Episode: 361 |
Seth Godin:
The Practice:


Seth Godin

The Practice

Show Notes


I was inspired to launch Umbrex after reading Seth Godin’s book, Tribes. So, I am delighted to talk to him today. In this episode, Seth discusses his career trajectory, his books, his daily practices, his view on content marketing, and why he made the decision to avoid social media. I’m also giving away 100 copies of Seth’s new book, The Practice.

 Sign up for a free copy of The Practice at unleashed@umbrex.com

Key points Include:

  • 04:10: How Seth creates a library of his experiences
  • 07:17: What success looks like to Seth
  • 08:29: How Seth curates and decides what content to consume
  • 12:09: Seth’s views on mentors and heroes
  • 15:20: The key to Seth’s productivity
  • 19:08: Seth’s views on social media
  • 26:07: A key insight on creating and distributing content
  • 30:54: The advice Seth would give our leadership on how to market mask wearing to people that don’t want to?


One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 01:45
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachmann. And today, our guest is Seth Godin, who is one of the reasons that I started this show was to eventually have a chance to interview Seth. I’ve been reading his blog for 15 years, it is the inspiration for Umbrex. So, we started Umbrex after reading Tribes by Seth Godin, 2008. Seth, welcome to the show.

Seth Godin 02:21
I’m honored, thank you for having me, it’s really privilege.

Will Bachman 02:25
So I want to start by saying that Seth is out with a new book, The Practice, which is amazing, I highly recommend his book to, to the degree that I’m going to give out 100 copies of this book. So in the show notes, there’s a link to sign up the first folks that sign up, I’m going to send you a copy, at my expense. I bought these books, I love the book so much. I want to make sure everybody hears it. In the next episode of the show, I’m going to have a more detailed review of the book. And but today, I have some questions for Seth that have been on my mind for a long time. So Seth, my first question for you is, in your book, This is Marketing, which was I think, your previous book, there’s this fabulous anecdote story that you tell about a trip that you took to India, where you helped I think it vision spring, I think, yeah, help them on a marketing initiative to figure out how can they get poor people in India to buy eyeglasses? And in the story that you tell you sit, you mentioned one where you saw that they had rupees in their in their pocket, because you could see it through their clothing. And that was such a detail that made it come alive. So my question is, what is your personal knowledge management system? How do you as you’re going along, you know, having experiences consuming culture? What do you do to take notes to remember stories like that, so they can use them someday? later? Because I imagine when you had that experience, you didn’t think well, I’ll put this in the book. This is marketing. So how do you, you know, create a library of that kind of experience?

Seth Godin 04:10
Well, it’s an it’s a question about idea hygiene, right? And there’s a rule in New York state that you have to be food safe certified to have a restaurant because you don’t want people serving chicken that has gone bad. And you don’t want people making up new ways to store chicken. There’s just a way you’re supposed to do it that maximizes the chances that someone’s not going to get sick. That’s hygiene is super important in certain settings. And the Internet has opened the door for people to share methods and hacks and approaches for idea hygiene and for their approach to cataloguing information. And I have decided, and I started this a really long time ago. That running a petri dish of bacterial ideas pays off better for me. My idea hygiene is poor. my hard drive is well organized, it’s clear I can find anything I want. But I do not have a rigid structure for how I catalogue and store ideas or anecdotes. Instead, what I do is I look at the world. And I have to have an explanation for recurring events. If there isn’t an explanation, then I trigger curiosity, because I don’t know how some people go through the world, just assuming it’s magic that when they turn on a light switch, light come on comes on. It’s a magic trick. I’m not comfortable with magic tricks. I want to understand why did that happen? So what happened in India was, it’s very easy for someone of privilege of which, I am to say, Well, if you need reading glasses, and someone offers you reading glasses, you’ll do what you can to get them. And when I was with Vision Spring, and they weren’t two thirds or more of the people weren’t buying reading glasses that they could afford. That was a singular moment, for me, it triggered my need to understand. And they don’t happen that often. But I’m looking for all the time. That’s what I do for a living, I try to find things that don’t line up. And I think that management consulting has two pieces to it. In my experience. One piece is that, and the other piece is getting the client to say yes.

Will Bachman 06:47
I imagine that you are relatively well off financially, you’ve sold yoyodyne, you do well, on speeches, you’re famous to the family. And what keeps you going so what does success look like to Seth Godin? What would you what would you say in five or 10 years, if you accomplished x that you’d say, Yes, I feel like the last five to 10 years were well spent.

Seth Godin 07:17
So I’m a teacher. And the purpose of selling my company was so I could get rid of a fear of insufficiency get rid of money as a driving force, because it has never been a driving force. It’s just been a de motivator for me. And instead, my work is to turn on lights, and to help people who are enrolled in a journey to get to where they want to go. I know I can’t fix everything, and I definitely can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. But for a small group of people, a tiny percentage of the people around this planet, if I can show up and teach and lead in a way that makes things better. That’s what gets me out of bed every day.

Will Bachman 08:01
How do you curate your content consumption? So you read quite a few? Quite a few books. You’re often mentioning books on your on your blog, you’re also, you know, it seems like you follow quite a few bloggers and writers. And you also seem passionate about music. You occasionally mentioned your musical interests and watch films. How do you curate and decide what content to consume?

Seth Godin 08:29
Yeah, again, some of it is sloppy, and some of it is intentional. I used to go to Barnes and Noble, every Sunday for a couple hours and made sure I knew every single book in the business section of the entire store. If a new one came out, I knew about it before anybody. I had complete domain knowledge for a long time before the longtail exploded, because my domain knowledge there enabled me to do my work rhyming with the genre without duplicating it. On the other hand, I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, but I’m fascinated by it. And getting to know people like Syrilla May or Patricia Barber, Christian McBride is a thrill. But if you asked me, you know to get all Phil Shaps on you about who was in which recording session. I don’t have deep domain knowledge here because that’s just too easily bored to go there. So what I’m trying to do going forward, since I’m not going to Barnes and Noble anymore and since domain knowledge is different, is find the puzzle pieces that help me understand the bigger picture. So once when I realized that semiotics was a thing, I read a whole bunch of books about semiotics because I wanted to get the joke. But then once I did, I wasn’t that interested in To read all the books about semiotics, because that felt like a waste when I read David graeber book, Debt, which is the stunning important book that was recommended to me, I think by Cory Doctorow BoingBoing. Then I had to read all the David Graeber stuff, because I could go horizontal in that direction. But I’m really bad at reading a book I don’t want to read. Really bad at it, which is one of the reasons why I try to write books that, if someone gets five pages in, they’re not going to say, I don’t want to read this.

Will Bachman 10:33
So do you mainly rely on recommendations from friends do go to certain book reviews from New York review books, or New York Times or London time or other sources?

Seth Godin 10:46
What much it’s much sloppier than that. I mean, I think that Amazon’s click, the next book thing has definitely help Jeff Bezos become the richest man in the world, at least from my point of view, because I just do that a lot. Right? If there’s something and a lot of people like this or that, I’ll go read it. I discover a lot of books that way. And then there are people, opinion leaders who generally steer me in the right direction. And Tom Peters taught me 20 bucks for a book isn’t screaming bargain. It is just, it’s almost free. So why not take a chance. And so, you know, maybe in my lifetime, I’ve wasted $2,000 buying books I shouldn’t have bought, but in return, I’ve gotten $2 million worth of value. So it seems like a fair trade.

Will Bachman 11:37
Yeah. You’ve mentioned a few other folks that are famous in the family or opinion, Lee Corey Doctoroff, Tom Peters. What, and in your, in your acknowledgments list sort of a who’s who of people that I admire? How often are you checking in with with those friends? Regular calls occasionally, how do you stay in touch with with other folks like that who you admire?

Seth Godin 12:09
So I wrote a post a long time ago, you may have seen called mentors and heroes. And I think the distinction is super important. Mentorship is, you know, the current fad, it doesn’t scale. It’s asymmetrical. And you shouldn’t hold your breath holding, hoping for a mentor. The whole idea of hustling your way to someone who’s gonna look out for you the way a idealized mentor is supposed to, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, it feels like a way to hide. Heroes, on the other hand, are super valuable and easy to acquire. Because you never have to meet that person. You just ask yourself, what would they do in this situation? You don’t have to do what they would do. But if you know what they would do, it helps you figure out where to go. So I’m not a stock market guy. But if I were Warren Buffett would be a hero, what would Warren do? Right? He wouldn’t day trade gold stocks. So I’m not going to day trade gold stocks kind of thing. And along the way, partly randomly and partly, just because we end up in the same room. Many of my heroes have become my friends and colleagues. In 1983, Guy Kawasaki showed up at the software company where I was working. I was 23. He was 24. That was just a super weird coincidence. But that’s been a very long back and forth between us. Tom Peters was teaching his very first class on In Search of Excellence at Stanford, in the classroom before my class, so I met him as I walked in, and he was walking out 1982 or 83. Jay Levinson was introduced to me by my editor A long time ago, when he was beginning to slow down and he and I wrote five or six books together. And I didn’t do it because I was like, Oh, good. I’ll get to spend time with someone who’s sort of known I did it because it was thrilling to explore what it meant to write a book with somebody else in that moment in my career. But then there are tons of other people I’ve never met, like Patti Smith, who I have an autographed copy of her audio book sitting right there. She’s a hero, I get to say to myself, what would Patti do? And she probably doesn’t even know I’m alive. Fine with me totally fine. I don’t want to take up any of her brain space. I don’t need to befriend somebody for me to learn something from them.

Will Bachman 14:42
Tyler Cowen has a phrase called the production function that he asked a lot of guests and I’d love to hear about the Seth Godin production function. So you’re producing a fantastic weekly podcast Akimbo which I love, you have the daily blog, producing a book every 18 to 24 months, and you’re producing content for the Akimbo workshops. Tell me about a typical day or week, how you structure your time, and to either consume content ,to do that kind of work. I’d love to hear about, you know, how you stay productive?

Seth Godin 15:20
Well, you know, there’s this idea of the flywheel. And once you get a flywheel going, it keeps going, if you don’t mess with it, right. This is Jim Collins’s concept, and I’ve had a lot of time. I don’t go to meetings, I don’t watch television. So I’ve got an extra eight hours to 10 hours every day that most people have wasted. And I’ve been working on the same sort of thing for a really long time. So the total number of hours I’m spending to do the output you’re talking about, doesn’t feel like I’m in a sprint, I’m jogging. And I am doing it with direction. So the medium keeps changing. You know, I was one of the first people on CD ROM, and I was one of the first people building stuff on the internet before the world wide web. So when a new medium comes along, I get excited about it, because it’s a shiny object, and I go play with it. But it’s the ark has persisted, which is, I’m not going to stop in the middle and open a pizza restaurant, because I might do that as my hobby. But my profession has been consistent since 1977. And so I have a flywheel going. And it may look like from the outside, that I have some sort of gift, I don’t have a gift. I just have a skill that I keep using again and again. And kind people like you are ignoring my clunkers, my blog posts that don’t make any sense, the projects I did that failed, because I just do them gently, and then I move on to the next one. But when I find something that works, I persist and I persist, and I persist. And so,if you can do that, with diligence, you’re more likely to make an impact for the smallest viable audience than if you’re chasing a shortcut. And I’ll end this rant by saying 7500 blog posts later, I have never had a blog post that won the internet. I’ve never had one of those blog posts that everyone’s reading, that everyone’s talking about. I think that’s fantastic. Because it would just wreck me if that happened. Not my goal. The goal is one step in front of the other. That’s how you get there. My friend climbed Mount Everest years ago, and he told me most of the way is just a walk. You’re not it’s not like a Batman episode where you’re climbing the side of a building. Mostly, you’re just walking on a trail with a bunch of other people.

Will Bachman 17:51
Tell me about your routines, if any. So do you have any daily routines or weekly routines? And you don’t have any? I’ll just stop there. And he would love to hear about how you structure?

Seth Godin 18:05
Yeah, I do. And they’re completely irrelevant. And I, you know, I’ve talked about this with Ferris, and with some other people. I think, again, it’s a trap. It’s a trap, because there is an emotion that’s keeping us from shipping. And if you can find out what kind of pencils Stephen King uses, or you can find out what kind of breakfast Christian McBride has, maybe that will be a shortcut. And my answer is no. Just figure out which emotion they’re willing to dance with, that you are avoiding. That is the only thing. It is the only thing.

Will Bachman 18:45
You seem to have avoided. So you mentioned that you like joining the latest medium. So you just started a blog, you have a podcast. I haven’t seen you active on social media. What has been the decision process to stay away from Twitter and other social media for you?

Seth Godin 19:08
Yeah, well, I don’t use heroin either. And they’re not that different. When you know I was in I was super early with my first podcast and intentionally not early with the one you’re talking about Akimbo. But when I saw I saw Facebook super early and should have, if I was financially inclined, invested in it, even if they weren’t soliciting my investment, but I didn’t. And what I saw on Facebook was there was there was a premium placed on personal connection with people you don’t know very well. And I just wasn’t interested in that. And then I also saw Twitter super early and I realized if I went on Twitter, I could have a very popular Twitter account. And I said, well, where will the time for that come from? Because it’s not five minutes a day. The time from that will come from blogging. And so I will go from having an important blog to having a blog that I’m not spending enough time on. And I’ll probably end up being a mediocre Twitter user too. So I made the hard decision to say, Nope, zero. And I’m really glad I did. Because Twitter is toxic. Twitter is toxic, because people use it for free, think they’re the customer, they’re not the customer. They’re the product. And if you’re the product, Twitter wants you to feel insecure, or to come back again. And that’s not helpful.

Will Bachman 21:01
I believe that in the book, what to do when it’s your turn, I think I remember that you taught yourself design, and that you designed the book yourself. What are some of the skills that you have on your plate to learn next, or what are you working on? What skill Are you personally, trying to learn now? So let’s talk about skill acquisition, because it’s never been easier. And it has nothing to do with education. Education is a prize awarded by an institution that gets you to do what they say and comply. In exchange for a piece of paper. You might learn something when you’re getting an education, but you don’t have to. Whereas skill acquisition and learning are involved in enrollment, choosing to becoming competent on your way to learning something that you want to learn. So, I learned how to design 20 years ago at the dawn of desktop publishing, so it was more than that. Because I liked the way some things looked. And it bothered me that I couldn’t make things look that way. And I don’t have a knack for it. But I was able to learn one method. Right, Franklin Gothic condensed. And Macromedia freehand and a certain kind of look and feel that became my handwriting. But then Adobe bought Macromedia and my skills began to atrophy, my eye did not change, but my ability to craft it did. So I felt myself falling behind as each version of InDesign etc, came along. So when I built the book, what to do when it’s your turn, Alex pack, my creative director, programming partner, etc, built me one spread, so that it would at least have a place to begin. And then I made the whole thing myself. And I wanted to do that, to put myself on the hook. Because when, as adults, when there is no certificate, we can find something that we know is no good, or that it’s hard for us to do. We usually turn around and walk away. And that’s why there’s almost no cars with standard transmissions anymore. Because it’s just easier to sell an automatic transmission car, as opposed to an insisting that an adult learn a new skill. And so my approach is, do I care enough about my interface with the world to want to learn this? Or alternatively, am I simply curious? So the next project on my list is getting back into programming, understanding GPT threes interfacing playing with that, but that’s going to take a long time. And in the meantime, most of my skill acquisition, at least in this moment, involves woodworking as a hobby, which I’ve been doing my whole life but trying to, again take that to a new level because I just like that feeling. saying yesterday I didn’t know how to do something and today I do. SI didn’t know about your woodworking hobby. What? What sorts of things do you like to build

Seth Godin 25:02
The only thing I make is handmade cherry wood canoe paddles in the spirit of Omer Stringer of northern Canada. But right now I’m making an actual cedar strip canoe, which involves way more Yak shaving than anybody ever could have expected.

Will Bachman 25:21
What a great project. In The Practice, you talk a lot about, the whole book is about creating content about producing. And one question I have for you after reading the book is, what about what are your advice for someone starting out? Who does not yet have an audience on the more the distribution side of building an audience? For a lot of creatives and a lot of consultants who have a podcast or blog, the distribution is almost 80% of the work, it seems. So what are your tips around how to go about that side of it?

Seth Godin 26:07
If you’re finding that distribution is 80% of the work, I think you may be misunderstanding content marketing, I’m not talking to you, the person who’s listening right now, content marketing got capitalized to Content Marketing, by professionals who said, “What you should do is write mediocre stuff a lot. And it should fit in, in exactly a certain puzzle pieces sort of way. In fact, if you want to outsource this task, we’ll just do it for you. And we will feed the Google machine, and you’ll get some free traffic, and then some of those people will convert into customers.” And all of that is wrong. I was quoted years ago saying content marketing is the only kind of marketing that’s left. What I meant was, if you are peculiar, and idiosyncratic in a way that the people who read it will benefit by sharing it with other people, then they will, by definition. If they don’t, then you haven’t achieved your goal. And so if Jeff Moore comes up with the concept of Crossing the Chasm, and he describes it in a way that’s easy to share, and you work in an organization, where you feel like your career will be advanced, if you can get other people you work with to understand the concept of Crossing the Chasm, you will tell them about it. He did not have to do anything to get distribution, other than come up with a breakthrough, generous, useful network effect idea that other people benefit by sharing. That’s the work. Everything else is a hack. The work is, did you create a network effect around your idea, because other people will benefit by sharing it. It’s not about a gimmick. It’s not about anything except staring down your fear of finding a truth that some people might challenge that the people who get the joke will be glad that they engaged with you, you can do that again and again, then the distribution will take care of itself.

Will Bachman 28:20
There’s a lot of talk now about building communities, it seems to be the the current, the current rage, what have you learned that has surprised you or was counterintuitive to you about building community from the work that you’ve done through you can go workshops and, and other and other mechanisms. And what’s been surprising to you, as you work to build communities?

Seth Godin 28:48
Well, I’ll give you an unordered list. One of them is in tribes, I tell you about the fact that you can’t have insiders unless you have outsiders. And it breaks my heart that that’s been weaponized by people who are trying to hurt our culture by dividing people as relentlessly as they can. But that’s certainly something from the demagogues and the haters playbook. Because it’s super easy, super easy to create insiders by saying that you are distinct from the outsiders. Number two, it is tempting to believe that we can build community for everyone. But free speech just means you’re allowed to criticize the government. Free Speech does not mean you can walk into our living room and say whatever you want, you can’t. And so part of what it means to create community is to have standards and to enforce them and to ask people to leave if they choose to be trolls or if they don’t get the joke. And then the third part, which is related is enrollment. You can’t build community with people who don’t want to be there. So you have to be really clear from the beginning. Who does want to be here. Why. Want to be here? We can’t get distracted by the mass media successes, right? There are a lot of people who wish they could be a Kim Kardashian. But we already have Kim Kardashian, we don’t need another one. So the chances that you’re going to become a mass market hit are very low. And it makes more sense to seek the smallest viable audience, as opposed to chase the largest possible one.

Will Bachman 30:25
The US has a Council of Economic Advisers to advise the president. We don’t, but we ought to have a council of marketing advisors to advise vice president. So if you were the Chairman of the Council of marketing advisors, what advice would you give our leadership on how to market mask wearing to people that don’t want to?

Seth Godin 30:54
Okay, so I think what you’ve highlighted, first, a little aside about economics, the Nobel Prize in Economics is not a real Nobel Prize. It was funded by a bank in the 1960s. And it’s like a fake Nobel Prize for a fake science. Just, I just needed to get that off my chest. There’s also no Nobel Prize in marketing. Now, the thing is, that a lot of human beings believe that we are rational creatures. And we believe that we consider the evidence and then make a decision. However, we are swayed by things large and small, that are largely irrelevant. You know, I asked people, which do you prefer St. Pauli girl, or Beck’s light beer, and many people who went to college have an opinion about one versus the other. And then I point out that they’re the same fluid made on the same assembly line in the same brewery with different labels. And people get upset with me, even though that we don’t make rational decisions. So with all of that said, we need to decode how is it that we make decisions? Well, in culture, many people align on one of two axes, affiliation or dominance. Affiliation means people like us do things like this. Affiliation means I want to fit in. Dominance means Who am I ahead of, who’s ahead of me? It’s professional wrestling. And if you once you hear me say that sentence, lots of things in our political culture will become much more clear about what is an argument for dominance? What is an argument for affiliation? Where do we find scarcity? Where do we find abundance? So with all of that said, for example, one way that we would increase the adoption of one of the greatest medical achievements of all time vaccines, is if there was a waiting list to get a vaccine. Because if there was a waiting list to get a vaccine, there’d be an issue of status, there’d be an issue of who’s ahead of me, there’d be an issue of why am I being left behind, creating that scarcity would create value. In the case of masks, there are all these people who want to have a scientific argument or even a somehow freedom argument around these, which are neither one of which is germane. Because we know even if all we’re talking about is a cold, everyone wearing a mask is going to decrease the Rnot of it from an epidemiological point of view of the spread of a disease. We’re talking about a disease that kills hundreds of 1000s of people, and has lifelong impact on the people who aren’t killed, it seems really straightforward if the cost is a $5 piece of fabric. There’s not a lot of debate about this except a cultural debate. So now the question is affiliation or dominance? Well, affiliation? The answer is you need every leader to wear it all the time. You need to make it so that it is sexy, and powerful, and patriotic, and everything else to wear this. If we look at, you know, Harley drivers in Sturgis, South Dakota, who don’t wear helmets, they know that wearing a helmet, anytime is a good way to avoid a head injury and wearing one on a motorcycle is super smart. But they don’t because affiliation with their circle is, we don’t wear helmets. So creating heroes who do is step one. And then step two is dominance, which is if these were like war bonds, in the sense of, we can beat this together. Oh, now we have a shared enemy. The enemy is an invisible microbe, let us band together to dominate it, because we’re number one, also works. And so there are lots of strategic conceptual ways to market something have nothing to do with advertising or hype, or even slogans. But all to do with how human beings or any species signals the other ones, to show what it’s like to be an insider. That was a little bit of a rant.

Will Bachman 35:15
Now, I loved it. And now we’re out of time, I want to thank you so much for being on the show. The next episode listeners is I’m going to do a detailed review of The Practice. And again, check out the show notes. I’m gonna give out 100 copies of this book. I love it so much. Seth, it has been such a pleasure speaking with you, and thanks for joining.

Seth Godin 35:38
Thank you. Well, thanks for the podcast. It’s a generous, persistent act on your part. And I know your listeners appreciate it.

Will Bachman 35:44

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