Book Summary of The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)
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Seth Godin’s Perspective
Seth Godin is an American author and former ‘dot com’ business executive. Seth Godin is the author of over 18 books. Free Prize Inside won Forbes’ Business Book of the Year in 2004, while The Dip was a Business Week and New York Times bestseller. In 2018, Godin was inducted into the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Hall of Fame. He also runs a blog named in 2009, by Time, as one of the 25 best blogs.
What is The Dip About?
The Dip builds on Seth Godin’s insights introduced on his blog titled ‘The four curves of want and get.’ Every new project starts out exciting and fun. But after this initial excitement, the project will get harder and less fun. Eventually, you will hit a low point in your pursuits. Seth Godin calls this challenging period a dip. This dip is one of three things: an opportunity, a cul-de-sac, or a cliff. You must quit the cul-de-sacs and cliffs so you can reallocate resources. You must persevere with all other pursuits, no matter how hard, so that you can become the best in your world.
StoryShot #1: Be the Best You Can Be
Our society obsesses over those who are number one. We give plaudits to the song or sports person that sits at the top of the charts. Similarly, we reward those employees that are performing the best. But the result of this obsession is that rewards are heavily skewed. Godin points out that, on average, first place generally gets ten times the winnings of whoever places tenth. This is Zipf’s law and is found in almost all fields. Zipf’s law suggests a non-linear relationship whereby rewards reduce exponentially. With limited time and opportunity to experiment, we intentionally narrow our choices to those at the top.
Therefore, you need to do everything in your power to become the best. If you are not going to be the best, then you should just quit. Crucially, Godin does not necessarily mean the best anybody could ever be. Instead, he explains you need to be the best for you, right now, based on what you believe and know. You need to be the best in your world.
StoryShot #2: The World Is Changing
When considering becoming the best in the world, you have to accept that the world is changing. The internet has made the world considerably bigger than it used to be.
Being better than 98% of the competition used to be fine, but it’s useless in the world of Google. The competition is always one click away. So, you have to be better than a considerably larger number of people. Conversely, the world is getting smaller in other ways. For example, niches and specialization are becoming increasingly important. We no longer look for the best wine. Instead, we are looking for the best Merlot from a specific region that can be delivered to your home later that day.
StoryShot #3: The Curves
Curve 1: The Dip
The dip is your best friend. The brave thing to do in life is tough out the dips and end up on the other side. On the other side, you will benefit from being the best in the world. As well as being brave, you also have to be smart. Godin suggests the smart thing is to not bother starting tasks that are too difficult. If you do, you will be too ill-equipped to make it through the dip. Several people do what Godin calls the ‘stupid thing’ when encountering the dip. The stupid thing to do is start something and waste time and money into overcoming the dip. Then, quitting right in the middle of the dip. Never quit until you fall off. If your pursuit is worth doing, then it is worth fighting through the dip.
One of the most essential features of a dip is that others within your domain will likely be struggling too. So, dips create scarcity, and scarcity creates value.
Curves 2 and 3: The Cul-de-Sac and the Cliff
The biggest obstacles to success in life are the Cul-de-Sacs and the Cliffs. Godin uses an analogy to explain this point. A woodpecker would be more successful by tapping 20,000 times on a single tree than tapping twenty times on a thousand trees. So, choose your ‘tree’ appropriately and persevere if it is not a cul-de-sac or cliff. To be highly successful, you should find as steep a dip as you can and quit all pursuits with a dead-end (cul-de-sac).
This curve occurs when you work extremely hard, but nothing changes. Things won’t get better, but they also won’t get considerably worse. So, it simply is what it is. A typical example of this is a dead-end job. You are going nowhere, but you are unlikely to lose your job. If you identify that your decisions today are not moving towards your ideal future, then you’re in a cul-de-sac. After identifying this cul-de-sac, you must get off it quickly. Investing your life into this pursuit is wasting your opportunity to pursue something where you can move forward.
The cliff occurs when an opportunity initially appears promising. Then, all of a sudden, it drops off rapidly, and you suffer. The cliff is also associated with not quitting until you fall off the other end and everything falls apart. Fine examples of cliffs are behaviors that are enjoyable in the short-term but have a significant drawback if you fail. For example, smoking is enjoyable until you get lung cancer.
StoryShot #4: The Seven Most Common Failures When Pursuing Success
- Running out of time.
- Running out of money.
- Getting too scared to fight through the dip.
- Not being serious enough about your pursuit.
- Losing interest, enthusiasm, or settling for mediocrity.
- Focusing on the short- rather than long-term.
- Picking the wrong pursuit for your talents.
StoryShot #5: The Eight Dip Curves
Some systems are dependent on dips. Use this knowledge to decide whether to start pursuing something. Seth Godin outlines eight dips with each relevant to a specific field:
- Manufacturing dip – Your product is complicated to manufacture at scale.
- Sales Dip – You are finding it hard to upgrade to a pro salesforce.
- Education dip – You find it hard to learn something new, to reinvent or rebuild your skills.
- Risk dip – Your entrepreneurial ventures are risky. Know the difference between investing to get through the dip and investing in something that will never work.
- Relationship Dip – To get what you want out of relationships requires hard work upfront and relationship building when it’s difficult.
- Conceptual dip – Industries have to abandon the operating assumptions of their world. They have to get through to the other side when no one believes they will succeed.
- Ego dip – Give up control and your spotlight to obtain success.
- Distribution dip – Getting into extensive distribution channels is complex.
StoryShot #6: Quitting Is Not Failure
Failure is being average at something. You will never average your way to success, so sometimes quitting is your best option. Godin is adamant that quitting is not a moral failing. Quitting, in some scenarios, is actually essential for freeing up resources to get through the dips that matter. This means you only have two viable options in life: quit or be exceptional.
StoryShot #7: Don’t Play it Safe
Godin argues the most common response to the dip is to merely play it safe. This approach is asking for mediocre results. As previously mentioned, averaging your way to success is impossible. To be the best in the world, you must do something exceptional. You cannot just survive the dip but use it as an opportunity to become exceptional. The innovation that comes out of the dip must be something that others can’t help but talk about, recommend, and choose.
StoryShot #8: Serial Quitters
People that start things and quit in the dip. These people will then pick up another pursuit only to quit in the dip again because they didn’t choose the correct pursuit. So, serial quitters have a knack for wasting significant time, energy, and money. These resources could have proved useful for future dips.
Seth Godin offers an example of different strategies for choosing a checkout line at a supermarket to describe serial quitters. When at a supermarket, you can either:
- Choose the shortest line and stick to it.
- Choose the shortest line and switch lines once, if something holds up your line.
- Choose the shortest line and keep scanning other lines. Switch lines if a shorter one appears.
Serial quitters are those that will adopt strategy three.
StoryShot #9: Reflexive Quitters
Another example of individuals who quit too early is reflexive quitters. These are the quitters who work hard through parts of the dip but reach a threshold where things get too hard. Seth Godin offers the example of men’s health to explain this point. Big muscles and six-packs are highly desirable because they are scarce. Interestingly, muscles only tear near the end of the workout. People work out for several minutes, but the benefits are only at the end. So, sometimes the only difference between successful and unsuccessful trainers is the latter stops a few seconds short. This reflex is what makes six-packs and big muscles scarce. If you can become somebody who rejects reflexive quitting, you can become successful.
The ultramarathon runner, Dick Collins, offers advice on how to avoid reflexive quitting. He would always clearly define the conditions that would cause him to stop and drop out before the race. For example, he might decide that pulling his hamstring would be the trigger to stop running. If you do not specify these conditions, you allow your reflexive mind to take over. When things get tough, you will talk yourself into quitting just because things are getting hard.
StoryShot #10: Rededication Is the Opposite of Quitting
Rededication is an invigorated new strategy designed to break your problems apart. Rather than quitting, you have to accept that the dip is not static. Instead, the dip responds to the effort you put in. This effort should be accompanied by actions like challenging authority, attempting unattempted alternatives, and leaning into the problem. Rededication allows you to utilize an urge to quit as motivation to be bold and take alternative action.
StoryShot #11: Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Quitting
- Am I Panicking? – When the pressure is greatest, your desire to quit should be at its lowest. Quitting is not the same as panicking. A panic is never premeditated and grabs us in the moment. Never quit when you are panicked, as you have not truly made this decision yourself. The best quitters are the ones who decide in advance when and why they are going to quit. You can always quit later, but you will struggle to resurrect a pursuit you have quit in a panic.
- Who am I trying to influence? – Trying to influence one person has its limits. One person or organization will behave differently from an entire market. The rules are different for a market. Most people in the market have not even heard of you. Think of the market as a hill that can be climbed step by step.
- What sort of measurable progress am I making? – You have to be making forward progress. The alternatives are falling behind and standing still. Avoid these alternatives and ensure you are making progress, no matter how small. You should not view surviving as an example of measurable progress. Instead, you need to create new milestones that previously didn’t exist.
Final Summary and Review of The Dip
The Dip describes the importance of understanding when you should be quitting and when you should be sticking. The reality is many of us quit too early. We see a dip and assume that we are going to fail catastrophically. The reality is that some dips are just part of your journey to success while others are a sign that you are destined to fail. The most common dips that suggest you should quit are cliffs and cul-de-sacs. Cliffs are effective in the short-term but see a massive drop-off quite quickly. Cul-de-sacs offer very few benefits no matter how much work you put in. Try to notice when you experience these dips and quit while you’re ahead. If the dip doesn’t fit these two descriptions, it might be better to stick and see where things go.
Disclaimer: This article is an unofficial summary and analysis.
We rate this book 4.4/5.
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