Note to Self: Seth Godin's The Dip

It's a wet day before term starts, so I'm reading little bits and piece to keep me sane (also: ranting about dead socialists). I've just finished Seth Godin's The Dip, an 80 page little rant about quitting, and when it is smart to do so. Godin's idea can be summarised in one phrase:

quit the wrong stuff, stick with the right stuff, and have the guts to do one or the other.

The idea is that we are all stuck doing things we're not really ever going to be the best at. And that is a waste of our time. By saying yes to too many things, we create excessive commitments on our time and energy, which are scarce resources, and ensure we won't do well at any of these things.

Being the best at something implies scarcity and therefore value, by dint of a simple ranking: there is only one Michael Phelps, and he only got that good by being really selective about what he did with his time. In his own words, "Eat, sleep, swim".

The obvious questions are 'which things should I quit?', and, 'what do I do if I can't quit something?'

To answer the first question, Godin calls up the image of The Dip. The dip is defined as the slog between learning and mastery of a skill. So the first week of college is brilliant fun, but after four years, it really is a slog. But, on the other side of a degree, most people can see that they are changed for the better.

The slope of the Dip also matters. Microsoft, for example, created such a huge dip in the word processor market that no one can ride it through for long enough to challenge them. Competitors have to seek other paths to world domination.

There are other curves with respect to projects Godin identifies: the cul de sac, which is obvious, and the cliff. The cliff is a situation where you don't have any incentive to quit until you fall off it, for example, smoking.

In a world where the dip dominates, diversification is a lie. Quit lots, until you find a dip you can beat for the right reasons, argues Godin. The practice this translates to is to envision what circumstances you'll quit under, before you get into those circumstances.

Several things Godin doesn't talk about is minor things you'd love to quit, but which have dependencies on other things you love doing. I love my job as a lecturer, but I hate marking exams. I can't quit marking them though, because marking exams is a necessary and sufficient condition of existence as a lecturer in the KBS.

Another thing Godin glosses over is the usefulness of being well rounded. Take education, for example. Godin writes that the chap who comes out of their Leaving Certificate with an A, two B's and three C's is wasting his time, because he hasn't specialised, and so is in danger of becoming mediocre. He should have concentrated on that A subject. Perhaps he will later on, say in college, but I rather like the idea of a well rounded individual who can talk to me about books, the arts, and current affairs, rather than simply asking me 'what's that got to do with swimming?'

So there are trade offs to Godin's point of view. In certain areas (like my job, where I am hopelessly over committed to things right now) it makes sense to think about the dip before jumping into another new project.