The Dip – Book Notes and Summary

The Dip by Seth Godin

One-sentence summary: The Dip sings the praises of those who quit the wrong things so they can use all their energy to focus on the right things.

Rating: 7/10

Author: Seth Godin

Date Completed: March 17th, 2021

Tags: Quitting, Quit Commitments, Psychology, Frameworks, Mental Models, Career Strategy, Career, Knowledge Capital, Self-Knowledge

Hot take: If Seth Godin’s blog posts weren’t so short, The Dip wouldn’t need to be a book at all. But here we are. You can read it in an hour, but it takes multiple readings to get the most out of this one, in my experience.

“If you’ve got as much as you’ve got, use it. Use it to become the best in the world, to change the game, to set the agenda for everyone else. You can only do that by marshaling all of your resources to get through the biggest possible Dip. In order to get through that Dip, you’ll need to quit everything else. If it’s not going to put a dent in the world, quit. Right now. Quit and use that void to find the energy to assault the Dip that matters.”

Big Ideas

Being the best in the world at your thing – no matter how niche – has astounding returns.

  • Being #1 in the world is probably worth 10x being #10 at it, which is worth 10x being #100. The top handful of authors get all the sales. The top ice cream flavor sells far more than the next most popular. The most popular songs get a billion streams on Spotify, while most songs get almost none.
  • Godin has creative definitions for both “best” and “in the world,” both of which are worth mentioning here:
    • Best: the top option available right now based on what a customer knows
    • World: The available or visible world right now.
  • “The mass market is dying. There is no longer one best song or one best kind of coffee. Now there are a million micromarkets, but each micromarket still has a best.”
  • To become the best in the world, though, takes time and effort – plus knowledge of where not to focus. According to Godin, being well-rounded has virtually no value.

The idea that winners never quit and quitters never win is wrong. Winners quit the right things all the time.

  • Strategic quitting is a good thing – it refocuses you on what you can be the best at.
  • Reactive, serial quitting is the reason people and businesses fail. It’s the hallmark of those who don’t end up getting what they want.
  • “They quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit.”
  • This is why you see so many people sticking it out with things they absolutely shouldn’t – bad relationships, dead-end careers, etc., and quitting things they should stick out.

The Dip vs. the Cul de Sac

  • The Dip is a challenging (and often lengthy) path you must take to business, creative, or career success. CEOs often spend 25 years in other roles that don’t always appear to be leading to the top spot before they get there. Writers often write for a decade or more before achieving any kind of notoriety.
  • “The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”
  • Many people quit in The Dip when they should stick it out.
  • The opposite situation from the dip is called the Cul de Sac (French for dead-end). In a Cul de Sac, the effort won’t lead to an eventual outcome. You just keep plugging away, and nothing changes.
  • Many people stick with Cul de Sacs much longer than they should – because they aren’t going to change. They’re sucking up time you could be using to do something else.

How to approach things that come with a Dip

  • Let’s use the example of snowboarding. If you’re an adult and you don’t know how to snowboard yet, there are two potential optimal strategies:
    • Brave: You’ll go through all the shit needed to learn how to snowboard and take the time to get good at it, even though you’ll fall a lot, hurt yourself, etc.
    • Mature: Decide not even to attempt to learn at this point in your life because you probably won’t get through The Dip
  • Yet most people choose Door #3: they try really hard to get good at snowboarding, putting in a lot of time and effort, then give up when the going gets tough without ever breaking through to the other side and getting the rewards for being an excellent snowboarder.
  • This is a lousy strategy that nearly everyone pursues. Being selective about what you take on becomes critical – you only want to engage if you think you can get through The Dip.
  • If you succeed in getting through to the other side, you want the space to be competitive. The adversity required to get through The Dip insulates you from others who will try and fail. This goes doubly for unpredictable areas.

How to get through The Dip

  • Don’t diversify. Businesses and people are tempted to do this – and Scott Adams and others suggest they should – but becoming the best at one thing requires single-minded focus, not a diverse array of just OK offerings.
  • Quit all the Cul de Sacs you’re in. Dead-end projects, hobbies, relationships, etc., all have to go so you can focus on getting through the Dips that matter.
  • Lean into it. Work even harder – try to enjoy the hard work that comes with being in The Dip. You can often get out of the shitty part quicker by doing this.
  • “Please understand this: If you’re not able to get through The Dip in an exceptional way, you must quit. And quit right now.”
  • Suppose you’re considering quitting because the pain is too much in the short run, but you’re anticipating you’ll get lots of long-term benefits from quitting. In that case, you must amplify those long-term benefits and make it very valuable to stick with it. Otherwise, we tend to succumb to short-term pain rather than recognize long-term benefits.
  • “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.”

Strategic quitting is an opportunity, not a failure.

  • We learn early on that quitting is a moral failing. It’s humiliating. But it shouldn’t be! Instead, everything you quit is an opportunity to use the time and resources you’re freeing up to be exceptional elsewhere.
  • “You should quit if you’re on a dead-end path. You should quit if you’re facing a Cliff. You should quit if the project you’re working on has a Dip that isn’t worth the reward at the end.”
  • “Every day you stay is a bad strategic decision for your career because every day you get better at something that isn’t that useful – and you are another day behind others who are learning something more useful. The only reason to stay is the short-term pain associated with quitting. Winners understand that taking that pain now prevents a lot more pain later.”
  • The difference between quitting and failing:
    • Quitting: When you realize you’re at a dead-end, you decide to stop doing what you’re working on and find something new.
    • Failing: When you give up or have no other options.

Three questions to ask before quitting

  • Question 1: Am I panicking? Quitting isn’t the same as panicking – it’s premeditated, and we’re in control. But quitting in a panic can be a terrible idea and a very costly one.
  • Question 2: Who am I trying to influence? Is it a person who is unwilling to listen or see your potential? A market you haven’t cracked yet but could?
  • Question 3: What sort of measurable progress am I making? Measurable progress doesn’t have to be getting promoted or skyrocketing sales – it can be anything more than survival. But if you’re not doing any more than that, it might be time to quit.
  • “Quitting your job is not quitting your quest to make a living or a difference or an impact. Quitting a job doesn’t have to mean giving up. A job is just a tactic, a way to get what you really want. As soon as your job hits a dead end, it makes sense to quit and take your quest to a bigger marketplace – because every day you wait puts your goal further away.”

Decide in advance when you’ll quit.

  • Before you start, make commitments to yourself about when and why you’d be willing to quit. You don’t want to be figuring it out on the fly, where you’ll be more likely to quit out of panic or stick out of some misplaced sense of loyalty.
  • I’ve set this up as quit commitments – setting parameters in advance for what would make me quit my job, move cities, etc.
  • This makes life a lot cleaner and easier. If you haven’t hit your triggers to quit yet, you must keep going. Once you do, you must quit. There’s less second-guessing and self-flagellation.

Bits and Pieces

  • Average is for losers. Most people, in response to The Dip, try to do average work to play it safe. But to be one of the best in the world, you have to do something exceptional. “Average feels safe, but it’s not. It’s invisible.”
  • Quit tactics, not strategies. Even if you scrap a product, you can continue to believe in the market. “Don’t fall in love with a tactic and defend it forever. Instead, decide once and for all if you’re in a market or not. Then get through that Dip.”
  • When the Dip is painful, and you have nothing to lose, you can try anything. Go for broke before you quit – try to talk to your boss about a new assignment, redirect your creative efforts to a new style, or figure out how to change the conversation.
  • Quitting is better than coping. “Coping is what people do when they try to muddle through. They cope with a bad job or a difficult task. The problem with coping is that it never leads to exceptional performance.” If all you can do is cope, you should quit. Quitting frees you up to work on something else.
  • “One reason people feel really good after they quit a dead-end project is that they discover that hurting one’s pride is not fatal. You work up the courage to quit, bracing yourself for the sound of your ego being ripped to shreds – and then everything is okay.” 
  • “When you start over, you get very little credit for how long you stood in line with your last great venture.” 

The library will lend you this book for free. If you’d like to buy it (and support the site), you can do so here.

Related reading:

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Scott Adams (Book notes coming soon!)

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World – David Epstein

Optionality: How to Survive and Thrive in a Volatile World – Richard Meadows