BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Pushing my buttons ...

I've been a pretty big fan of Seth Godin's books (and his blog), but for some reason The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit simply pissed me off. I'd found this at a reasonable used rate on Amazon the other day and put it up top on the “to be read” pile (looking for a quick read while in the midst of a couple of rather dense books).

In many ways, what Godin is arguing for in The Dip is the opposite of what Chris Anderson was talking about in The Long Tail. Godin here focuses on that top slice of everything, about being “the best in the world”. He starts this off with a look at ice cream flavors … listing the top 10 flavors industry-wide. Vanilla comes in #1, with nearly 30% of the market, with Chocolate a distant second at about 8%. The remaining eight flavors are virtually indistinguishable, all hovering around 5% of sales. Obviously, the point here is that if you're not Vanilla, you're way behind. He notes:
“People don't have a lot of time and don't want to take a lot of risks. …
With limited time or opportunity to experiment, we intentionally narrow our choices to those at the top.
You're not the only person who looks for the best choice. Everyone does. As a result, the rewards for being first are enormous. It's not a linear scale. It's not a matter of getting a little more after giving a little more. It's a curve, and a steep one.”
The saving grace in this is that “best” and “world” are very subjective, so one can aspire to be the “best in the world” for a very particular finely defined niche (the examples he gives include “the best gluten-free bialys available by overnight shipping” and “the best Thai restaurant in Queens”). If you're able to pick your niche, and work real hard to be the best in that niche, you can have a realistic expectation of achieving that “best in the world” status for that “world”.

Did I mention that he pissed me off? Well, it starts here. Basically, he argues that people like me, the well-rounded, the “jack of all trades”, those aspiring to being polymaths or a “Renaissance Man”, are screwed. Nobody wants to hire you if you're not the particular polygonal piece that fits into the specific polygonal hole they're looking to fill. That's why so many job listings these days specify “rock stars” or “ninjas”... they want one-dimensional unthinking robots who, like Colonel Sanders back in the 80's “do one thing right”. Godin argues that if you can't be the “best in the world” at a given job/business/sport, quit … and go do something else. I did an assessment exercise a few years back and identified fifteen different job slots that I was “plausible” (i.e., I'd be competent doing and wouldn't hate it too much) for … that's a pretty damn wide skill set, but Godin would have me dump fourteen of those and pick ONE to focus on. Sounds like Hell to me.

Anyway, back to the book. There are three “curves” he defines for any activity, which chart effort on the horizontal axis and results on the vertical. These are “The Dip”, “The Cul-de-Sac”, and “The Cliff”. The latter two are bad and lead to failure, one being pretty much a straight line across the chart, with no increase in results for added effort, and the other having an initial upwards slope, followed by a sudden downward plunge (the example he gives is cigarette marketing, where the addictive nature of the product keep sales moving up until emphysema sets in). The “Dip” looks like the blue area on the cover of the book, where initial growth in results slide down, and eventually pick up strongly once you're through the down phase.

The second thing that pissed me off here was that, to my reading, there is nowhere in here where one can realistically KNOW which curve one is on, or if one is in “The Dip”, how deep and long that's going to be. Godin spends a lot of time talking about pushing through the dip (and ways to fail in doing so), but never shows how one can tell if there is a possibility of getting through it. He defines “The Dip” enough in various contexts, going to law school and passing the bar are a “dip” creating a scarcity pool of people (or at least lawyers) who have, the organic chemistry class that separates the M.D.s from the psychologists, manufacturers who make it past all the production and distribution challenges to successfully get a product out there, entrepreneurs who manage to weave through the mine field of start-up funding, etc. … plus this is dynamic and “playable” in particular niches: “That's the goal of any competitor: to create a Dip so long and so deep that the nascent competition can't catch up.” Again, this is all about scarcity, the big fat front end of the “long tail” distribution curve … and, according to Godin, if you're not on the way to being “the best in the world” (navigating through the Dip) you should quit, even though there's no clear way to tell if that's going to happen or not.
“The people who set out to make it through the Dip – the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip – those are the ones who become the best in the world. They are breaking the system because, instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they've got, they embrace the challenge. For whatever reason, they refuse to abandon the quest and they push through the Dip all the way to the next level.”
What pissed me off in this is that, while he says: “... it's pretty easy to determine whether something is a Cul-de-Sac or a Dip … the hard part is finding the guts to do something about it”, there's nothing here to help one make that determination, which sort of invalidates everything else in the book!

As one might expect, given Godin's popularity, The Dip is still in print, and at a bit more reasonable price point that most of his “small books” (this is well under 100 pages). As noted above, I got this from the new/used vendors, and there are “very good” copies available for under three bucks (before shipping). I don't know if I can enthusiastically recommend this one, however, there's just too much about it which just doesn't connect for me … although your reading might be different.

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Tags: book review
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