There are a lot of famous musicians that are known by only one name. We are all familiar with Madonna, Bono, Shakira, Edge, Prince, and Fergie. There is only one business icon that's known by only one name: Seth. When readers sees “Seth” in the business world, they know its about Seth Godin. He has written 13 books that have been translated into more than 30 languages. Every one has been a bestseller. Seth pioneered the use of ethical, direct-mail, online marketing called Permission Marketing.
I interviewed Seth recently in anticipation of his new book, Poke the Box, released March 1.
Q: Why do you think your message over the years has resonated so much with small business owners?
A: The first is that what I do for a living is I notice things. I try to see things that other people are seeing and describe it in a way that lets them take action. So it's more likely to resonate with you because the things I'm saying feel true…
I think the other thing that's going in my favor is that I'm pretty promiscuous about sharing ideas in that I don't focus on scarcity. I don't focus on saying you're not allowed to use the word Permission Marketing in a sentence without adding a TM to it. And showing up every day on a blog for seven or eight years in a row and spreading ideas without worrying about whether people pay me for them or not. I think that’s a potent combination.
Q: You have written 13 books, all of them bestsellers, but the new one is released through a new publishing model that you're calling the Domino Project. Why make the change since you've had so much success?
A: Well, I think it’s a little bit about injecting craziness. I think there's no question I would make more money in the short run if I just went back to a publisher who still has cash left and feels the pain, and wants to buy a book from a well-known author but this is the moment. You don't shift gears when you're floundering. You shift gears when everything is working perfectly because that's your big chance to have an impact. … I'm trying to build a new kind of company that gets rid of … many of the things that irritate authors. At the same time, it embraces the reader and tries to be as direct and tight with the reader as possible.
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Q: In Poke the Box, you say you want to kick people in the pants to take action. Why is that so critical right now in America?
A: We went 100 years ago from being a place where you had to figure out what to do next to an economy where most people starting when they're in school get told what to do next. And when you go to work, if the assembly line is working properly, the boss doesn't want you to innovate or initiate. The boss wants to tell you what to do. Well, that worked for a long time and now it doesn't for a whole bunch of reasons. Detroit’s in trouble, manufacturing’s in trouble, and lots of businesses are in trouble.
And the basic thinking is one: if I can tell you what to do, I can probably find someone cheaper to do it than you. And two: if the world is changing fast, the assembly line probably isn't working that well anyway. So here we are in this world where we’re racing to the bottom, if the job involves following, and where things keep changing. So who wins? The people who win are the people who as a matter of practice, as a matter of course, initiate. Steve Jobs is not an inventor. He has invented nothing. Steve Jobs is someone who takes ideas and pushes them into the world.
Q: In Poke the Box, you say it's really about starting, and I find that a lot of entrepreneurs are really good starters but they're not necessarily good executors or finishers.
A: Now we confront the bane of most entrepreneurs’ existence…My argument is that that is in itself a form of fear. That if you're not willing to take it all the way to the end, if you're not willing to ship and ship and ship and keep your promises, what you're really doing is hiding. That person that you know who's always got yet another idea they're launching next week, the reason they're doing that is not because they're trying to challenge the status quo but that they're intentionally trying to keep a low profile because they're afraid of what would happen if everyone started interacting with them.
Q: You talk about in a connected economy of ideas, it really demands that we contribute initiative but a lot of people are just polishing, kind of like using Twitter to respond to others. Is that one of the reasons you're not really active on Twitter?
A: I think that the Internet is all about being the best in the world at what you do. You want to be the one; the guy that shows up in Google, the woman that people recommend. And part of what it means to be the best is it means you can't do everything…If you're going to push yourself to excel at something, you have to eliminate the distractions and I know based on my ADHD personality that if I had Twitter, every time I was confronting something that scared me I would tweet instead. Every time I had something that I needed to ship out the door, I would find a reason to go check my Twitter feed. The only way I could discipline myself was to say if I'm not going to do this well, I'm not going to do it at all.
Q: The last word you had in the book is a simple two-letter word: GO. Is there anything that we all can do to support people in really taking action when we are with the people around us?
A: We say we want people to go, but when there's any hint of risk or failure, we’re happy to rat them out. Part of what it is to mentor someone…is that when they mess up, you don't say that was horrible. You say go do something else. That the magic of raising a kid or leading a team is you embrace the things that didn't work because otherwise people aren't stupid, they're just going to stop poking.
Image credit: Joi