The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)
by Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a brilliant thinker who packs a lot in just a few words. Read his blog posts, and I almost guarantee he’ll reveal something fresh as a return on just a couple minutes of your time. The Dip is no different: in 76 pages — small pages, at that — he delivers insight that can change how you approach your goals
The idea behind The Dip is that there’s an initial reward for most anything you start. You could call it excitement, beginner’s luck, or just the early, steep part of the learning curve. But then there’s a long slog between beginning and mastery. This is the dip, and most people never see the other side of it. The few who persevere through the dip reach mastery, and our world rewards mystery because mastery is scarce.
Godin also describes the Cul-de-Sac, which represents the dead end projects, jobs, relationships, and so on. You may make sideways moves or small advances, but no breakthrough is possible. Instead of a blow-out success, the pinnacle of a cul-de-sac is mediocrity. Things won’t get much better or much worse. If you’re in a cul-de-sac, you’re stuck. No matter how diligently you work at it, there’s no significant upside. Hello, status quo.
Godin argues that you must quit when you’re in a cul-de-sac so that you have sufficient resources to power through the dip. While we often regard diversification as a sensible approach, we become mediocre in a number of areas and excellent in none. But mediocrity will never deliver the results you want.
So, how do you distinguish the cul-de-sac from the dip, and how do you know when to quit? When you consider quitting, ask yourself these three questions:
- Are you panicking? If so, wait. Don’t allow your panic to prompt you to quit. If you quit, you must decide to quit.
- Who are you trying to influence? If you’re trying to influence a single person, you have only a few opportunities to succeed. If you’re trying to influence a market, Godin argues, you can build your success slowly, since every success gets you more traction.
- What sort of measurable progress are you making? Look for milestones that show forward progress. If you see none, or if you see that you’re actually backsliding, then it may be time to quit.
What’s in The Dip for lawyers? If you’ve ever heard me talk about business development tactics, you may have heard me urge you to identify your strengths and to improve those. If you’re a natural speaker, speak. If you’re a natural at building one-on-one relationships, do that. That’s because you can put in energy in areas of natural skill (get through the dip, in other words) and become excellent at that skill, whereas putting in the same energy to shore up a weak skill will get you only to mediocrity. That’s only one application, but it’s a critical one.
Since reading The Dip, I’ve taken a look at where I’m spending my time. Quitting isn’t easy (especially for those of us who’ve always been encouraged to persist no matter what) but the payoff in energy to invest elsewhere makes that discomfort worthwhile.
Pick up a copy of The Dip. It’ll take about an hour to read, but that hour can save you many hours that you would otherwise invest in activity that lacks the payoff. It’s great investment.