Seth Godin: Do Bad Work — Transcript
Ben Schuman-Stoler: Welcome back to Simplify. We’re back! We made another season. Hi, I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler.
Caitlin Schiller: And I’m Caitlin Schiller.
BSS: We are super excited to be back in the studio.
CS: Yeah, it’s great to be here.
BSS: We ended last season with over 300,000 downloads of Simplify. That’s a lot of listens. And first, we just want to say thanks to everybody who listened to it and shared it. I know some people shared it because my mom did not listen 300,000 times.
CS: Even if you add in my parents it’s still impossible, so thank you, guys.
BSS: Thanks, really. So, Caitlin and I talked it out for a couple of weeks and we realized if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
CS: Yeah. So it’s a new season with new guests but the same premise – Simplify. It’s for anybody who’s taken a close look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships or their health, and thought: “there’s got to be a better way to do this.”
BSS: And we’re starting off the second season with just an amazingly powerful, really cool first episode.
CS: Yeah. I got to talk to master of trends, legend of marketing, Seth Godin. It was a really amazing conversation.
BSS: He’s a little hard to introduce. I mean, we could say he’s written 18 books, we could say he’s arguably the most famous blogger alive, having written, like, 7,000 posts. 7,000 blog posts!
CS: That’s intimidating, and also inspiring. I mean, the whole conversation was pretty inspiring.
BSS: OK, one thing before we start the interview: there are some construction sounds you are going to hear in the background. We tried to clean them up, but we didn’t want to cut too much of Godin himself. So, apologies in advance. But hey! That’s the biz!
CS: Yeah! So let’s do it. Let’s get into it.
BSS: And remember to stick around after the interview. Just like Season 1, we have a quick booklist after each interview, so you can go deeper this time into the idea that you’ll hear from Godin of fear and hiding. Here’s Caitlin Schiller and Seth Godin.
Caitlin Schiller Interviews Seth Godin
CS: Alright. So, would you mind just introducing yourself?
Seth Godin: My name is Seth Godin and I’m an author, an entrepreneur, a blogger, but mostly I make a ruckus and I teach people.
CS: OK. Who is Seth Godin? How did you become who you are?
SG: You know, life is two things: it’s the lottery of how we’re born, and then it’s the choices that we make based on the culture that surrounds us. And I’ve made some choices along the way that seemed ill-advised at the time, and I ignored all the criticism and persisted. And I think that that pays off in the long run if you’re lucky.
CS: What’s your favorite ill-advised choice?
SG: Well, you know when I left business school, everyone went to work for a consulting firm or a big tech firm, and I took a salary of $31,000—which was a quarter of what everyone else got paid—to work at a little educational software company in Boston that no one had ever heard of.
And then that changed my life and two years later I quit to get married and moved to New York with no actual good plan as to how I was going to make a living. That was an interesting choice that didn’t meet with a lot of applause. And then sort of suspended part of what I was doing in the book business and started an Internet company in 1991, when no one even had an e-mail address.
And it’s a lot of being ahead of the curve. And sometimes when you’re ahead of the curve, you’re just wrong—and that’s happened to me quite a bit. But you don’t have to be right very many times to be glad you did it.
CS: Do you get sort of an intuition for being right?
SG: Well, I think that it’s easy to congratulate ourselves and think that we do. But in fact, the fact that more people trust me, makes it more likely that I’m going to be right. So, I’m not sure I have better taste. I might just have a better audience.
CS: You talk about that a lot: finding the right audience for an idea. And you’ve been keeping this blog for 5,500 posts—or at least, that is the number that’s on the back jacket of your newest book. Is that 15 years?
SG: Well, now it’s a post a day. Before I got the discipline, it was sometimes more than one a day. And so, it’s actually 7,000 posts now and I’ve been doing it, probably if you count my e-mail newsletter, since 1990 or so. So, it’s been 27 years.
CS: When you were sending out that e-mail newsletter, what was the e-mail address? What was your first email address that you remember?
SG: Well, the first email address I had was 1976, when I was 16 years old. And at the high school that I went to, the nerds were all kept in a closet—a literal closet—and in that closet was an IBM 360 mainframe terminal. And so I had an email address there.
But the first relevant email address I had was on AOL: firstname.lastname@example.org. That was my nickname when I was 7. And I had that email for a really long time, but I haven’t used it in probably a decade.
CS: So, you’ve been close to the internet for as long as one possibly can be really. What I’m kind of interested in though is you have you’ve written 17 books I think it is now, helmed companies, you run marketing seminars. And that has a lot to commit to. How do you decide to say yes to something? Like, how did you decide that you would talk to me today? What do you look for?
SG: One of the easy ways to get paralyzed is to say, “I have so many good choices, I need to investigate each one, because I don’t want to walk away from the wrong choice.” And so we get this paralysis of doing an analysis of everything forever and we never launch.
And so my advice to people has been: figure out if you’re doing that because you’re hiding or if you’re doing that because you actually need more time to decide. And the easy way to figure this out is, let’s say there are five things that are competing for your time: write a one page proposal, the best possible vision that you have for each one of the five things and then hand it to some smart colleagues and say, “You guys pick. Whatever you pick is what I’m going to do.”
And that’s frightening, right?
SG: You say, “No, no, no, no, I can’t possibly do that.” Well, because we’re calling your bluff. Because if they’re all good, then do whichever one we pick. And if you’re not willing to let us decide, then you decide. But you don’t need more time. You just need to decide.
And so, when you showed up—you know, your organization’s got chops and you guys were thoughtful and respectful. And you have a good track record. Plus, you’re in Berlin and I hadn’t done a podcast in Berlin in a long time. And it’s Tuesday and so, sure. It was the next best thing for me to do today.
CS: Wonderful. I’m really glad you decided to say yes. So, one of the things that seems to be a thread throughout all of your books really is this idea of remarkability. I’ve seen it in Permission Marketing and Linchpin. Remarkability is kind of a nebulous concept though. Can you talk to me about what it means to be remarkable a little bit?
SG: Oh, I don’t think it’s nebulous in the slightest. I have lots of nebulous concepts I would be happy to talk about. But this one is really simple and I know simplicity is something you guys care about. This is super simple. All it means is that someone decides that you are worth talking about, that you are worth making a remark about. And it is not up to you. It is up to them.
So, if people choose to talk about you, then the word spreads. And if the word spreads, you don’t need to buy Super Bowl ads and billboards and bus shelter ads, because humans are telling other humans. Now, what we need to do to become remarkable is do this work that is yes, good enough, that yes, meets spec, that yes, is important—but is also worth talking about in the way that that person wants to talk.
So, two examples: a positive and a negative. I did a book called Purple Cow about how to make things that are remarkable. How did I launch it? I talked to the people who wanted to hear from me – my readers in Fast Company – and I offered them a copy of the book for five bucks (which would actually pay all my costs, but I didn’t tell them that, I just said, “five bucks for postage and handling, and I’ll send it to you.”) But what I did, was I sent the 5,000 copies sealed in a milk carton with a stamp on the milk carton itself.
Now, no one had ever gotten a book in a milk carton before. And if you’re in your office and the mail guy comes and drops the milk carton on your desk, people come to your office and say, “What’s that?” A conversation occurred about what I did. That made it remarkable, which gave them an opportunity to talk about the idea in the book.
I also didn’t call the book, “How to be Remarkable.” I called the book Purple Cow. Why? Because if you’re in a meeting and someone says, “You know what we need? We need a purple cow.” Someone else says, “What does that mean?” And now a conversation takes place, again about the work that I was doing.
The sequel to that book was called, Free Prize Inside, and my publisher, who is terrific, in that moment of weakness did what I asked them to do, which is we sold that book in a cereal box. Because I thought that was very clever, because you get milk and cereal. They go together.
Well, it was a bomb. It didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work is that Barnes & Noble, the big bookstore chain in US, got all these books and milk cartons—I mean in cereal boxes—and all the sales reps opened the cereal boxes and threw them out. Because that’s not what you do when you’re a bookstore. Bookstores aren’t in the business of interesting packaging, they’re in the business of putting books on the shelf.
And so I was too clever by half. There was no reason for the bookstore to talk about it, so they didn’t. And so the word never got to the next circle of people. So, you can over-analyze this. But if we get to the core of human nature, which is that humans want to be seen, and that they like novelty, and they like pleasant surprises, and they like sex, and they like danger, and they like things that are titillating, and they like things that might not work. All of those things are available to someone who wants to make something that’s remarkable.
CS: Wow. How did you feel about the cereal boxes being thrown out? Were you disappointed? How was that for you?
SG: Well, you know I did a post a couple of weeks ago about beating yourself up and how futile it is. But I will admit that I beat myself up for many months because I lost some trust with my publisher. My publisher trusted me and I was wrong. And that bothered me.
CS: Another thing that you talk about quite a bit in your books is authenticity. In your opinion, what does it look like for a company to be authentic?
SG: So, I’m controversial on this topic, what a surprise. I think authenticity is largely misunderstood. Authenticity is not some sort of magic truth about who you are deep, deep down. Because deep down, if we stripped away culture, we would spend all day naked, scratching ourselves, and pooping in the jungle. That’s who we are authentically. Everything else is just a story that we put on; a show to get people to like us, believe in us, and trust us.
So, you wore clothes to work today, even though you didn’t feel like it necessarily. Or you went to work, even though you didn’t feel like it, because that’s the version of you that gets success. And so for me, what authentic really means is, consistent. What it means is, even if I’m not in the room, are you acting the way you say you act? Even when you don’t think I’m listening, are you talking in a way that you talk when I’m in the room?
If you are consistent, we then decide to describe you as authentic. And especially for a company—because a company is not a person—especially for a company, that’s all we want. There is no authentic version of the Whole Foods Market, no authentic version of Harley Davidson. It’s just a bunch of people going to work. What there is, is a consistent version, so that we can trust them that they will do tomorrow what they did yesterday.
CS: The way that you just spoke about authenticity really demystifies it. It’s, I think, generally spoken about in this really, almost mystical way. If authenticity isn’t quite so magical or mystical, then why are people so afraid of becoming authentic?
SG: If you pick up a dog at the kennel and I hope you will, what you will discover is that it takes a really long time before that dog is comfortable with you looking him in the eye. Because what dogs discover in the den is that that is a challenge: that being seen by another dog means that you should slink away. It’s a challenge.
So, what it means to be authentic in the vernacular is to be seen. And being seen is really scary, because if they knew the truth of us, they would hate us. If they knew the truth of us, they could attack us; if they knew the truth of us, they would abandon us. And so, we don’t want to be actually seen. And so, that’s why it’s so seductive for bloggers to talk about authenticity, because what they’re dancing with is the edge of actually being seen and exposing their fear.
And you can entertain people for a while by stripping yourself bare in front of them, but you can’t keep it up and it doesn’t really lead to a life worth living, in my experience. I think what people really want—those people—is a show, and they’re not actually engaged with you, they’re just titillating themselves, watching you self-destruct. And I don’t think it’s our job to entertain those sorts of people. And I am way more interested in helping those people become who they seek to become and doing it by consistently and “authentically” telling them stories that help them get to where they want to go.
CS: It strikes me that that is definitely an undertaking that comes out in the sort of storybook for adults that you wrote. And I thought a little bit about your new book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn and It’s Always Your Turn. That book, it looks like it could be a disassembled Tumblr almost. It looks like it could be part storybook. How did your work on the storybook inform this newest book?
SG: Well, like most authors, I’m super frustrated. At first, we get frustrated because we can’t get our words out. And then when we figure out how to get our words out, we get frustrated because people won’t read them. And I’ve been in the book business for 30 years. The number of minutes that smart people spend reading books is going down and it’s going down fast. Because as soon as you start reading a book online you’re one click away from your email and you’re gone. And we know from Kindle data that lots of people start books but lots of people don’t finish them. And I don’t think it’s because books suddenly got worse. I think it’s because our attention spans and the people crying for our attention have changed the way we think about what it means to spend four hours or six hours thoughtfully thinking our way through a narrative.
Well, as someone who loves books, this is a problem because I’m a teacher and I would like to have an impact. But if I wrote a 250 page book—my best possible work—not that many people would eagerly finish it. And this is—I’m going to use the word “pathetic” here, because it fills me with pathos. You know, no one goes up to Christopher Nolan and says, “You should congratulate me, I made it all the way to the end of Inception.” Right? I mean like, yes you watch a movie to the end. But a book? That’s a big deal. So, when I wrote V is For Vulnerable, I took two pages of The Icarus Deception and blew it up into a book and an abecedary, which is what we call a book of “A is for whatever, B for whatever.” And Hugh MacLeod illustrated it with me.
I discovered that when someone holds a book that reminds them of Dr. Seuss, it then reminds them of their mom, and it reminds them of the vulnerability of growing up, and the story gets under their skin. So, if that book has 600 words in it, it would be a lot. And they mattered, they landed, they had an impact on the people who have read it.
CS: How did you discover this?
SG: Well, as I told you earlier I fail a lot, so I experiment all the time. You know, I have 7,000 blog posts. I see which ones resonate with people. I used to write really long, link-filled blog posts and they weren’t resonating as much as the ones that got under people’s skin. So, you start evolving and testing and putting things in the world. So, then I did it on a regular basis: I have people to my office, usually for free, to spend up to six months sitting at my desk.
And the one I did most recently was a couple of years ago, and I had a dozen really cool people come here for two weeks. And I took the result of what we talked about and I made it into a book called What To Do When It’s Your Turn. And I didn’t want to just write a book, because I knew it wouldn’t get read the way I wanted it to. So, I retaught myself InDesign, which I was out of practice with, I illustrated it, and designed it myself. Because I wanted to—just if you were sitting next to me, what picture would I show you, what narrative would I hand you? How could I get under your skin?
CS: That is really wonderful. I didn’t realize that you designed it and put it together yourself. How did it feel to have that much control over a product? Do you feel like you usually have that much control over the things that you create?
SG: Well, I do, because I like getting blamed for it. So—
CS: Why? Nobody likes getting blamed. Tell me more about that.
SG: For a very long time, I’ve had a clause in my contract when I worked with publishers in the old days, that I had cover control, which is rare. And I have control over all the words, so in a traditional book, that’s all you need. I would rather blame me for something that doesn’t work than blame someone else, because I know how to resolve the blaming of me. I know how to work that out over time. I don’t like carrying around the narrative that somebody else let me down when it came to doing my work.
CS: I totally get it. Disappointment is really tough. It’s not very generative.
SG: Yeah, exactly. And for a lot of people, it becomes their best friend, because it’s the place you go to hide, right? Because you remind yourself of that time that that person let you down, that time that that partnership didn’t work—so you better not do it again! And if it’s just me, I somehow have been able to resolve it, when it’s me, and let myself off the hook at least enough to be able to go do it again.
CS: That seems, that seems, healthy to me.
BSS: Hey guys, it’s Ben. We’re taking a quick break from Caitlin and Seth Godin to hear from one of you out there.
This is Anna in South Africa, talking about what she learned was easier than she initially thought it was.
Anna: Hello! My name is Anna, I’m calling from South Africa. I’m currently an American volunteering in a rural village and your guys’s podcast keeps me very entertained, so thank you. One thing that I have learned that is more simpler than I thought was the way that we are influenced by others and the way we influence others as well.
BSS: Anna, thanks so much for sending that in. So cool you did that! Sounds like you probably heard our episode with Jonah Berger from Season 1 about some of the invisible forces that influence us. If you haven’t heard that episode, check it out.
We’d love to hear from the rest of you out there. Let us know what you’ve learned was actually much simpler or easier than you thought it was. We all tend to overcomplicate things.
We’d love to hear it, so let us know by recording a voice memo and emailing the file to us at email@example.com.
Alright, let’s get back to the interview with Caitlin and Seth Godin.
CS: So, we talked about vulnerability. Well, sort of: vulnerability and failing. And you said, you keep saying, “hiding.” People do hide a lot. They hide in relationships and we can hide at work. I’m certainly guilty of it myself. I was thinking about it earlier actually. But how do you—how do you not hide? How do you tell people to get themselves away from that tendency?
SG: Well, I can’t. But I can do is, if they’re enrolled in the journey of already trying to solve that problem, I might be able to shine a light on where they’re getting stuck. I can point out where they’re hiding and if it resonates with them, they can go do the work. But I don’t know how to get someone who is happily hiding to stop hiding.
CS: Do you think people happily hide though? I guess they do.
SG: Oh yeah. Including me. I mean, there’s so many examples of this. You know, there’s nonprofits I work with that would really like it if I would go into the field with them, but I’m afraid. And if I went into certain parts of the field with them, I would see things I couldn’t unsee. And I don’t know how I’d process that. And so, it’s easier to just do this other work I’m doing than it is to expose myself to things that I’m afraid of.
CS: So then, is all hiding bad?
SG: No, I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s only bad when it gets in the way of you getting what you need and what you want and what you’re capable of.
CS: And how do you know the difference? How do you know when it’s OK hiding and when it’s not?
SG: Well, that’s a fabulous question. So, being afraid of spiders is different than being afraid of flying, because you can be a productive happy human and be afraid of spiders. But it’s really hard to be a traveling salesperson or a public speaker or a politician and be unwilling to get on an airplane.
So, one form of hiding is getting in the way of your goals and the other one isn’t. And so, when we think about “Are we accomplishing what we seek, the change we seek to make?”, if our answer is “no,” then it could be because we just don’t have the talent, it could be because our goals are unreasonable, but the most likely reason is that we are stuck. And we are stuck on something that we are afraid of.
And this is way worse than it used to be, because it used to be: you couldn’t get published without a publisher, you couldn’t get broadcast without a broadcaster, you couldn’t be in business without a business person. But now you can do all of those things without anyone saying you can’t. And by breaking down the gates—particularly relevant to a conversation in Berlin—we put that back on us, right?
If you want to sing, sing! If you want to write, write! No one can stop you. All you have to do to be an author today is hit the print button—and you’re done. Right? You’re an author. So, so many areas of our life, if it’s not moving forward, I think we have to confess to ourselves, that it’s because at some level we’re hiding.
CS: Yeah. No one can tell us we can’t do it. Interesting. But someone does have to tell us whether or not we’re remarkable at it.
SG: Right. So, the talent part is this: it might be that you’re just not that good at it. It also might be that you want to be a famous pianist, but there are already enough famous pianists. And even if you are good at playing the piano, your goals are unreasonable.
I apologize for that noise in the background. Every time I go on a podcast, they decide that’s when they should start fixing the patio here. I apologize.
CS: No worries, we’ll do our best to dim it out.
SG: By picking the niche that I picked, which was writing the bestselling marketing book of the decade—well guess what? There weren’t that many other marketing books competing against me. So, being able to show up in a way that was remarkable was significantly easier because I picked a spot where I had something to say and where the whole world also wasn’t trying to say it.
CS: So, it’s…a lot of it is strategy.
SG: I think so. I think that remarkability isn’t in our DNA, it’s in the choices that we make. Jackson Pollock had a brother and Jackson Pollock’s brother was named Charles. Charles Pollock was a painter and you’ve never heard of him. And the reason you’ve never heard of him is he painted just like Thomas Hart Benton, the Great Depression era painter of the United States. And we didn’t need someone else who painted like his teacher, Thomas Hart Benton, because we already had Thomas Hart Benton!
Jackson Pollock made a strategic choice. It wasn’t genetic—his brother didn’t make it—a strategic choice to express himself in a completely different, remarkable way. And that artistic choice is now available to people who don’t use paint. It’s available to anybody who has a story to tell that they want to spread.
CS: Does everybody have the ability to be remarkable?
SG: Absolutely. I say this without hesitation and I am really upset when I hear people believe that the door is shut to many other people. The fact is that when we were three, we said something funny, and when we were five, we did a water, an oil painting, or a finger painting, and when we were seven, we told a joke no one had ever told before.
That when we were little, no one said you were born too dolt-headed to do anything remarkable. And then suddenly, after twelve years of indoctrination and compulsory education, we’re sorted into two groups: the fringe group, people like me and you, and then the cog group, who can only do what they’re told.
And I am not buying it. And if you look at successful people, if you look at people who have made a difference, that’s the only thing they have in common is that they have made a difference. It’s not what they look like, where they were born, how old they are, or where they went to school. They have none of that in common. What they have in common is: they made a difference.
CS: So, you were saying that when we were children, we told a remarkable joke or did something like that. What did you do for fun when you were a kid? What gave you pleasure and made you feel remarkable?
SG: You know, Warren Buffett supposedly said that the way he looks to invest in people is by asking them how old they were when they started their first business. And I was 14. I had great, extraordinary parents who taught me about generosity and philanthropy, and taught me about entrepreneurship and responsibility. And it was normal in my house for a fourteen-year-old to start a business, for a sixteen-year-old to run a ski club, renting buses and the whole thing. Those things, I never made any money doing any of them. But I felt like I was making an impact and they made me happy.
CS: You were starting things.
SG: I liked starting things that would help other people, exactly.
CS: Yeah. What do you want to be remembered for?
SG: I would like to be remembered by what the people who learned from me taught other people.
CS: I hope you get that. You know if there’s an afterlife, I hope that you get to ghost around and hear good things.
SG: I got to tell you, if there’s an afterlife, I’m in really big trouble. Just saying.
CS: As are the majority of us. Can I ask you just a little bit about books?
SG: Sure, let’s do it.
CS: What do you like to read? What are some books that have made a big impact on you?
SG: I started reading science fiction when I was eight. I read every science fiction book in the Clearfield public library from Asimov to Zelazny. I think we gain an enormous amount for reading good, hard non-fantasy science fiction because it helps us think about scenarios: different ways of how the world would play out.
So, when I think about Replay, a great science fiction novel about time travel, or Snow Crash or The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Cory Doctorow‘s last five books are just mind-blowing, when you think about his understanding of how the world fits together. If you’re a marketer, you really need to read Pattern Recognition, which I think will get under your skin.
So, I read a lot of that. I read most of the business books that show up in my mailbox, which is a couple a day and I don’t have to read the whole thing, because the structure of a business book is in the first two chapters—you get the thesis. The rest is just proving it.
SG: So, that’s an interesting way again, to look at the world. I’m reading a lot about psychology lately, about sociology, status roles, the evolution of culture, books about long histories of misogyny and racism and how we’re working to undo that. A great book by David Graeber called Debt that I strongly recommend. It’s super on audio, because if you get—sometimes he repeats himself—but on audio it’s OK, because you can just zone for a minute.
But you know what Tom Peters told me, that for twenty bucks, a book is a screaming bargain. If you just get one insight from a book, it’s a home run. Sometimes you get a hundred; you get a new way of looking at the world for the rest of your life. And I don’t understand people who don’t go to the library or the bookstore and figure out how to see more clearly. Because it’s just an extraordinary gift.
CS: It absolutely is. What do you think it takes to be a good reader?
SG: Well, I’m not a good reader, for sure.
CS: Sounds like you might be.
SG: Yeah, my English teacher didn’t agree with you.
CS: Ha, OK.
SG: She wrote in my yearbook that I was never going to amount to anything.
CS: Oh! That’s pleasant.
SG: But I dedicated one of my books to her in revenge.
CS: Excellent. Did you ever hear from her?
SG: Oh yeah. We had a good laugh about it.
CS: That’s great.
SG: I was an annoying seventeen-year-old, that’s for sure.
SG: You know, some people say a good reader is somebody who could write the CliffsNotes, who could understand things and put them in the margin, who realizes that there’s a third subtext behind the second thing. I am a grazer, in that I’m looking for a shining light, a big insight and then I’m on to the next thing. Because there are just so many to choose from.
And so, I want to get the big joke and figure out the rest of the nuance on my own, because that feels to me like… Well, I’ll give you an example. There’s a lot of hype and probably ten million words have been written about Bitcoin and the blockchain.
SG: For me, most people in the world know nothing, understand nothing about it. And then there’s a few people who are deep into nuance layer three hundred. The real interesting place is in between, where you say, “OK. Let me assert for a minute that these three things are true or are going to be true.” Now, what’s going to come of that? And if you can figure that out based on those big ideas, you will understand this for years to come. Whereas if you’ve been, quote, “a good reader” and memorized what ten people before you said, I don’t know if you have the compass to figure out what’s going to happen next.
CS: And also, I guess it depends upon what you call a good reader, because I think that some people would contend that a good reader is someone who is able to look into the depths and not necessarily memorize from rote what they’ve just read, but be able to jump to conclusions from it or draw new conclusions.
CS: Yeah. OK. Seth, if you could give people, someone who is trying to get their work out the door, to get the motivation, the inspiration, the bravery to claim their freedom and their idea. If you could tell them one thing to do, to get that started, what would it be?
SG: You don’t need more time. You just need to decide. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Clearly, no such thing as writer’s block—
CS: Said the man with 7,000 blog posts. Yes!
SG: You don’t run into people who say, “I’ve written 7,000 blog posts and none of them are any good. Can you help make me make my writing better?” What they say is, “I’m blocked.” Well, actually you’re not. Because you can talk. You can speak. You’re just not writing down what you’re saying because you’re afraid.
And improving your work is a hundred times easier than getting a guarantee that your work will be fine. So, do bad work. Do it often, do it generously, and then work to improve it. That’s how you learned how to walk. It’s how you learned how to talk. It’s how you learn how to do everything that matters to you. But now suddenly you’re waiting for a guarantee. It doesn’t work that way. It’s so easy now to blog every day. So easy now to put up a video. So easy now to put your work into the world. And if you’re willing to do it poorly, then you could probably learn how to do it better.
CS: Great. That’s great. Alright. I think that I should probably let you go now. But just, thank you so much for taking the time and for talking. This has been…I don’t get to say this very often—the word “inspirational” is just is incredibly trite and overused—but this has been just such a lovely inspirational conversation. Thank you.
BSS: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end… with books.
My voice is a little gravelly. Anyway, sorry, but we’re going to go through it. That was an incredible conversation with Seth Godin. We have got Seth Godin on Simplify, that’s so cool.
CS: Yeah. It is really, really cool. There was a lot to learn in there.
BSS: Yeah. And speaking of voices, mine is gravelly today, but his is like, I don’t know, gentle. How do you describe it? It’s an amazing voice.
CS: Yeah. He was a really really just kind, sweet man to listen to.
BSS: And you learned things, and I learned things, and hopefully everybody learned things. But what’s the big takeaway here?
CS: Well, OK. So for me it was the last thing he said actually: Do bad work, just get it out there, because you can revise and improve upon crappy work that already exists. But the great idea you never actually bring to any kind of fruition? You can’t do anything with that. So you may as well never have had it. So get it out there, do bad work.
BSS. Yeah. Somebody put up a Seth Godin’s blog post in the men’s bathroom at Blinkist. And it hung up there for years, which is funny, because people put jokes in the bathroom and they get taken down, or stickers and they get taken down, or who knows. But this like always was up there, and I just wanted to give a little context, because the post was about showing the world your work. It was about overcoming this fear of showing work. Don’t make it perfect. And I think the key line was, “Nobody wants to see your first draft of anything.” I always thought about this, and not just because I had to see it a lot. But I interpret that to mean, “Don’t be precious, just get it out there. Own it, own the thing, put it out there. No fear.”
CS: Yeah, I really like the combined boldness of that with Seth Godin’s gentle inspirational voice. I mean it’s all about delivery, and somebody who’s an expert in marketing would know that, so he’s very good at packaging the sort of big scary thing in glimmers of hope and mystery.
BSS: And it makes it something you can talk about. OK. We are both extremely excited right now.
CS: We are, and also kind of sick. We’re in bad shape here.
BSS: It’s great. But let’s get to the books. What books did you put together? This is going to be a really cool booklist, I have a feeling.
CS: Yes. All right. I wanted to make sure that we’ve got a Godin book in there, so I front loaded the book end this time. I chose Linchpin, because it relates to the idea of remarkability, that Seth really stressed when we talked. As a society we’re well past the age, when taking orders and following rules well made you outstanding. To be remarkable today, he says in the book, you’ve got to be indispensable and figure out ways, novel ways, that draw upon your unique abilities to do that.
BSS: So why, if he talks about remarkability in a couple of his books, why Linchpin and why not another one?
CS: Well I really love this book, because its approach is more about how to pour your creativity and generosity into the work that you do, so it becomes your art rather than it’s you know like a set of tactics for becoming employee of the month.
BSS: OK. Before we get into that, question:
CS: Yes. Answer.
BSS: What is a linchpin? Did Godin make that up?
CS: No, I’m glad you asked though because I had to look it up too. So a linchpin is a pin that is passed through an axle to keep a wheel together. And basically it’s indispensable to the wheel’s continued forward motion.
BSS: So you need a linchpin to keep moving.
CS: Yes, exactly.
BSS: OK. That’s pretty clever.
CSS: Yes, indeed. All right. So ready for number two?
BSS: Yeah, go for it.
CS: Cool. I’m going to switch tracks a little bit, so bear with me.
CS: How’s mealtime at your house Ben?
BSS: Good. I like cooking. I cook.
CS: No, I mean you’re feeding a baby. Louie’s probably working on solid foods by now, right?
BSS: Yes. Yeah, we got him on, what was today, fennel chicken potato carrot. No joke.
CS: That sounds kind of amazing. But I don’t know if I would want it in puree form. Anyway. So what happened, when you tried to get him to eat his first spoonful of that pureed spinach.
BSS: He wasn’t that excited. He put up his hand.
CS: OK. He said no. Right. So he put up resistance, which, watch what happens here, is exactly like what’s going on inside of all of us, when we start to think about doing the work we’re meant to do. So, we can become as big, and strong, and powerful, and accomplished as we’re meant to be.
BSS: OK, I see what you did there.
CS: Anyway so, The War of Art is the second book and, in all seriousness, it’s a book that helps artists, entrepreneurs, really anybody starting a new project, break free from their own internal resistance, so they can create the art that they’re meant to. So they can stop hiding in this world, as Seth would say. And that is by Steven Pressfield
BSS: And shout out to Pressfield’s other book, Do The Work, which also has elements of overcoming resistance, and he has this concept called “The Big Snooze” in there actually. But essentially, you know, “Get out there and eat your fennel chicken carrot potato!” Do the thing! No fear!
CS: Get out there, be big and strong, and make your stuff.
BSS: Be big and strong.
BSS: Alright, one more?
CS: Yeah. One more.
CS: Alright. So, I’ve got one last book. Seth explicitly mentioned this one in our talk actually, and it’s next on my reading list now. It’s called Debt and it’s written by a guy named David Graeber. He’s an activist, an author and he’s a professor at the London School of Economics.
BSS: Oh nice, so this one’s not like a marketing or two-big-projects kind of book.
CS: No, this one is very different. But important. OK. So this book really digs into money as a social concept. I mean it goes all the way back to the roots of debt as a concept, which precedes ancient Egypt, and we can trace back to agrarian societies. Seth said that this one completely changed the way he thought about how the world works, which is pretty cool. I haven’t had any world rocking crises lately, so I figured I should just read it to shake things up.
BSS: Right, so that you can question money forever.
CS: Yeah, I mean I question money often, but it’s more like “Why don’t I have any of it?”
BSS: Probably because you keep buying all these books.
CS: My library is baller!
BSS: So we’re going to put up this booklist again. In Season 1 we made all these booklists. Those are still available on the Blinkist app and on the magazine (blinkist.com/magazine).
BSS: And all these ones, we’re going to also put up. So if you guys want to dig into these books with us, you should go check that out. We’ll put the link in the show notes. But we put time into the booklist because we really like these books, so go read them.
CS: Indeed, check them out.
BSS: And tell us what you think. So, OK. This was such a cool way to start Season 2. I’m excited!
CS: Me too. It was a great interview, and I hope that you guys enjoyed it.
BSS: Thanks for listening to Simplify. This episode was produced by me, Ben Schuman-Stoler, Caitlin Schiller, Nika Mavrody, Nat Darozhkina, and Ody Constantinou, who’s just back from his sabbatical, where he was out playing poker on a riverboat casino somewhere outside Shanghai.
Glad to have you back, Ody!
CS: If you enjoyed this episode or feel you learned something, please consider sending it to someone else who you think might learn something! We’re really grateful for those of you who left us ratings and reviews on Apple Podcasts, the Google Play Store, Overcast, and so on.
Also a big shout out to the people who’ve subscribed to Simplify so they automatically receive the next episode. If you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to add a review or a rating, we’d be really appreciative. It helps us get the word out.
BSS: Also something a little new this year – we’re on Twitter! I mean we’ve always been on Twitter, but this time we’re telling you that we’re on Twitter. So you guys can talk to us.
CS: No more hiding!
BSS: I’m @bsto and Caitlin is @CaitlinSchiller.
CS: Simplify is made by the same people who make Blinkist, a learning app that takes the world’s bestselling nonfiction books and condenses them into focused little capsules of audio and text that you can listen to or read in just 15 minutes.
BSS: And you can try that yourself. Get 14 days free by going to blinkist.com/friends and typing in this episode’s special voucher code: stophiding.
CS: Check it out. You can email me and Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re not hiding anymore! And remember, if you want to send us a Voice Memo to that email address, because you’re more of an audio person, we would like that too.
BSS: A voice memo with the answer to Caitlin’s favourite question, which I can never say because it’s a tongue twister.
CS: What’s something that you’ve found is actually a lot simpler or easier than you initially thought it was? And it could be anything.
BSS: Cool. Then we’ll be back next week with another episode of Simplify. In the meantime, stay awesome. This is Ben and Caitlin, checking out.
CS: Checking out.
BSS: See ya!
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