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Beating a Dead Horse: The Dead Horse Theory

"Value is no longer valuable when price exceeds consumption." - Alan Jamison


Dead horse theory is a term used to describe a situation in which a company or organization continues to invest resources into a project or product that has already failed or is extremely unlikely to be successful. The phrase is often used in a business context, but can also be applied to other areas such as politics or personal projects.

The reason why companies or individuals may continue to "beat a dead horse" is because they are emotionally invested in the project or product and find it difficult to admit that the project or product has failed, which is why companies or individuals may want to "beat a dead horse". In some cases, this can lead to what's known as the sunk cost fallacy. This is where individuals or organizations continue to invest resources into a project that is failing because they have already committed so much time and money to it.

Another reason that the dead horse theory can occur is when a lack of clear metrics for measuring success is being used. It can be very difficult to determine whether a project or product is no longer viable and should be abandoned. This is because it does not have clear goals or metrics for success.


In order to avoid the dead horse theory, it is critical for companies and individuals to set clear goals and metrics for success at the outset of a project or product. Additionally, it is wise to be willing to admit when a project or product is no longer viable and to cut losses as soon as possible.


Keep in mind the other side of the pendulum as expressed with Goodhart's Law: "When a measure becomes a target it ceases to become a good measure." In other words, when a metric or indicator is used to evaluate performance or guide decisions, it can become distorted, as individuals or organizations will tend to focus on maximizing the metric, rather than achieving the underlying goal it is supposed to represent. This can lead to unintended consequences, such as decreased overall performance or decreased overall satisfaction.


It is also helpful to have regular reviews and check-ins, so that progress can be tracked and decisions can be made about whether to continue or stop a project. It's also helpful to have an unbiased person outside of the project who can give an honest assessment.


To beat a dead horse (pun intended): To avoid this situation, set clear goals and metrics for success, be willing to admit when a project or product is no longer viable and cut losses as soon as possible. Additionally, regular reviews and check-ins with an unbiased person can help to identify when it's time to stop investing in a failing project.

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