The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), by Seth Godin. Pub 2007
I was led to this brief book via this article. I'm dealing with some team issues at work (people leaving), and I am struggling to understand the choices that people are making. I wasn't (seriously) looking at quitting myself, but to make sense of why others were. The article didn't really help with that, but I was intrigued by the idea that smart people can realistically rationalize quitting, so I picked up this book. I'd read a few blog posts and articles (mostly in Fast Company) by Seth Godin, and a few books by the illustrator Hugh McLeod, so I was expecting something pretty good, if not great. Sadly, I was disappointed.
I found this book after seeing a Facebook post about the section on hyperbaton (defying the logical/grammatical order of words in a sentence). Hyperbaton covers three areas: prepositions (Shut up!), vowel order (tic-tac-toe), and word order (esp. adjectives and adjective-noun). This last one we all know but likely were never taught directly – it’s just such an ingrained part of the English language that we only recognize it when it’s broken. Adjective order follows this rule: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose, noun. In hyperbaton, you deliberately muck that up to make a phrase that gets attention (for better or worse (a merism and an antithesis)): large, blue sweater makes sense, but blue, large sweater sounds weird.
I was thrilled (because I am a word geek) to learn also the following:
I LOVE these little tricks in language, and so loved this book (another syllepsis). There are 51 elements of rhetoric covered here, each with a clear explanation and relevant examples. The purpose is to enable one to recognize these tricks to be able to appreciate the cleverness of the writer, and also to try to consider them (obliquely or deliberately) in one’s own writing or speech. As a singer, these are very useful, as they are everywhere in music and poetry; they help in looking for meaning and phrasing in lyrics, both to understand how/why they work and to be able to sing with meaning.
So, what does this all have to do with project management? (hypophora - a type of rhetorical question.) Good question. (scesis onomaton - a sentence with no main verb.) What is communication? (anacoenosis.) Words, words, words. (epizuxis.)
Knowing and understanding how to use words and phrases for emphasis enhance communication by making important words and phrases memorable. These rhetorical turns of phrase can make the ordinary extraordinary; with just a bit of extra care, our use of language can make our communication clearer (as in more memorable). One has to be careful - be too clever and no one will know what you're talking about - but since of of the best memorable phrases, like the tricolons above, use these various approaches, learning to recognize and then apply them can enhance communication.
The book is thorough, funny, not at all difficult, entirely pedantic, and a great read and resource. When alone, I often read parts out loud, to enjoy hearing the language lilt delightfully (alliteration). If you love words and phrases, check out this book. You might like it; I did. (zeugma.)
Network (v.): to join things in an informally interconnected association of persons.
When I was first exploring my newly identified strength as a connector, a connection told me about the book “Dig Your Well Before Your Thirsty.” While I didn’t find the book entirely engaging, the book title provided a useful mantra for networking, and over the past year I’ve been more consciously connecting and building and maintaining my network.
The act of networking typically causes negative feelings – fear, avoidance, revulsion. Indeed, the idea of meeting or connecting with people solely to have more people that you can say that you “know” is counter-intuitive to introverts, and can seem superficial and pointless to most people. Purposeful networking is about creating a true community, a lifelong resource where the connections are real, meaningful and mutually beneficial.
A purposeful network is not just a big network. A long list of connections on LinkedIn or Twitter is not a network – it’s a scrapbook. How many of those connections even remember when you met or how they know you? A true connection doesn’t have to be a friend, but it should be someone who remembers more than just your name; they should remember who you are and how you are part of their network. Because if they are part of your network, you are also part of theirs.
Purposeful networking ensures that you stay that way. Here are some ideas to help give your networking purpose and make your connections real:
Give to get – connections have to be based on mutual benefit. Even if the benefit for one person is more immediate and obvious (“please introduce me to your boss”), the other has to believe in the potential for a future benefit. So in your conversation, always be looking for opportunities to add value to them; the opportunities for yourself will naturally follow.
Set goals – typical networking events involve two things that most people (including me) loathe: mingling and small talk. While that feeling of dread as you enter the bustling room full of people at a conference never really goes away, setting some goals about who and how many connections you will meet gives you both something to focus on, and a natural “out” – once you’ve achieved your goals, you’re free to leave if you want to, mission accomplished. I did this at a recent conference, and it made the welcome reception both successful and manageable (in part 2 of this topic, I’ll list my goals and describe how I achieved them).
Quality over quantity – review your lists of contacts on social media, with a view to keeping it purposeful. Reconnect with some people that you’ve perhaps neglected, and delete people from the list that are no longer purposeful – for either you or them; if you can’t remember how you know them, they likely can’t either, so it’s time to go. You might think about applying Dunbar’s Number theory here, and consider this network to be the Acquaintance level (~500 people). I do this myself fairly regularly, on all of my social media platform.
Follow-up – once you’ve met someone who you can purposefully network with, follow-up with them. If you discussed something that they expressed an interest in, email them a link about that. If they mentioned something you’re interested in learning more about, email them to ask for more info. And especially if they invite you to email them, EMAIL THEM. You can also invite them to connect on a professional social media site such as LinkedIn.
Maintain the network – don’t be a stalker, but also don’t let a connection get too cold. You don’t have to email and connect with everyone all the time, but work to keep connections real and active. Especially for key contacts, make an appointment for yourself to reconnect with someone a few months down the road.
All of this networking, this well-digging, has a purpose: making sure you’re prepared for when you get thirsty. The network – and not the connections – is the well. Building and maintaining your network, even when you don’t need it, ensures that it’s there when you do. There’s a certain karmic element to this: you may not always get something from all of your connections, but if you are purposeful and consistent (“mindful” to use last year’s buzzword) you will get as much or more out of your network as you put in. And it is the network – not just the connections – that is the well.
Next post, I’ll go through an example of my networking experience at a recent conference. In a third post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Like most writings on the topics of waiting and delay and procrastination, this one has taken several years to get to. Age and time don’t always make things better, but they do perhaps make things possible. So here we are.
I first came upon this topic in 2012. At the time, I was wrestling with how explain to someone that delay in decision-making, while an essential part of good leadership, can also be perceived as indecision, procrastination, or disinterest, and – worse – lead to a passive decision to do nothing (essentially, putting off a decision till later is deciding not to act now). But what is the right amount of time to consider and mull? Act too soon, and you can make a serious error. Wait too long, and you can miss an opportunity or make a situation worse through inaction.
To me decision-making is akin to taking a photograph of a sunrise or sunset. Nowadays, you can take several dozen digital photos, then look at them later on your computer and pick just the right one. But what if you could only take one? How would you determine exactly the right moment to click the shutter? Too soon, and the light is still too bright, the colours not that interesting. Too late and the light is dim, the colours dull. There are many analogies – hunting, birding, surfing, cooking, writing, speaking: how do you know exactly the right moment to take the shot, or jump, or speak? How long do you wait?
Harvard Business Review has this uncanny ability to drop an answer or a hint at just the right time. More prescient than a fortune cookie, the Management Tip of the Day often brings good information just in time for whatever’s going on. And 13 July 2012 was a great example. This article seemed about right for my current problem.
It led me, as I’m sure was intended, to purchase the book. However, I’m sure it was also intended that I read it sooner than 4 years later. Regardless, I did get to read it and I’m glad that I finally did.
Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, by Frank Partnoy looks at active procrastination as a part of decision making. The style of the book is similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, both in the language and the presentation – providing scenarios and stories to exemplify definitions (regardless, Partnoy could not make the concept of “discount rates” any less dense, so this part was a bit of slog but an important component of the science of delay).
Procrastination has two forms. The first is what I’ll call Passive Procrastination. This is the kind we most often think of as procrastination: unconsciously letting delay happen, or being easily distracted from something large, difficult or important, primarily to avoid doing it. In this form, we allow our bias towards the present (what’s easiest right now?) to override what we might need to consider for the future. This is where the whole “discount rate” thing becomes important, and he does a much better job in the book explaining it than I ever could, so I refer you to that for more details. The other form of procrastination is Active – consciously managing the delay up to the point of decision making or taking action, in order to best manage risk and use resources effectively.
The yang to procrastination’s yin is something called pre-properation. If procrastination is waiting when you should act, pre-properation is acting when we should wait. This is rooted in impatience – the need to have or see any result (not necessarily the right or best one).
It was this tension between procrastination and impatience that I was most interested in learning more about. I always thought there was an art to determining when to act – a balance between quick decision making and careful decision making, waiting until just the right moment so that risks are low, opportunities are high, and resources are optimal. Decide too quickly and you might be acting rashly, moving forward with insufficient information or wasting resources. Wait too long and you’re essentially deciding not to act (a concept I have a hard time convincing others of – by “not deciding right now”, you are deciding to do nothing).
The book doesn’t answer the question of how-long-is-too-long. But it does reinforce some good habits of leaders in decision making:
I’ve been told that I’m a quick decision maker (fortunately for me, often enough, I’m also a good decision maker). People have asked me, ”How do you do that? Make decisions like that so quickly?” I do try to incorporate the three items above, but I think I also have the benefit of experience – I’ve been doing this a long time, not just working but making decisions at work. There is also a certain element of bravery associated with good decision making, as you have to be willing to stand by your decisions, or at least explain them. One of the key ways I support and empower those that I work is just that: regardless of the outcome of your decisions, if you can explain to me how and why you made them, and that makes sense, I will always back you up and support you.
This book provided much food for thought, and it was helpful to read that decision making is both art and science, and that there is no magic formula, only a balance. Also, that procrastination is not necessarily bad: as long as it has a purpose (and you get other things done in the meantime), it is not “doing nothing” but rather a conscious delay towards making a good decision.
As I’ve written about previously, there is no shortage of self-assessment tools on wide internet sea. Most work the same way – a series of multiple choice questions that you are to select from quickly, with the results then tabulated and calculated in some secret way to reveal to you…your spirit animal, the colour of your soul, your drag queen name. Most of these quizzes are brief and intended for fun, and very few I’m sure are peer-reviewed or have any basis in science or psychology.
I’m an inveterate quiz-taker, I confess. I’ve also participated in more serious and significant assessments – tests rather than quizzes, with some actual science behind them. Myers-Briggs (ISFJ), Herrmann Whole Brain (1-1-1-1), Birds of a Feather (Dove), Insights Discovery (Supporter-Helper with hints of Creativity and Coordination), Focus Project Management (earth green), and Birkman (hard to explain, but consistent with the others). In 25 years of working and test taking, my basic self is pretty much the same – I like planning, taking care of colleagues, and getting stuff done.
So, it’s no surprise that, when my coach gave me a book that was one big test, I was keen. I waited till I had time to read and do it well (on vacation). Part of our work together last year included building on strengths, and so the book was about that: StandOut by Marcus Buckingham, author of previous works on identifying and building on strengths (appropriately called “StrengthsFinder”). The book itself is not riveting – the writing style would best be described as “motivational” – but the learning experience for me was also just that: motivational.
After reading through the background and overview, with the standard, “there are no wrong answers” and "just be yourself", I went online, entered my code, took the test (yes, more multiple choice questions), and then waited for my report to arrive by email.
The results are in: my primary strength is Equalizer. Level-headed, honest, decisive, consistent. Driven by, “what is the right thing to do?”. Helping others, seeking fair solutions, bringing structure and security to the team and work and home. Sounds about right.
My secondary strength is Connector. Wait, what? I read through the nine Strength Roles, and didn’t connect with Connector. What I read initially sounded much like a salesperson, an advanced networker, a mover-and-shaker - more taker than giver. I knew people like that, and it was not a skill I admired or a strength I wanted to build. So I flipped through the other ones, and decided on one I liked better. I decided my secondary strength was Advisor.
And this is part of the danger of testing in general – what I’ll call Strengths Envy. It happens when we take an online test, when we get told that our spirit animal is a goat instead of a tiger, or that our soul is beige instead of bright green. The online tests protect us a bit from that by hiding the alternatives – you only get to see what you are, not what you aren’t. Want to be a different animal? Take the test again (complete with all its advertising and cookies and spam). With StandOut, you get to read about all nine strengths roles, and can covet what you are not, or at least a strength you feel more comfortable or confident in.
However, one should put their faith in the science and psychology. Mr. Buckingham and his colleagues put a great deal of science into their test and their results, so it’s somewhat hubristic of me to say that they got me wrong. And there’s little point in doing the testing and the learning if you’re not going to, well, learn.
The idea behind focusing on strengths is not just to avoid focusing on weaknesses (or “growing edges” as they’re more positively called). Weaknesses are areas for improvement that involve more significant work and change and learning, or sometimes just more control. Strengths are not areas you need or want to change, but because they are things you’re already good at, you can make them a bit better with just a little effort and attention. And it makes sense – people who are already really good at something (singing, writing, cooking, teaching) stay good at it through practice and continuous development.
So I revisited Connector, and after some considering (and some considerate coaching) recognized that it is a strength, just not a obvious one which is likely why it is not my primary strength. As a Connector, I recognize opportunities in relationships: opportunities to learn, to enhance, and to connect – to bring people together to make stuff better and get stuff done. Once I started paying attention to my relationships, I saw that I did bring people together in ways they may not have recognized as possible themselves. And by recognizing it, I could then consciously maintain and build that strength, without slipping into the slick salesman shtick I found so unappealing in my first impression of Connector.
I also thought about the people I knew who I felt exemplified the best elements of Equalizer and Connector, and connected with them. For as much as I recognized in others the things I didn’t want to be (which is the first step in development), I also saw strengths in others that I wanted to emulate. I’m working through that list now, talking with others about ways in which they can and do make those strengths their own and picking up new ways to strengthen my strengths.
The book itself? As I said, it’s not going to win literature prizes any time soon. But, for the insights and development opportunities that came from it, I would recommend it, recognizing that, like any development tool, it delivers as many questions as it does answers. And it doesn’t do the work – you do.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.