In behavioral economics, there is a theory called the "Sunk Cost Fallacy." Briefly stated, it says that "individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort)" (Arkes & Blumer, 1985). And don't feel bad, we all fall into this way of thinking. We’re wired to believe that the time or money we already have invested into something should be factored into our current decision making. This is flawed logic.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy is one of my main takeaways from business school. It seems that every class we took covered the concept and put it deep into our brains. There is a time when you simply have to ask, "are we going to keep investing in something even though we know the outcome will not be what we want simply because we already have put money into it?" You may have heard of it by its less academic term, "throwing good money after bad."
Of course, the concept of the sunk cost is not just for business. I have seen it violated in the arts, the non-profit sector and, of course, in the church. After all, in the church, we *really* value tradition. And tradition is one of the easiest ways to stop looking at whether something works/is worth doing/we even like doing it. We just do it because, say it with me, "we always have."
This is on my mind these days because when experimenting, it is especially important to know when to pull the plug on something. In one experiment in particular, we have reached that point.
You might recall we announced an experiment called "Drunk Bible" based on the hit Comedy Central show, "Drunk History." After hearing back from many of you, we decided that this was not something we wanted to do. And so we pivoted, and we created "Street Bible." Along the way, we lost sight of who we wanted as our audience and, I feel, the end product shows. (You can see the unpublished videos on my own YouTube page. There's the one about Adam and Eve and the one about Noah. Tell me what you think.)
We could try to market it via Facebook ads and see if it'll be a "thing" with any group. Maybe kids will like it? Maybe the unchurched will like it? My early testing shows that there's really no "there" there. And so we get to the question: do we keep investing in this because we've already invested time and money into it, or do we call it a day?
If I thought that if we got this right it would move the needle and more people would find their way to God and life as a follower of Christ, maybe. But we have other experiments that have a greater chance and are more focused. And so, another one is done. And it goes in the "didn't work" category. That's ok. It's why we call it experimenting.
The Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija is the founding director of the TryTank Experimental Lab.