The Art of Knowing When to Quit

Closing time, every new beginning
Comes from some other beginning’s end, yeah
“Closing Time”, Semisonic

Have you ever found yourself saying:

And of course there’s:

It feels like there’s a hesitancy to bring closure to any creative endeavor because what if it becomes successful? Sorry, you already brought it to an end so no more $$$.

It feels like our culture’s impulse is to wring every last cent possible out of any creative endeavor — or at least leave open the possibility for more from the outset.

So when I read Manu’s post the other day, it really resonated.

I deeply respect people who have the courage to quit when they feel they have done what they wanted to do, expressed what they wanted to express, created what they wanted to create…quitting is rare. When people find something that "works" they usually keep producing content ad nauseam…We should celebrate more people who [quit]. It's not even quitting. It's called being done with something. And that's a good thing.

I like this idea of beginning to notice and bring attention to people or creative works that intentionally bring closure, even when you’re left wanting a little more.

It reminds me of an interview I saw between Charlie Rose and Jerry Seinfeld. Jerry talks about how the incredible success of their sitcom Seinfeld could’ve allowed them to continue creating season after season. But he felt ending the show when they did (two years after co-creator Larry David had already left) was doing the audience a favor:

My real reason for ending the show was a kind of stage instinct: knowing when to say “good night” and have the audience feel “awwwww, I wish there was just a little more.” Then they leave the theater and go, “That was great!” But if you go just ten minutes too long, it’s amazing how it depresses that good feeling…I could just feel that moment and I go, “You know what? If we leave now the audience is gonna be” [gestures to be wanting more]…

I did it for the audience. I thought, “If I leave now, they’ll have this thing that they’ll never have to say ‘It was good but then it started to kinda run out of gas…’.”

I think this goes for lots of creative endeavors, including software. There’s an art to knowing when — and how — to bring something to an end.

John McBride touches on this in his piece “There is no secure software supply-chain” where he notes how an open source project did “the right thing” by ending:

In the end, the maintainers of the Gorilla framework did the right thing: they decommissioned a widely used project that was at risk of rotting from the inside out. And instead of let it live in disarray or potentially fall into the hands of bad actors, it is simply gone. Its link on the chain of software has been purposefully broken to force anyone using it to choose a better, and hopefully, more secure option.

I do believe that open source software is entitled to a lifecycle — a beginning, a middle, and an end — and that no project is required to live on forever. That may not make everyone happy, but such is life..

A beginning, a middle, and an end. 🎵 It’s the circle, the circle of life. 🎵