The Dip

Seth Godin
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If you don't have a desire to be the best at what you do, it may be time to quit.

Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.

Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.

Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organisations  Reactive quitting and serial quitting are the bane of those that strive (and fail) to get what they want.

Believe it or not, quitting is often a great strategy, a smart way to manage your life and your career. Sometimes, though, quitting is exactly the wrong thing to do. It turns out that there’s a pretty simple way to tell the difference.

Zipf’s law — Winners win big because the marketplace loves a winner.

The Real Reason Number One Matters

Being at the top matters because there’s room at the top for only a few. Scarcity makes being at the top worth something.

Best is subjective. I (the consumer) get to decide, not you. World is selfish. It’s my definition, not yours. It’s the world I define, based on my convenience or my preferences. Be the best in my world and you have me, at a premium, right now.

The Biggest Mistake They Made in School

Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well rounded is the secret to success.

In fact, the people who are the best in the world specialize at getting really good at the questions they don’t know. The people who skip the hard questions are in the majority, but they are not in demand.

The Magic of Thinking Quit

Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations. Reactive quitting and serial quitting are the bane of those that strive (and fail) to get what they want.

There are two curves that define almost any type of situation facing you as you try to accomplish something.

Curve 1: The Dip

There are two curves that define almost any type of situation facing you as you try to accomplish something.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Successful people don’t just ride out the Dip. They don’t just buckle down and survive it. No, they lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go. Just because you know you’re in the Dip doesn’t mean you have to live happily with it. Dips don’t last quite as long when you whittle at them.

Curve 2: The Cul-de-Sac

It’s a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing much changes. It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is. (A dead-end job)

Curve 3: The Cliff (bonus curve)

I call this curve a Cliff—it’s a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart.

If It Is Worth Doing There’s Probably a Dip

The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

When it comes right down to it, right down to the hard decisions, are you quitting any project that isn’t a Dip? Or is it just easier not to rock the boat, to hang in there, to avoid the short-term hassle of changing paths?

The Dip Is Where Success Happens

The people who set out to make it through the Dip—the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip—those are the ones who become the best in the world.

They are breaking the system because, instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they’ve got, they embrace the challenge.

The brave thing to do is to tough it out and end up on the other side—getting all the benefits that come from scarcity.

The mature thing is not even to bother starting to snowboard because you’re probably not going to make it through the Dip.

And the stupid thing to do is to start, give it your best shot, waste a lot of time and money, and quit right in the middle of the Dip.

A few people will choose to do the brave thing and end up the best in the world.

Informed people will probably choose to do the mature thing and save their resources for a project they’re truly passionate about.

Both are fine choices. It’s the last choice, the common choice, the choice to give it a shot and then quit that you must avoid if you want to succeed.

In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.

Jack (GE) quit the dead ends. By doing so, he freed resources to get his other businesses through the Dip.

The Thing About The Wind

"I can tell you that windsurfing is very easy—except for the wind. The wind makes it tricky, of course. It’s not particularly difficult to find and rent great equipment, and the techniques are fairly straightforward. What messes the whole plan up is the fact that the wind is unpredictable. It’ll change exactly when you don’t want it to.”

The same thing is true about customer service (it would be a lot easier if it weren’t for the customers). In fact, every single function of an organisation has a wind problem.

The Reason You’re Here.

The Dip is the reason you’re here.

It’s not enough to survive your way through this Dip. You get what you deserve when you embrace the Dip and treat it like the opportunity that it really is.

The Lie of Diversification — It leads to job seekers who can demonstrate competency at a dozen tasks instead of mastery of just one.

"And yet the real success goes to those who obsess. The focus that leads you through the Dip to the other side is rewarded by a marketplace in search of the best in the world."

How Arnold Beat the Dip

Weight training is a fascinating science. Basically, you do a minute or two of work for no reason other than to tire out your muscle so that the last few seconds of work will cause that muscle to grow.

Like most people, all day long, every day, you use your muscles. But they don’t grow. You don’t look like Mr. Universe because you quit using your muscles before you reach the moment where the stress causes them to start growing. It’s the natural thing to do, because an exhausted muscle feels unsafe—and it hurts.

Unsuccessful trainers pay exactly the same dues but stop a few seconds too early.
It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity.

Simple: If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start.

Superstar Thinking

If you choose this path, it’s because you realise that there’s a Dip, and you believe you can get through it. The Dip is actually your greatest ally because it makes the project worthwhile (and keeps others from competing with you).

You must quit the projects and investments and endeavours that don’t offer you the same opportunity. It’s difficult, but it’s vitally important.

Seven Reasons You Might Fail to Become the Best in the World

  1. You run out of time (and quit).
  2. You run out of money (and quit).
  3. You get scared (and quit).
  4. You’re not serious about it (and quit).
  5. You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre (and quit).
  6. You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard).
  7. You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).

Dip Curve Examples

“If you see these Dips coming, you’re more likely to make a choice."

Education Dip

A career gets started as soon as you leave school.

But the Dip often hits when it’s time to go learn something new, to reinvent or rebuild your skills.

A doctor who sacrifices a year of her life for a specialty reaps the rewards for decades afterward.

Conceptual Dip

You got this far operating under one set of assumptions.

Abandoning those assumptions and embracing a new, bigger set may be exactly what you need to do to get to the next level.

The heroes who have reinvented institutions and industries (everyone from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Richard Branson, from Zelma Watson George to Jacqueline Novogratz) all did it in exactly the same way—by working through a conceptual Dip all the way to the other side.

Seeing the Curve in Advance

It’s pretty easy to determine whether something is a Cul-de-Sac or a Dip, the hard part is finding the guts to do something about it.

The Valley of Death

That’s the goal of any competitor: to create a Dip so long and so deep that the nascent competition can’t catch up.

Simple. It’s about the story you tell yourself. You grew up believing that quitting is a moral failing.

Quitting feels like a go-down moment, a moment where you look yourself in the eye and blink.

Of course you are trying your best. But you just can’t do it.

It’s that whole Vince Lombardi thing. If you were just a better person, you wouldn’t quit.

If you’re going to quit, quit before you start. Reject the system. Don’t play the game if you realise you can’t be the best in the world.

Average Is for Losers

When faced with the Dip, most people suck it up and try to average their way to success.

Which is precisely why so few people end up as the best in the world.

The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.

“Average feels safe, but it’s not. It’s invisible."

It’s the last choice—the path of least resistance. The temptation to be average is just another kind of quitting…the kind to be avoided. You deserve better than average.

Salespeople Who Quit

I think the lesson of the story is this: Selling is about a transference of emotion, not a presentation of facts.

If a salesperson is there for the long run, committed to making a sale because it benefits the other person, that signal is sent loud and clear.

Please understand this: If you’re not able to get through the Dip in an exceptional way, you must quit. And quit right now.

Facing the Dip

The marketers who get rewarded are the ones who don’t quit. They hunker down through the Dip and galvanise and insulate and perfect their product while others keep looking for yet another quick hit.

What Business Are You In?

Yes, you should (you must) quit a product or a feature or a design—you need to do it regularly if you’re going to grow and have the resources to invest in the right businesses. But no, you mustn’t quit a market or a strategy or a niche.

Your strategy—to be a trusted source in your chosen market—can survive even if your product is canceled.

The Opposite of Quitting Isn’t "Waiting Around”

The opposite of quitting is rededication — an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.

"It’s a mistake to view the Dip as static.The Dip is flexible. It responds to the effort you put into it."

When the pain gets so bad that you’re ready to quit, you’ve set yourself up as someone with nothing to lose. And someone with nothing to lose has quite a bit of power. You can go for broke. Challenge authority. Attempt unattempted alternatives. Lean into a problem; lean so far that you might just lean right through it.

Quitting in the Dip Is Usually a Short-term Decision — and a Bad One

When people quit, they are often focused on the short-term benefits. In other words, “If it hurts; stop!

Short-term pain has more impact on most people than long-term benefits do, which is why it’s so important for you to amplify the long-term benefits of not quitting.

Working your way up to number one is daily feedback that helps you deal with the short-term hassles.

Persistent people are able to visualise the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it.

At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.

Every day you stay is a bad strategic decision for your career because every day you get better at something that isn’t that useful—and you are another day behind others who are learning something more useful.

Winners understand that taking that pain now prevents a lot more pain later.

If You’re Not Going to Get to #1, You Might as Well Quit Now.

Quitting the projects that don’t go anywhere is essential if you want to stick out the right ones.

Seeing a Cliff coming far in advance isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, it represents real insight and bravery.

The time to look for a new job is when you don’t need one. The time to switch jobs is before it feels comfortable. Go. Switch. Challenge yourself; get yourself a raise and a promotion. You owe it to your career and your skills.

Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else.

“Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.”

“Ignore Sunk Costs”

Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting

Question 1: Am I panicking?

Quitting is not the same as panicking. Panic is never premeditated. Panic attacks us, it grabs us, it is in the moment.

The best quitters, as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they’re going to quit

The reason so many of us quit in the Dip is that without a compass or a plan, the easiest thing to do is to give up.

Question 2: Who am I trying to influence?

Influencing one person is like scaling a wall. If you get over the wall the first few tries, you’re in. If you don’t, often you’ll find that the wall gets higher with each attempt.

Influencing a market, on the other hand, is more of a hill than a wall.

You can make progress, one step at a time, and as you get higher, it actually gets easier.

People in the market talk to each other. They are influenced by each other. So every step of progress you make actually gets amplified.

Question 3: What sort of measurable progress am I making?

To succeed, to get to that light at the end of the tunnel, you’ve got to make some sort of forward progress, no matter how small.

Measurable progress doesn’t have to be a raise or a promotion. It can be more subtle than that, but it needs to be more than a mantra, more than just “surviving is succeeding.”

The challenge, then, is to surface new milestones in areas where you have previously expected to find none.

“If you’re trying to succeed in a job or a relationship or at a task, you’re either moving forward, falling behind, or standing still. There are only three choices.”

Quitting Before You Start

Here’s an assignment for you: Write it down. Write down under what circumstances you’re willing to quit. And when. And then stick with it.

If quitting is going to be a strategic decision that enables you to make smart choices in the marketplace, then you should outline your quitting strategy before the discomfort sets in.

If quitting in the face of the Dip is a bad idea, then quitting when you’re facing a Cul-de-Sac is a great idea.

Like adding just a few pounds of air to a flat tire, launching a product into too big of a market has little effect.

Figure out how much pressure you’ve got available, then pick your tire. Not too big, not too small.

You’re Astonishing

The lesson is simple: If you’ve got as much as you’ve got, use it. Use it to become the best in the world, to change the game, to set the agenda for everyone else.

If it’s not going to put a dent in the world, quit. Right now. Quit and use that void to find the energy to assault the Dip that matters.

“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”

Important Questions

  • Is this a Dip, a Cliff, or a Cul-de-Sac?
  • If it’s a Cul-de-Sac, how can I change it into a Dip?
  • When should I quit? I need to decide now, not when I’m in the middle of it, and not when part of me is begging to quit.
  • If I quit this task, will it increase my ability to get through the Dip on something more important?
  • What chance does this project have to be the best in the world?
  • If I like my job, is it time to quit?
  • Are you avoiding the remarkable as a way of quitting without quitting?

“We fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit.”

Image credits: The Dip by Seth Godin