Book review: When to stick and when to quit

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

By Seth Godin, Portfolio, $16

Winners never quit and quitters never win.

The late great Vince Lombardi said it first and we keep saying it at school and work. It’s a quote that’s launched a thousand motivational posters, leadership books and senior management speeches.

But what if it’s lousy advice? Author, blogger and marketing guru Seth Godin thinks so. "Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time."

Lombardi did a lot of quitting in his 22 years between graduating from university and becoming head coach of the Green Bay Packers. He quit working at a finance company. Quit playing semi-pro football. Quit teaching high school Latin, chemistry and physics classes. Quit coaching high school and college football and basketball teams. Quit being an offensive co-ordinator for the New York Giants.

And life turned out all right for one of the all-time greatest National Football League coaches.

The key to success for anyone and any organization is to know when to stick and what to quit. Winners stick with what Godin calls the Dip.

"Almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery."

It’s the low point on your road to success. It’s where the honeymoon ends and the headaches, heartaches and hassles start with a vengeance. It’s where you have absolutely no fun and start to seriously wonder what in God’s name you were thinking of.

Lots of us quit the Dip. We run out of time, money and patience. We lose our enthusiasm and our nerve. We decide this is too hard and look for something easier.

Which is exactly what’s supposed to happen. The Dip is a filter. It separates contenders from pretenders. To make it through, you need loads of talent, drive and determination.

"If you want to be a superstar, then you need to find a field with a steep Dip – a barrier between those who try and those who succeed," says Godin.

Medical school, the bar exam and 30 years in middle management are all Dips and the reason why so few us become doctors, lawyers and CEOs.

Stick with the Dip and you’ll come out a winner. Head of the class. Best in the world. Number one in the hearts and minds of your customers and clients.

"Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice," says Godin, who says folks define best subjectively as being "best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know."

While winners stick with the Dip, they’re quick to quit what Godin calls the Cul-de-Sac.

Sure, life’s painful and unpleasant in the Dip. But your time in the Cul-de-Sac is soul-crushing and mind-numbing. It’s where your dreams and aspirations go to die. It’s where you become average and get mediocre. It’s where you lose your shot at being a winner and the best in the world.

"It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is," Godin says about life in the Cul-de-Sac. "The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high."

Too many of us don’t quit the Cul-de-Sac soon enough and we bolt the Dip too soon. So we stay in dead-end jobs that don’t play to our greatest strengths. We stick with projects that limp along on the road to nowhere. We keep peddling products and services that no one wants. And all the while we keep repeating the "winners never quit" mantra.

Yet the reality is we lack the courage to quit and take a shot at greatness. We get comfortable. We settle for less, sell ourselves short and waste our full potential. All of which means less competition for winners who know what to quit, when to quit and be the best in the world at what they do.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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