What to Do When It’s Your Turn with Seth Godin Episode #26
I recently had the privilege of connecting with Seth Godin on his latest project, What to Do When It’s Your Turn. You will not encounter a more generous man.
You’ve heard the phrase “He struck a chord in me.” I like the way a friend of mine says it better, “You’re playing my note.” When Seth “plays my note,” here are a few of my favorite melodies from his body of work:
- Stop listening to the voice in your head that wants you to play it safe
- Not everything will work, but you won’t know until you try
- Treat people with respect (especially if you are in charge)
- Do work that is meaningful to you
- Ship your project on time
Invitation to come out of hiding
Seth Godin’s work graciously exposes my excuses. I’ve ingested his blog and books for most of my working career. He’s continued to extend invitations to me to partner as a ruckus maker to take my turn and co-author a better future.
What to Do When It’s Your Turn [And It’s Always Your Turn] with Seth Godin
In his latest book What to Do When It’s Your Turn [And It’s Always Your Turn], Godin continues his all-inclusive rally cry to take our place in history and embrace the tension created by our fear of failure as a dance.
In his own words, “This is an urgent call to do the work we’re hiding from, a manifesto about living with things that might not work and embracing tension when doing your art.”
- How the Industrial Revolution turned factory workers into alcoholics
- Why we deem it of paramouunt importantance to us to know if an idea is going to work
- What was it like to be an entrepreneur in 1986
- How the connection economy works and what drives it
- What did Seth’s dad do for a living when he was growing up
- Why does it matter who cares (and who doesn’t care) about our economy today?
- Why making Art is rewarded more than the cheapest, fastest product.
- What does Seth do for play and fun
According to Seth, it’s our turn to…
Build a following.
Market a product.
Make a connection.
Solve an interesting problem.
Write, sing, invent, create, ask a question, laugh a project, organize a protest, open the door for someone, question authority, make a short film, direct, produce, create, or adopt.
Learn a new skill.
Help someone who needs you.
Be missed if you’re gone.
Make a Ruckus.
When I learned to make a Ruckus
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 has founded several companies, including Yoyodyne and Squidoo. 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 annual honor. Recently, Godin once again set the book publishing on its ear by launching a series of four books via Kickstarter. The campaign reached its goal after three hours and ended up becoming the most successful book project ever done this way. His latest, The Icarus Deception, argues that we’ve been brainwashed by industrial propaganda, and pushes us to stand out, not to fit in.
- Clay Shirky writes about the effects of the internet on society.
- Amanda Palmer Alt-rock icon Amanda Palmer believes we shouldn’t fight the fact that digital content is freely shareable — and suggests that artists can and should be directly supported by fans. YouTube smash hit The Art of Asking
- Susan Isaacs “That’s my note.”
- Hugh MacLeod creates writes and podcasts about business transformation through Art at GapingVoid.com.
- 99 Uncensored Ways to Live Life: Why 10 years of hardship will teach you a lot more about a lifetime of ease.
Transcription of my interview with Seth Godin:
Aaron: Welcome to the work life and play podcast. I’m your host, Aaron McHugh.
Hey friends, today’s guest is going to challenge you to stop making excuses, to step forward, and make something happen. I gotta be honest, I’m nervous even cutting this audio for the intro just because I’m excited and I’ve anticipated this guest for a long time. So you may have already recognized his voice when you heard the little intro on the podcast here. But for anyone that hasn’t, I’ll go ahead and give him the introduction he deserves. So he’s one of the most widely known bloggers in the free world. He’s written a new post every single day for 15 years, resulting in more than 5,500 posts. So for any of you, that blog, try and wrap your head around that. Every single day for 15 years without missing a beat. Come on. He’s the author of 17 bestselling books. He’s founded several companies. He’s been inducted into the direct marketing hall of fame.
He writes about treating people with respect, which I love. The changing economy, which I love. And how ideas spread. Today we’re going to hear about his newest book titled, “What to do When it’s Your Turn,” subtitled, “Oh, and by the way, it’s Always your Turn.” So make sure you guys listen to the very end of the podcast. I always ask guests what they do for fun and for play. And I think you’ll be excited to hear what our guest today does when he’s not writing books and starting companies, which he’s widely known for, obviously. So here we go. For episode 26 I am proud to introduce the man, the myth, the legend Seth Godin. I hope you enjoy.
Welcome Seth Godin. This is a really, really, really big fun honor and privilege to have you here today on my podcast. So welcome and thank you for making time to do this.
Seth Godin: Well, thank you. I guess this is episode 26, which means to after this, you’ve run out of letters of the alphabet. I am pleased to be your “z.”
Aaron: Great. Well, I do like to start these podcasts by introducing yourself instead of me saying, “Who is Seth Godin,” I’d love for you to say, “Who is Seth Godin?” What do you do? Why does it matter? And tell us more.
Seth Godin: My name is Seth Godin. I make projects. I’ve been a freelancer and an entrepreneur. Mostly I’m a teacher and what I keep track of is, does the work matter enough that people seek it out and then share it to make a change in people they care about.
Aaron: How long did it take you to net that down, to explain what it is you do?
Seth Godin: I just said that for the first time ever. So I don’t know. for a long time I would have described what I did as working in inventing just to make enough money that I could keep doing it because for a very long time I was right on the edge of not being able to do that. And then after the world cooperated and my timing got better, it no longer became about can I keep doing this. It became about why are you doing it in the first place. And that opened the door for me to think deeply about you know, we all have choices. Why am I choosing this? And for me, the choice comes down to turning on a light for people so that they can see what they’re doing and turn on a light for somebody else.
Aaron: Hmm. I love that. So you also say, I was just reading the back of your jacket cause I’m always curious. What that actually says, that you’re the author of 17 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages. You’ve founded a bunch of companies along the way. And one of the things I love here is it says, “he writes about treating people with respect, the changing economy and then ideas that spread.” So I’m always intrigued with you Seth, about the opening premise there of treating people with respect, but that feels like one of those things that you are supposed to learn on the kindergarten playground, yet it’s so vacant in most people’s work world experiences. So I’m curious why that has become important for you as a key ingredient about the things you like to write about.
Seth Godin: Well, you know, I’ve been studying the history of cash, money, which is thousands of years old and the evolution of capitalism, which led to industrialism. And what industrialism does is it dehumanizes everything it touches. Industrialism is inherently about disrespect because what it says is that money, the thing that divides us, the thing that makes us “even Steven,” I’d paid for this, it’s mine, not yours. That process of saying, you are a cog in my machine, you will work these hours and then you will get paid, creates productivity, which creates wealth. But it also strips us of dignity because we need to be productive, but we also need to be seen. And this idea of bloom too, I see you, is very powerful and so overlooked as we try to depersonalize and industrialize our world. And all of this would just be, you know, the interesting musings of a liberal arts philosopher, kind of, “wouldn’t the world be better,” unless you realize that at the same time the economy is changing and the economy is changing from an industrial economy to a connection economy where the people who are A. succeeding, B. creating value and, C. happy, and aren’t the ones who are disrespecting and stripping others of dignity. They’re the ones who create value through connection.
And one simple way to think about this is the Wright brothers were able to make an airplane all by themselves. And it’s impossible for one person to even know enough to make an airplane today to know enough to know the metallurgy and the plastics and the structures and the aeronautics and the computers. No one person can make an airplane by themselves. So we create value today by connecting, not by ordering people around to do a thing that’s already been done before
Aaron: The industrial revolution makes more sense to me now as I have had a chance to visit Manchester in the UK a few times, and the hub of, I guess, credited as the, the beginnings of the industrial revolution.
Seth Godin: Yeah. I want to just interject one thing. Clay Shirky has written that for the first 20 years of the industrial revolution in Manchester, everyone was an alcoholic and they didn’t have coffee carts and Starbucks. They had gin carts that went up and down the street offering people gin because the shift to walking away from the farm in the family and being in a room for 12 hours doing repetitive tasks was so overwhelming that we lost an entire generation to alcohol.
Aaron: Really? That’s pretty telling isn’t it? Wow. That’s one worth me digging into some more. A company I worked for is actually based in Manchester. And so it’s a multi-generations of people. Their families have come from that community. And so I have heard some stories but I haven’t heard that one. That’s a telling one.
Maybe transition then into, let’s talk about your new book because your cover photo I think links into that perfectly. So the title of your new book is “What to do When it’s Your Turn,” and then the subtext is, “Oh, by the way, it’s Always Your Turn.” Then the Manchester link the cover photo is a picture of Annie Kinney. So tell us about Annie Kenney and tell us a little bit about this idea of, of it’s always your turn
Seth Godin: For me, making a book isn’t something I do cause I have to make a book. Like it’s my next thing. I make a book when I have no choice, when it just won’t let me go. And the, sometimes the first step in making a book is coming up with a title and a photo for a cover. And sometimes it’s the last step. But if I don’t have one, the book never sees the light of day. And in this case, the cover of the book was going to be a picture of a three month old swimming naked because three month olds have no trouble, it turns out, swimming. The way you teach a three month old to swim as you throw him in a pool. But, my son looked at it and he said, why are you making a cover look like a Nirvana record?
Aaron: Yeah, it does look like that. Yes it does.
Seth Godin: So I had to scramble and at the last minute I found Annie Kenny and fell instantly and forever in love with her. Annie Kenny was the spark of the suffragette movement. Women around the world have the right to vote because this young woman at the age of 20 or so went to a rally in the UK and at this session, Winston Churchill, a young Winston Churchill was there, but so was her member of parliament. And she stood up and she said, “why don’t women have the right to vote?” And he said, “Sit down little girl.” And she stood up again and asked again and he ordered her to sit down, disrespecting her. And she stood up one more time and he had her arrested and she went to jail for three days and she became a symbol for what one human being is capable of provoking if she’s only willing to take her turn. And what the book argues is that saying to someone in an industrial culture, go ahead, it’s your turn to speak, your turn to decide, your turn to go next, is an incredibly stressful moment. And I argue in the book that tension, that stress, is the point. That’s what we do for a living now. That we need to seek out the fear, not hide from it.
Aaron: I’m always curious when you refer to that tension of a fear, the discussion about the lizard brain, the premise that there’s this deep part of us that’s created for self protection, self preservation, and therefore it’s constantly telling us not to do what it is that would appear risky and difficult and impossible, improbable. But you continue to push against that. So one of the things I know, I’m looking on page 38 here, I highlighted it. It says, “Bad ideas, good ideas, it’s not yours to judge until later.” I find that it’s interesting too how much with that after you, even if you do push past all that, then you also add to it. Oh, and by the way, it needs to be much more time that he lapses than just a tweet and a couple likes on a Facebook post to determine over time if it’s any good. So even to defer judgment on good and bad. So I’d love just to hear you say a little bit more about that.
Seth Godin: Well, why do we want to know if something is good or bad before we go any further? And even thinking about it. Right? Why is it so important to us 10 seconds into an idea to know that it’s going to work? Well, the reason is because we don’t want there to be any tension. That the tension of this might work and this might not work at the same time is very difficult for a typical human being to wrestle with. And we know we need to stop doing that in order to not fight the tension, not overcome the tension, but to dance with the tension. And when we are dancing with something, we don’t say, you must go away for us to be happy. We say, I am dancing, therefore I am happy. And we can decide that that feeling of tension when it arises is a symptom that we’re doing good work. It’s a symptom that we’re on to something. It’s not evidence that it will work. That’s not what I’m arguing. I’m merely arguing that it is a symptom that you are doing something important.
Aaron: Interesting. So as you feel the tension, that’s actually a good sign that, n you are the something is the fact that you’re willing to engage the tension and not avoid it and run from it. Is that right?
Seth Godin: That’s exactly right. And it’s a practice. And we see that practice in so many other arenas. So if you talk to someone who is good at surfing or powder skiing, they’ll tell you that’s the moment, that’s what they seek. And that once they get good enough at a certain kind of activity, they have to go find another one because it’s boring to do one of those sports if it’s the same. And we acknowledge that, we say, that makes perfect sense. And if we talk to a jazz musician who does improv, we say, well why don’t you just play, you know, stormy, stormy night again? And they say, cause I know how to play that. That’s obvious. Well, the same thing is true in all of the work we do. We have to decide to seek out tension. Part of the deal,
Aaron: You talk about caring and you talk about then if you care enough to risk failure to do exceptional work, why care? What is it about caring that you’ve seen that makes the difference of engaging and just taking the leap to even go forward into the tension?
Seth Godin: So let’s understand that the deal of the industrial economy is the owner, the person who controls the means of production. The one who shows up at college and recruits at the placement office makes a deal. And the deal is, I’ll pay you and I’ll tell you what to do. And in exchange you don’t have to care. You can work in a company that makes widgets and go in every day and make the widget without living and dying and bleeding about whether your widget is the best widget in the world. It’s not personal, it’s business. I didn’t make that up. That’s a real expression. Right? And so not having to care. And everyone who’s ever gone to the car rental counter or looked someone from an airline in the eye after their flight is canceled, you see the look of someone who does not care.
Aaron: I’ve seen that look.
Seth Godin: They don’t care cause it’s their job not to care. Because if they cared, they couldn’t possibly keep doing their job. And the reason they couldn’t keep doing their job is it would burn them out to have to look people in the eye and care about them. When a careless corporation just canceled their flight to make an extra dollar, right, you would melt. And what I’m arguing is in the connection economy, we are smart enough to tell who cares and in an economy based on art and humanity, the only way to do good work is to care. And so the difference is, just to pick an example, the top executives who worked at Dell computer whose job for 10 years was to make stock prices go up, competed with the people at Apple computer who for 10 years had the job to make art. And, you know, the two companies completely switched places because it turns out that in this economy we live in now, a computer with a higher clock speed for less money is not what this economy buys because they’re not buying an industrial item. They’re buying a stylish luxury artifact that just happens to do computing and therefore they’re seeking out. And a thing like art.
Aaron: I love it. So when I got to attend your medicine ball workshop three years ago, I remember the very first morning when you began in your riff, I think is what you called it. You started with this discussion. I had never heard of it, thought of it. So it was very still etched in my brain. If you started talking through the industrial revolution and saying it’s over, the guy who owns the manufacturing plant is no longer the guy who wins and every single one of you that owns a computer, you now own your own manufacturing plant. You can do it from anywhere. The internet has changed distribution. You went through record company stories and, I thought, you know what, he’s right. That the guy with the factory, the guy with the record company, the guy with the big building who’s got to cover the lease. They’re at disadvantages and thanks to Michael Dell and Steve jobs and Bill Gates, you know, we all have this industrial tool in front of us to create whatever it is we care enough to invent and, through connection and all that. So I think I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you came upon that to say, the world is forever changed. Did that happen to you or were you saying that before? It was happening as a forecast of what’s about to happen. Where did you find yourself in that process?
Seth Godin: Let’s go sideways for a minute first, Aaron. Which is that almost everybody who’s listening to this has a narrator that is judging what we’re talking about through the lens of, but how will this help me make a safe, secure living in the industrial model? And that narrator is why almost nobody saw what I saw. Because if you look at it through that lens, it’s like a goldfish trying to notice the water. You won’t because the water’s always been there. And so when skeptical investors look at every internet company in the last 20 years and make fun of it, cause it doesn’t make enough money at the beginning. Well they’re saying how could Snapchat be worth $19 billion? Right? Well, in the old model where you have to pay 10,000 employees and a building and everything else, in order to have a company that’s going to have 20 million customers, of course you need to make a profit early. But if there’s like 38 employees and you have 20 million customers, you can take your time.
You don’t have to pay for all those other things. What you’ve earned is connection and the return on connection given that the fraction has a zero in the denominator approaches infinity. And so, you know, I wasn’t the first person to talk about this and it’s been going on for quite a while. You know, my dad for many years ran a company that makes hospital cribs. These are big steel beds are made by the United Auto Workers Union. So I know what I mean when I’m talking about when I talk about a factory. And I also know that if somebody’s using a laptop invents a thing that connects data that hospitals need, it’s worth more than 10,000 hospital cribs, right? And that when we think about where we are putting value in our culture today, the value keeps going to people who innovate, invent, and connect. And it’s not going to people who can make a thing a nickel cheaper than the factory down the street. That works for a while. And Walmart rode that to become the most valuable company in the world. But it doesn’t last for the long haul.
And so then when I was writing Linchpin, I started doing a lot of reading, Adam Smith, Carl Marx, all the way back to the present. And what you see is that these guys were very precious. They were really smart and their words have been misunderstood and misconstrued through the years. But what Marx and Smith agreed on was that, before the industrial revolution the pins you put in a shirt were made by hand and a pin maker could make a dozen pins an hour if he was good. And then they invented the pin making machine and the pin making machine can make 10,000 pins an hour. And the question is, who gets to keep the money? Is it the people who won the machine? Well, no. Because I can train someone to run a pin making machine in an hour. It’s the person who owns the pin making machine. If you own the means of production, you get to keep the value. Okay, that’s obvious. And that’s why Marx said, what’s going to happen is workers will have a race to the bottom because they don’t own the means of production. And what Adam Smith said is quick go buy a pin making machine. And so now can making machines are cheaper than they’ve ever been before. And owning a pin making machine is not sufficient if lots of people have a pin making machine. It also turns out that the most important means of production ever invented is the laptop. Because the laptop, when connected to 1.8 billion people online, lets you create the one thing that’s scarce in our world going forward. And when I talk about our world, I mean the privileged world, the world of people who have enough to eat. The thing that’s scarce in that world is connection. The connection of meaning and the connection of mattering. And the connection of permission of people who want to hear from you. The people who are trusting you.
Aaron: Soren Kierkegaard said, “Not to dare, is to lose oneself.” I’m curious about your thoughts on that What does it mean when you have something inside of you and you’re not willing to or are too afraid to or listen to the lizard brain or whatever the stopping, blocking, paralyzing reasons are, what happens then when all that stays inside?
Seth Godin: Well, let’s see about what it means to lose oneself. I mean, obviously you look in the mirror and there is someone there, but when we tell ourselves the story of who we are, that’s a choice. If you’ve worked for 40 years in the mill, you define yourself as a mill worker. And the people you walk into work with every day are your people. And you know that at least for a day or two or three, you would be missed if you were gone. That at least for a day or two or three over those 40 years, people look to their left and they look to their right and they know you are there. They see you. But as the economy atomizes and the mechanical Turk shows up and Uber shows up, if an Uber driver doesn’t show up for work, no one misses them. No one. And so if we say, “How deep can I go into a box?” then yes, you will lose yourself. You will lose yourself because you have no connection. You are just truly a cog in a machine. And the alternative is to dare, to speak up, to change things, to connect, to give, to make a difference and to be human. Because when you choose to do those things, when you program, instead of being programmed, then you become something and you haven’t lost yourself.
Aaron: It’s easy to find amazing success stories on someone who cared enough, who dared enough, who pushed back enough to the resistance they feel internally to move forward with their Snapchat invention. So we read about a lot of those. And I think sometimes what happens is people see those extreme success stories and then they see where they’re sitting or standing today and they feel like it’s okay, fine. I’ll move forward. I was just in London last week and sent Hugh MacLeod a message. And I see this Seville row where he wrote about with blogs and he used to do cartoons on the backside of business cards. And so if you’re making cartoons in the backside of a business card, it just doesn’t feel like that’s ever going to be this big thing. And one of the things I hear you talk a lot about, which is meaningful to me, is you talk about meaningful engagement, not necessarily mass in numbers. Because mass in numbers doesn’t equal meaningful engagement, but meaningful engagement over time can equal increase in numbers. But it shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. So I’d love to hear you just say a little bit more about meaning and why that matters. More than just raw numbers. And then also why becoming the gigantic next gajillionaire shouldn’t be the goal, but doing the work that matters should be the goal and that may end up being a result. But keep your eye away from that because that’s never going to get you what you ultimately need, which is meaningful connections.
Seth Godin: You nailed it. I mean we need to be really clear here. The stuff we’re talking about might not work and we need to be able to say, “This might not work.” When you talked to Amanda Palmer, who’s just a delightful person, who now can decide whatever she wants to do next and has a tribe of 20,000 people who support her work. She will talk glowingly and lovingly about the three years she spent standing on a street corner every day in Harvard Square on a milk box, dressed in a heavy wedding dress, busking for money as a statue.
So for three years, here’s this woman standing on the street and you know, jerks would come by and make fun of her. Once some guy tried to steal her bucket of money. She would face failure daily. Sometimes on a good day she’d make $400, but there’d be plenty of days when she’d do everything and then it would start raining. And she would have to walk down the street to Toscanini’s ice cream where she worked part time to change into her wedding dress in the basement and go back out and do it again. Now that three years isn’t what people often talk about when they talk about Amanda Palmer. They talk about her Ted Talk that got seen by 4 million people in 24 hours because that’s what’s possible, we say. Here’s the deal. The thing, the thing is that it’s very tempting to dismiss the successful people and say, well, they’re special. They’re not like me. That Steve Jobs was a genius. That she was a genius. But that’s ridiculous. The number of Yo-Yo Ma’s in the world is tiny and irrelevant. And that in fact the media tell these big time win stories merely as a way of getting people to get over their fear. But you can find even more people who have been making visual art for 20 years and never selling it. Who have been working at a homeless shelter and connecting with people practically anonymously for a generation. These people have found meaning in their life and they still have found a way to pay the rent. And so I don’t want to let people off the hook by only pointing out this is for famous people cause it’s not.
Aaron: I love that. I wrote a blog once, it’s titled, “99 uncensored ways to live life.” And one of them is that basically 10 years of hardship will teach you a lot more than a lifetime of plenty and ease. And what you’re talking with Amanda, is that kind of story, three years of standing on a milk crate in a wedding dress, I’m sure she learned a lot. That’s impressive. So thanks. Thanks for telling that story.
Last question for you. Play. What does Seth Godin do for fun when he’s not writing? By the way, I just did the math on your 5,500 blogs and counting. That’s 15 years worth, right?
Seth Godin: Yeah. Well I started doing something that looked like a blog by email in 1995. But I think this particular run of blog posts is more like nine years.
Aaron: Okay. But still every single day without skipping a beat though, right?
Seth Godin: Yup. You only have to make that decision once and then every day the decision is not, “Should I?” It’s, “What will I?” And that’s a much easier decision to make.
Aaron: Okay. Well you’re brilliant that way. So tell us what you do for fun when you’re not writing nine years worth of blogs.
Seth Godin: Mmm. Listening to handmade stereo equipment. I am learning how to make chocolate from beans. I ride my recumbent bicycle or go on my cross country skis with wheels. And sometimes I do magic, poorly. Usually mentalism.
Aaron: Nice. That’s very fun. Brilliant stuff. This makes me so happy. Thanks for doing this.
Seth Godin: Oh, I am thrilled. You sometimes may lose track of the fact that it’s extraordinarily generous and lonely act to make a podcast and put it into the world and you’ve done it 26 times in a row with another 260 yet to come. So I am in your debt and I thank you on behalf of everybody who hears the wisdom you’re sharing.
Aaron: Yeah. Blessings to you.
I hope you’ll accept my invitation to do your best work, to live the life you want to live, and find ways to play. If you thought this was fun and you’d like some more podcasts or blog writings, visit https://www.aaronmchugh.com/work-life-play-podcast/.