WWIF #7 Expiration Dates: Not Just for Milk

While Congress isn't the best role model in terms of how they enact legislation with automatic phase-out dates, the concept is one that might help organizations with an age-old conundrum: how to stop going something.

Corporate folks are more likely to kill off a pet project when it isn't meeting desired results, but professional societies and nonprofit groups frequently struggle to do so because of the personalities and politics associated with a project.  As a result, new and better initiatives are sidelined because resources remain allocated to projects that have outlived their usefulness.

What if new projects had to include an automatic expiration date?

The basic concept is that the project would automatically disappear or be retired on this date unless it fulfills some other very significant metric; i.e., achieves an extraordinarily high level of participation or high return on investment, receives support of 90% of the voting board members, etc.

An automatic expiration date is an example of what Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great), refers to as a catalytic mechanism, a way of instilling organizational discipline where individual intentions are unlikely to do so unfailingly.  Collins says mechanisms produce unpredictable results, have teeth, distribute power, eject viruses, and produce enduring effects.

You might decide to use this mechanism on projects that meet only certain criteria, but ensuring that new projects are implemented with permanent protected status is well worth considering.

I'm using a mechanism right now during a 30-day writing sabbatical.  I've committed to write a minimum 500 words daily for my book or else I will not take an end-of-April vacation.  Knowing it would be easy to fudge word count or simply allow myself to make a valiant effort a trusted friend has the password to my airline account and the record locator for my flight.  If I don't provide this person with 15,000 words two days prior to my vacation departure, he will automatically cancel my ticket.

As you might guess, that's not an outcome I want to occur, so I'll be getting back to today's 500 words right now.


Note:  Wednesday What If is a weekly feature applying the "what if" mindset associated with abductive reasoning or logic in an effort to stretch our thinking about what is desirable and very frequently, quite doable.