Question: I know my business has tremendous potential, but at the moment we’re barely breaking even, and the pressure is on (at home and elsewhere) to give it a quiet burial. How do you know when (or if) to cash in your chips and take your losses?

The Answer: A good question deserves a good answer! So… maybe you should read the previous Ask BOB (just kidding). Although there is no magic formula around to answer your question, sometimes considering a bit of history can provide needed inspiration.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” There was a young man back in the days of the Great Depression (what’s so great about a depression?) who hung in “when there seemed to be no hope.” And we’re glad he did.

Chester F. Carlson, graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 1928, but could not find employment in his field. He finally got a job at a law firm as a patent analyst. The job involved long, tedious hours poring over patent applications and meticulously making copies by hand. To make matters worse, he was nearsighted and his cramped writing posture made his arthritis unbearable. He longed for a machine “that could be right in the office where you could bring a document to it, push it in a slot, and get a copy out.” In his agony, instead of quitting, he swore he would build such a machine.

Years passed as Carlson tried, and failed, many times. He finally came up with the process for making dry copies, but actually building a working model was a daunting task. By 1938, after years of labor, he finally had a working prototype copier. IBM, GE, RCA, and every other company he presented it to, turned him down flat.

Finally, in 1946, the owner of a very small company, the Haloid Co. in Rochester, New York, paid $25,000 for the license to develop a dry copier based on Carlson’s patent. Three years later, Haloid introduced the XeroX Model A. The experts, and the buying public, agreed: it was a useless flop! With cheap carbon copy paper available in abundance, who needed an expensive copier?

Nevertheless, Haloid persisted, changed its name to the Xerox Corporation and, in 1960, introduced the 914 Copier – which took the market by storm. Carlson became immensely wealthy, gave away over $100,000,000 of his fortune – and lived happily ever after. (adapted from They All Laughed, by Ira Flatow)

The Challenge: Perseverance certainly paid off for Chester Carlson. It is never a waste of time to carefully – and prayerfully – evaluate the areas in which you are currently investing your time and resources to determine what needs to go – and what is deserving of your best, and continuing, efforts.

Beware the (Unintended) Werewolf!