The Dip–Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The Dip, by Seth GodinI’ve recently finished reading marketing guru Seth Godin‘s latest book, The Dip. It’s a quick read. Which I’d say is a plus, since it really felt like an extended blog post, and not always in a positive way.

The book is basically about quitting. Godin’s premise is that you need to figure out if a project you’re working on, or even your job or career, is worth doing any more. The “dip” in The Dip refers to the low point you might find yourself in as you struggle to work through some challenge. For example, if you just got a new guitar, you’re likely excited to learn how to play it; you’re motivated, hyped and very keen. But as time marches on, you begin to realize that learning the guitar takes some effort: bingo! You’re in the dip. The only question now is, do you trudge through and become proficient or do you abandon the effort altogether?

I had really high hopes when I started this book. And there were a few highlights. A few sections spoke to me–personally and professionally–but mostly the book felt disorganized and random. It bounced around from concept to concept, with a quick-cut style that at best felt forced–and actually it felt copied (see below for what I mean).*

One section I found I enjoyed was “Quitting as an Intelligent Strategy.” Here Godin tells a story of Doug, a good employee who has, after more than a decade with his company, plateaued.

Doug needs to leave for a very simple reason. He’s been branded. Everyone at the company has an expectation of who Doug is and what he can do. He’s not going to be challenged, pushed, or promoted to president. Doug, regardless of what he could actually accomplish, has stopped evolving–at least in the eyes of the people who matter. If he leaves and joins another company, he gets to reinvent himself. No one in the new company will remember young Doug from ten years ago. No, they’ll treat Doug as the new Doug, the Doug with an endless upside and little past.

This really hit home for me because it’s exactly what I did two years ago. I didn’t fully quit, but I took a secondment to a government ministry. I felt I needed to shake up myself and the perceptions people had of me after working for a number of years in the same office. The secondment was also a valuable experience since it was a definite step up in responsibility and exposed me to some fresh points of view. After about six months I returned to my office, and things had changed. Roles were redefined and I was now to be a supervisor and take on other, higher level, projects. It felt, at least for a while, that the decision to leave, if only temporarily, had a positive impact. Now, two years on, I’ve got new boundaries to overcome, new perceptions to change, so reading Godin’s words have spurred me on once again.

*So one last thing. The style of Godin’s book felt very familiar to me as I read it, almost as if I had read it before. It wasn’t until I was in about a quarter of the way–and after seeing a few of the cartoon sketches that pepper the book–that it hit me. Godin was sounding almost exactly like the creator of the very cartoons featured in his book: Hugh MacLeod. Specifically, if you read MacLeod’s fantastic–and I mean fantastic!–How to be Creative you should quickly recognize the literary style of Godin in The Dip. The fact that Godin uses MacLeod to illustrate his book makes the comparison just to overwhelming not to notice.

Now, MacLeod’s manifesto is the kind of thing I was hoping for from Godin’s book. When I first read it eons ago, I was truly inspired. No other writing in recent memory has had such a strong impact on me from a professional and creative point of view. I’ve re-read How to be Creative at least five times, and a tattered printed copy sits not far from my desk, ready and available for the next time I need the smelling salts of its words. Really, if it comes down to it, I’d recommend How to be Creative over The Dip. And best of all, it’s free.

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