When To Quit, When To Keep Going, And How Good Becomes Great

How to make something good into something great: do something really well today, repeat it again tomorrow and all of the next days, and in the long term the results will speak for themselves. The Brooklyn Investor recently used a brilliant metaphor for this strategy:

If you own a restaurant on a beach and the weather forecast shows a hurricane approaching, are you going to rush to sell the restaurant before the hurricane hits? Are you going to lower the selling price because you know the hurricane is going to hit and you are going to lose a few days or possibly weeks of business? Of course not!

When we find a good idea, when we uncover something we are great at, we have to also figure out how we’ll weather the inevitable storms. Stuff will get ugly, but why would we abandon a good thing? Whether it’s our career or an investment, the tough times are when the best long-term investments earn their returns.

This raises the question of when should we quit or abandon a strategy too. When or how do we know the restaurant was a dud and the hurricane did us a favor? Seth Godin calls this the cliff, the cul de sac, and the dip.

The cliff is when everything is great until you fall off at the end. If our great idea ends with a bust (ex. the economics of selling cigarettes – people love them until they die from them), we should quit.

The cul de sac happens when the road takes us somewhere but we end up stuck in a loop/dead end. If all we can do is turn around and go back towards where we started, we should quit.

The dip happens in between being a beginner and becoming a master. The dip is all of the hard work that most people simply aren’t willing to do. If it’s a slog but we can still see a greater reward, in the end, we should keep going. We can usually recognize dips by how many others are unwilling to endure them.

Whatever our ambitions are – if we uncover a good idea, we can make it great by playing it forward. If we are headed towards a cliff or find ourselves in a cul de sac, we should rethink our strategy and consider quitting. But, if we find ourselves looking up at a peak while those around us bail, we should set our eyes on the prize and get back to climbing.

As a rule, the longer and harder the dip, the less competition we’ll have if we make it to the end. It’s like a moat around a castle. Those who persevere find themselves in a position defendable by the knowledge and effort that got them there. Dips are opportunities. They’re rebuilding the crab shack after the storm because we know how profitable it will continue to be.

Knowing when to quit and surviving the dip is how good becomes great, how we rise above the average, and how we make exceptional work. If the beach restaurant is good, don’t let a little storm (or a little coronavirus, or a little market chaos) knock you off your game. Dips are a part of investments, careers, and life. Recognize when it makes more sense to quit but embrace the dip when you’re onto something good. It will make all the difference.