Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

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Making Extra Cash

Posted by iammarchhare on 18 August 2009

TechRepublic posted “10 ways techs can make extra cash” a while back.  There are some good ideas there, and even gives you sites that cater to specific categories.  Some of these can even help drive people to their own business.

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Book Review: The Dip by Seth Godin

Posted by iammarchhare on 17 April 2009

The opening of The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin goes like this:

I feel like giving up.

Almost every day, in fact.  Not all day, of course, but there are moments.

~ p 3

Thus, I was immediately drawn in.

For a high-level philosophical viewpoint, I think Godin gets his point across quite well.  For a low-level practical standpoint, though, I’m not so sure.

However, since it is a high-level look, it can apply in so many areas.  It can apply personally or corporately.  It can apply to marketing, general management, IT, or any area where you might have a goal.  It can apply to a corporate strategy or a career path.

Types of Obstacles

Godin outlines 3 types of obstacles:

  1. The dip.  This is what separates the experts from the amateurs.  It takes resources to cross the dip, to get back up the hill and succeed.
  2. The cul-de-sac.  This can also be called the “dead end”.  No amount of effort is going to get you where you want in this space.
  3. The cliff.  You climb up and up, but then you suddenly crash.  A disaster is the result.

I think we can all think of examples of these.  Godin gives the example of passing organic chemistry as the dip for pre-med students.  Getting past HR might be a dip for a job seeker.  A dead-end job is a cul-de-sac.  Cigarette smoking is a cliff.  You puff along and puff along, and all of a sudden you’re dealing with a life debilitating disease like emphysema.

Basically, his advice seems to be that as long as it is worth doing, it is a dip.  If it is not worth doing, then it is a cul-de-sac.  If it is a dip, keep persevering.  However, one should be more than willing to quit for cul-de-sacs and cliffs.

It’s easy enough to say that one should quit if it is a dead-end.  Godin tells of people who quit because they did not cross a dip, though.  Instead of quitting a cul-de-sac, they quit in a dip.  I’m just not convinced that he gave clear enough guidelines to distinguish the 2 in a practical situation.

Woodpeckers and Diversification

Throughout the book, Godin argues that diversification takes away energy from other pursuits.  It takes resources away from the energy that’s needed to overcome the dip.

A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy.  Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

~ p 29

This analogy breaks, though.  What if there is no dinner to be found in that tree?  The woodpecker starves as much by trying too little in a thousand trees.  I think he tries to address that later on by stating that you should write down the circumstances in which you’ll quit, but this question just screamed out at me when I was reading the book.

The other problem, of course, is that especially in the IT world, you have so many options that it can be hard to narrow them down.  Sometimes you really do have to experiment with different things and ideas before you find something that works and works well.

Cul-de-sacs and Space Shuttles

Godin argues that the space shuttle is a cul-de-sac and not a dip.  It exists because “no one has the guts to cancel it”.

Perhaps he is right.  After all, what is the goal of the space shuttle?  What are we trying to accomplish?  I mean, NASA had a goal when it was trying to be 1st to the moon.  Those were exciting times.  From what I understand, even the space station is likely to be abandoned in the near future, so what should we be trying to do with space?

Does that make it a cul-de-sac, then?  It does seem pretty dead end if you don’t have a goal.  However, if there still were a goal, would it still be a cul-de-sac?  That part isn’t clear to me.

Flexible Dips

To me, it gets even more confusing then, as Godin presents dips as not being concrete objects.  They are subject to change.

Microsoft, for example, was able to create a dip by becoming the standard.  They themselves overcame dips by persevering with Windows, Word, Excel, etc.  They failed a few times before they won.  Now, the dip has become much larger for those who follow.

Yet, what might appear as a cul-de-sac really is a dip.  Microsoft products run on Microsoft platforms.  Google is now a challenger because their products are online.  In other words, Google is competing on a different platform.

His point is that to overcome a dip, you must act.  It isn’t something you ride out.  You must engage it.

Then, he states that quitting in the dip is a mistake usually based upon short-term concerns.  Here I think, then, is what probably is the key to dip vs. cul-de-sac.  One is a short-term problem that can be overcome and even changed with effort and insight.  The other is long-term and immovable.  I really think not stating this concretely and earlier in the book is the book’s biggest weakness.

Sunk Costs

Godin presents a Harvard Medical Degree as an example of sunk-cost.  Someone who is studying medicine but cannot stand to cut someone open is probably not going to make a great surgeon.

I actually think he could have emphasized this even more.  I’ve been thinking about sunk-costs since reading a post about the sunk-cost fallacy on the blog Get Rich Slowly.  It’s surprising how much it motivates our decision-making.  The problem with it, though, is that it can lead to “throwing good money after bad” instead of knowing when to quit.

How many IT managers have been afraid to shut down a project because some executive wanted it?  How many executives have been afraid to stop a bleeding project because they perceived that was what the customer wanted (when in fact it might not be what they need at all)?

Before You Quit and Before You Start

Perhaps the most practical sections of the book are “Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting” and the one immediately following called “Quitting Before You Start”.

The 3 questions:

  1. Am I panicking? — don’t decide things when panicked
  2. Who am I trying to influence? — markets vs individuals
  3. What sort of measurable progress am I making? — sticking with a situation in spite of forward progress is a waste

He then spends some time on tactics vs strategy.  Quitting a job is not giving up on making a living, for example.  A job is a tactic.  It gets you to where you want to go.  If it doesn’t, then it is time to quit.  Again, I have to believe the difference is short-term vs long-term here.

To me, though, the most valuable part of the book is to write down the circumstances in which you will quit.  This really seems to differentiate the dips from the cul-de-sacs.  An athlete isn’t going to quit because of a bruised knee.  A congenital heart condition might be a good reason to quit, though.

This points out why I say it is more of a philosophical book than a practical book.  The specifics are going to depend upon you or your team as well as your environment.  In the end, it seems to me only you can truly distinguish the cul-de-sac from the dip.  In addition, there are sections of the book that speak of creating your own dips.  In theory, then, even a cul-de-sac might really be a dip in a different market.  Thus, if you can create your own market, you have a distinct advantage.  It just isn’t cut and dried.

In project management, a team really needs to decide upfront what constitutes a failed project and how to pull the plug on it before more money goes down the toilet.

Wrapping It Up

It seems appropriate that there isn’t a neat bow to tidy things up at the end of the book.  Rather, it ends with a lot of questions.  These questions should guide you to further thinking on the subject.  I’ll let you read the book and answer them yourself.

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