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The Dip by Seth Godin

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The Dip by Seth Godin Summary

Book Review:

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin is an amazing little book about, as the title suggests, quitting.

Seth Godin’s main argument is that the mantra of “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” is just flat out wrong, and talks to a great length about why that is the case. He goes even further by arguing that quitting can be a smart strategy and lists out the benefits, as well, as the scenarios where you should absolutely quit.

The book could’ve actually been shorter as Seth tends to be repetitive at times, but it’s a really great read nonetheless.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The Dip by Seth Godin is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.


• “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

• Most people quit. They just don’t quit successfully. In fact, many professions and many marketplaces profit from quitters—society assumes you’re going to quit. In fact, businesses and organizations count on it.

• 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.

In both cases, it’s about being the best in the world. About getting through the hard stuff and coming out on the other side.

• 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.

• You really can’t try to do everything, especially if you intend to be the best in the world.

• Winners win big because the marketplace loves a winner.

• With limited time or opportunity to experiment, we intentionally narrow our choices to those at the top.

• The rewards for being first are enormous. It’s not a linear scale. It’s not a matter of getting a little more after giving a little more. It’s a curve and a steep one.

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

• Where does the scarcity come from? It comes from the hurdles that the markets and our society set up. It comes from the fact that most competitors quit long before they’ve created something that makes it to the top. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The system depends on it.

• Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice.

Best as in: best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know.

And in the world as in: their world, the world they have access to.

So if I’m looking for a freelance copy editor, I want the best copy editor in English, who’s available, who can find a way to work with me at a price I can afford. That’s my best in the world.

If I want a hernia doctor, I want the doctor who is best because she’s recommended by my friends or colleagues and because she fits my picture of what a great doctor is. That, and she has to be in my town and have a slot open.

So world is a pretty flexible term.

• The mass market is dying. There is no longer one best song or one best kind of coffee. Now there are a million micro markets, but each micro market still has a best. If your micro market is “organic markets in Tulsa,” then that’s your world. And being the best in that world is the place to be.

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 world is getting larger because I can now look everywhere when I want to find something (or someone). That means that the amount of variety is staggering, and it means I can define my world to be exactly what I have an interest in—and find my preferences anywhere on the planet.

At the same time, the world is getting smaller because the categories are getting more specialized. I can now find the best gluten-free bialys available by overnight shipping. I can find the best risk-management software for my industry, right now, online. I can find the best clothing-optional resort in North America with six clicks of a mouse.

So while it’s more important than ever to be the best in the world, it’s also easier—if you pick the right thing and do it all the way. More places to win and the stakes are higher, too.

• If you’re sold on being the best, but you’ve been frustrated in the route you’re taking to get there, then you need to start doing some quitting.

• In just about every market, the number of choices is approaching infinity. Faced with infinity, people panic. Sometimes they don’t buy anything. Sometimes they buy the cheapest one of whatever they’re shopping for. Faced with an infinite number of choices, many people pick the market leader.

• The number of job seekers is approaching infinity. So is the number of professional services firms, lawyers, manicure shops, coffee bars, and brands of soap. Better to be the best.

• People settle. They settle for less than they are capable of. Organizations settle too. For good enough instead of best in the world.

• If you’re not going to put in the effort to be my best possible choice, why bother?

Is “Well, no one better showed up” a valid strategy for success? Are you hoping to become a success because you’re the only one being considered?

• The reason that big companies almost always fail when they try to enter new markets is their willingness to compromise. They figure that because they are big and powerful, they can settle, do less, stop improving something before it is truly remarkable.

They compromise to avoid offending other divisions or to minimize their exposure. So they fail. They fail because they don’t know when to quit and when to refuse to settle.

• 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.

• How often do you look for someone who is actually quite good at the things you don’t need her to do? How often do you hope that your accountant is a safe driver and a decent golfer?

• In a free market, we reward the exceptional. In school, we tell kids that once something gets too hard, move on and focus on the next thing.

The low-hanging fruit is there to be taken; no sense wasting time climbing the tree.

• From a test-taking book: “Skim through the questions and answer the easiest ones first, skipping ones you don’t know immediately.” Bad advice. Superstars can’t skip the ones they don’t know. 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.

• Many organizations make sure they’ve dotted all their i’s—they have customer service, a receptionist, a convenient location, a brochure, and on and on—and all of it is mediocre. More often than not, prospects choose someone else—their competition. Those competitors can’t perform in some areas, but they’re exceptional in the ones that matter.

• Most people will tell you that you need to persevere—to try harder, put in more hours, get more training, and work hard. “Don’t quit!” they implore. But if all you need to do to succeed is not quit, then why do organizations less motivated than yours succeed? Why do individuals less talented than you win?

• 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. And most people do just that. They quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit.

• There are two curves that define almost any type of situation facing you as you try to accomplish something. (A couple of minor curves cover the rest.) Understanding the different types of situations that lead you to quit—or that should cause you to quit—is the first step toward getting what you want.

Curve 1: The Dip

• Almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip.

• The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.

• The Dip is the combination of bureaucracy and busywork you must deal with in order to get certified in scuba diving.

• The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.

• 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

• The Cul-de-Sac (French for “dead end”) is 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. That’s why they call those jobs dead-end jobs.

• There’s not a lot to say about the Cul-de-Sac except to realize that it exists and to embrace the fact that when you find one, you need to get off it, fast. That’s because a dead end is keeping you from doing something else.

The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high.

• Two big curves (a bonus, the Cliff, follows). Stick with the Dips that are likely to pan out, and quit the Cul-de-Sacs to focus your resources. That’s it.

Curve 3: The Cliff (Rare But Scary)

• The Cliff is a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart (e.g.smoking).

• The thing is, a profession in selling isn’t like smoking cigarettes. Neither is making it as a singer or building a long-term relationship with someone you care about.

Most of the time, the other two curves are in force. The Dip and the Cul-de-Sac aren’t linear. They don’t spoon feed you with little bits of improvement every day. And they’re just waiting to trip you up.

• The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

• The Cul-de-Sac and the Cliff are the curves that lead to failure. If you find yourself facing either of these two curves, you need to quit. Not soon, but right now. The biggest obstacle to success in life, as far as I can tell, is our inability to quit these curves soon enough.

Seth Godin, the Dip, the Cliff, and the Cul-De-Sac.

• 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?

What’s the point of sticking it out if you’re not going to get the benefits of being the best in the world? Are you overinvesting (really significantly overinvesting) time and money so that you have a much greater chance of dominating a market? And if you don’t have enough time and money, do you have the guts to pick a different, smaller market to conquer?

Once you’re doing those things, then you get it.

• If you haven’t already realized it, the Dip is the secret to your success. 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.

• The fact that it’s difficult and unpredictable works to your advantage. Because if it were any other way, there’d be no profit in it. The reason people bother to go windsurfing is that the challenge makes it interesting. The driving force that gets people to pay a specialist is that their disease is unpredictable or hard to diagnose. The reason we’re here is to solve the hard problems.

• The next time you’re tempted to vilify a particularly obnoxious customer or agency or search engine, realize that this failed interaction is the best thing that’s happened to you all day long. Without it, you’d be easily replaceable. The Dip is your very best friend.

• When faced with the Dip, many individuals and organizations diversify. If you can’t get to the next level, the thinking goes, invest your energy in learning to do something else.

• Hardworking, motivated people find diversification a natural outlet for their energy and drive. Diversification feels like the right thing to do. Enter a new market, apply for a job in a new area, start a new sport. Who knows? This might just be the 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.

• A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

Before you enter a new market, consider what would happen if you managed to get through the Dip and win in the market you’re already in.

• It’s easier to be mediocre than it is to confront reality and quit.

Quitting is difficult. Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you’re never going to be #1 in the world. At least not at this. So it’s easier just to put it off, not admit it, settle for mediocre.

• I’m angry at all the people who have wasted time and money trying to get through a Dip that they should have realized was too big and too deep to get through with the resources they had available.

• It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity.

• If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start. If you can embrace that simple rule, you’ll be a lot choosier about which journeys you start.

• If you want to be a superstar, then you need to find a field with a steep Dip—a barrier between those who try and those who succeed. And you’ve got to get through that Dip to the other side. This isn’t for everyone. If it were, there’d be no superstars. If you choose this path, it’s because you realize 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).

• Not only do you need to find a Dip that you can conquer but you also need to quit all the Cul-de-Sacs that you’re currently idling your way through. You must quit the projects and investments and endeavors that don’t offer you the same opportunity. It’s difficult, but it’s vitally important.

• Being better than 98 percent of the competition used to be fine. In the world of Google, though, it’s useless. It’s useless because all of your competition is just a click away, whatever it is you do. The only position you can count on now is best in the world.

• 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).

By “you” I mean your team, your company, or just plain you, the job seeker, the employee, or the entrepreneur. The important thing to remember about these seven things is that you can plan for them. You can know before you start whether or not you have the resources and the will to get to the end.

Most of the time, if you fail to become the best in the world, it’s either because you planned wrong or because you gave up before you reached your goal.

• Whatever you do for a living, or for fun, it’s probably somehow based on a system that’s based on quitting. Quitting creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

Eight Dip Curves

• Here are a bunch of systems that are dependent on Dips. These Dips are in places where organizations and individuals are most likely to give up.

If you see these Dips coming, you’re more likely to make a choice. You can choose (in advance) to do whatever you need to do in order to get through the Dip, knowing it’s going to be difficult; or you can give up before you get there.

Quitting in the Dip, though, isn’t worth the journey.

  1. Manufacturing Dip: It’s easy and fun to start building something in your garage. It’s difficult and expensive to buy an injection mold, design an integrated circuit, or ramp up for large-scale production. The time and effort and cost of ramping up your operation create the Dip. The Dip keeps the supply of stuff down and insulates those brave enough to invest in scaling up their production.
  2. Sales Dip: Most ideas get their start when one person—you—starts selling them. Selling the idea to stores or to businesses or to consumers or even to voters. But the Dip hits when you need to upgrade to a professional sales force and scale it up. In almost every field, the competitor that’s first with a big, aggressive sales force has a huge advantage.
  3. 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.
  4. Risk Dip: Bootstrappers learn the hard way that at some point they can’t pay for it all themselves, especially out of current income. It takes a risk to rent a bigger space or invest in new techniques. Successful entrepreneurs understand the difference between investing to get through the Dip (a smart move) or investing in something that’s actually a risky crapshoot.
  5. Relationship Dip: There are people and organizations that can help you later but only if you invest the time and effort to work with them now, even though now is not necessarily the easy time for you to do it. That kid who started in the mail room—who was always eager to do an errand for you or stay late to help out—she’s now the CEO. The relationships she built when it was difficult to do so paid off later. Those shortsighted people who are always eager for a favor or a break never manage to get through the relationship Dip, because they didn’t invest in relationships back when it was difficult (but not urgent).
  6. 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.
  7. Ego Dip: When it’s all about you, it’s easier. Giving up control and leaning into the organization gives you leverage. Most people can’t do this; they can’t give up control or the spotlight. They get stuck in that Dip.
  8. Distribution Dip: Some retailers (local strip malls, the Web) make it easy for your product to get distribution, while others (Target) require an investment from your organization that may just pay off. Getting your product into Wal-Mart is far more likely to lead to huge sales than is putting it on the Web. Why? Scarcity. Everyone is on the Web, but getting into Wal-Mart is hard.

• 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. Optimistic entrepreneurs and employees who blithely wander into a serious business, totally out-gunned and unprepared to work their way through the Dip ahead, are in danger of building a space shuttle.

• There’s nothing wrong with optimism. The pain (and the waste) comes when the optimists have to make hard choices when they get stuck in the Dip.

• The space shuttle is a Cul-de-Sac, not a Dip. When pundits argue in favor of the shuttle, they don’t say, “We should keep doing this because it’s going to get safer/cheaper/more productive over time.”

The only reason the shuttle still exists is that no one has the guts to cancel it. There’s no reason to keep investing in something that is not going to get better.

• If we canceled the shuttle, we’d create an urgent need for a replacement. The lack of a way to get to space would force us to invent a new, better, cheaper alternative.

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

• Make it through the competition’s barriers and you get to be king for a while.

• Focus on quitting (or not quitting) as a go-up opportunity. It’s not about avoiding the humiliation of failure. Even more important, you can realize that quitting the stuff you don’t care about or the stuff you’re mediocre at or better yet quitting the Cul-de-Sacs frees up your resources to obsess about the Dips that matter.

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

• Quitting at the right time is difficult. Most of us don’t have the guts to quit. Worse, when faced with the Dip, sometimes we don’t quit. Instead, we get mediocre.

• The most common response to the Dip is to play it safe. To do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. 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.

• To be a superstar, you must do something exceptional. Not just survive the Dip, but use the Dip as an opportunity to create something so extraordinary that people can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and, yes, choose it.

• 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.

• Isn’t your time and your effort and your career and your reputation too valuable to squander on just being average? 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.

• While starting up is thrilling, it’s not until you get through the Dip that your efforts pay off. Countless entrepreneurs have perfected the starting part, but give up long before they finish paying their dues.

The sad news is that when you start over, you get very little credit for how long you stood in line with your last great venture.

• Selling is about a transference of emotion, not a presentation of facts. If it were just a presentation of facts, then a PDF flyer or a Web site would be sufficient to make the phone ring.

• Prospects (that’s you if you’ve ever been sold something) are experts at sensing what’s on the salesperson’s mind. People have honed their salesperson radar—we’re really good at detecting sincerity (or the lack of it).

If a salesperson’s attitude is “Hey, if this person doesn’t buy, there’s someone right down the street I can call on,” what’s projected is “Hey, I’m not that serious about you having this product.” On the other hand, 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. Because if your order book is 80 percent filled with prospects where you just sort of show up, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re also stealing your energy from the 20 percent of the calls where you have a chance to create a breakthrough.

• Once again, getting through the Dip is a valid strategy. It isn’t a good strategy because successful salespeople are annoying—no, sticking through the Dip is a great strategy because it changes the entire dynamic of the salesperson’s day. It is not a moral choice. It’s a strategic one. “I’m getting through this Dip with you because it’s important to both of us” is the very best signal to send.

• Most consumers could care less about your idea or those fancy high-heeled shoes or some cutting-edge type of glue. Instead, they wait. They wait for something to be standardized, tested, inexpensive, and ready for prime time. Hence the Dip of market acceptance.

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

• While one publisher runs from author to author looking for an instant best seller, another nurtures Dr. Seuss or Stephen King as he slowly builds an audience. While one nonprofit runs from grant maker to grant maker seeking funds for this project or that one, a successful nonprofit sticks with a consistent theme, showing up, paying its dues, focusing on just a few foundations until the money comes through.

• Job seekers face the Dip because human resources departments support it. HR doesn’t show up at your door and offer you a job. They set hurdles (like submitting a résumé or wearing a suit or flying to Cleveland) as a way of screening out the folks who aren’t actually serious about a job.

• Only a tiny portion of the audience is looking for the brand-new thing. Most people are waiting for the tested, the authenticated, and the proven.

• 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. The businesses we think of as overnight successes weren’t. We just didn’t notice them until they were well baked.

• Don’t fall in love with a tactic and defend it forever. Instead, decide once and for all whether you’re in a market or not. And if you are, get through that Dip.

• The market wants to see you persist. It demands a signal from you that you’re serious, powerful, accepted, and safe. The bulk of the market, any market, is made up of those folks in the middle of the bell curve, the ones who want to buy something proven and valued.

• Following a product all the way through the Dip works because you’re reaching an ever larger part of the market. If your product isn’t working, if your service isn’t catching on, if you’re not even appealing to the crazy geeks who like the new stuff, you mustn’t persist with a tactic just because you feel stuck with it.

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”. No, the opposite of quitting is rededication. The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.

• The Dip is flexible. It responds to the effort you put into it. In fact, it’s quite likely (in almost every case) that aggressive action on your part can make the Dip a lot worse. Or a lot better.

• 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. You need to remind yourself of life at the other end of the Dip because it’s easier to overcome the pain of yet another unsuccessful cold call if the reality of a successful sales career is more concrete.

• It’s easier to stick out a lousy class in college if you can picture graduation day. Even more vivid is the power of keeping score. If you can track your Alexa rank online or your class rank or your market share or your spot in the sales-team pecking order, working your way up to number one is daily feedback that helps you deal with the short-term hassles.

• Persistent people are able to visualize 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.

• It’s okay to quit, sometimes. In fact, it’s okay to quit often. You should quit if you’re on a dead-end path. You should quit if you’re facing a Cliff. You should quit if the project you’re working on has a Dip that isn’t worth the reward at the end.

Quitting the projects that don’t go anywhere is essential if you want to stick out the right ones. You don’t have the time or the passion or the resources to be the best in the world at both.

• Our parents and grandparents believed you should stay at a job for five years, ten years, or even your whole life. But in a world where companies come and go—where they grow from nothing to the Fortune 500 and then disappear, all in a few years—that’s just not possible.

• 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.

• If your job is a Cul-de-Sac, you have to quit or accept the fact that your career is over.

• Strategic quitting is a conscious decision you make based on the choices that are available to you.

If you realize you’re at a dead end compared with what you could be investing in, quitting is not only a reasonable choice, it’s a smart one. Failing, on the other hand, means that your dream is over.

Failing happens when you give up, when there are no other options, or when you quit so often that you’ve used up all your time and resources.

• Pride is the enemy of a smart quitter. Richard Nixon sacrificed tens of thousands of innocent lives (on both sides) when he refused to quit the Vietnam war.

The only reason he didn’t quit sooner: pride.

The very same pride that keeps someone in the same career years after it has become unattractive and no fun. The very same pride that keeps a restaurant open long after it’s clear that business is just not going to pick up.

• If you’re thinking about quitting (or not quitting), then you’ve succeeded. Realizing that quitting is worth your focus and consideration is the first step to becoming the best in the world. The next step is to ask three questions:

  1. Am I panicking?
  2. Who am I trying to influence?
  3. What sort of measurable progress am I making?

Question 1: Am I panicking?

• Quitting when you’re panicked is dangerous and expensive. The best quitters, as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they’re going to quit. You can always quit later—so wait until you’re done panicking to decide.

• When the pressure is greatest to compromise, to drop out, or to settle, your desire to quit should be at its lowest. The decision to quit is often made in the moment. But that’s exactly the wrong time to make such a critical decision. 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. While that might be the easiest path, it’s also the least successful one.

Question 2: Who am I trying to influence?

• Are you trying to succeed in a market? Get a job? Train a muscle?

If you’re considering quitting, it’s almost certainly because you’re not being successful at your current attempt at influence. If you have called on a prospect a dozen times without success, you’re frustrated and considering giving up. If you’ve got a boss who just won’t let up, you’re considering quitting your job. And if you’re a marketer with a product that doesn’t seem to be catching on, you’re wondering if you should abandon this product and try another.

If you’re trying to influence just one person, persistence has its limits. It’s easy to cross the line between demonstrating your commitment and being a pest. If you haven’t influenced him yet, it may very well be time to quit.

One person or organization will behave differently than a market of people will. One person has a particular agenda and a single worldview. One person will make up his mind and if you’re going to succeed, you’ll have to change it. And changing someone’s mind is difficult, if not impossible.

If you’re trying to influence a market, though, the rules are different. Sure, some of the people in a market have considered you (and even rejected you). But most of the people in the market have never even heard of you. The market doesn’t have just one mind. Different people in the market are seeking different things.

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?

• 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.

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. Too often, we get stuck in a situation where quitting seems too painful, so we just stay with it, choosing not to quit because it’s easier than quitting. That choice—to stick with it in the absence of forward progress—is a waste. It’s a waste because of the opportunity cost—you could be doing something far better, and far more pleasurable, with your time.

• 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’ve got a small business and you are keeping a few customers happy, it’s fine to keep on keeping on because, over time, those customers can get you new customers. You can measure your progress by referrals and sales growth. Your consistency and market presence, all by themselves, are enough to justify your efforts (sometimes). If, on the other hand, your business doesn’t generate word of mouth, doesn’t see new customers, and isn’t moving forward, why exactly are you sticking with it?

When you are trying to influence an entire market, the value of not quitting is quite high. Yes, you should probably be eager to quit a marketing tactic that isn’t paying for itself or even a particular product feature that isn’t appealing to your target audience. But your commitment to the market needs to be unquestioned—it’s much cheaper and easier to build your foundation in one market than to flit from one to another until you find a quick success.

Let’s slow down and think that through for a second. Quitting a job is not quitting your quest to make a living or a difference or an impact. Quitting a job doesn’t have to mean giving up. A job is just a tactic, a way to get to what you really want. As soon as your job hits a dead end, it makes sense to quit and take your quest to a bigger marketplace—because every day you wait puts your goal further away.

The same is true for an organization. You don’t define yourself by the tactics you use. Instead, your organization succeeds or fails in its efforts to reach its big goals. And the moment your tactics are no longer part of winning the Dip—the moment they are in a Cul-de-Sac—you are obligated to switch tactics at the same time you most definitely keep aiming for the bigger goal.

• The seduction of not quitting—and the source of all those stories about sticking it out—almost always comes from people moving through a market. When you hear about an author who got turned down thirty times before signing with a publisher or of an overnight sensation who paid her dues for a decade in coffee shops, you’re seeing how persistence pays off across a market.

On the other hand, when was the last time you heard about someone who stuck with a dead-end job or a dead-end relationship or a dead-end sales prospect until suddenly, one day, the person at the other end said, “Wow, I really admire your persistence; let’s change our relationship for the better”? It doesn’t happen.

• 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.

Just as a smart venture capitalist pressures the board of directors to have a plan in case they run out of money, every individual and every organization that wants to use quitting as a competitive tool ought to have a plan about when it’s time to quit.

• 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. The hard part is having the perspective to see this when you’re in pain, or frustrated, or stuck. That’s why setting your limits before you start is so powerful.

• If you enter a market that’s too big or too loud for the amount of resources you have available, your message is going to get lost. Your marketing disappears, your message fails to spread.

Think twice before launching a mass-market brand of chewing gum. Like adding just a few pounds of air to a flat tire, launching a product into too big of a market has little effect. You can’t create pressure and you never reach the Dip.

• Since few Americans have a Senseo, few talk about it. Few stores promote the pods. The word doesn’t spread and Senseo can’t reach critical mass—there are too many places for the message to go and not enough resources to get it there.

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

• You and your organization have the power to change everything. To create remarkable products and services. To over deliver. To be the best in the world. How dare you squander that resource by spreading it too thin. How dare you settle for mediocre just because you’re busy coping with too many things on your agenda, racing against the clock to get it all done.

• 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. You can only do that by marshaling all of your resources to get through the biggest possible Dip. In order to get through that Dip, you’ll need to quit everything 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.

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?
  • Is my persistence going to pay off in the long run?
  • Am I engaged with just one person (or organization), or do my actions in this situation spill over into the entire marketplace?
  • 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?
  • If I’m going to quit anyway, is there something dramatic I can do instead that might change the game?
  • Should I really be calling on IBM? Should I really be trying to get on Oprah?
  • What chance does this project have to be the best in the world?
  • Who decides what best is?
  • Can we make the world smaller?
  • Does it make sense to submit a résumé to every single ad on Craigslist, just to see what happens?
  • If I like my job, is it time to quit?
  • Is doing nothing better than planning on quitting and then doing something great?
  • Are you avoiding the remarkable as a way of quitting without quitting?

• It’s almost impossible to overinvest in becoming the market leader.

• All our successes are the same. All our failures, too. We succeed when we do something remarkable. We fail when we give up too soon. We succeed when we are the best in the world at what we do. We fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit.

 


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