarantee of the loss of a lot of money makes you stop. It made me stop and obey the first rule of holes: stop digging.

I sent everyone home. I contacted the homeowner to arrange a meeting the next day. I worked into the night on the facts of the numbers and the narrative I was about to share with my customer. Mostly, I stopped digging. I was not prepared to spend another cent until I had a solution to the current problem.

The meeting was fruitful and a solution found. The job was completed. I suffered sufficiently that I learned my lesson and the homeowner paid sufficiently that I could live another day and they got a quality renovation done for the right price (albeit not without significant anxiety).

Another time, I framed a second floor from a redundant set of plans. The correct, updated layout allowed the HVAC to fit nicely between the joist instead of having to build a box in the front hall. The HVAC subtrade pointed out the problem and it was now mine to fix. Had I run headlong into correcting the mistake, it would have cost at least one day’s work for three guys. But I stopped. I talked with the foreman of the tract site. In about an hour, we worked out an acceptable solution that cost me one guy for about three hours.

I was in a hole, so I stopped digging. I considered my options, found a good one and got out.