Friday, June 1, 2007

The Dip

Yesterday was like Christmas: The USPS delivered a box of books from Amazon. I always forget what I’ve ordered, but then nod my way through the stack, settling on the first victim. Yesterday’s was The Dip: A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick), the latest from Seth Godin. The Dip is a terse, insightful, ah-ha, I’ve been there read; I devoured all 80 pages (yes, it’s a little book) by dinnertime.

I'm not a fan of motivational books, but The Dip is worthy, not sappy. Godin begins with three premises: Quit the wrong stuff; Stick with the right stuff; and, Have the guts to do one or the other. The underlying engagement is to be the best in the world. Sounds unreasonable, eh? The world’s a large place, and few stand at the top. Godin boils “the world” down:

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. Best as in: best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know. And in the world as in: their world, the world they have access to.
As he has amplified in previous books – Permission Marketing is my favorite of his half-dozen – Godin asserts the mass market is dying:
There is no longer one best song or one best kind of coffee. Now there are a million micromarkets, but each micromarket still has a best. If your micromarket is “organic markets in Tulsa,” then that’s your world. And being the best in that world is the place to be.
He adamantly contends “best” is a subjective view in the eye of the consumer, and “world” is selfish: it’s the consumer’s definition, not yours. “It’s the world I define, based on my convenience or my preferences,” he states. “Be the best in my world and you have me, at a premium, right now.” As the world shrinks and choices increase – we’re being googled! -- being the best is more important than ever.

Godin gets it. Too often, companies take a horizontal, opportunistic market approach. Instead of mastering a solution for a specific micromarket, they generalize. The result: Mediocrity in a Groundhog Day manner. Too often too, individuals are generalists: We do a little of everything -- professionally, socially, athletically. Diversity is desirable, but it’s impossible to be the best if you’re half-ass involved in 10 activities.

Back to the Dip. What is it? As Godin opines, when you first start something (running a marathon, launching a company, learning how to snowboard), it’s fun. 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. And then the Dip happens.
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.
If you’re involved in a worthy cause – entering a new market, picking up a new sport, cultivating a desirable relationship – you need to lean into the Dip. Push hard. Change the rules. Get through it. If it’s not worthy – if it’s a Cul-de-Sac (French for “dead end”), as Godin archetypes – quit. Resist mediocrity. Do something new.

Jack Welch once said, “If you can’t compete, don’t.” When he reinvented GE, the most fabled decision he made was: If we can’t be #1 or #2 in an industry, get out. Why bail on a billion-dollar division that’s #4 in an industry? Because, Godin asserts, it distracts management attention. It sucks resources and capital and focus and energy. And most of all, it teaches people in the organization that it’s okay not to be the best in the world.

In previous posts we’ve explored the importance of focus and the imperative of succinct market segmentation (solving a specific problem for an identifiable, self-referencing, homogeneous market segment), particularly in resource-strapped organizations. Godin shares an apt analogy: 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.

As I type, Social Distortion is covering Johnny Cash's Ball and Chain: You can run all your life, but not go anywhere. Sounds like a confused woodpecker.

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