Do you know when to Quit (and when to Stick)?

The Dip - A Book by Seth Godin

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Let’s picture this: you’re in your office and you’ve been working on this project for days. You know management wants to see results, but it’s not going anywhere. In fact, you and your team feel like you’re going backwards and it’s exhausting. It’s a mess, the customer is unhappy and you’re running out of budget.

Now, you’re in what’s called “The Dip”. It’s a tough spot.

Should you keep going and hope for the best, or should you decide to quit now and cut our losses?

That’s tough because no-one taught us what to do once in it. Fortunately, that’s what Seth Godin teaches us in his book “The Dip : A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick)”.

The Dip – Seth Godin

A Runner’s Example

The Dip is most visible to me when I go for a run because I experience it every single time I go out running. It usually goes like this:

  • (first 10 min) : I have so much energy, I feel like I’ll run a marathon today!
  • (10min-20min) : Running is not that bad after all. It’s not a lot of fun, but being outside feels great. I might not run a marathon today, but even 1h would make me happy
  • (20min-30min) : Maybe I run until that next tree and I check my legs. Then I need to stop for water. Oh, I got a text message, I need to stop and check. Maybe today wasn’t a good day after all, I’m tired… Oh wait, is it raining already?
  • (30min – 2h+) : Now I don’t even know I’m running anymore, my legs are on autopilot. Perfect mental state for a 2h run.

If I put this on a graph, it would look like the graph below with my Dip at 20min-30min.

It’s so important because I know that if I can run at least 30min, I can run minimum 1h. I know my efforts will be rewarded if I can make it through the dip.

Just think about that for a second.

Knowing in advance that there will be a struggle and that it can be overcome.

What Seth Godin explains in his book is that every activity we start always follows that curve and that we eventually reach a Dip.

Seeing the curve in advance

There are so many examples, like weight loss programs, blogging, a new sport or even becoming Financially Independent. It’s easy to get started, but it’s not easy to remain consistent and reach the end goal. The Dips stop most of us.

So Seth Godin suggests that one way to know if we should quit (or stick) is whether or not that particular activity we are considering quitting helps us be #1. Is it bringing any kind of meaningful value to our lives?

it’s not because I don’t want to do it, it’s because I know that I won’t be able to be great at it.

If we can see the curve in advance, we should be able to realize that some activities aren’t worth starting. If we can’t imagine being the best at that activity, why start in the first place? Why start something to be mediocre or only to realize a few months in that we just don’t have the resources, whether time, money or energy to go through the Dip?

That’s actually a very good way to justify saying ‘no’: it’s not because I don’t want to do it, it’s because I know already that I won’t be able to be great at it.

Aim for greatness or don’t start.

3 questions to ask before quitting

But what if we’re already involved and wondering whether we should quit or stick?

There are 3 key questions to ask yourself before quitting:

  1. Is it a rational decision or an impulsive one? Quitting should be planned and rational, not based on impulses and emotions of the moment.
  2. Who are you trying to influence? Trying to influence one person has its limit but trying to influence a market has many options. In a market, or group of people, there can be many individuals who won’t be interested in your ideas, but many probably don’t even know about you.  If you work for a company of 5 people and you can’t convince the boss to change the culture, maybe it’s time to quit. But if your company is a group of 100,000 people, you are likely to find other managers who would be receptive to your ideas. It’s only a matter of finding them.
  3. Are you making measurable progress? You can either be moving forward, falling behind or standing still. To stick with the absence of moving forward is a waste. It’s a waste because of the opportunity cost. Moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean making more money or getting promotions, it could be more subtle things like building your network, increasing your influence, reputation or expertise.

To stick with the absence of moving forward is a waste. It’s a waste because of the opportunity cost

In my opinion, there should also be a 4th question:

4. Will you have the resources to go through the Dip? Whether time, money or energy, if we want to quit early or plan to minimize the opportunity cost getting involved in activities we already know we can’t be great at, it’s worth considering now if we’ll have the resources in the future. A few months ago, I resigned from the board of my HOA because I knew I wouldn’t have the resources to serve on the board in 2017. With a full time job, a blog and now a kid, the amount of time it would have required to do a great job was more than I could commit. So I quit.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I thought it was a fantastic book.

It has received its lot of criticism, and some of it is warranted, but most of it isn’t. Let me give a few examples:

  • The book is too short : yes, the book is short (80 pages), I read it in 1 evening. I actually think this is an advantage. Why makes a book long if it doesn’t need to? I don’t measure the quality of a book by its $ / page, but by the value it brings me. This book is a great value.
  • The advice is common sense, as in “it’s cheap advice that anyone could have said”. Yes, this is true. But isn’t the best advice common sense? Invest in low cost index funds (Jack Bogle)? Be nice to people if you want to succeed (Dale Carnegie)? Eat healthy and exercise (your mom maybe)? But common sense isn’t necessarily easy to apply and we usually need someone to push us, convince us, show us how we would benefit from it. Another plus in my book.

The Dip is a great book.

It doesn’t feel like a revolutionary book, it probably isn’t, but it has a very rare quality: it’s easy to take action based on the book’s advice. I have read too many books that were awesome reads, but the advices they provided were impossible or difficult to actually implement. The Dip has this quality, it’s simple.

Anything that can help us make better investments of our time is critical. For the price of a book, the Dip delivers that value. If you feel stuck in a project and wonder if you should quit or stick, you should give this book a try, it’s well worth it.

-Nick

Available on Amazon (~10$) : The Dip : A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Good book to read…

    At work, we just have a dip behind us. I do think we are now in the final part. Great energy!

    Every project (in the broad) sense indeed always goes through a dip. Without a dip, I sometimes think we are not far enough down the road yet

    • This is something that we need to think about when managing project, especially at work. Good to hear that it’s behind you, you should now reap the benefits of your hard work.

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