“If you are not afraid, you are not doing anything important“ – Seth Godin.
A few months ago, when I was in New York working with Techstars, I had the opportunity to meet with Seth Godin to ask him the questions I had always wanted to ask him. This then turned into a podcast, and then a video that I will upload to the YouTube channel soon. It was time to meet the first person I started to follow and read, back in 2008. The professional who has marked me the most, personally and professionally speaking, in my whole life.
Seth Godin has one of the most powerful blogs on the Internet. He is a New York Times bestseller with his 19 books, translated into several languages. Seth is, objectively, possibly the best marketer in history. I wanted to chat with Seth on issues such as positive impact, how to make a difference, making things happen, and create important work.
This is a 5-minute interview where we talk about respect, change, leadership, education and disruption. In addition to his educational projects: altMBA and The Marketing Seminar. Seth also reveals things about his work, history and lifestyle.
“It is silly to think that to change things you must have a large number of followers on Instagram and have a great name on social networks“ – Seth Godin.
Disrupt Everything #85 – Seth Godin
“Search for people with thirst, ignore the rest“
This is the interview that I have wanted to do the most in my whole life. An episode where I interview Seth Godin, possibly the most shocking and recognized marketing guru in history. We address very diverse topics, from marketing and education to Seth’s life. Everything revolves around the idea of mounting big messes, of generating change, positive impact, being that troublemaker who moves things around.
I want you to vibrate, enjoy it, get inspired and learn as much as I learned.
“Self-motivation is what you need most” – Seth Godin.
Index of contents
- Featured Milestones
- Personal experiences.
- How to fail usefully.
- Key learnings after The Marketing Seminar and the differences between This Is Marketing.
- We are all marketers and empathy.
- Positive impact through education.
- How to do marketing that makes the difference
- AltMBA and Seth Godin MBA.
- Become someone indispensable.
- Your core skills
- About being human today.
- Difficult moments, challenges and how to overcome them.
- What we don’t see about Seth Godin.
- Strengths and weaknesses.
- Zig Ziglar’s lessons.
- High performance.
- Seth tips on marketing.
- Tricks about public speaking.
- Best and worse investments.
- Personal recommendations: podcasts, books, guests.
- What it means to lead a good life.
- Final message.
- The Art of Possibility.
- Really Bad PowerPoint.
- Hardcore History.
- The Moment – Brian Koppelman.
- 99% invisible.
- Akimbo podcast.
- The Beginning of Infinity.
Listen, download, subscription
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You can also listen directly from the Disrupt Everything podcast series homepage.
Seth Godin interview transcript
Seth Godin: how to make a ruckus – Disrupt Everything Podcast transcript powered by Sonix—the best audio to text transcription service
Seth Godin: how to make a ruckus – Disrupt Everything Podcast was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best way to convert your audio to text in 2019.
Welcome to Disrupt Everything. Podcast Series by Isra Garcia.
Reinvent yourself and change what is most important to you.
Hi everyone, this is a great and special occasion because I have the honor and the pleasure to interview one of the most influential people and who for me has been my inspiration since I first found his blog in 2007. The first blog I ever read Seth Godin. Seth, thanks for being on Disrupt Everything podcast series and disrupt everything interviews for disrupters.
It’s a pleasure. We’ll make a ruckus.
Well Seth Godin is the author of 19 books that have been bestsellers all around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of altMBA and the Marketing Seminar. His online workshops have transformed the work of thousands of people, including me. Seth writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing and challenging everything. You might be familiar with his books that are also in Spanish like Linchpin, Tribes and The Dip. Also Poke The Box and Icarus Deception. Permission Marketing changed direct marketing forever and Purple Cow is considered one of the most influential marketing books of its time. Now, This Is Marketing, again challenges the way we’ve been doing marketing, and sets up and new standards based on learning to see empathy, positive change and making a difference for the sake of humanity not for performance or clickbait. Seth has given thousands of speeches to millions of people in addition to his writing and speaking, Seth has founded several companies including Yoyodyne and Squidoo. His blog which you can find by typing Seth into Google and will appear as the first one, is one of the most popular blogs in the world, which I’m subscribed too since 2007, being the first blog I read on the Internet and the second I subscribed too. Since then I receive every day a post or sometimes two or three and even four and I have, Seth, all these posts classified by categories in my email.
Wow, that’s fantastic because I never bother to categorize them so I’m glad you did that.
Seth lately launched two new books. First, What To Do When It’s Your Turn which is now I think is in 10th printing edition, I presume, and This Is Marketing which I mentioned before. Seth, I could go on and on and on. That was way too long, very kind. Thank you for being here. Thanks for making some time for this interview. I hope you bear with me and my sometimes rusty Spanglish.
Your English is great, way better than my Spanish. What do you want to talk about Isra?
For a dyslexic person it was hard enough to learn Spanish. Can you imagine English. Yeah it was a beautiful struggle, jokes apart it is a real honour. So my first question, I have for two months been writing questions, deleting, putting new ones in, you know modifying. So my first question is Seth, what are the highlights, the big moments in your life since you were in high school up until now.
That’s interesting place to start. I would say when I tell stories to people about the highlights, they are almost always stories of failure, things that I did for the right reason where I thought I put in the right effort and it failed catastrophically, things that went sideways in ways that I didn’t expect, projects that didn’t find traction, because it’s in those moments that you understand how valuable those things that work are. And it’s also in those moments that you learn the most because you discover how other people are in the world much more clearly when it doesn’t work.
Could you name a few of your experiences?
An example or two. Well if you see behind me there are many books I’ve frequently talked about the eight hundred rejection letters I got in making those books, eight hundred in a row without selling one thing or the time that my publisher Simon and Schuster fired me because they said they didn’t want to publish my books anymore because they wouldn’t sell or the sales calls that I went on, the time I went on a sales call to Levi’s in San Francisco I flew across the country, it was a very hard meeting to get. I’m in the meeting with the guy and it was going, right as I was in the middle of switching from one laptop to the other so I had both of them with me. And while I’m giving my presentation my laptop starts on fire and smoke starts coming out the top. It was great. I didn’t even miss a beat. I just shut the lid dropped it in the trashcan pulled out my other laptop and continued. And like how many chances do you get to do something like that? And we never saw or heard anything from Levi Strauss, but it was discovering one more way that the world isn’t going to make it so that doesn’t go according to plan.
It’s interesting because a lot of people have answered this question with their big moments, their successes. But the way you are wired is the other way around. I mean you start with the failures because I saw your talk on Marketing Hall of Fame inductee and you start with failing, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail and at the end you say this is marketing, learning what might not work.
Right, exactly and I really am wired that way, I think I chose that wiring and the reason is because it takes all the power away from failure right. That if you are afraid of failure then you will be afraid to go forward. But if you’re looking forward to failure then what’s holding you back? Nothing.
This is what I realized in for example in the Marketing Seminar, I’ve taken the Marketing Seminar. As I said and as I recommended, it’s the most powerful marketing course I’ve ever taken, beyond any master book, teaching. How and why did you build it?
Well I built it for people like you because I would like to be able to spend the time to teach you one on one but I can’t. And what I found was a book goes well part of the way, but what people really need is to engage with the others, to try out their own work, to see and be seen. And there are enough people in my life who have a vision they want to bring forward, to have a difference they want to make and they were getting stuck. And so if I can contribute to your journey that felt like a good way to spend a year of my life.
And what have you learned after the six editions? If I recall properly.
Yeah we’ve learned a lot.
I can imagine.
One thing we learned is the parts that I thought people would get stuck on, they have no trouble with and the parts that I thought were obvious get a lot of people stuck. That was really, because when you write books you don’t know this because you don’t get to see people reading your book. So we’ve gone through and improved a lot of the videos and the lessons because we said ‘oh this is a spot where people get stuck with’ let’s, you know, add some more resource here. I learned that our students are way more generous than I hoped, that they are eager to help each other. And I guess the third thing I learned is that all of us are afraid. And then when it gets time to get to our truth we will hide as hard as we are capable of hiding.
It leads me to the next question and that is what differs This Is Marketing from the marketing seminars.
I built the marketing seminar first. And then when I saw how people were using it I thought wow there’s a whole bunch of people who can’t take this course. Maybe I should make a book for them. So the book is actually the bookazation of the course not the other way around. And so the book works on a lot of levels but there’s no way it’s close to as effective as the courses.
So it’s like a previous thing before you enter the course.
Yeah I think if you can get your hands on the book and then take the course that’s the perfect combination.
A great foundation.
And Seth a question that a lot of people are asking themselves because you said it in one post I remember. We all do marketing, everybody.
All the time.
I want to do marketing that matters. Where should I start?
Start with the people you want to change. Start with what those people believe, what they dream of, what they fear and then bring them what they need to get to where they want to go. That’s it. Don’t do it the opposite way. Don’t say I really want to be a baker or chocolate maker. Now who’s it for and what’s it for. If you begin there, everything gets easier.
I assume that’s educating people.
No it’s educating yourself, right? It’s developing the empathy. If you bring a thirsty person a glass of water it’s not that hard to sell them a glass of water. But if you bring somebody who just drank a six pack of beer a glass of water they’re going to tell you to go away.
So serve people who are needing you, who are waiting for you, who are trusting you, begin there.
And as for education, now that almost everyone has kind of started an education program or their own you know initiative or challenge, what would you say to those who who want to create a positive impact through education. Because maybe the answer is what you said, educate yourself first.
Well there are a lot of people who are starting online courses because they think it’s easy and they think it’s profitable and it’s neither one. It’s easy to make a bunch of videos and put them on the Internet and for a while some people will be able to sell those for a profit but the best way to educate is to do it one person at a time and only after you’re good at it, figure out how to bring that pedagogy to the world in a more digital way. But most of the digital courses I see online are worthless.
I still remember the post you wrote about: You want to do marketing? Start with 20 people. Then when they come back these 20 people, another 20 and this 20 will lead to 100 and then 100…
There are all these people who want to start by being on the Super Bowl. And the thing is we’re the World Cup, you’re not going to be on the World Cup. So don’t start there. Start with the smallest viable audience.
And it leads me to altMBA, it’s my next challenge for 2020. I must say that the marketing seminar is not easy stuff. So I was talking with Natalia one of the coaches and she told me that altMBA is a big deal. So is it possible that this project was born after hosting the six months MBA you created some years ago you remember? What happened with the former and what can we learn in the first. Because I followed this experiment really closely.
Well that’s great. Thank you. Ten years ago.
Ten years ago? Wow.
Yeah I had nine people come to my office for six months. We sat together every day for six months and it changed them and it changed me. One of those people still works for me. She didn’t work for me in between, But she just joined the team again. That was magnificent. And it led to my book Linchpin. At the end of it I knew I couldn’t do it again. It was too hard. But I also knew that there was a real thirst for people to be part of something. And so five years after that we built the altMBA which doesn’t have a lot in common with the six month MBA that I did, except that it shares my goal of helping people get to where they’re going and do it by being seen.
And being seen is one of the one of the ways of doing the work that matters, that you’ve talked about a lot. And so what does it look like doing the work that matters? And can you explain, not like a shortcut, but like where should we start doing the work that matters.
So work that matters is pretty simple, it’s would we miss you if you were gone, right? That, if you are the one hundred company that makes snow shovels, we wouldn’t miss you if you were gone because we’ll just buy somebody else’s. On the other hand if you are seeing us, understanding us, part of us, if you are doing something unique and special, that’s different for a good reason then that matters because we need you or our life would be less without you.
So you are becoming indispensable like Linchpin.
A Linchpin, now, indispensable is a tricky word because no one is actually indispensable but in the short run you feel indispensable and then the second half of it is, it scares you. And if it doesn’t scare you, you’re not doing something that’s dangerous enough, you’re not doing something it’s important enough. And so when we combine those two. To be missed when you’re gone and to do work that scares you because it is so generous and so present then you’re onto something. And that’s what it is to be alive.
I’m so very intrigued by how Linchpin has evolved from 2014 to now, to 2019. How do you think it has evolved? A lot of things have happened.
Well you know when I wrote it the industrial complex was way stronger than it was now. There was no Wekwork, there was Facebook had just finally… I mean it’s not even mentioned in the book, as it had just shown up. And so we’re now seeing more and more people who are a team of one. More and more people who are independent. And if you’re independent you can’t coast because we can replace you just by clicking a different click. So no one argues with me anymore that we need Linchpins. They used to. Now the question is yes but how do I do it. And then a big misconception is that you should do it by having a lot of Instagram followers and you should do it by getting a big name on social media. And I think that’s nonsense.
And so if that is nonsense, what would you say, if you ever have to mention the basic skill that first, makes you what you are and can make other people stand out, what skill would you choose?
To be a human.
And what is to be human actually, today?
To do the opposite of being a factory or a computer or an AI. To not say I just do my job, to not simply follow the rules, to not ask for shortcuts, to not use bullet points and step by step instructions, to not treat everyone like they’re just another person in line. Then when we act like a human, fully present and treat different people differently, then we have a chance to become a Linchpin.
And Seth, I’ve been listening to all the interviews with Tim Ferriss, Become the Brand, a lot in marketing and more marketing. But it’s one question I’ve never seen somebody asking you. What’s the toughest thing you have to endure in your life and how did you overcome it, if you had.
That’s a great question. There’s almost nothing that’s tough about my life. When I see people who were born in poverty, when I see people who haven’t been given the support that I’ve been given. When I think about the fact that I’m mostly healthy, almost all the time I can’t complain about anything being tough. I just don’t deserve that word. I think that in terms of overcoming things in serving the mission that I’m on, the hardest thing is reminding myself that I’m not a total failure. Reminding myself that this could work, because the world doesn’t organize itself to keep you motivated. You have to keep yourself motivated. And so there are lots of days when I didn’t have the support I would have hoped for. The days when the ball didn’t bounce the way I wanted it to. And it’s on those days that you feel like giving up and it’s on those days you need to remember that self motivation is the most important type of motivation.
Also it’s a great skill. And Seth, what are the things, because I believe and also Tim Ferriss mentioned, you are genius in the way you make stories and the way you think and make other people think and change marketing, not by the marketing itself but the change you create. So what are the things that we don’t see about you, that you know that sets you apart and we need to see because it will add comprehension to who you are.
Yeah. There’s nothing you people need to know about me. People should not do anything because I said it was a good idea. The difference between a cultural leader and a scientific leader is it doesn’t matter if Einstein or Maxwell or Madam Curie said something is either true or it’s not either works for you or does it. Right? That’s different than saying Leonard Bernstein conducted it this way. Well that’s his taste. That’s not science. It’s taste. And I’m not a scientist but no one should take any of my advice if it doesn’t work for them and who I am and what I have for breakfast and what people want to know about me is irrelevant. And that’s why I’m not that interested in sharing it because I’m not hoping that the world will turn into a big mirror that I look at myself in. I’m hoping that if I notice something and pointed out to people and they notice it too then they can use it to help themselves achieve their goals. But I’m not telling everybody what to do just because it’s me.
Great great answer. Thank you. And following that question, what are your biggest weaknesses and how do you strengthen them and what are your strengths and how do you empower them?
I would say my biggest weaknesses are that I’m impatient about the way ideas are exchanged. I jump ahead of a lot. I eat too much dark chocolate for sure.
Me too, I just ate some now.
And I think that it would be better if I was more empathic and intolerant of people who are overcoming more brainwashing than I had. And I am aware that I was brainwashed but I can only imagine how much more some other people were brainwashed.
I know that they are brainwashed. We are. Seth and I knew that Zig Ziglar was your kind of mentor. You learned a lot with him, what’s the most important lesson you learned from your mentor or your friend?
Oh there’s a whole bunch of things, I would say the biggest Zig lesson is that positive thinking is a choice and positive thinking doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to do anything but it does guarantee you you’ll be able to do something better than negative thinking will. And if we can focus on feeding ourselves positive, optimistic possibility on a regular basis it will help us get through the parts when the universe feeds us negative thinking.
And it also has to be on a mental and also an emotional level, physical and spiritual level too.
Yeah I think that’s different for different people about how you feed yourself this. But you know Roz and Ben Zander their book The Art of Possibility is magnificent. I listened to that book two or three times a year.
Putting it in the notes.
Right. And just hearing it over and over again reminding yourself the only person to give you an A is you and give yourself an A and then make it come true. That’s a big idea. And too many people don’t do that.
Seth, I’ve been working since 2013. Since I started looking at people that play at different levels, like you, like Tim, Mel Robbins a bunch of people. Richard Branson. So I call high performance for everyone which has been working on the four human being dimensions physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. So how does Seth Godin try to stay in shape mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually?
Yeah I think that I might not be the best person to ask that question too because I’m focused more on this group I seek to serve. What do they need and how can I help them. And because I’ve been so fortunate, because I’m not out there, like when I was pioneering in the Internet, there were a lot of meetings that didn’t go well. I was trying very hard to change organizations that didn’t want to be changed. And now I’ve shifted to being a teacher to people who want to go somewhere and if someone doesn’t want to go there I don’t worry about it one bit. If they do want to go there, then it’s my job to help them get there. And so the kind of work I have to do is different. It’s looking deeper into the nuances of the pedagogy and how to have the right empathy for the people we seek to serve. It’s not the same as when you’re out there trying to sell a million dollar online promotion in 1995. That was a much more catastrophic rough and tumble sort of change I was trying make.
And then what would be your advice for folks that are starting in Marketing or in the Internet right now in these 2019?.
I think again back to the thirsty person, find thirsty people don’t spend your time trying to change people who don’t want to be changed.
And how about the traditional marketer that started in 2000.
Well you’re only a traditional marketer as long as you want to be a traditional marketer. And as soon as it stops serving you, you should stop doing it. I have no time or patience to help Procter and Gamble sell more soap. We don’t have a soap marketing problem anymore we don’t need a giant soap marketing company. And if you work in a giant soap marketing company and you need your soap sales to go up, I don’t think I can help you if you.
And if you can not help, what do they need to look for?
They need to leave and go sell something they’re proud of, to people who want to be sold to.
And Seth, you are really prominent on speaking engagement. You are more of the soft speakers all over the world. I saw a lot of speaking engagements. I see the way you treat the audience, connecting really professionally, and really serious and making jokes with them but no laughing. I mean I’ve been following this really closely. What has been your most powerful advice on speaking engagements when you are on the stage? Another one for preparation and then one for getting better gigs?
Ok. Well so we’re going to have to start wrapping this up soon but I would say memorizing your speech doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. A memorized speech sounds like you’re reading me a memo and I could read the memo faster than you could read it to me. So don’t waste everybody’s time to send me the memo and go home and there nothing wrong with memo. There are way more efficient than speeches. So if that’s not why you’re on stage why are you on stage? You’re on stage to change somebody in the audience. You do that not with data but with the exchange of emotion that when you bring confidence and personality to the message you are sending, that is what is being received, not the words. So it’s OK that some of the slides they use in my deck I’ve been using for a really long time because the slide isn’t the point. The point is, what does it mean to be in the room, when someone cares about what they’re saying to you and in terms of how to get better at this. I wrote a book 20 years ago called Really Bad PowerPoint. It’s very short. You can find it online for free, it’s more of an essay than a book. And in it I say you should not use your PowerPoint as a teleprompter. If you need a teleprompter use a teleprompter but don’t put them on the screen for everyone to read along. And you should tell me a story. And if you know how to tell a story to people, you know how to tell a story to a million people, tell better stories, tell true stories, tell stories that resonate with us, you can tell us a story then as human beings we’ll be able to hear your story because that’s what human beings do and you don’t have to memorize anything because you don’t need to memorize your story and you’ll be more comfortable and you’ll be more authentic and it will work better. So that’s my advice. Don’t waste your time and tell us a story.
I have like some really quick unusual questions.
What’s been your best investment and your worst investment.
My best investment was my blog for sure and my worst investment was not buying stock in Google when they went public and keeping my money in my bank account instead. Most of my worst investments are things I didn’t do. Not things that I did that didn’t work.
Interesting. If you lose everything and you had the chance to keep just one thing, what would it be Seth?
That’s such a tricky, clever question because it’s like if you get three wishes you can wish for one more wish and then you never run out of wishes. I mean I don’t want to contemplate losing everything. Losing my personality and my family and my trust… No I don’t want to answer that question, I have no idea.
What are your favorite podcasts?
Well Akimbo.link is my favorite, that’s the one I spend the most time on. Mystery show episode three is a classic, I Love 99% Invisible, Roman Mars is great person, I listen to Brian Koppelman on The Moment and dozens and dozens of other podcasts. Hardcore History with Dan Carlin, totally worth listening to all 11 hours on Genghis Khan. That one has really sat with me. So there’s more than that but that’s where I’ll start.
And what is the book that has fascinated you the most and why?
As a recent book I’m reading is The Beginning Of Infinity and you need to… I’m going to suggest you get an audio book, it’s a beautiful reading and maybe if you listen to it three or four times you’ll begin to understand it. It’s very complicated. It’s really good.
I’m writing it down here.
And who will you recommend me interviewing next Seth.
What will carry a good life according to Seth Godin?
A good life? Make promises and keep them and then make bigger promises.
And Seth I have the two final questions the first one is: I have this printed almost six years ago on the wall of my bedroom. It says: I had no choice, it was the best program I could get into. I had no choice. He told me to do it, really? It’s probably more accurate to say that the short term benefit satisfaction of risk avoidance was a lot higher than anything else. So I chose to do what I did. Remarkable work often comes from making choices when everyone else feels as though there is no choice. Difficult choices involve painful sacrifices, advance planning and just plain guts. What were you thinking when you wrote this, for me it’s a million dollar question.
Yeah I haven’t heard that a long time. I’m guessing that I wrote that after someone said I had no choice and I knew they had a choice and so I thought why did they say I had no choice. And that’s where it came from.
And Seth finally, what would be the most impactful thing you could say to everyone who is listening or viewing this interview?
Well, I am trying to judge my work by what people like you teach other people and so I’ve already had my chance to say my most impactful seven thousand four hundred things. The real question is: What will you teach somebody else with your time? Because that’s how ideas spread. Not when we say it but when the people we impact say something to somebody else. So you should go make a ruckus and if I’ve helped even this much, then I’m very proud to say I know you.
You did, you helped so much, helping me to make an impact in other people, in other organizations that want to receive and to create this impact. Seth is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m good, thank you for doing this. Really appreciate it. Muchas gracias. We’ll see you soon.
Gracias. Thank you Seth.
This was Disrupt Everything. By Isra Garcia. Find the risk before the risk finds you.
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