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Creative Blocks

Seth Godin: The Truth About Shipping

Bestselling author Seth Godin on how to overcome that little voice in your head and start pushing your projects out into the world.


Here are a few questions I’d like to answer:
  1. Why is it so hard to brainstorm a good idea?
  2. Why do committees usually wreck a project?
  3. Is it true that the more people work on something, the longer it takes?
  4. Why are most products below average (and the rest… meh)?
  5. Why is it so difficult to ship on time?
  6. Why does time pressure and an urgent deadline allow you to get more done and sometimes (if you’re lucky) improve the product itself?

The answer to all six is the same thing: The resistance.These bad behaviors are the work of the lizard brain, your prehistoric brain stem, the part of your brain that is responsible for revenge, fear, and anger. The lizard brain is eternally vigilant, trying to keep people from noticing you (which is dangerous). The lizard brain hates failure, and thus it hates creativity or the launch of anything that might make a fuss (which can lead to failure).

The lizard brain creates the resistance, a term first coined by Steven Pressfield. The resistance is the name for all that seemingly rational stuff that we do in the name of the devil (“just to play devil’s advocate for a minute…”). The devil is doing fine on his own, he doesn’t need an advocate.

The resistance is behind all those seemingly benign suggestions you might hear at the conference table when you present to the committee. The resistance leads people to make suggestions that slow you down, suggestions that water down your idea, suggestions that lead to compromises that lead to design death.

The resistance has a name, and once you call it by name, you have a shot at defeating it.

Everyone deals with the resistance differently, which is why groups of people will slaughter a great idea, each protecting themselves from the lizard brain in their own way. The resistance loves the status quo, because the status quo is safe, it’s here, it’s now, it’s known, and it won’t hurt us, not as much as the unknown future might hurt us.

The resistance leads people to make suggestions that slow you down, suggestions that water down your idea, suggestions that lead to compromises.

You – everyone in fact – have all it takes to be a brilliant designer, creator, or author. All that’s holding you back is the lizard. It’s that little voice in the back of your head, the “but” or the “what if” that speaks up at the crucial moment and defeats the joy and insight you brought to the project in the first place. It’s the lizard that ruins your career, stunts your projects, and hinders your organization.

The reason that you need tricks, distractions, graph paper, desk toys, retreats, conferences, and a coach is that the resistance will do whatever it can to slow you down and average you out.

So fight it.

Defeat the resistance.

Keep your team small. Smaller than that. No team at all if you can help it.

Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.

Skip meetings. Often. Skip them with impunity. Ship.

Trick the lizard if you must, but declare war on it regardless. Understand that the only thing between you and the success you seek in a chaotic world is a lizard that figures out that safe is risky and risky is safe. The paradox of our time is that the instincts that kept us safe in the day of the saber tooth tiger and General Motors are precisely the instincts that will turn us into road kill in a faster than fast internet-fueled era.

The resistance is waiting. Fight it. Ship.

For more tips on quieting the lizard brain, check out this Seth Godin video.

Seth Godin

  • Robert Morgan

    I’m in a deadend job, I really need to take some advice and get some small business going! =) I need to find a niche small company of some sort.

  • ritchielee

    As the great man Pressfield said “You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you!”

  • Steve Worthington

    Interesting. I’ve read plenty about the lizard brain making our emotional ‘instant’ decisions, now it’s being blamed for ‘seemingly rational’ decisions too! Presumably it’s hi-jacking the rational brain to do its bidding.
    Pesky lizard!

  • Vania Tashjian Frank

    This is fascinating! I had always thought about resistance as an emotional, fear-based response, but never a physical, fear-based response. The concept that our brains are hard-wired for resistance is a bit liberating. Now I can better understand the resistance I express with myself and with others at times.

    I was just talking with a friend about my inner perfectionist last night…about how she holds me back, slows me down and often leaves me locked in an “all or nothing” battle in my head. Without deadlines I would be lost, over-thinking everything to death before I take action. Of course, this my inner perfectionist – or lizard brain – can sometimes play a helpful function, but often she’s on overdrive.

    It feels validating to have a universal name for this phenomenon and to not wrong myself for reacting this way. I’m betting on mindfulness and continuing to take imperfect action to help temper my lizard brain.

    Thank you for the insight and fresh perspective!

  • Miller

    Ha ha, not all ideas are good so resistance also saves many times. Good motivational b-s tho. (Personally I looooove ideas, especially the good ones)

  • Vania Tashjian Frank

    This is fascinating! I had always thought about resistance as an emotional, fear-based response, but never a physical, fear-based response. The concept that our brains are hard-wired for resistance is a bit liberating. Now I can better understand the resistance I express with myself and with others at times.

    I was just talking with a friend about my inner perfectionist last night…about how she holds me back, slows me down and often leaves me locked in an “all or nothing” battle in my head. Without deadlines I would be lost, over-thinking everything to death before I take action. Of course, this my inner perfectionist – or lizard brain – can sometimes play a helpful function, but often she’s on overdrive.

    It feels validating to have a universal name for this phenomenon and to not wrong myself for reacting this way. I’m betting on mindfulness and continuing to take imperfect action to help temper my lizard brain.

    Thank you for the insight and fresh perspective!

  • Stephen B | InventionAddict

    Awesome. I used to think I worked with a bunch of turkeys at Motorola, now I realized they were lizards.

    So much for Jim Morrison the Lizard King, RIP.

  • Gary J Merrington

    Wonderful! let go, let in, let be! Ship!
    An excellent reminder thank you Seth.

  • Dean Lazarevic

    Thanks for the great article Seth.

    Ship often is our purpose. Being productive is only purpose in our life. World around us is made to reproduce itself and keep evolution in business. We just shifted our interest to business and money rather than reproducing life as other animals do. Ok, we still reproduce ourselves too:)

    Today business is what was war or animal hunting in year before. Only fearless will make it. And even if you have couple of bad ideas, Miller, through shipping and working you’ll learn and purify your actions. Fail. But do get up and continue. We all know for this universal true. As Mohamed Ali was saying, the best feeling on the World is not to win the title, but lose it and then win it again.

    Great website. I just starting new business and all suggestions are welcome – soshima.com

    Now sorry, have a few things to ship out:)

  • Thomas Stockschläder

    “Is it true that the more people work on something, the longer it takes?” – “The resistance”?

    Other than that, great article

  • latino livago

    wow, i was surprised. every sentence were talking to me directly as if author saw part of my life.

    thank you,

    hope to search more.

  • Haseeb Qureshi

    Seth, thank you so much for this post. I absolutely love Purple Cow. I love the fact that your blog is filled with short excerpts that showcase your mantra. And today, I believe you just helped me kick the lizard to the curb.

  • Chris Beckett

    A little hypocrisy here… you suggest this as a strategy to solve the problem of why the quality of so many products are below average, and then suggest “Ship lousy stuff”. I get the whole “Fail, fast, forward” hype, and understand that real innovation requires being willing to take risks and fail in order to learn, but there are clearly cases in life where taking extra time to do something right is the winning strategy, and many times that rushing just to *meet deadline* (often deadlines that are arbitrary and meaningless) creates a whole set of huge problems. I wonder how much “fight the resistance” was in the minds of the BP Manages who pushed ahead past safety and quality issues in the Gulf spill.

    I recognize much of this discussion is really meant to be focused on content creation for the Internet, but it is easy for people to get the messages confused. Let’s just hope if you ever need a heart surgeon, he doesn’t read your blog.

  • jkglei

    Chris: I don’t think this is about cutting corners. My take is Seth’s argument is primarily directed at perfectionists working on creative endeavors, which is to say where what means “finished” is largely a subjective decision. Is this novel finished? Is this design perfect? With both the heart surgeon and BP examples, there are fairly clear parameters on what constitutes done, and done well. I think Seth’s points are not really relevant in those instances.

  • Chris Beckett

    Yes, I was trying to be a bit fair in my feedback regarding the focus on creative content production issues, but with the explosion of experts all producing books on how to improve productivity a gazzillion percent, I am see managers in a lot of businesses turn into morons who ignore basic common sense related to managing work and expectations, and I think a lot of these kinds of messages are not being all that well qualified. Most endeavors require a combination of creativity and execution. In many cases, the time required for execution is not all that negotiable, and yet managers mis-apply strategies meant to increase performance related to creative endeavors to suddenly expecting employees to be able to “dig the ditch in half the time”. The creative part of the equation is “Why are we digging the ditch at all, and is there a better way to achieve the the desired outcome?”. It is the mis-application of these strategies out-of-context that can also be responsible for many of the problems in business today. I love Seth’s mantra, and applied to the correct context offers some real inspiration, but “to play devil’s advocate”, sometimes the lizard brain keeps us from impulsively doing stupid things that get other people hurt.

  • jkglei

    All fair points, Chris. We’re coming from more of the “do the work” angle at 99%, than the do everything in 4 hours! ; )

  • Wayne McEvilly

    Yes! The resistance was known to the poets of antiquity – in their primal prose-poem #sAmaveda they describe the evolution of the worlds all of which sprang by some circuitious indirection not directly but indirectly from the brainbox of the Creator – his ideas were to manifest as material reality – But wait! There is the Resistance – Intertia – the push against, the old lizard brain hardly crawed forth from the mire and slime of the scum mixed of water and mud alike – all its mighty might striving to see the stillbirth of the idea…what a drama! So why should it be any easier for us to get it shipped? Very important to enjoy the fight. 
    Wayne

  • PatRocchi

    This is a brilliant and timeless observation. Bravo, Seth.

  • MORHAY

    Very very very appropriate in my life and business trying to help launch ShipAlmostAnything.com and capture some of the auto transport marketplace.

    I should have read this years ago.

    as you say:

    Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.Skip meetings. Often. Skip them with impunity. Ship.
    If I may….ship with ShipAlmostAnything.com

    Totally shameless plug!

  • Minos

    Ship lousy stuff? Why? Do you have a support department in your company? Cause we do, and when we ship shitty stuff, then we have to support shitty stuff. And it is shitty. Also when you have to build on shitty stuff, you make it more shitty.

    So really, I think you’re wrong. It’s good to have a ‘completeness’ limit, but it’s worse not to have one.

  • Isabel V.

    I know this lizard and the resistance quite well. My lizard likes to read books, bake cookies and balance my budget instead of working on my design portfolio. Perhaps I should create a lizard logo as one of my creative assignments to show him up!

  • Simon Martin

    Thanks for the advice! I am now shipping often in Ontario ( http://www.shipmts.com ), and so far, things are working out pretty well for me.

  • Terrence Flendersen

    Everyday, thousands of shipments are put up for auction. The battle is fierce as the movers have only minutes to bid, and the lowest bidder gets the load. truck driver jobs ontario

  • Blair - Credit Consultant

    I understand what he is saying, but it could be taken wrong. There are times we need to tell ourselves “ship it”, and there are times we need to slow down and “work on it a bit”. It takes wisdom and experience.

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