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Seven Questions With Seth Godin

6 Minute Read

Seth Godin is everywhere these days. With a blog that’s ranked number one in the world  by Technorati for blogs written by a single individual, and with best-selling books that include The Dip, Purple Cow, Tribes, and the just-released Linchpin—Godin is a mainstay in the business world.

His down-to-earth, humorous personality has connected with an up-and-coming generation of marketers and business leaders. But everyone can learn something from Godin—parents, small-group leaders, pastors, teachers, and anyone else who wants to know a little about creativity in leadership and marketing.

Godin’s recent credits include the previously mentioned Linchpin and What Matters Now, an ebook that features an article from Dave Ramsey. He recently discussed those books and other subjects with Dave’s team. Here’s what he had to say:  

Your latest ebook, What Matters Now, brought together many different voices. What was your criteria for choosing contributors?

Seth Godin: The amazing thing about our culture is how many smart people there are. I'm guessing there always used to be a lot of them, but now they're a lot easier to find. Today, it's far easier for someone with something to say to be heard—whether it's by a book, a blog, a radio show or even on Twitter. Not only are there more ideas out there, but it's much quicker to trace those ideas to their source and contact people directly.

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In creating the ebook, I wanted a diversity of thought and experience, as far across the map as I could find, with one unifying theme in mind: I needed to hear from people with something focused and important to say.

In the ebook, Dave Ramsey wrote about the concept of focused intensity over time. How do you keep your organization focused?

Seth Godin: For me, a key element is not having much of an organization. Squidoo is only six people, yet we're the 100th biggest website in the US, ahead of almost every news outlet or brand in the country. And in my writing/blogging life, it's just me, with Ishita helping with the hoopla. As a result, coordination isn't a big deal.

But even if you have a larger organization, the hard part of focusing is figuring out what you're NOT going to do. And that's the job of leadership. Are they playing all the options, or committing to a few things and winning there? I've made the conscious choice not to use Twitter, not to travel the world the way Tom Peters does, not to do consulting. I made these choices not because there's anything wrong with these things, but merely because I insist on finding a few things and really doing them, as opposed to just wandering around doing a little in a lot of places.

The ebook is entitled What Matters Now—so what should matter to small businesses the most in 2010?

Seth Godin: Make a difference. Speak up. Create things that matter. Be small. Act big. A year is too long a period to hunker down for. This is an opportunity, a chance to make a difference for your people and your customers.

Go. Make something happen.

You’ve got a new book out entitled Linchpin. What was your inspiration for writing the book?

Seth Godin: I get a lot of email every day. I noticed over the last year or so that there was more pain than usual, more people feeling stuck or trapped or lied to. I started doing research on how we got to where we are today, and that led me to my thesis, one of great urgency. We've been tricked into compliance instead of taking advantage of this moment in time to stand up and make a difference.

In Linchpin, you make the case that everyone is an artist now. Please explain.

Seth Godin: Art has nothing to do with painting, or even poetry. Art is what happens when a human does a generous thing that changes someone for the better. If you're moved by a sermon, that's art. If a flight attendant puts in a little extra effort to soothe a kid, that's art too.

The thing is, our economy has shifted to two poles. On one hand, there's the consumption first mindset: the McMansion, credit card, Walmart world of how big, how cheap, how fast…and that world is getting more brutal all the time. At the other pole is the world of art, of making a connection, of caring, of hand-made, of work that matters.

I'm arguing that the first pole is almost impossible to thrive in, and the second pole has a real shortage of people who care enough to connect. And so that's your big chance—to do art, to change people, to be human.

You describe a linchpin as somebody who does "emotional work." What do you mean by that?

Seth Godin: We're all familiar with physical labor. Most of us don't do that anymore (unless you count eating donuts.) Now, we get paid for emotional labor. We have to bring ourselves and our emotions to a situation even if we don't feel like it. Writing is emotional labor. You don't get to say, "I don't feel like writing today," at least if you want to be productive.

Along the way, many of us decided to show up but leave our emotions at home. I think that's an error.

You’re known for condensing big ideas down to easy-to-understand concepts. Can this process help businesses? If so, how?

Seth Godin: Businesses tell stories. If your story is muddy or complicated, it doesn't get heard. If it doesn't get heard, you don't earn a customer.

Simple stories are the easiest to tell and to spread, and so the onus is on each of us to get to the heart of the matter and tell a story that matters to the recipient. If they don't buy, it's our fault, not theirs.

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