Be Vanilla (Part Two)

You've probably read Part One of this discussion, where I start responding to reading The Dip by Seth Godin. If you haven't, head on over there.

I'll wait.

The most common question I get asked by writers after I recommend that book is: should I quit? Should all new writers quit because they're just not good enough yet?

That's definitely not the message of The Dip. The message is that all 4300 people who graduated law school had the potential to get to that #1 position, but they didn't get it. Why? Because they weren't willing to quit other things in order to focus all of their time on being the best.

The message is: Microsoft released the Zune too quickly because they felt they were trying to compete with the iPod, instead of waiting until they had a superior product and then releasing it when it was better than the iPod. The message is, maybe Microsoft shouldn't have been competing with the iPod at all. Maybe they should have quit trying to compete with Apple and focused on where they could be (and already were) the market leader.

Does the “Microsoft” example apply on an individual level? I'm not convinced that it does, not in a 1-to-1 correlation, anyway. Part of what he's trying to do with companies is to say that many companies are trying to release poorly conceived products because they think they can get a piece of X market, but they're missing the Rule of Vanilla. If the iPod is the market leader, clearly, then making a crappy iPod isn't going to make your money back, because you're spending the same in development, but you won't make anywhere near what the iPod market share is, because you'll end up launching to #10 and then you'll make 1/10 of the iPod market share.

That's not going to make you your money back.

Not when you could save the capital and focus it on some blue water, where there's no competition yet. That's all assuming that you're a company developing products to compete with other people, and you can do many things at once. And there's only one iPod.

On the individual level, it's different. Because his individual level examples are all about people who care so much about being the best in one arena that they're willing to not be well-rounded in order to get there. (Which, I 100% agree with him in the concept that the enemy of “perfect” is “well-rounded.”)

These are the people who drop out of liberal arts colleges and do tech startups. Or the person who stops writing in seven genres and just writes in the one they could be the best at. This is the person who could be the world's greatest soccer player, and decides to stop taking piano lessons, and focus every ounce of their willpower on becoming the world's greatest soccer player.

If you have high Competition, Significance, or Maximizer (and probably Focus or Achiever) Strengths, this book is for you. You need to think about this, because being the best matters to you. Standing out matters. If that's you, then yes, you need The Dip.

Some of you need it yesterday.

If being the best doesn't matter to you, then that's okay. It doesn't need to matter to everyone. This book isn't for you. Not everyone in the entire population needs to read this book and apply it. But some of us do. Because some of us have both the capacity and the drive to be the best at something, and we are wasting time (because of Input or Ideation or Connectedness or Empathy or some other Strength that opens the floodgates) on things that aren't going to get us where we really want to go because they feel good.

It feels good to split focus, for some of us. It feels really good to chase a bunch of dreams. Or to want to be great at everything. But that's a seductive lie. If you want to be great, then the way to do that is to be Vanilla. (Again, if that appeals to you, go read the book. It's great.)

If you have the drive to be the best, and want to find your spot, consider a few questions:

  • What steals your time?
  • Is there a place where you're already seeing some success that you could buckle down and focus on? Quit other things so you can be the best at this thing?
  • Is there a place where you already have a track record of success that you can leverage?
  • Are you already in the Dip, and you just need to lean into it?

If you think about how long it takes to get through “The Dip” (it's taken me 14 years to get to the top of my coaching game, and I'm still in the Dip right now). For the law clerk, it took her 12. For the CEO, it took him 25. Think about how long that is, and then thing about how quickly we're expecting results these days.

If I'm not instantly #1, then I assume I should move to a different genre, because I'm not the known name in that genre. But I never consider how long it took the known names to get to that place. Liliana Hart, in response to a question about her “overnight success”, reframed that to an “11-year-overnight success” because she'd been writing and learning and publishing long before she pivoted to indie and rose to the top of her genre. Think of that. If you move to a new arena, do you have the perseverance to work 11 years until you're #1?

And then ask yourself, is there past experience you can use to jump-start your movement through the Dip? Did you have a volunteer area of experience (or past career experience) that's somehow relatable to the way you could be successful in the future? I coach an author who is a freaking whiz at Facebook ads. But she was running them long before they became popular, and now that everyone wants to run Facebook ads, she's in high demand. She wasn't doing it for a living before. Now, she is. Is there a way for you to pivot into a new arena, instead of starting from scratch?

The final question, and this is a big one: What are you willing to give up to get what you want? If you really want #1, what do you have to give up to get there?

Not everyone is really willing to sacrifice what it really takes in order to be Vanilla. And that's okay. Not everyone has to. But if you want that–so bad you can taste it–and you're willing to put in the work and willing to make sacrifices to get there, then you probably need to read this book. It will inspire you to make those choices, and it will help to narrow your focus so you can be Vanilla.

Leave a Comment:

Maria Powers says October 1, 2018

This book isn’t really for me, but it’s interesting that I was just thinking about how I need to quit doing some things if the goals I say I want are really what I want. Quitting those things does involve some essential pain but it needs to happen.

And of course, my Connectedness thought, “Oh, isn’t this serendipitous.”

    BFA Admin says October 2, 2018

    Haha! I love Connectedness so much. 🙂

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