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


The most compact book I’ve read so far. It has the highest ratio of information per sentence. Find your Dip, and quit your Cul-de-Sac.

Read on 14 Nov 2020

How dare you settle for mediocre just because you’re busy coping with too many things on your agenda, racing against the clock to get it all done.

If you enter a market that’s too big or too loud for the amount of resources you have available, your message is going to get lost. Your marketing disappears, your message fails to spread. Think twice before launching a mass-market brand of chewing gum. Like adding just a few pounds of air to a flat tire, launching a product into too big of a market has little effect. You can’t create pressure and you never reach the Dip.

If quitting in the face of the Dip is a bad idea, then quitting when you’re facing a Cul-de-Sac is a great idea. The hard part is having the perspective to see this when you’re in pain, or frustrated, or stuck. That’s why setting your limits before you start is so powerful.

If quitting is going to be a strategic decision that enables you to make smart choices in the marketplace, then you should outline your quitting strategy before the discomfort sets in.

When was the last time you heard about someone who stuck with a dead-end job or a dead-end relationship or a dead-end sales prospect until suddenly, one day, the person at the other end said, “Wow, I really admire your persistence; let’s change our relationship for the better”? It doesn’t happen.

When you are trying to influence an entire market, the value of not quitting is quite high. Yes, you should probably be eager to quit a marketing tactic that isn’t paying for itself, or even a particular product feature that isn’t appealing to your target audience. But your commitment to the market needs to be unquestioned—it’s much cheaper and easier to build your foundation in one market than to flit from one to another until you find a quick success.

Influencing a market, on the other hand, is more of a hill than a wall. You can make progress, one step at a time, and as you get higher, it actually gets easier. People in the market talk to each other. They are influenced by each other. So every step of progress you make actually gets amplified.

Influencing one person is like scaling a wall. If you get over the wall the first few tries, you’re in. If you don’t, often you’ll find that the wall gets higher with each attempt.

When the pressure is greatest to compromise, to drop out, or to settle, your desire to quit should be at its lowest. The decision to quit is often made in the moment. But that’s exactly the wrong time to make such a critical decision. The reason so many of us quit in the Dip is that without a compass or a plan, the easiest thing to do is to give up. While that might be the easiest path, it’s also the least successful one.

If you’re thinking about quitting (or not quitting), then you’ve succeeded. (And so have I.) Realizing that quitting is worth your focus and consideration is the first step to becoming the best in the world.

Quitting when you’re panicked is dangerous and expensive. The best quitters, as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they’re going to quit. You can always quit later—so wait until you’re done panicking to decide.

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. If pride is the only thing keeping you from quitting, if there’s no Dip to get through, you’re likely wasting an enormous amount of time and money defending something that will heal pretty quickly.

I think the advice-giver meant to say, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” Now that’s good advice.

Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else.

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. Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the Cul-de-Sac. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you’re better off quitting.

Strategic quitting is a conscious decision you make based on the choices that are available to you. If you realize you’re at a dead end compared with what you could be investing in, quitting is not only a reasonable choice, it’s a smart one.

Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.

Short-term pain has more impact on most people than long-term benefits do, which is why it’s so important for you to amplify the long-term benefits of not quitting. You need to remind yourself of life at the other end of the Dip because it’s easier to overcome the pain of yet another unsuccessful cold call if the reality of a successful sales career is more concrete.

The market wants to see you persist. It demands a signal from you that you’re serious, powerful, accepted, and safe. The bulk of the market, any market, is made up of those folks in the middle of the bell curve, the ones who want to buy something proven and valued.

The problem is that only a tiny portion of the audience is looking for the brand-new thing. Most people are waiting for the tested, the authenticated, and the proven.

So while one publisher runs from author to author looking for an instant best seller, another nurtures Dr. Seuss or Stephen King as he slowly builds an audience. While one nonprofit runs from grant maker to grant maker seeking funds for this project or that one, a successful nonprofit sticks with a consistent theme, showing up, paying its dues, focusing on just a few foundations until the money comes through.

He never gets anywhere because he’s always switching lines, never able to really run for it. While starting up is thrilling, it’s not until you get through the Dip that your efforts pay off. Countless entrepreneurs have perfected the starting part, but give up long before they finish paying their dues. The sad news is that when you start over, you get very little credit for how long you stood in line with your last great venture.

To be a superstar, you must do something exceptional. Not just survive the Dip, but use the Dip as an opportunity to create something so extraordinary that people can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and, yes, choose it.

The most common response to the Dip is to play it safe. To do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. When faced with the Dip, most people suck it up and try to average their way to success. Which is precisely why so few people end up as the best in the world.

If you’re going to quit, quit before you start. Reject the system. Don’t play the game if you realize you can’t be the best in the world.

If you can get through the Dip, if you can keep going when the system is expecting you to stop, you will achieve extraordinary results. People who make it through the Dip are scarce indeed, so they generate more value.

That’s the goal of any competitor: to create a Dip so long and so deep that the nascent competition can’t catch up.

DISTRIBUTION DIP—Some retailers (local strip malls, the Web) make it easy for your product to get distribution, while others (Target) require an investment from your organization that may just pay off. Getting your product into Wal-Mart is far more likely to lead to huge sales than is putting it on the Web. Why? Scarcity. Everyone is on the Web, but getting into Wal-Mart is hard.

EGO DIP—When it’s all about you, it’s easier. Giving up control and leaning into the organization gives you leverage. Most people can’t do this; they can’t give up control or the spotlight. They get stuck in that Dip.

CONCEPTUAL DIP—You got this far operating under one set of assumptions. Abandoning those assumptions and embracing a new, bigger set may be exactly what you need to do to get to the next level. The heroes who have reinvented institutions and industries (everyone from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Richard Branson, from Zelma Watson George to Jacqueline Novogratz) all did it in exactly the same way—by working through a conceptual Dip all the way to the other side.

RELATIONSHIP DIP—There are people and organizations that can help you later but only if you invest the time and effort to work with them now, even though now is not necessarily the easy time for you to do it. That kid who started in the mail room—who was always eager to do an errand for you or stay late to help out—she’s now the CEO. The relationships she built when it was difficult to do so paid off later. Those shortsighted people who are always eager for a favor or a break never manage to get through the relationship Dip, because they didn’t invest in relationships back when it was difficult (but not urgent).

RISK DIP—Bootstrappers learn the hard way that at some point they can’t pay for it all themselves, especially out of current income. It takes a risk to rent a bigger space or invest in new techniques. Successful entrepreneurs understand the difference between investing to get through the Dip (a smart move) or investing in something that’s actually a risky crapshoot.

EDUCATION DIP—A career gets started as soon as you leave school. But the Dip often hits when it’s time to go learn something new, to reinvent or rebuild your skills. A doctor who sacrifices a year of her life for a specialty reaps the rewards for decades afterward.

SALES DIP—Most ideas get their start when one person—you—starts selling it. Selling the idea to stores or to businesses or to consumers or even to voters. But the Dip hits when you need to upgrade to a professional sales force and scale it up. In almost every field, the competitor that’s first with a big, aggressive sales force has a huge advantage.

MANUFACTURING DIP—It’s easy and fun to start building something in your garage. It’s difficult and expensive to buy an injection mold, design an integrated circuit, or ramp up for large-scale production. The time and effort and cost of ramping up your operation create the Dip. The Dip keeps the supply of stuff down and insulates those brave enough to invest in scaling up their production. Those struggling artists at the local craft fair are struggling because they don’t have the guts or the wherewithal to take their work to the next level.

Whatever you do for a living, or for fun, it’s probably somehow based on a system that’s based on quitting. Quitting creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

Seven Reasons You Might Fail to Become the Best in the World You run out of time (and quit). You run out of money (and quit). You get scared (and quit). You’re not serious about it (and quit). You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre (and quit). You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard). You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).

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. And you’ve got to get through that Dip to the other side. This isn’t for everyone. If it were, there’d be no superstars. If you choose this path, it’s because you realize that there’s a Dip, and you believe you can get through it. The Dip is actually your greatest ally because it makes the project worthwhile (and keeps others from competing with you).

The essential thing to know about the Dip is that it’s there. Knowing that you’re facing a Dip is the first step in getting through it.

Quitting is difficult. Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you’re never going to be #1 in the world. At least not at this. So it’s easier just to put it off, not admit it, settle for mediocre.

A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

Hardworking, motivated people find diversification a natural outlet for their energy and drive. Diversification feels like the right thing to do. Enter a new market, apply for a job in a new area, start a new sport. Who knows? This might just be the one. And yet the real success goes to those who obsess. The focus that leads you through the Dip to the other side is rewarded by a marketplace in search of the best in the world.

When faced with the Dip, many individuals and organizations diversify. If you can’t get to the next level, the thinking goes, invest your energy in learning to do something else. This leads to record labels with thousands of artists instead of focused promotion for just a few. It leads to job seekers who can demonstrate competency at a dozen tasks instead of mastery of just one.

The next time you’re tempted to vilify a particularly obnoxious customer or agency or search engine, realize that this failed interaction is the best thing that’s happened to you all day long. Without it, you’d be easily replaceable. The Dip is your very best friend.

In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.

A few people will choose to do the brave thing and end up the best in the world. Informed people will probably choose to do the mature thing and save their resources for a project they’re truly passionate about. Both are fine choices. It’s the last choice, the common choice, the choice to give it a shot and then quit that you must avoid if you want to succeed.

If you haven’t already realized it, the Dip is the secret to your success. 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.

The biggest obstacle to success in life, as far as I can tell, is our inability to quit these curves soon enough.

If It Is Worth Doing, There’s Probably a Dip

The Cul-de-Sac (French for “dead end”) is so simple it doesn’t even need a chart. It’s a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing much changes. It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.

Successful people don’t just ride out the Dip. They don’t just buckle down and survive it. No, they lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go. Just because you know you’re in the Dip doesn’t mean you have to live happily with it. Dips don’t last quite as long when you whittle at them.

The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.

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.

Most people will tell you that you need to persevere—to try harder, put in more hours, get more training, and work hard. “Don’t quit!” they implore. But if all you need to do to succeed is not quit, then why do organizations less motivated than yours succeed? Why do individuals less talented than you win?

Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well rounded is the secret to success. When you came home from school with two As, a B+, and three Bs, you were doing just fine. Imagine the poor kid who had an A+ and four Cs. Boy, was he in trouble.

The reason that big companies almost always fail when they try to enter new markets is their willingness to compromise. They figure that because they are big and powerful, they can settle, do less, stop improving something before it is truly remarkable. They compromise to avoid offending other divisions or to minimize their exposure. So they fail. They fail because they don’t know when to quit and when to refuse to settle.

With limited time or opportunity to experiment, we intentionally narrow our choices to those at the top.

You really can’t try to do everything, especially if you intend to be the best in the world.

Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.

Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.

“Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

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