The Dip“ by Seth Godin is a really short book, it has not even 80 pages. But these are filled with wisdom and really hammer in the points that Godin wants to get across.

The old wisdom that winners never quit and quitter never win is wrong, says Godin. In fact, winners quit all the time. What makes them winners is simply the fact that unlike most others they know when to quit and when to stick.

This is more important nowadays than it has ever been before. Nowadays, winners get almost all the rewards, while second place is already the first loser. The effect that the rewards are not distributed evenly, but are hugely skewed towards the first place, is called Zipf’s law. Because of this law, it only makes sense to stick with something if you can become the best in the world. This “world” however doesn’t have to be taken literally. It only means the world that is available to us, our direct surroundings. If you want to become a heart surgeon, you don’t have to be the best surgeon in the world. You don’t even have to become the best surgeon in the city. But you should definitely strive to become the best heart surgeon in the hospital you are working in. Otherwise you will experience Zipf’s law and get A LOT less surgeries than the number one heart surgeon, simply because every patient demands the best. If you are not sure that you can become the best heart surgeon in your relevant world, it might be best for you to quit and do something else instead.

The problem according to Seth Godin is that most people don’t care enough about being the best. Instead, they settle. They settle for less than they are capable of. And since a free market only rewards the exceptional, most people never get rewarded for their effort.

Most people get stuck in what Godin calls the Dip.

Almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip. At the beginning, when you first start something, it’s fun. (…) It is interesting, and you get plenty of good feedback from people around you. Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning you experience keeps you going. Whatever your new thing is, it’s easy to stay engaged in it.

And then the Dip happens.

The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog, that is actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path. (…) The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment. The dip is the set of artificial screens set up to keep people like you out.


The dip graph

So why is the Dip there to keep people out? Well, because we have seen that people only love and reward a winner. And there shouldn’t be more than one or maximum two winners. Scarcity, as we’ve seen, is the secret to value. If there wasn’t a Dip, there’d be no scarcity.

So, what lessons should we learn from this epiphany?

I think there are two main ones: First, if you really want to be great at something and profit massively from acquiring a skill, choose something with a long and deep Dip. Remember: The harder it gets, the better chance you have to insulate yourself from the competition.

And secondly: if you are not willing to make it through the Dip, quit right now. If you can’t pay your dues, if you don’t see yourself becoming the best at this activity, just stop. Or, even better, don’t even start in the first place! Anticipate the Dip, be aware that it will come, and ask yourself if it is worth it before you start! If the answer is no, do something else. Your time is too valuable to waste it on mediocrity.

This can be extremely hard to do, especially after you started something, did it for a while and accumulated enormous sunk costs. But that is when you have to ignore the sunk costs completely and focus on the opportunity costs instead. What are you missing out on because you are too afraid to quit something you will never be truly great at? You can go deeper into the economic reasoning why it makes sense to quit with this Podcast from Freakonomics Radio: The upside of quitting