"Almost everything worth doing in life is controlled by the Dip." [Seth Godin]
The kinds of decisions you make as you start something will determine whether you will be successful or not. Starting is easy; it's knowing how to pull through the rough times that will bring you success. You've heard it before: someone who becomes famous all of a sudden, except it was several years in the making. It is not easy to identify a course of action, and to know the difference between what to pursue and what to let go.
We often end up getting used to pushing in the wrong direction. What happens when we apply too much force against something? An equal amount of force pushes back in our direction. As I'm reading The Dip by Seth Godin, I am visualizing several examples of how using the strategies outlined in the book served me in my career, and life.
Joining Fast Company magazine readers' network as a volunteer coordinator was sexy in the beginning of the year 2000. Enthusiasm among other readers had us on cloud number nine. Everyone was eager to discuss the articles in the magazine, get together with like-minded people, and in general borrow from a successful brand. It would have been dangerous to think that things would remain that way.
Instead, we planned to create a way that would allow us to slug through when the volunteers disappeared, and the demands on my time would increase. Because I chose to commit to this group, I had nothing to lose. In 2000, this was not even on anyone's radar -- it did not exist as a legitimate network. After 8-9 months we grew the team designing events to 5 people, and a little later to 9 diverse professionals.
We got together on a regular basis to invent how we would become the "go to" place for learning and launching deeper connections. Afer 3 solid years of work, we gathered some momentum. But success is always fragile when it borrows from a formula. Soon many on the design team, some of whom in transition at the time, began new jobs and were able to dedicate less time to our venture.
It would have been easy to substitute the people with others. Other professional organizations have done that for years: replace the director of programming, recruit a new person in charge of membership. Except for we had set out to be unlike any other professional association with a paying membership base and some of the usual programming. We wanted to strive to be different. We wanted to be the alternative to a regular business group: engaged, supportive, in it for the long run, *and* ahead of the times.
The business climate had also changed, and we had to deal with that as well. It would have been easy to quit that then. Interest seemed to be fading, people did not seem to want to volunteer for the group anymore. The thing is: the Dip is flexible. When something you're doing is not working, don't do more of it, do something else. That was my lesson in strategic quitting.
Instead of trying to recruit others to help me, I set out to figure out how to recruit myself to help others. Think about this for a moment as you look at your organization. Is the current structure the right one to take you to the next step? As it turns out, changing the way I looked at my problem, taught me a great deal about re-inventing the network. What did I quit strategically? The thinking I had grown attached to.
This is the part where we recommit to our vision -- mine was to set aside a noncompetitive space where we could make learning and connections happen over time -- and find another way to get through to the other side. There were professionals within the group who had joined to network and ultimately get help finding a new job opportunity. Although we were a support mechanism to them, our events were not targeted to assist directly both in topic and intent.
My only requirement was a commitment to own the project. This led to a proposal that would see the birth of a fantastic subgroup to assist people in career transition. Bart Ruff, the leader in charge of this project, partnered with another group that had an existing forum to help job seekers. Theresa-Hummel Krallinger from the American Society for Training and Development, and a long time member agreed to join forces. The result: a highly focused and incredibly well-attended monthly series of events. Bart and I see the world very differently, and that is very good for me, and for him.
I could have thought of this as a challenge to my power. It would be easy to see it that way. Yet, the more I supported this new initiative, the better our group did overall. In fact, I sought and found another way to get new blood in. Jen Lim, a young and up and coming professional communicator, contacted me to inquire about having Seth Godin facilitate a conversation with us in Philadelphia.
The reason why she was asking: she had just launched a Purple Cow Brainstorming Circle to help people flesh out ideas and figure out ways to execute them. Instead of diluting myself and trying to pursue that angle, as well as the large events I love organizing, I suggested that we bring the group within. Did this new initiative challenge my status? You bet. But we cannot take a short view of work if we want to grow -- we need to learn to be flexible and gain a sense of timing.
As it turns out, the timing was perfect for Jen to help us re-energize our language and people mix. Her connections are younger, and richer with new ideas. Just what we wanted more of. I'm learning to work with a new context where I am the curator of the group and not the sole coordinator. These initiatives required some adjusting for all of us. Instead of a pyramid where I am at the top, we have a peer model, where the vision is shared by many, *and* we all pull differently in the same direction.
How do you go from start to success? Through sustained commitment and strategic quitting. Take a look at your organization and think about it as an organic and living system where the people are part of the answer. Do you need to revisit departments to align with the new demands in the marketplace? Does your day to day focus need to be recalibrated? Who is not on your team and needs to be there?