“Never give up”. “Don’t be a quitter”. “Quitters never win”. I’m sure you’ve all heard something along those lines – maybe some of you have even had it drilled into you at some point. I’ve had a personal experience with those sayings when I tried playing piano and then guitar in quick succession, and gave up on both after I had extreme difficulty with it and wasn’t making any progress.
Throughout reading Seth Godin’s book The Dip, I was a shocked, as his thesis goes against the values we are brought up with. We are taught that quitting is something we must not do, ever. It’s like giving in. Our entire education systems are based around this concept of not quitting – we have to go through the process from years 1 to 13, then university, slogging away at work without quitting.
Seth Godin says that quitting is a good thing, and no one will ever become the best at anything unless they are good at quitting.
The book starts with Godin describing why you have to be the best. It’s entirely relevant to the book, and very interesting. If you look at the rewards given to the winner in an industry, the rewards are usually even ten times greater than those received by the the company who comes second in any industry. The example used in the book is that of ice cream flavours. Of all the flavours, vanilla is by far the most popular, even more popular than chocolate. So we might expect that it has marginally higher sales than chocolate ice cream. But in fact, it has many times more sales than chocolate and most other flavours combined. It’s a simple analogy, but it shows why we need to be the best in whatever we do. Just look at Google search results – the first result on Google is clicked on more than ten times more than the second Google search result. That’s why you need to be best.
Godin then argues that you will never be the best in anything unless you learn to quit intelligently. He says that if we don’t quit then we’ll simply spend our time working on projects or in jobs that are in fact either a cul-de-sac or a cliff. These are terms he uses to describe jobs or projects that are a complete waste of time, because you’ll either spend your whole life working on them but they’ll never get you anywhere, or you’ll work on them for a while and then fail miserably.
His entire book is about learning when to quit, and when to stick with something.
How does “The Dip” come into it? The Dip is what every person experiences in almost anything that they start. Imagine you’re learning to play golf. At the start it’s new and exciting, and the time spent at the driving range practicing is fun and fulfilling because you have a lot of room to improve. But after a while the practice starts to become not so fun. You don’t see the improvements like you used to. You start to get blisters on your hands because you’ve played too much. It starts to chew into too much of your time. And then you start thinking about whether golf really is for you, and if you’ll ever become good.
It’s the same for anything you’re starting. Whether you’re an entrepreneur starting a new business or someone starting an undergrad degree at college – you’ll experience the dip.
The first thing Godin advises is that if you won’t become the best at whatever you’re starting, there’s no point in trying to get past The Dip and succeed. He says you should quit straight away and focus your time and money on something that you can become the best at. Remember, it makes sense to be the best, not just above average, because the rewards are unequally skewed. In essence, Godin says that you should quit as soon as you realize something’s not worth going on to do. But it’s best to quit before you get to The Dip, because then you haven’t wasted as much time and effort.
The whole book challenged the way I think about a lot of things, because I’ve been taught to view challenges the way our education system deems we should. In some ways it’s dangerous that we think we should never give up, because it means so many people in society will never make a good contribution to society and do what they love because they’re stuck with something they’re too proud to quit. If I could choose one quote from the text to share, it’s this:
What a spectacularly bad piece of advice. I think the advice giver meant to say “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment”.
Now that’s good advice.