The Eight of Cups and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

In Pamela Colman-Smith’s classic version of the 8 of Cups, a figure in a red cloak, his or her back turned to us, is striding away from a bleak, rocky shore supported by a staff. In the foreground, eight cups are displayed in groups of three and five. Possibly he’s heading for greener pastures. In any case, the image is clearly that of someone resolutely turning his or her back on a situation.

Let’s break this down a little. Stepping away from the rather prescriptive picture (and all narratively focused pictures tend to be prescriptive which can be limiting for people who are at an early stage in their journey with the cards) , let’s look at what’s implied by the number ‘8’ and the nature of the Cups. When we looked at the Eight of Wands, we saw a kind of nervy over-commitment. Lots of things were happening with projects and decisions flying here there and everywhere. What was missing was a sense of things being grounded. Filtering this sense of ‘slightly too much’ through the suit of Cups, relating as they do to emotions, relationships and the instinctual, gives us the emotional kick-back to that situation: “Too much! Take it away!”

Coming at it from another angle, this Eight asks about the depth of your emotional commitment. There is confusion, a lack of satisfaction with one’s state which makes it tempting to down tools and walk away. You might see this Eight appearing when you’re over-worked in a job or doing tasks which take something of an emotional toll. Another context (look carefully at the surrounding cards) might be if you feel under-appreciated by managers or workmates or even customers. Does what you’re doing really mean enough to you to put up with all this? Hence an alternate possibility for the Rider-Waite-Smith illustration – of someone who’s downed tools and walked off. They’ve had it up to here and they are gone.

Reversed, the card could indicate a number of variations on this theme. It could refer to someone who needs to let go of a situation but can’t quite bring themselves to. Or someone who’s abandoned a dream or vision they’ve held onto for a long time – perhaps too long. Another way of looking at this is to go back and consider the meaning of the Four of Cups; one of its meanings is the challenge to make your mind up and commit to a particular vision. The Eight is the Four Doubled But Doubting – is this really worth it?

This relates to a final possibility for this complex, challenging card whether upright of reversed – the Eight of Cups as the Angel of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The Sunk Cost Fallacy is a classic business problem to which there is no good answer for everyone. Let’s say you’ve spent most of your department’s budget on a shiny new customer relationship management system. It’s a risky, innovative tool and a project that could possibly bring a you lot of prestige. But there’s a problem. Eight months in and it still doesn’t work. Your IT manager, a wise old bird whom you perhaps didn’t consult in as much detail as you should have done when the project started, suggests dumping it and going with an off-the-shelf product that’ll deliver 90% of the benefit for a smaller cost, though admittedly that cost will have to be added onto the huge amount you’ve already spent on the Turbo-Dino-CRM ™. It’s at the point you find yourself saying the deadly words…

“But we’ve already spent so much on this and it’ll all go to waste!”

That’s the sunk cost fallacy, the idea that money already spent somehow counts for more than money that might be spent in the future. “We’ve spent so much already in cash, time, ideas…we can’t stop now!” It’s a scarily common position in politics, business, relationships…A couple of particularly brutal examples are outlined in this article.

The point is that you can stop now. Money spent on a bad idea is sunk. It’s gone. Grit your teeth, pick up your staff and put on your red cloak. Leave those chimerical dreams behind you and move on.

Tarot for the Workplace

Tarot readings aren’t just for individuals. First thing yesterday, caught between a mountain of an in-tray and a myriad of little fires demanding to be put out, I set out a Tarot layout for my workplace. I placed them between my keyboard and my trying-too-hard laptop stand and spent the day  puzzling about them in between meetings. Four reversed cards for where my workplace is at – harsh! But not altogether unfair, given the times.

The layout is a simple diamond representing North, South, East and West. In an organisation, the element of Air is all about planning and conceptualisation, strategy and castles in the air. So if we start with the place of Air in the East we find the Knight of Swords (Reversed) dashing headlong after all or any of the ideas that he or anyone else has come up with. They’re all great! Let’s do all of them! 

Fire, in the South, has the 6 of Pentacles. For a workplace, Fire (wands)  is about the energy and creativity of your colleagues and team, their capacity to get things done. Perhaps too many of these ideas are being frittered away, the creative energy they demand being wasted. Perhaps the funds to deliver all or most of them aren’t there, however great the need for whatever product or service my (or your) organisation delivers. Or do hard choices need to be made whilst new sources of income are sorted out? It’s an uncomfortable experience for the dashing Knight to be a beggar but sometimes there isn’t a choice.

In the West, the place of feelings and emotions, the Page of Swords, reversed. Thing of the card in the West as speaking to the morale of a workplace. This workplace (the page suggests) is a young one and the kind of reversals and challenges being faced at the moment are particularly difficult to face. Again, this theme of ideas and adventurousness blocked by circumstance. It’s also facing the Knight of Swords in the West – is there tension or intimidation between different team members about the kind of ideas and directions being set promoted? Or are some people simply afraid and overwhelmed?

But there’s good news. The North, the place of Earth, holds the 8 of Swords reversed. The North is the spot where the proverbial rubber hits the road. The reversed 8 suggests a breakthrough. If the swords are the ‘idea’ card, then the 8 of swords reversed suggests that for all our organisational prevaricating and intellectual navel gazing, we’re starting to sense a way out of the thicket of over-thinking we’ve fenced ourselves into. And, in the place of actualisation and concrete foundations, those ideas have a real chance of coming to pass. Things will  come into focus. Healing – be it of damaged egos or knocked confidence, will take place. 

Another thought, looking at the majority of Swords, is to focus on the communications issue the layout might suggest with new, buzzy channels everywhere and too many ideas and messages “Zooming” to and fro to little immediate effect. The 8 of Swords reversed offers the hope that this confusion will settle down but that it won’t be achieved by closing your eyes (putting on a blindfold) and hoping it goes away. Look at the image. There’s a huge gap in the fence of swords behind the bound and blindfolded woman…

Stick to the plans and ideas with a bit of longevity. Be prepared to scrap the rest. Try not to get bitter about cuts in funding or diminished outcomes – treat them as necessary boundaries or messages about those ideas your ‘knights’ really should be dragged away from and give support to the nervous, overwhelmed pages. Keep yourself and your colleagues focused on the achievable long term. Look to the North.