In this wide-ranging question and answer session, bestselling author Seth Godin advocates us to be bold. Whether it’s a toxic work culture or stagnation in your craft, Godin urges us all to recapture the child-like delight in taking a risk.
“You may know how to use fancy design tools, but if there isn’t that leap that leads to connection, it doesn’t matter….you’re not making art,” says Godin. “We didn’t build stuff because we need more beautifully laid out menus. We did it because people want to be touched, noticed, and connected.”
Seth Godin is the author of 17 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. You might be familiar with his books Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip, and Purple Cow. In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth is founder of squidoo.com, a fast growing, easy to use website. His blog (which you can find by typing “seth” into Google) is one of the most popular in the world. In 2013, Godin was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, one of three chosen for this honor.
So a year or so ago, you gave me a piece of advice. And it’s really stuck in my head ever since. It means a lot to me. I want to know what it means to you. You said, Scott, keep making a ruckus. What does that mean?
You know, I’ve been thinking a bunch about what it is that I do when I do my best work. And I want to tell two little asides. When my son was six years old, he climbed up a 12 foot diving board to jump off. But he got scared at the top, and he didn’t jump off. And I wouldn’t let him climb down because he jumped– he climbed back up. So after half an hour, he finally jumped off. And what he did instantly was get back up onto the diving board to do it again. What happened? Why was it that the first time it was simply he couldn’t possibly do? And then, he wanted to do it again. Right? And the reason is that there is this moment that we have, this feeling that we get when we’re about to do something that might not work. I think that feeling is what it is to be a human, what it is to make art, what it is to make a difference. And some people have never felt that feeling. So part of my job is to provoke people into feeling that possibility. And then, sometimes we do it a few times, and we get exhausted. Or we get scared. Or we get safe. And so my note to you is basically saying, you hit a home run. I mean, the people in this room are unbelievable. They’re doing really thoughtful work with care, thinking deeply about it. And you’ve connected this tribe of people online and off. And it’s easy to say, OK, I’m done. But I think that we are at our best when we say, no, no. I’m going to dig in and do something else again, something that might not work. Well, it’s a ruckus. There you go. All right. So let’s– let’s just start with a question on the right. (audience 1) Hi. How’s it going? Hey. (audience 1) So today you were quoted. Tina Roth Eisenberg had a quote of yours that basically summarized saying, to change the outcome, you need to change the circles like the people that you interact with. And I was just curious if you’ve seen any great examples of this at large scale companies with more established organizations. What kinds of things can they do to sort of change the circles? Sure. All right so, you know, if– one of the most important things that happened to me in my career was when I was 23 years old, I had a great boss. And my great boss taught me very little. But what David did was establish a standard of what kind of behavior he expected around him. And when we think about large organizations, what people who run large organizations really do is set standards. So it’s easy to have a near monopoly organization that can coast for a very long time on the fumes of people who don’t want to switch. But if the people in that organization establish for each other what’s good enough to talk about, what’s good enough to brag about, what’s good enough to ship, it will change things. So I was talking to someone before we sat down after lunch. And I said, what do you do? And she told me. And it was really clear within three seconds that her boss was stifling any chance she had to get to the next level. Well, it’s your career. It’s you arc. You’re going to do it for 70 more years, but the next three are going to matter a lot. Are you prepared to spend the next three working with people who have low standards, working for people who don’t trust you? And if the answer to that is no, then you either got to change those people or change the lineup. And I think we owe it to our career and to the work we do to say, I need to surround myself with people who are going to challenge me to go to the next level. Thanks. Let’s answer your question on the other side. (audience 2) Yeah. Hi. I think it’s really interesting to see the new types of positions that emerge at tech companies. So for example, I’m a community manager. That’s a really common job now at tech companies and non-tech companies as well, but it was totally new a couple of years back. So I’m just curious what you think some new types of positions like that– you know, what’s the next community manager? What are we going to see opening up at tech companies? That’s a great question. I– I want to start by saying that the industrial age– the one that made us as a community rich that years– in 1927, the guys who made cars didn’t sit down and say, what’s next? Because they knew this was next that there was going to be a very long arc to what it is, to pioneer and perfect the industrial process of making stuff. Well, here we are in a new era, a new revolution, the revolution of connection. That connection is truly valuable now. Connection is far more valuable than, do you own a machine that no one else owns? And I think that’s what’s next. It’s what’s now, that we need community managers. But more than that, we need community leaders. And community leaders are really different than community managers. When we think about people like growth hackers and people who are trying to interact in a world where advertising doesn’t work so well anymore, all of these people are doing variations of the same thing, connecting human beings to each other around ideas that we care about. I don’t think we should hold our breath to figure out what’s next. I think we ought to get a lot better at that because it’s really early days, day one. Thanks. (audience 3) So in your latest book you talk a lot about treating your work as a form of art. And in this room there’s a lot of actual artists and designers who that is their work. And so I’m curious what you think the role of artists and designers will be in the creative economy going forward. Thank you for giving me a– (audience 3) You’re welcome. — sweet spot question here. [LAUGHTER] I think there are people, probably not in this room, but there are people who call themselves artists and designers who are not doing art, that they are working at a job doing an output that might be pretty. That in China, there’s a village called Dafen where the factory workers work all day painting the same painting over and over and over again. You can buy the Mona Lisa in Dafen for $29. But it’s not the Mona Lisa. It’s a copy of the Mona Lisa. It’s worth less than $29. Everyone here has heard of Jackson Pollock. Right? You may not know the Jackson Pollock had a brother Charles and that Charles Pollock was a painter. He was not an artist. And that’s why you’ve never heard of him because he painted just like his teacher, Thomas Hart Benton painted, indistinguishable work. And so there was no risk there. There was no sense of, this might not work. He was a painter. Well, you may know how to use fancy online graphic design tools. You may know how to play at a totally different level than other people do online. But if there isn’t that leap that leads to connection, it doesn’t matter if you’re a car mechanic or a graphic designer. You’re not making art. So the essence of what I was arguing for in Icarus is this thinking that says, the only thing we’re going to pay people for going forward and the thing that we’re going to respect the most are human beings who figure out how to take what they’ve got, the tools they have, and somehow create a new thing that will offend some people, that will only appeal to the weird, that might not work, that scares us a great deal. Because that is why we built all this stuff. We didn’t build it cause we need more beautiful, laid out menus. We need it because people want to be touched. They want to be noticed. They want to be connected. Thank you. (audience 4) Huge fan of your books. Bought a lot of copies and given them away. Specifically with tribes, do you have any principles for helping with a tribe that isn’t naturally congregating to help get them together? OK. I would start by challenging why that’s where I should start. Right? That there’s so many tribes that are naturally congregating together, it’s not clear that we should begin by saying, here’s a whole group of people who have no inclination to connect with one another. Let’s do that. So for example, this is a design community. But there were design communities before he showed up. So that’s why this was a smart business because people in this community like talking to each other. They like connecting. And that’s why certain things go viral online because there’s certain things we like to talk about. It’s why it’s very hard to grow a massage parlor business because no one looks at someone and says, oh, it looks you just got a nice massage. Whereas if you have a– a hairdressing thing, you know, people will– oh, where’d you get your hair done? OK. We can talk– I’m told. [LAUGHTER] Then, people will talk about that. So that’s my cop out answer to your question. The second half of it though is someone usually does figure out how to connect the disconnected and the unconnected. And the way it’s often done is by going to first principle and saying, why do people want to connect? So if I look at Harley Davidson– Harley Davidson’s entire success story, as Michael Schrage has pointed out, is that they took a group of outcast outliers and gave them a way to find each other and feel valued. That’s what a Harley is. Harley is a vehicle that isn’t the most efficient way to get around. But it is a badge for a group of people so they can say to each other, people like me do things like this. And to someone who’s been previously disconnected, that’s priceless because it fulfills a basic human need. So if you have a group of people who are capable of saying, people like us do things like that, that is where you start, not on the thing but on the us. Because that’s what people want is us. Thank you. Yes. So we have a– we have a question right here. I’ll repeat it. Go ahead. (audience 5) How do you finish stuff? How do I finish stuff? You know, I made a decision a long time ago before I wrote “The Dip,” which is that it feels to me that thrashing is really valuable. If you feel like you have to be right every time you speak, you’re not going to say anything. That’s why people get writer’s block because it feels more– no one wakes up in the morning with talker’s block. No one wakes up going, mm mm mm. But– [LAUGHTER] –but all of a sudden, you have to write something down, you don’t because it feels more permanent. School taught you that. And this idea of having to thrash is where a lot of creativity lives. So I’ll give you a quick little aside that will help you win at parlor games. The game Pictionary is a charades on paper. So what happens is there’s someone drawing. And everyone on your team has the guess the phrase. And It’s not– the answer is not house. The answer is something like Titanic or insolvent. Right? It’s just something hard. And most people are terrible at Pictionary because what happens is the person who’s drawing is trying to draw a perfect picture. And the person who’s guessing is waiting until they know what the picture is. That’s not how I play Pictionary. I play Pictionary by going, it’s a house. It’s a boat. It’s a bird. And I just keep talking as fast as I can. And as soon as I get close to something, the guy points it, yeah. Oh, I– and then, I go in that– because it’s free to guess. It’s free to be wrong. So that’s really important if you want to do creative work because it’s free to be wrong. It used to be you’d have to send out for a Ruby [INAUDIBLE] and get the guy at a typesetting house to– now it’s free. Right? But the problem is if you get in this, hooked on this habit of thrashing, the resistance– as Pressfield calls it– kicks in. And you say, well, I’ll just keep thrashing more. And all of us know people who say, oh yeah, I’m still working on finding the right idea, 19 years later and they’re still looking for that project they want to launch. So I– the deal is this, I can thrash all I want until a certain point. And then, I have to decide either, kill it. You’re not allowed to touch it again. Or you’re going to go, and you’re going to finish it. And that day is really hard for me because no one wants, you know, to kill their darlings. No one want to say, oh, that was a fun 18 page proposal. But this book will never see the light of day, delete. And you actually have to delete. Or you say, now it will ship. It will– so I don’t make that decision at the end. I make that decision almost at the beginning. And if you can discipline yourself to make the decision at the beginning and then honor your intent by actually finishing, that becomes a habit. So I didn’t make that habit with start-up companies. I made that habit with, you know, two page articles. And that once you commit to yourself that once I get past paragraph three, it will ship, that’s what you do. People like us do things like that. And it becomes part of the practice. (scott) We have a question– This is the resistance going on right now, by the way. Yes, hi. (audience 6) Hi. So I’m from Detroit and– [LAUGHTER] –yeah, 313. And so there’s a lot of stuff going on about Detroit right now, some good, some bad, just a lot of stuff. So it’s being labeled that Detroit is in the middle of a renaissance. So my question is that is that good? Is that bad? Or is it just a thing? Like, what are your thoughts on that? You know, renaissances are fascinating because they’re really messy. That the Italian Renaissance had all sorts of people failing. It had all sorts of dislocation. I was in Silicon Valley in 1999, which was basically a version of the Renaissance during the bubble. And there were a few people who were doing– could do no wrong. And all around them were people who constantly were bringing stuff up and having it not work. So Detroit is definitely dealing with the decay of previous cycles in the end of the industrial age. But there’s also all these people who are launching things. When you look at things that launch, most of them don’t make it. And you have to decide it that’s the kind of world you want to live in and the kind of work you want to do. A lot of the designers I know want a steady client. They basically want to be a freelancer who has a job. And other people are looking for what’s interesting? What’s next? What can I fail at? The places to go for that are not giant companies or established communities that don’t accept failure. I– I want to highly recommend Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids” on audio if you can listen to it that way. And when you listen to it, what you’ll see is that the first four years of her career in New York City, she was basically homeless, as close to homeless as a human being can be without being homeless. And when you see what she went through and saw how she dealt with it, that’s what turned her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performer that she is, that– that ability to keep failing. And I want to just add one PS to that, which is I was talking to someone earlier today about fear. I do not think you can get rid of the fear. I think that the harder you push back against the fear, the louder it becomes. But I think you can dance with it and that you can welcome it in. And you can say, thanks for coming because that means I’m onto something. But the lizard brain is programmed to avoid saber-toothed tigers and to keep us from getting thrown out of the tiny village. It is not programmed to be great designers. It is not programmed to help us do great work. And so when the lizard shows up, we have to say to it, great. Welcome, let’s go. [APPLAUSE] I did see a question right here. Yeah, share that. Hi. So the question is about Montreal bagels in New York. [LAUGHTER] And the– the challenge that happens when you show up at the epicenter of New York bageldom with a bagel that isn’t a New York bagel and– [LAUGHTER] –a– a bagel is a signifier. Right? People like us eat food like this, particularly on Sunday mornings, that it’s a signifier. It stands for something. And that people can use that signifier, that badge to identify which tribe they are in. And so when you show up to say, it’s not like that one, you’ve already done one important thing, which is not try to pretend it’s like that one. You’ve established it’s a different badge. It means a different thing. This is for someone who identifies themself as the kind of person that doesn’t want to eat yet another New York bagel. Now, in some communities, that just isn’t gonna to work. It’s just not going to work to show up in a community that is incredibly focused on identifying themselves as stable to say this is for people who don’t want to be seen as stable. But New York, like many cities, thrives on this creative destruction. So there is an opportunity here to say to people, it’s not for you. And the global answer here, which is bigger than bagels is, you will not be doing great work in any field unless you can say to people, you’re right. It’s not for you. Here is a list of places that are. Good luck. That’s not a criticism of you. That is, in fact, and endorsement of what you just chose to do. But if you insist on pleasing everyone, it is guaranteed you will please no one. As soon as you can dismiss people who don’t like what you are trying to do, you gain the power to do the work you want to do. We have a question on the– And I’m worried about the time now. –on the left, yeah. Yeah, please. Hi. So one last question. (audience 7) Hi, Seth. So you’ve written 17 books. And I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time writing. And so how do you deal with cabin fever like, you know, being isolated and not interacting with people? What’s the advice that you could give to an entrepreneur like myself who spends a lot of time in their apartment [LAUGHTER] It’s not an unusual situation to be in. That’s why Tina has all those roommates. Right? For many of the years that I was building my business, I was at home by myself for 13, 14 hours a day. That was a really bad idea. And just because you can type and people will type back doesn’t mean you are connected to people. And if you are really in the idea business, the idea business is not about how many hours. The idea is about how brave and how connected are you. So going for a walk but more important than that, creating your own circle. Scott was here earlier today. Start your own Meetup. Figure out how to create a mastermind group. This is the work. And if the work means getting over the socially awkward, difficult process of having a dozen buddies who meet every day for an hour to keep each other honest, then go do that. Right? Because none of us have to work in a coal mine. We won. We won the lottery.
That’s fabulous. So since we’re not living in a coal– working in a coal mine, I think we owe it to ourselves to do this other really hard work, which involves being incredibly generous and connected to a community that will help all of us do more work. (audience 7) Thank you. Thanks guys. Go make a ruckus. Thanks again. [APPLAUSE] (Scott) Seth Godin.