There are many ways to win. Sometimes winners do quit and quitters do win. After the excitement and fun of starting a new project, you might across a setback and hit a low point. This is what Seth Godin describes as a 'Dip', a temporary setback that you would overcome if you keep pushing. But it is important to figure out when you hit a dead end whether you should continue pushing, staying focused and motivated to take home a big win or quit because it might be a trap and this is not the right dip to die for.
Given how some of the more prolific Gumroad authors such as Andrew Kamphey recommend this book, I decided to read it and to share the key messages and critically assess the applicable lesson takeaways.
Being the best in the world is seriously underrated (and also achievable)
One of the Seth's key messages is that it is fantastically beneficial to be the "best in the world" and extraordinary benefits accrue to them. The argument for this is that the rewards are heavily skewed to the best in the world. The #1 gets 10x the benefit of the #10 and 100x the benefit of the #100. He points towards Zipf's law, which is a power distribution where frequency is proportional to its rank on a frequency table.
There are two reasons for this:
1) With limited time and opportunity to experiment, a person would generally intentionally narrow their choices to the top. For example, if one were diagnosed with a specific cancer, instead of wasting time going around looking through several doctors, one might go look for 'the best' person available.
2) Scarcity makes being at the top worth something. The hurdles set up by markets and society makes certain resources scarce. We generally trust in a system to act as a filter and that there is a quality assured from the 'best'.
Just look at Anthony Joshua - the popular UK heavy weight champ. Whilst it is debatable whether he is the 'most skilled heavyweight', he is the 'most popular' and the 'best for ticket sales'. Consider his Pay Per View sales. During the 2018-2020 period, there have been three major heavy weight champions. Anthony Joshua (AJ), Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. All three are champions. However AJ's PPV sales exceeds both of them. Whilst major fights sell more tickets, even AJ's fights against opponents whom are not major ticket draws, have seen an office gate of 1,247,000 for September 2018 against Alexander Povetkin. The other two champions even when fighting against each other in their December 2018 match only saw 450,000 sales!
According to boxing laymen, Tyson Fury is the 'best' boxer in skills. Deontay Wilder is the 'best' in knockout power. AJ outsells both of them combined even though he is not necessarily the best boxer skill-wise or power. This is an example of the vagueness of what is the best in the world?
For someone wondering whether if they will hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do, they will wonder if you're the best choice.
Best means best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know.
In the world means their world, the world they have access to.
When one is looking to hire a freelance designer, they will look for the best designer, who's available and who can fit into the budget price which they can afford. The world and the best is therefore pretty subjective.
Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organisations
Seth claims that there are three curves which define most situations where you are trying to accomplish something.
There's the dip which is the period from when you start something to just before mastery:
The dip according to Seth is the filter. Between those who give up and those who overcome it. Adversity in the challenge of the dip is an ally to those who persist and a barrier of entry to those who give up. Seth writes that "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".
The people that stick through the Dip, who hunker down, galvanize, insulate and perfect what they do whilst others look for a quick hit is key to becoming the best. The 'market' does appreciate those whom persist. In that those who do, create a signal that they are serious, powerful, accepted and safe. The bulk of the market is made up of people in the middle of the bell curve and they want what is proven and valued.
You should know when to take the decision to persevere and overcome the dip and when to know it is not worth it. It's similar to the adage of choosing your battles. This can be determined by whether it is a field you can be good enough at.
"The next rime 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."
- Seth Godin
There is the cul de sac (French for 'dead end') which is the situation when you are stationary - when you work and work and work and nothing changes at all. It is the curve in which one should quit but oftentimes it is just easier to keep continuing on it and so we struggle to quit it.
And then there is the cliff. Like the cul de sac, it is set to make you fail. With the cliff, it seems good to climb but then suddenly you discover it is terrible for you and you fall. Like the cul de sac, it is the curve that you should quit. With the cliff, you don't want to be on a curve where you perhaps may be getting a lot of pleasure from smoking but then over time, you might suffer the long term health consequences associated with smoking.
"Quitting when you hit the Dip is a bad idea. If the journey you started was worth doing, then quitting when you hit the Dip just wastes the time you've al ready invested. Quit in tl1e Dip often enough and you'll find yourself becoming a serial quitter, starting many things but accomplishing little.
Simple: 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."
- Seth Godin
There's a cost in serial quitting
Tasks on the cul-de-sac and the cliff curves are what you should quit. When faced with the Dip and making the choice on whether to persevere or be the best, there is a cost if you quit too often.
In computer science, when jumping through different tasks, the CPU does something called a context switch.
Seth explains the cost of serial quitting with an analogy to supermarket checkout queues. In those queues, people adopt one of three strategies:
1) Pick the shortest line and get in it. Stick with it, no matter what.
2) Pick the shortest line and switch lines once (at a maximum) jf something holds up your line. But only switch once.
3) Pick the shortest line and keep scanning other lines. Switch lines if a
shorter one appears, continuing this process until you leave the store.
With the third strategy you face the challenge where you waste time jumping back and forth in the queues. There are queues everywhere and when one jumps from one to another, or from one project to another in search of a new, easier and/or better opportunity, time is wasted in the switch.
When exactly should you quit?
If the market rewards perseverance and those who succeed overcoming the Dip are rewarded, when should you quit exactly?
You want quitting to be a strategic decision.
As mentioned, the cul de sac and the cliff curves are when you should quit. If you are faced with a challenge that seems like a road block you should assess the alternatives. Present the option of quitting and starting a new path or trying to clear the roadblock that is faced. The two options should be seriously assessed.
If one looks at the Boston Marathon, the majority of people quitting is at mile 18-22. That is the trickiest period. One is tired. One might not see the end in sight. Those who do and those who persevere by having the finish line in their sights by going a little further are rewarded.
So where's the cul de sac or the curve in the marathon? It is where you are not coping. Where coping would be a lousy alternative to quitting. When you have no reason to stick around that is the period when you should quit and ignore the sunk costs. Considering sunk costs generally means that one would likely discount the future for occurrences in the past. The present and future also bear an opportunity cost and when discounting such periods, one may not necessarily realise that they are around in a field or a curve that if they thought strategically about - they would not want to be in.
There are three questions to think about and ask oneself before quitting:
1) Am I panicking? -> Panic is never pre-meditated. It's expensive to quit when one is panicked. Rather you are wanting to decide in advance when you quit.
2) Who am I trying to influence? -> When doing a product or doing a job, you are most likely trying to influence someone or a group of people. If you are of the intent to influence just one person, then your persistence has a limit and constraint based on that person. In a market, there are a lot more people and this number of people are not homogenous. Your limits of persuasion go much further and in the persistence of improvements, those who try what you have to offer most likely find greater value in the later versions of your product.
3) What sort of measurable progress am I making? -> To succeed in an outcomes based scenario, you're either moving forward, falling behind, or standing still. In those three options you don't want to quit if you can move forward. If you aren't, you need to assess whether what you are doing is a tactic e.g. doing a job to get to an outcome you want or is your strategy. If it is the latter and you aren't making progress - perhaps it is time to quit.
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.
- Seth Godin
Thanks towards Seth Godin and his book 'The Dip: When to Quit and When to Stick' for the core message of how to assess when to quit.