Mark is a graph advocate and field engineer for Neo Technology, the company behind the Neo4j graph database. As a field engineer, Mark helps customers embrace graph data and Neo4j building sophisticated solutions to challenging data problems. When he's not with customers Mark is a developer on Neo4j and writes his experiences of being a graphista on a popular blog at He tweets at @markhneedham. Mark is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 543 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

The sunk cost fallacy

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I recently came across David McRaney’s post about the sunk cost fallacy with reference to Farmville, a fallacy that is very applicable to software.

David starts off with the following statements which describe the fallacy pretty well:

The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.

The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.

I think this is very true in a lot of IT organisations in particular when they’ve made a big investment on some sort of middleware, usually an ESB.

These can often cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of £’s so the person who authorised the purchase is likely to push very hard for it to be used because if it’s not then their decision looks very foolish.

The problem is that in a lot of cases using an ESB doesn’t simplify the system being built – it makes it much more complicated.

ESB’s are typically difficult to test against, difficult to setup on a continuous integration server and generally make the life of people who have to use them hell.

The sunk cost fallacy applies here because the organisation feels the pain of the initial purchase and doesn’t want to write that off even if it would make life easier for them from now onwards.

I even have my own smaller example from something I’ve been working on over the weekend.

I wanted to try moving this blog from WordPress to Jekyll and I came across octopress which simplifies the process by providing ready made style sheets and layouts.

I’ve got it mostly working but I couldn’t work out how to create pages which showed the posts in certain categories or for a specific month.

From what I can tell you can get that functionality by implementing a plugin but unfortunately plugins were only added to Jekyll from version 0.6 and octopress relies on henrik-jekyll version 0.5.

I’ve spent about a day and a half getting the blog to its current state so I’m pretty reluctant to write off that time and scrap the octopress idea.

Unfortunately that may not be possible if I want to get all the functionality of wordpress.

I’m not sure exactly when we should take the sunk cost and when we should write it off but being aware of it is at least a step in the right direction.



Published at DZone with permission of Mark Needham, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Shoaib Almas replied on Sat, 2012/08/25 - 5:52am

I was debating between Jekyll and Wordpress and was leaning towards wordpress from a management standpoint. Could you elaborate why Jekyll over Wordpress for you.

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