Updated on 01.06.08

Review: The Dip

Trent Hamm

Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal development or personal productivity book.

do da dipI’ve been an avid reader of Seth Godin’s blog for a long time (since mid-2002, I think). He largely writes about marketing topics, but often branches out into related things: careers, self-promotion, and so on.

I decided to follow this up and read The Dip because he’s a compelling writer and the topic of The Dip – identifying when one should quit and redirect their efforts to another task – is of interest to me as I try to decide if I should switch careers and focus on something new.

The Dip is short. It measures in at about eighty one pages and can easily be read in an hour and a half. In fact, it’s the shortest book I’ve reviewed so far on The Simple Dollar. Does that mean the content isn’t valuable or compelling, or does brevity really help the case here? Let’s find out.

Leaping Into The Dip

The concepts in this book can really be boiled down to just a large handful of simple points. Godin explains these very well with juicy metaphors and examples, of course, but this short book exists just to drive home a few points.

Everyone quits. That seems obvious, but it’s true – everyone quits things that they’re not good at. In parallel to that, quitting something you’re not good at means you have more time to work on the things that you are good at. The people that do the best are the ones that give up the most – they give up many, many things in order to hone in on that one thing.

It pays to be the best at something. Why do that? The person (or small group of people) who are tops in a field always take the biggest share of the spoils. They get the recognition, the income, and the opportunities with being at the pinnacle.

There are three stages along the way to mastering something. The first is the initial stage, where the learning is quite fun and enjoyable and you’re excited by learning new things. The third stage is mastery and continual growth, where you feel very confident in your skills. “The Dip” refers to the period between the two, which is often a slog filled with lots of practice and hard work, but no sense yet that you are mastering what it is you’re working on.

Sometimes, situations don’t allow an escape from “the dip.” Godin refers to these as a “cul-de-sac.” For example, a dead-end job without real promotion opportunities and without opportunities to really grow your skills is a cul-de-sac. These should be avoided if you want to build a career.

If something’s worth doing, it has a dip. Any skill worth learning, any job worth doing, any business worth running has a dip involved. That dip is what separates the wheat from the chaff. I know there have been times when writing The Simple Dollar that it’s felt like a giant slog, but I’m always glad I’ve persevered.

Don’t be afraid to quit. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t quit when they should. Pride is a big one. A rigid adherence to the “winners never quit” mentality is another one (it’s a good motto, but it doesn’t apply – you’re not a “winner” yet if you’re in the dip).

At the same time, don’t quit too easily. Many people are habitual “switchers” – they jump to something else when the road gets rough. If you do that, you’ll never really succeed at anything at all.

The best approach is to start something with a plan that includes some benchmarks for quitting. For example, if you’re writing a blog, you can say that if you get to a certain number of posts and have put in appropriate legwork in promoting it, if you haven’t reached a certain audience threshold, you should give it up and move onto something else.

Sometimes, it’s the right choice to quit something you enjoy. You might really enjoy something you’re doing, but if you’re stuck in a cul de sac with no chance for promotion and a decent chance of the project simply ending at some point in the near future, it’s time to move on. Similarly, if you dream of building a successful career, you should move on from any cul de sac situation.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

The Dip was enjoyable, no doubt about it. Godin is a very good writer – he’s quite good at taking simple ideas, illustrating them with examples, and turning the mundane into the interesting.

That being said, the idea behind The Dip is pretty conceptually simple and, once the idea is picked up, it doesn’t need to be reviewed. This book is a great one-time read, but it has very little that would make it a great reference read – I’d be shocked if anyone came back to this one for future readings.

That means definitely read this one, but check your local library first. This is a quintessential “check out from the library, go ‘a-ha!”, then return it” type of book – a really great idea to think about and apply to your own life, but not really one that will be returned to for future reference and guidance.

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  1. plonkee says:

    A bit lazy of me, but now that you’ve explained the principle, do I really need to go all the way to the library to check out the book, or can I work from this summary?

  2. Jason K. says:

    Trent: you summarized the main points of the book really well. I think the value is not so much in the concepts themselves (I imagine hardly anyone will disagree with the premise), but reading the book encourages self-examination on what it means to be successful in your area. And, as you pointed out, Godin makes the connects the dots with examples in his typical engaging way.

  3. Frugal Dad says:

    I think the most important point you made was “don’t quit too early.” Think of the many wonderful inventions that could have never come to be had their inventor given up after that fourth or fifth try. You never know when it’s the next solid attempt that finally breaks things loose.

  4. sir jorge says:

    This seems really short, I’m not sure if I’m going to buy it. (the book, not the review)

  5. Tyler says:

    Seth is a great writer, especially for the “newbie” audience.
    He gives straight and to the point advice. The best thing about Seth, in my opinion, are the questions that he poses. They really make you think. These questions are usually found in the short posts on his blog.

  6. Alvin says:

    I’ve just read The Dip myself and found it thoroughly inspiring. It’s a easy message and Seth’s a great writer, delivering it in a fluid, engaging style.

    I bought The Dip and have no regrets, I actually *would* go back and re-read it, not as much for the message but for the inspiration, especially in the last (short) chapter.

  7. J.D. says:

    I didn’t like this book. The concept was interesting, but the book was a rambling mess. I would have preferred a short, to-the-point blog post about the subject. In fact, I thought there was so little here, I decided not to review it.

    I don’t think Godin is a bad write — I just thought this book was “fluffy”.

  8. J.D. says:

    Here’s an Amazon review that completely captures my own feelings about the The Dip: “This book was very simple, yet it failed to capture a complete idea.” It feels like a book written without any sort of outline. It rambles.

  9. Lynoure says:

    It was interesting, but surprisingly not-applicable to the situation I was in when I read it. See, the Dip does not really address situations where the curve is getting better, but you are off the map altogether.

    Luckily the solution was simple, and now I work as a fulltime entrepreneur again.

  10. It seems kind of confusing: don’t give up too easily, but never eliminate the option of quitting altogether?

    I really believe in the power of persistence, so I understand the whole concept of the dip (especially when learning a new skill like a sport or an instrument), but isn’t part of its power in the idea of not thinking about quitting while you’re trying to learn it?

  11. Debbie M says:

    This is interesting. I have thought a lot about the decision of when to quit, but have not thought about many of these issues.

    Once I had been job hunting and given up. Then I read that it takes an average of 10 – 15 interviews before a person receives an acceptable job offer. I went back and counted how many reviews I had done. Nine. So I started job hunting again and almost immediately got two job offers, one of which was acceptable.

    As a result, I generally assume that whenever I can’t decide whether it’s time to give up, then I assume it’s not yet time, because I assume I tend to err in the direction of quitting too soon.

    I never thought of processes as being fun at the beginning and later but having a dip in the middle. I think for me, the dip often starts right at the beginning, which is why I’m most likely to try new things because of peer pressure. And which is why I make sure to hang around fun peers.

    And I absolutely do not want to devote myself to just the one thing I am best at. I love having way too many hobbies instead. Plus, a lot of times when you get too serious about something it starts to seem less fun, because then it matters more and it hurts more if you mess up. And so then you’re more likely to turn into a jerk.

    Still, I think it might be fun to read this, absorb a few more examples, and maybe get a better feeling for when it’s time to quit.

  12. DebtDefy says:

    DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read the book.

    That said, I found this statement slightly troubling:

    “Sometimes, it’s the right choice to quit something you enjoy.”

    Perhaps if your only focus is on gaining money/notoriety/advancement, then this applies. However, I’m not sure its the best advice to tell people to trade a job/hobby/task they really enjoy for something else in order to gain those benefits. My experience is that something you TRULY ENJOY is a RARE thing indeed (I’m talking that really deep personal satisfaction sort of enjoy, not the superficial “that was fun” type of enjoy). A lot of people may not mind going to work every day, and may have hobbies that are “fun.” However, a job or hobby you TRULY ENJOY is priceless, whether it’s pulling you in six figures, or doesn’t pay you a dime.

    Not that I would advocate dumping serious cash into a completely unproductive hobby while neglecting retirement (or worse, going into debt), or staying in an obviously dead-end job while not being able to support your needs, but if you TRULY ENJOY something, the financial rewards it brings are a distant second to the personal satisfaction, and if it is truly making you happy and not negatively affecting you otherwise, it will have a far greater impact on your life than any amount of money.

    Example: The Simple Dollar. Trent recently killed a lot of financial income for his site by dropping ads he felt were negatively impacting his readers. This was a poor decision if only looking at the financial aspect. It’s obvious The Simple Dollar is a passion for Trent and something he truly enjoys, but it’s probably not paying him back right now. Perhaps it will down the road, perhaps it won’t, but should he drop it because of that risk? What if Trent only ever breaks even, is it still worth it?

    Success is judged by many factors, and money is but one.

  13. Liz says:

    This is perhaps a bit off topic, but I have to ask Trent….
    HOW do you find the time in the day to read all these books that you review each week, plus be a Dad to 2 kids, husband, full time worker, keep up with the Simple Dollar, etc. etc. etc. This is remarkable! I guess you make time for what is important…..more power to you :)

  14. Carolyn says:

    I’d have to agree with debtdefy on questioning the whole “Sometimes it’s the right choice to quit something you enjoy.” I’ve tried and tried to find a niche on Ebay and other avenues to SELL something and make some money at it. I’ve read everything I can find on successful selling, promoting, key words…etc., etc. I get frustrated many times. But basically, it makes me HAPPY!!! I love the concept. And as long as it doesn’t cause me go into debt doing this, I will continue – hoping to at long last find my niche.

  15. Austin says:

    I’ve read The Dip and found it very inspirational. Seth is a good writer and I look forward to reading his another book ‘The Purple Cow’.

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