The master of the dip gets all the chips

the dip
(Image:—No, I did not read this in French)

By Daniel Wilcock

Book review: The Dip, Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2007)

Grabbing The Dip from the library shelf, I almost chuckled. I’d previously come across the author, Seth Godin, in a TED talk where he appears to be channeling Steve Jobs (black long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans, lack of hair). I thought that the book’s title might be eponymous.

I checked out the book anyway because my professor spoke so highly of Godin’s work. Plus the text looked like it could be digested in two or three hours. I’m glad I persisted (though some reservations are listed at the end of this review). Godin is a good conceptual thinker, and this little book contains a powerful heuristic approach for becoming “the very best in the world,” an accomplishment he claims is “seriously underrated.”

“The dip” refers to the difficult stage of any project in which the pros put significant distance between themselves and their competition. It’s the period of time characterized by apparently diminishing results when quitting and settling for mediocre results are far more tantalizing than “leaning into” the dip and breaking through.

People and companies that become the best in their field don’t quit in the dip, rather they recognize it as an opportunity to break away from the herd. Knowing that things are much easier on the other side of the dip, they push through trials and establish themselves as the best. Having made it through the dip, established pros are in the enviable position of being able to call the shots.

Seth Godin (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Godin says that dips can sometimes turn out to be cul-de-sacs (AKA the dead end job), in which there’s no upside to additional effort, or cliffs, in which business is looking up until you find yourself hurtling into a ravine. It takes foresight, self-awareness and coup d’oeil to recognize these trap patterns and differentiate them from the dips in which you can show your stuff.

And what do you do when you recognize a trap? Quit.

A lot of this book is about quitting decisively. Godin writes that most of the things we learn in school about life are wrong, especially the focus on being well-rounded (you need to get at least a B in all of your classes). In the free market, Godin implies, it’s ok for adults to get an A+ in one subject and drop all the others. To him, it’s admirable to be a quitter. The most successful people generally quit the things that don’t count (and they are very good about choosing what does count). I think this is a wise observation which most professionals should at least consider, even if the idea of quitting being valuable doesn’t sit well.

Yet, I have reservations about this book. Godin’s talent as a writer who straddles the line between business analysis and self-help is amply evident. This book is fun to read and its message is infectious. It gave me that warm “now I understand the world a bit better” feeling that characterizes the very best self-help books. To me that feeling is always a bit of a warning sign that I may be buying into too many assumptions without thinking through implications.

Questions arise: Should look out for ourselves first when quitting hurts others?  Is a relentless drive to be “the very best in the world” just egotism? By becoming the king of the hill, should you push newcomers back into the dip or pull them up behind you?

I think most of my reservations center around Godin’s choice to focus on being best. He’s on far firmer ground when he discusses things in terms of success. Of course, “the very best” sounds a lot better than successful, but successful is a far bigger and happier cosmos in which your star can shine.

Action items:

Buy the book

Read the blog the author created for the book.