Seth Godin – Catalyst 2010

Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, world-renowned blogger, and the author of several best-selling books.  His most recent book is Linchpin: Are You Indispensable.

Do you know what time it is? Of course you do.  You’ve got a clock because the system demands you show up at a particular time.  The system is pretty new.  It’s only been 200 years we’ve been doing that.  It’s only been 150 years since we’ve had time zones.

I want to really stretch your envelope today, something that affects all the elements of our lives, starting with the economy.  The way the economy works drives our culture.  4000 years ago, when we were nomads in tribes of 150, we had a culture and spirituality that affected that.  Then the Roman Empire came along, and we had a hierarchy.  Then we had a mercantile economy with princes and kings.  You could make a living as an artist working for the Medicis.

The economy changes the way we see things.

I want to tell you about my $40 billion mistake.  In 1992 I was a book promoter.  I also had an internet company before anyone else did.  I sold a book called “Best of the Net” for $70k.  It went on to sell 850 copies.  At the same time, Dave Filo and Jerry Yang started a company with the same resources I had.  They called it Yahoo.  I was looking for a book idea.  They were looking to change the world.

The record industry used to be perfect.  We had records.  I bought it.  If I give it to you, I don’t have it anymore.  If I play it a lot, it wears out, and I have to buy a new one.  It was a perfect model.  Now, the industry is trying to sue all of its fans to get back to where it was.

Betty Crocker figured out that if you ran enough ads, you could sell a product.  If you have something you want people to pay attention to, yell about it.

Henry Ford figured out that a factory, a building organized to make something, could be profitable, if you have interchangeable parts, mass production.

There used to be Ford shepherds for Ford sheep who made the cloth for seatcovers. He figured out you not only need interchangeable parts but interchangeable people so that if someone doesn’t show up, someone else can fill in.

So factories led to school. Factory owners were freaking out because it’s really hard to train someone if they’re not used to being trained. School was developed by Andrew Carnegie and other industrialists to train them to obey. To sit in rows and do what they’re told. They are also designed to train them to buy stuff.

I was sitting with a few straight A students. I had one of those perpetually drinking birds. I set it up and asked them how it worked. Rebecca asked me to tell them. I told them that the answer was already written down. I’m not just going to give you the answer. I wanted her to figure it out. The students sat there for half an our trying to figure out even what questions to ask.

The factory put in our heads that what’s valuable is a building. You used to need a cathedral to be in the spirituality business.

I want to tell you about the custom saber shop.  Of course, they make lightsabers.  It’s not hard to make lightsabers.  It’s hard to make the idea of Darth Vader.  It’s hard to figure out how to start the business to make lightsabers.  In the world of Google, competence is no longer a scarce commodity.  If you are simply competent, I can find someone else to do what you do easier.  It used to be if you were the only one in town, we had to settle for you.  Now whatever I want from anywhere is just a click away.

It’s a serious problem, a borderline crisis.  It’s a bowling problem.  In pro bowling, there’s a limit to how good you can be.  You can only score a 300.  That’s what you do every day.  You don’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.  You try to avoid mistakes, avoid getting criticized.  Factories will die because they race to the bottom.  They try to be a little cheaper.  Churches try to be a little closer to your house.

If it’s a race to the bottom, you don’t want to win that way.  There’s always someone else who will cut a few more corners.

There’s another revolution happening right now that’s destroying the revolution before, which is what new revolutions always do before fully implementing the new system.

Because it’s easier to create things than ever before, because you can do everything with just a few clicks, all that’s left is to make a difference, to connect, to do something that matters, to do something that people will miss if it’s gone.

Now all that’s left is t be more graceful than everyone else.  It’s about accepting others, doing work that matters, and doing art.  It’s about being that person that other people are sorry to see leave when they go.

The factory era was around for a long time and encouraged people to conform.  Take airplanes on a cell phone.  Do you think it’s actually dangerous.  If it was, you could hijack a plane by threatening to make a phone call.  No, the problem is it would jam up the cell phone towers because you’re going too fast.  And it’s a chance to make you conform.

In our world you win by being more connected.  If you tell me what to do, I’ll just leave.  North Korea is the most compliant society in the world.  It’s not working anymore.

Have you ever made cupcakes? The first time you try to follow the recipe and do decently well.  The second time you try to follow the recipe and do it very well.  The third time you start tinkering and fail.  From there, you can decide to go back to the recipe and become a very good cupcake maker, or you can keep trying and keep failing and become a great cupcake maker.

A couple of years ago I talked to you about Tribes.  Here’s the thing, no one joins a boring tribe.  CMO doesn’t stand for Chief Marketing Officer.  It stands for Chief Movement Officer.  If you’re going to win, you must create a movement.  You won’t create a movement by making people conform.  Making a movement will make some people upset.  Apple understands they’re in the movement business, the tribal business.  Apple runs fewer ads as a percentage of sales than any other technology company.  They win because they formed a movement.

Boring and beaurcratic don’t work.  If I’m going to talk about you and your institution, what am I going to say.  I’m not going to talk about you if you’re just a really nice guy.  I’m going to talk about you because you’re a genius.  Not an Albert Einstein genius, but a genius who knows how to connect with people, how to solve interesting problems.  If you’re going to be a genius, you can’t have a boss telling you what to do all day.  You’ve got to figure it out.

Who’s setting your agenda?  Is your agenda about mediocre obedience or relentless curiosity?

The answer is art.  A large percentage of the oil paintings in the world are painted in a small town in China.  They’re reproductions of the original.  That’s not art.  That’s painting.

You get paid for doing something that someone needs you do to, but it’s the gift giver, it’s the helping someone else that changes the world.  That’s art.

There was a ban on usury for a long time because your tribe was 150 nomads, and interest destroys relationships (think you and your bank). It makes a them and us mentality.  But you don’t charge your sister interest when you loan her $50.  That makes an us.  It’s mutual help.

Am I afraid I’m going to get yelled at for screwing up some small thing?

The printing press forced people to think for themselves.  They used to just accept what they were told, and thinking for yourself is hard.

When you figure out why something works, the truth of the situation, the world as it is, then you understand.  And then you can do your art.

The next part of your art is emotional labor. Most of us don’t get paid for digging ditches.  WE get paid for exposing our self to intellectual risk, to connecting with someone we’d rather not.  This allows us to become an indispensible human being, a person who cares as opposed to someone who’s just phoning it in.  We need people who can make change even if it means failing in the short run?

How do you hire people? Do you look at a resume? Isn’t a resume just a list of brand names that tells us how good someone is at following instructions.  Do we fire someone who makes mistakes, who maybe offends a board member?  Maybe we should fire the person who never makes a mistake.

The more change we can make, the more likely it is that someone will join us.  How tight is that tribe? How much do the people miss each other when they’re not around.  If the tribe disappeared, how long before we could replace it? If you’re at the center of a tribe that matters, people would miss you.  Does anyone care about United and Continental and which one emerges in a merger?

This is the point at which less polite audiences start pelting me and asking questions and saying that my boss won’t let me.  Change is never made by getting permission.  Change is made by individuals who stop seeking deniablity, because that’s what you spend most of your day doing.  Change is made by people who accept responsibility without demanding authority or credit.

What organizations seek are linchpins, people who will connect and lead.  But what they fear are people who just want to fit in.

Last year in the US deer killed more people than sharks by a lot.  But yet if you’re watching Jaws, you don’t go, “Oh, that’s not a shark.”

Why did the chicken cross the road? Everyone knows the answer is that his chicken brain told him to.  Researchers discovered that all animals have a lizard brain.  It’s a million years old.  It’s responsible for basic drives such as safety.  If I put you in an MRI scanner, I can see yours.  It’s in the back of your head.  It includes your amygdala.

If you’re in a plane and it hits turbulence while you’re writing a letter, you keep writing, right?  No, you freak out, because the lizard brain takes over.  The voice of the lizard is the voice in the back your head that provides resistance, that tells you to play it safe.

As communities get more and more orthodox, the outliers will outnumber the insiders.

Think about the difference between scarcity and abundance.  We’re moving away from a world where everything is scarce and we have to fight over it.  We’re moving into a world where we give gifts.

I’m hoping you will do work that matters.

Q&A w/Andy Stanley

For the person who works in somewhat of a bureaucratic environment who can’t go home and jump right in but can’t quit their job, what’s one thing they can change?

Stop Lying!  It’s not Soviet Russia.  They’re not tracking your every movement.  If you have the flexibility to come here, you can have one difficult conversation every day.

How do you balance the need for systems and innovation?

It’s the difference between management and leadership.  The opportunity if you’re a leader is to loosen up and start leading.  Don’t tell someone exactly where they have to go and what they have to do.  Some people would like to say, “Don’t measure me on anything.” That’s just an excuse to hide. Put people on the hook to do a good job, but not just follow a script.

Posted at 4:03 PM on October 7th, 2010
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