Dips, Dead Ends, Joyrides, Lotteries, and Quests

May 25, 2007 § 6 Comments

Like everyone else there, I really enjoyed Seth Godin’s visit to Silicon Valley to discuss his new book “The Dip“. Not only is he a fantastic speaker, his idea of combining 5 free books and a talk for $50 worked brilliantly, in that I somehow managed to feel like I got both for free. :-)

The message was also both inspiring and challenging (even though I’d devoured the book and several online summaries beforehand). In many ways, it felt like a sermon (in the best sense), in that it was less about communicating information than motivating us to change our lives and make the world a better place.

That said, I do think his characterization of our lives into “Dips” and “Dead Ends” — while accurate — is too simplistic. That isn’t a criticism — he writes for a mass audience, and his genius is focusing on the simplest possible message to make a point. But geeks like us live for the corner cases, so I may as well follow his lead and name that which was formerly unnamed. :-)

Joyrides are things you do just for the fun of it, without caring if you’re getting anywhere. Seth himself said (roughly) that “if you play the flute just because you enjoy it, not because you’re trying to make a living as a flautist, then The Dip doesn’t matter.” It is worth noting that for some people college is Joyride, not a Dip!

Lotteries are a particularly seductive variant of Dead End that looks like a Dip, in that we periodically see people who do make it out into the Good Life.  Unlike a Dip, though, there is nothing we can do to ensure we make it through to the other side; we are at the mercy of external forces. Thus, even thought there is a non-zero chance we might win the Lottery, for most of us it really is a Dead End, and a complete waste of our potential for greatness. This is particularly true for Talent- (rather than Skill-) based disciplines, where the Lottery took place before we were born.

Quests, on the other hand, are Dips that looks like Dead Ends. Seth encourages us to pursue Dips where we can make measurable progress towards a well-defined goal. However, he admits that this doesn’t apply to things like cutting-edge scientific research, where there there are no guarantees or guidelines; fortunately, he says people like that won’t be discouraged by anything he says in his book. :-) However, I think he overstates the case when he says Quests (like Crick & Watson’s search for DNA) don’t have measurable progress.  They do, but it is a matter of personal growth and accumulated wisdom, not the usual business metrics.  Even though we may not reach what we thought we were aiming for, a worthy Quest enobles us and ends up benefiting humanity.

Anyway, none of this in any ways takes away from the marvelous insights and powerful imagery of Seth’s book, which probably captures 99% of the problems most of us face in our business lives.  But for those who wonder about what else lies outside The Dip, I hope you find this useful.

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