For many a marketer Seth Godin is the leading voice of marketing for this generation. I grabbed a few minutes with Seth upon the launch of his latest book Linchpin - Are You Indispensable?
1) John: How do you come up with big ideas on a seemingly daily basis?
Seth: Well, I guess I would respond by asking people how can they not generate that on a daily basis? If you talk to a plumber, as Harlan Ellison is famous for saying, you go, "Wow, that's amazing. You unclogged 6,000 toilets in your career." And what we do for a living now, is we think. What we do for a living now is we manipulate ideas and we make change happen.
If you knew that people, even five people, were waiting every single day to read what you were going to write on a blog, your brain would rise to the occasion. It would notice things. It would find things to talk about. There are very few people on this planet who go out to lunch with a friend and have absolutely nothing to say.
There are very few people who are unable to speak when spoken to. Well, if you're good at speaking to one individual, then you should be good at writing.
2) John: In Linchpin you seem to be suggesting that people succeed at work by doing things that don’t appear on their job descriptions.
Seth: Exactly. And Spike Lee never got told that what he got paid to do was make movies that would make people profoundly uncomfortable and then transform them. Bach never got told that he was supposed to compose music of a certain style, because you can't tell people what you want if you're asking them to do something that you don't know you need.
And that is the magic part of the equation of what's just occurred. It's a giant transformation that happened just in the last five or 10 years. As we have an economy that used to make money by leveraging a factory, a system, a process, to an economy now where the people who win are the ones who do stuff we didn't expect and we didn't ask for.
3) John: "Where do you get your ideas?" What inspires you? What is the kind of stuff that makes you sort of regenerated?
Seth: Well, like you, it almost never comes from reading the traditional blog posts or following traditional "Twitterers." It comes from seeing a movie or interacting in a place that I've never been. If I'm on the road eating in another city, I will never, ever go to a restaurant that I've been to before or that's been recommended by the concierge. I dig deep into Chowhound and I find a place or a cuisine I've never had before.
If I am listening to music, I'll spend half the time listening to music I like and half the time listening to music I've never heard before. If I'm driving in a town, I will put on a radio station where they're talking about stuff I don't agree with. And confronting these edges in our culture is bound to create sparks, and sparks turn into fires.
4) John: How do we balance life and this new way to work you talk about in Linchpin?
Seth: There are two things that I've done. The first thing is, I think you should seek out to do work that you like to do, which seems pretty obvious but is missed by a lot of people. If you're going to put your heart and soul into it, it had better be something you're proud of. And that's why I always roll my eyes when I hear about the smokeless-tobacco people suing the city of New York today because they banned grape-flavored chewing tobacco. The people who are doing that, that's their job. They chose to do it. They don't have to do that. I don't know how you put your heart and soul into suing for the right to market grape tobacco to 12-year-olds.
And the second thing, I think, that at least works for me is, if you're really serious about balance, it's not an ad-hoc, back-and-forth decision. All of us go to sleep every night. All of us eat three meals a day. Make the decision to be home for dinner every night, make the decision to not turn on the Internet from seven to 11 every night, or whatever it is that makes you happy, and then don't break the rules. There are lots of other rules you don't break. If you're serious about this balance thing, then be serious about it.
5) John: Your book launches are almost as instructional as your books, tell me about how your approach a new book launch?
Seth: Well, I've been doing this for 10 years, since the "Permission Marketing" book came out, and the rules have been the same. Being a hypocrite is no fun. So if you're writing a book about permission marketing, you ought to use permission marketing to market it. If you're writing a book about idea viruses, you ought to create an idea virus around it.
So my rules are, one, I try to use an approach that mirrors or amplifies the idea in the book itself. Because if it's not good enough for me, it's not good enough for my readers. Number two, I try and do something that almost anyone could do. I don't like hearing people say, "Well, you did that because you're 'Seth Godin.' I could never do that."
Number three, can't spend a lot of money. None of the promotions I've ever done have cost anything near what a book publisher traditionally spends on promoting a book that becomes a bestseller. Because, again, I'm trying to make the point that money is not the answer to these situations.
And the last thing is, the only reason I write books is to be generous, not to be selfish. There are way better ways to make a living. In fact, every way to make a living is better than trying to make a living by writing books. So I do it to be generous. Therefore, no spamming people, no posting stuff that people aren't glad to read, no saying, "Well, I've been doing all this. Now it's my turn for you to do something for me." That's not allowed.
So what I did with this book is I realized that the traditional amplifiers of book ideas, the book reviewers, the people at the newspapers and magazines, are an endangered species. Most of them are gone, and the few that are left are still overwhelmed by all the authors who want a piece of them, that it's no longer an effective or predictable way to promote your book.
So we embargoed the book to all traditional media. We didn't send out review copies. We didn't call people up and say, "Would you please put this in 'The New York Times' or forward it to magazines?"
Instead, I went to my readers and I said, "Here's the deal. I'd like you to be the reviewers of the book, and I'd like to send you a free review copy at my expense." Of course, I can't afford to do that to everyone who would respond, because "free" is a magic word and it scales to infinity. So I said, "I need to put some friction in. What's the generous way to do that?" And my solution was to say, "Make a donation to my favorite charity. And it has to be at least 30 bucks."
Well, the good news is we raised over $100,000 in about two days. Really astonishing, and made me feel terrific. And every single person who did it was making a statement: A, that they were interested, and B, that they were also a generous person. Believe it or not, I got angry emails from some people who say, "How dare you demand I give money to charity?" You know what? That's their privilege, but I don't need them to read my book.
And where we ended up is over 2,000 people, and hundreds in the international community who got a digital preview version, now have a copy before anyone else can buy it. And the inclination to share and be generous means that many of those people are tweeting about it and blogging about it and telling their friends about it, which is far more effective than if I had gotten one review in "Forbes" magazine or been on the "Today" show.
Image Credit: simone.brunozzi