[Edit: Charles Miller, a recipient of one of the four free copies of The Dip I distributed, has written his own, more positive, review here.]
A number of people have asked (well, Twittered) for my response to Seth Godin's talk yesterday. And I found myself putting off blogging about it.
Here's the thing. Seth gave an excellent talk. His use of visuals to reinforce his message could be a how-to on Using PowerPoint for Good, Not Evil. Technically, his talk was an example of how great speakers engage audiences, get through and help them see things in a new way. I even spoke with him afterwards to compliment a particular slide--he was speaking on the point of focus in one's work and life, and he created a slide that was just about the most perfect visual representation of the concept of "focus" that I could ever have imagined (no, I don't have a copy, so you'll just have to go hear him speak!).
But his concept of the "dip"? I'm not so sure the talk was actually very helpful for me in my business. In fact, I found his talk pretty darn discouraging. His basic concept seems to be (correct me if I'm wrong here) that the market will only support one absolute BEST at something, and if you're not going to be the #1 BEST, then you'll quit once you hit a dip, so you might as well just not start if you're not going to be the BEST.
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.
--Seth Godin, the dip
Perhaps it's because I've recently experienced a very long "dip" in my own corporate spokesperson business and chose to change directions (focusing more on speaking and training with the new toys, social media) rather than stay completely dependent on the flagging trade show industry. Perhaps it's because I spent too many years focusing on getting straight A's (being the BEST) rather than on discovering or pursuing my passions. Perhaps it's because I avoided doing too many things in life because I didn't think I could be the BEST at them.
I gave up a huge passion of mine once: ballroom dance. I was a really good ballroom dancer. I won second and third place prizes in USABDA (that's the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dance Association), and I had a damn fine time, learned a lot and met a lot of great people. But according to Seth, if I wasn't going to shoot for being #1 all the time, I should have given it up. Well, I did. If you take ballroom dance seriously, it can be fiercely competitive. And I bought into that competitive spirit, decided I couldn't put the time into it that being a champion would have required and pursued other things.
Thing is, I love to dance. I LOVE to dance. With my arthritis as it is now, I'll never be a professional competitor, no question. But is that really the point? Are we really supposed to give up everything we can't be #1 at? I gave up something I loved dearly and was really good at because I bought into the idea that #2 wasn't worth trying for.
I think this is a terrible message. When I taught French, the hardest obstacle I had to help my students to overcome was the idea of taking risks. When we first learn to speak a language, we all sound stupid. Every time we open our mouths to try to communicate in French for the first time, we make mistakes--a lot of them--and it takes a risk-taking attitude to be able to try to spit out a sentence, anyway. Will it be the best communication ever? No. Will you sound like a native French speaker (the BEST)? No, not for many years, most likely, if ever. But I don't think that means we should stop trying. And I don't think that anyone who can't be the Best French Speaker Ever shouldn't even try to learn French.
Hey, it's entirely possible that I took the message too personally because my own professional life is facing a dip, and I made an adjustment accordingly. Thing is, I really love being a trade show spokesperson. I love it. I love the packing crates and diesel fumes the day before the show opens; I love the godawfully-colored carpet aisles; I love the schwag giveaways; I love the crowds wandering into a booth to see what's what. I love gathering crowds; I love getting that live, real-time response to a new product or service; I love finding new leads for my clients and helping them forward the sale. I love being on stage talking so passionately about my client's product that everyone nearby stops to listen. I love when tech goes right; I love when tech goes wrong. I even love my aching feet and tired back that mean a busy day and a job well done.
But since my client flow has slowed down since 2005, according to Seth, I shouldn't even have started being a trade show spokesperson, because I wasn't the BEST. I didn't get 50 clients a year; I worked maybe a dozen shows a year for clients whose products I genuinely liked and cared about. I could easily have stopped before I started for any number of reasons--I'm not tall enough; I'm not blond enough; the arthritis in my hands can be seen as unattractive; my voice doesn't have that low, smooth, news anchor quality; my hair isn't big enough. Well, I think there are far too many people--and if I may say so, women in particular--who see those things, figure they can't be the best, and DON'T give their passions a try for the very reasons that Seth outlines in his talk.
By Seth's standards, I'm a failure. By my own... well, maybe a little. But I believe strongly in learning from our experiences, in following our passions and in taking risks and learning from failure. So I'm still a stronger, better professional person for having tried following my passion.