Monday, August 24, 2009

The Dip: The difference between good stuff and bad stuff

I've been summarising Seth Godin's book, 'The Dip', which talks about how to deal with the powerful desire to give up on doing worthwhile things when they start getting hard or unrewarding.

Let me call on the power of enormous charts to illustrate what a Dip looks like:

See how this activity was worthwhile and rewarding when you started it. The halfway point on this chart represents feeling bogged down, like you're not making any progress or enjoying yourself. That's the Dip. If you push through, things become even more rewarding, and the curve rises up towards more results, enjoyment, and mastery. However, it's easy to imagine what the chart would look like if you quit in the middle of the Dip; instead of rising back up, the curve would crash down to zero.

In the last post, I talked about the idea of quitting bad stuff so that you can focus your energies on pushing through the Dip, and mastering or finishing your good, worthwhile projects.

Which raises the question: what is 'bad stuff'?

Seth describes these as 'Cul-de-sacs' - these are activities that you're not going to get any better at or that you're not going to enjoy any more than you already are. There are also cul-de-sacs where you not feeling that rewarded right from the start and it doesn't seem to be improving the longer you stick with it.

Cul-de-sacs suck away your time, when you could be doing better stuff.

Ultimately, these activities lead to either failure or giving up on them after sinking way too much time into them. They can also lead to perfectly enjoyable hobbies that you do for fun, without the intention of getting any better at. However, cul-de-sacs can also be stuff you don't really enjoy but you still keep doing it because you just don't think about it that much - you're on autopilot but ignoring the changing weather conditions.

The common element with cul-de-sacs is that you won't get any more enjoyment from it no matter how much you keep practicing or doing it. They look like this:

Or maybe like this:
Seth believes you can tell when you're in a Dip or a cul-de-sac. He says we have an innate sense about it (once the concepts have been pointed out to us). But while he's a big believer in relying on your intuition, later in the book he asks you to predefine the circumstances under which you'll quit. I'll talk about that in a couple of posts.

Next up, why it's good to quit. In the meantime, do you recognise any cul-de-sacs in your own life?

--- ---- ---

The Dip is available at Wellington Library.
Seth's blog dedicated to the Dip is here.


Masada (aka: Curtis) said...

I linked you a TED video on one of your open posts... today I noticed there was a TED presentation from Seth Godin... Here's a link.

hix said...

Thanks, Curtis. I'll check it out when I'm not in 'at work' mode.

debbie said...

This seems like a useful definition for working out when to quit and to stick with new skills/activities. I'm curious as to how you'd apply the theory to different projects within one area.

For example with writing when do you know that a particular novel/story/script is a cul de sac?

I've had times when my enjoyment really flattened out and the inner critic started telling me to bail for many days but I kept going and I'm glad I did because I then got to back to a point where I enjoyed it or at least finished it. I've also had times when I just needed to take a break and then I could go back to it with renewed enthusiasm and then I've had countless stories where I've just abandoned them to the dead story graveyard.

Is there a way of knowing when to keep going, when to take a break and when to quit altogether when it's specific projects?

I like the idea of going with your gut instinct but someimes self-doubt does a pretty good impersonation of intuition.

Mashugenah said...

This seems like a really useful concept.

I am trying to decide which downward-trending things match this, if any, in my life.

The prime candidate is the last year's worth of less roleplaying and less enjoyment from the roleplaying I have been doing. But there are significant external factors at work there too.

Still, food for thought, and isn't that the point of these things? :)

hix said...

Debbie, you're asking the key question ... and it's the one that I didn't feel Seth had addressed *enough* in his book.

The two posts after the next one talk about this in a bit more detail, but here's what I've got so far. You can tell if something isn't worthwhile by:

+ using your intuition
+ pre-defining when you'll quit

There seem to be cases where it's simple to figure this out. In the weekend, I downloaded a copy of Paradroid - a favourite game from my Commodore 64 days. I only had to play it for an hour on Saturday night and an hour on Sunday morning before I realised that it was a cul-de-sac, and deleted it.

Writing is harder. My general rule is to 'finish a draft'. At that point I can tell whether it's worthwhile or not. But I think there are other ways that I'm starting to explore:

+ Tell the story to someone
+ 'Finish' it by summarising what happens
+ Quit often & don't worry about it. Make a story justify itself to you as to why you should finish it,

And sometimes you just need to take a break from it to figure out how to proceed, right? Sometimes we just need to let our brains tick away on a problem for a few months in order to see it clearly.

(I think I have more ... 'coherent' things to say, but I've gotta go to work now.)

debbie said...

I like your point about 'making a story justify itself'.

I agree the completing first drafts is generally a good rule. Getting to the end of a story is often the hardest part and the bit where you learn the most about what the story you're telling to tell is actually about.

I'm intrigued at the thought of short-cutting the project by telling someone else what happens or writing a quick summarised ending. Genius! Completing the story so that can objectively consider whether it's worth writing or not but without the time consuming hard slog. Why didn't I think of that?

hix said...

I've only done it once, myself - on this blog actually, back in January 2005. I took a novel that had been lurking in my head for over a decade and blurted a summary of it out onto the screen in about 4 hours.

Very satisfying, and basically it doesn't lurk in my brain anymore. I don't feel a need to do anything with it. Which is a great relief.