Ben Holliday

The gentle art of stopping

I’ve talked about the weight of starting before, but stopping something you’re working on is also hard.

We fall in love with our own products and creations. It’s a choice to work on things we think are important and in doing so we invest in the problems we’re working on.

All of this means that it’s not easy to stop something, especially when the decision isn’t entirely in our own hands. But the reality is that things stop. They get cancelled and we get asked to move on.

Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s other priorities. Sometimes it’s people, relationships, intent and misunderstanding. But everything stops eventually.

Learning to stop

The hardest thing isn’t stoping. It’s learning to stop soon enough.

When we don’t stop we risk diminishing returns against the cost of developing products and services, but most of all, we risk making things worse.

I’ve explained this before as the inverted-U. This is where adding content, design, or additional features to a product eventually means it starts to work less well for end-users.

Living with constraints

All design is about understanding constraints.

Time and money is a commercial constraint that good products learn to live with. In the public sector we can all too easily lose sight of this as we look to iterate and continuously improve services.

Continuous improvement is important but so is the ability to move on to the next thing at the right time. Sometimes we have to see that bigger picture.

Inevitably, things stop if they don’t move fast enough. Eventually everything else just catches up with them. Bigger problems, bigger opportunities, and in the public sector, policy and economics.

Stopping to start again

It’s important that we’re adaptable to future change and open to new ideas.

We have to learn to stop so we can keep starting new things. This means inventing the alternatives to where we find ourselves.

Something that’s struck me in government is that’s we can’t invent the future while we’re still optimising the past – as good as that version of the past might become.

The gentle art of stopping

When it comes to stopping, I think that there’s a need for a more steady braking speed.

Like driving a car, when everything’s going well we find a natural rhythm to starting and stopping. It’s all part of the journey we’re on, how we react to what’s happening around us or being adaptable to change as it happens.

Starting, then stopping, then starting again.

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.