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August 07, 2006

Ten Questions with Seth Godin

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Seth Godin is author of six books that have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, entrepreneurship, and work. He is also a renowned speaker and a helluva nice guy. I cornered him and got him to answer ten (really eleven) questions about his latest book, Small is the New Big, and “life.”

  1. Question: I am not worthy: How did you get your publisher to give you a contract for a book of stuff that you had already written and published?

    Answer: Books are the new t-shirts. We used to buy t-shirts as a way of covering our hard abs. Now, though, the purpose of the t-shirt is to be a souvenir, to give us a concrete way to remember something that mattered to us—and to give us an easy way to spread that idea to others.

    Every non-fiction book published today has its core ideas available for free, online. Freakonomics was in the NY Times, The Tipping Point was in the New Yorker and on Malcolm’s site, plenty of stuff is on Changethis. The Long Tail was endlessly dissected years earlier. All are bestsellers because a book adds a different sort of value.

    So, yes, the words have been in various places before, but not in a handy, nearly waterproof, easily shared and referred to format. My hope is that people will identify the nine most clueless people they know and buy one for each.

  2. Question: What is an example of company that created a brand by conducting a dialogue with customers?

    Answer: You don’t know many either, do you Guy? Ahh, we agree! I think that while markets are conversations, marketing is a story. Starbucks creates conversations among customers, so does Apple. The NYSE makes a fortune permitting people to interact with each other. But great marketing is storytelling, and if you’ve been to a Broadway show lately, you’ll notice that audience participation is discouraged. That doesn’t mean that great playwrights don’t listen! They do. They, like great marketers, listen relentlessly. They engage in offline conversations constantly. They poll and they do censuses and most important, they have true conversations with small groups of real people. But THEN, they tell a story.

  3. Question: Are monologue-built brands a thing of the past?

    Answer: I don’t think we’re going to see a huge increase in the number of companies (a few) that build brands by relentlessly changing their story as a result of a conversation. Yes, bloggers do this, no doubt about it. But human beings respond to stories, and stories, the best ones, are personal. We’re going to see far more monologue brands, and they’re going to be tiny and niche-like, and then some will explode into the big time.

    We’re not going to see too many new Coca-Colas, though. Without TV, (big TV, three networks TV) I don’t know how to build a new one of those. Google is an amazing brand, a great story, but it’s not the same as Coke.

  4. Question: What is an example of a company that is most willing to be criticized?

    Answer: I think we need to draw a distinction between being willing to be criticized as a way to engage customers and being criticized as a way to improve. Ann Coulter, who, in my opinion, is a dangerous idiot, has a huge willingness to be criticized and a complete inability to listen to the criticism.

    I’m amazed at how open Google appears to be to listen to criticism and respond to it. Nobody there appears to be particularly thin skinned. Not only that, but they use the criticism to get better... fast. Bill Clinton was open to criticism as well, probably to his detriment. All those conversations got in the way of leading in the long run. There are companies that go out of their way to engage unhappy customers in a dialogue, both as a way to improve themselves and to diffuse criticism. HP, for example, now has a policy that any employee can take the time to address the concerns of a customer, even if it’s not their job.

  5. Question: What is an example of a company that is least willing to be criticized?

    Answer: The list is quite long. It includes organized religions like Scientology and government agencies, big companies and small ones. Johnny’s Pizza in Mount Vernon, NY has a series of ridiculous policies--they don’t take orders in advance from strangers, they don’t open on Sundays, they don’t have an answering machine telling you when they are on vacation and when they’re going to come back... but the pizza is awfully good. They’re closed to criticism, but it seems to work, at least in a place less competitive than the Net. Apple is pretty closed to criticism, but the story they tell is so compelling they get away with it.

    A new trend is organizations that aren’t willing to put up with consumer tantrums. Act out too often, or too angrily and “no soup for you!” I think we’ll see more and more organizations follow this tactic.

  6. Question: What are your top five Purple Cow products?

    Answer: There is no top five, and whether or not I think it’s a cow is totally irrelevant. The market speaks! And the market is right, at least about whether something is remarkable.

    • So Digg.com is remarkable because the people they appeal to talk about it, listen to each other and spread the word.

    • Britney Spears is remarkable, not because she can sing, but because her living soap opera fascinates people, they choose to talk about her and the word spreads.

    • The Toyota Prius is remarkable. People stop and talk to me about it, years after it came out. It has a story that’s easy to spread.

    • The Rockport $75,000 turntable—yes, it’s a record player!—is remarkable for two reasons: a huge segment of the audiophile community talked about it because it was so ridiculous. Which alerted a smaller, but more valuable segment that went out and bought one for precisely that reason.

    • And you know who else? Guy Kawasaki is remarkable! No pandering, just the truth. Your career decisions, writing style, authentic enthusiasm...they all make you worth talking about. Your books are designed to spread, as are your blog posts. So they do.

      Guy: This makes me a Purple Cowasaki!

  7. Question: What are the five things that enabled you to be successful?

    Answer: If we define success as the ability to make a living doing what I do, I’d say the following:

    1. No ulterior motive. I rarely do A as a calculated tactic to get B. I do A because I believe in A, or it excites me or it’s the right thing to do. That’s it. No secret agendas.

    2. I don’t think my audience owes me anything. It’s always their turn.

    3. I’m in a hurry to make mistakes and get feedback and get that next idea out there. I’m not in a hurry, at all, to finish the “bigger” project, to get to the finish line.

    4. I do things where I actually think I’m right, as opposed to where I think succeeding will make me successful. When you think you’re right, it’s more fun and your passion shows through.

    5. I’ve tried to pare down my day so that the stuff I actually do is pretty well leveraged. That, and I show up. Showing up is underrated.

  8. Question: What are you incompetent at and have the will to change?

    Answer: In my essay on incompetence—in the book, did we mention I have a new book?—I argue that competence is the enemy. People who are competent are afraid to fail, afraid to experiment. They like being competent and defend it.

    I’ve worked hard all my life to become incompetent but motivated at just about everything. Sure, there are plenty of areas where I’m completely afraid to change the routine—protecting my left shoulder, for example, or taking up drinking—but in general, if there’s a chance to get worse at something, I’m willing to give it a shot.

  9. Question: Why don’t you check your Technorati ranking?

    Answer: Because the data won’t change my actions. Getting data for no good reason just drives you crazy. The secret is to get very flexible in the face of data you care about—changing your x every time you see y changes—and incredibly inflexible in the face of data you don’t care about.

    The reason I write is to have an impact. I measure that impact in the email I get and the way it impacts people’s actions. Even if 100 people a day read my blog, I’d write the same stuff.

  10. Question: So you don’t watch your ranking and you don’t take comments on your blog, doesn’t this mean you’re a monologue brand and that you aren’t willing to be criticized?

    Answer: That’s a fair question.

    The answer is no, of course that’s not what it means.

    People respond to my writing in many ways. Hundreds send me thoughtful, non-anonymous responses by email, which I read and respond to. Others respond on their own blogs, which provides a sense of context of their point of view. I often check the trackbacks and watch what people are saying on their blogs via bloglines. Your original question was whether I watched my Technorati ranking, which I don’t, because what would it mean?

    Other than you and Tom Peters, it’s hard for me to think of many other authors that are easy to get in touch with directly with feedback.

    I think comments work great for some people. It’s a lot of work to curate them and to tolerate the noise level, and I just can’t invest the time and emotional effort to host them. Just because I don’t want to host comments doesn’t mean I ignore what people have to say about my writing.

    The blogging revolution has given millions of people the ability to have a platform to share their point of view. The magic is that the barrier to entry is zero--write something great, people will hear it.

  11. Question: What do you want to be remembered for when you die?

    Answer: When I die, I hope to be remembered as the oldest survivor of the dotcom boom. That, and for the fact that I had a small part in changing the way organizations treat people.


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Comments

> Other than you and Tom Peters, it’s hard
> for me to think of many other authors that
> easy to get in touch with directly with
> feedback.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I got a near-instant reply to my email from 'Purple Cowasaki' - that turned out into becoming a very inspiring and instructive 'conversation' resulting in my buying and reading 2 of the best books I did in 2006 - Guy's "The Art of the Start" and Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains".

Oh, and as a Seth fan, I couldn't leave out 'The Big Moo' and 'All Marketers Are Liars' from my 2006 faves list :)

All success
Dr.Mani

I think the last questions was one-hell-out-of important question. So readers:

What do you want to be remembered for when you die?

Me: I want to be remembered to as been the obvious geek movie director.

How about you?

André Hedetoft
Movie-geek
Just created a game where you get to play with my real life over at http://www.andrehedetoft.com

Thank God I wasn't drinking coffee, or Purple Cowasaki would have been a huge spit take, and a filthy screen. The King Lives!

Am I the only one around here that gets the impression this is a pair of good buddies air kissing?

Guy, great interview! Seth, thank you for you honest and inspiring responses. Successful marketing occurs when your customers are talking about your business and products. Listening to your customers objectively is helpful when you really want to learn more about the needs of your customers and how to improve your business and products. Having conversations with customers is so beneficial. Positive storytelling is also a great help.

Hi Guy,

Nice interview. It got me wondering. Seth and others have blogged about the "death of the sales call", and the "death of the sales force". I have offered a contrarion point of view to all that talk of death. Doesn't it have to be sick or old before it can die?

Would you, as evangelist, entrepreneur, marketeer, author and business guru, be willing to answer some questions about the death topic for my Blog, Understanding the Sales Force?

sir, we have to conduct a workshop about writing an executive summary. i have read your blog entry about that topic and it will help us a lot. however, can you suggest additonal reference that we can use? thank you sir.

The difference between Ann Coulter and Bill Clinton is very clear – Clinton was a chief executive charged with running a country, Coulter is a self-promoting demagogue selling books and radio commercials.

You can agree or disagree with Clinton’s policies, but they were made in the context of a democratic process. The Clinton administration had its share of successes and failures… missing the threat of Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism was certainly a failure, but at the same time killing Bin Laden in 1996 (or 2006) has little meaning in the grand scheme of things.

The net impact of the Clinton presidency on the United States in the long term is low.

Coulter’s contribution to society is almost universally negative, with the exception of the money made by her publishers and radio hosts that feature her as a guest on a regular basis. Her job is to rile up audiences by adopting consistent, extreme views on a variety of hot-button issues, in the tradition of past demagogues like Huey Long, Joseph Goebbels or McCarthy.

The reason that Coulter and her peers represent a negative, polarizing influence is that extremism breeds more extremism. The emergence of the extreme “progressive” challenge of Joseph Liebermann’s Senate seat is evidence of this. Extreme “progressive” movements challenging extreme “conservative” movements have the potential to create a very dangerous and volatile political situation in the United States.

2 of my favorite bloggers speaking each other, really nice, thanks a lot!! really interesting

Hi Guy, thanks for posting the interview..and..congrats for being a Purple Cow product:-)

Hurray for Seth on his lack of interest in the Technorati rankings. Guy take note. Links do not make the blog. Content is king and you're both members of the royal court.

**************

Little Purple Cow,

You know, I'm coming around to Seth's and your point of view on Technorati rankings. The reason why I'm fading is because links more than 180 days old don't count anymore, so if people blogrolled me when I first blogged, it doesn't count anymore.

Maybe I'll take down the counter. Am I secure enough to do this? Hmm...will my readers still love me?

Guy

Thanks for the great interview, Guy. My August resolution will be to work to get worse at something. Thanks for the inspiration, Seth.

Guy, perhaps a future blog posting on the art of becoming incompetent? :)

Hmm .... Seth ... Ann Coulter Idiot?

I'm a bit surprised by the remark. I didn't think that you would label someone like that. I am not a "professional / savvy" politician but I did hear the detailed interviews with her and I wouldn't say that she's an idiot.

Clinton .... can someone tell me what good he did? He sounded better, so what? He was respected for his intelligence, so what? What did he do?

9/11 .... Bush fault? Well this thing was prepared for 5 years. That's 4 years under Clinton administration.

Seth ... I enjoy your books and I do buy them and read them, but your remark about Ann Coulter ... a bit out of line.

If you would be a drunk on the street, I wouldn't pay attention, but you are a respected author and an authority in the field of business/marketing.

I can vouch for Seth reading other blog posts, because he commented on mine (or since I can not be verify who typed it, there was a comment on my blog from a "Seth Godin" that pointed to his website). And my blog entry was on the same line as "by not allowing comments does Seth Godin's go against his own marketing advice?".

One way blogging is neither right or wrong, it's just another way to position yourself. On the other hand, Mark Cuban will get hundreds of comments on BlogMaverick - he allows the conversation to extent beyond his original thought, but continue in one place. Seth, through one way blogging, diffuses the conversation away from a single "place" and forces it to happen in the ether - it's about method, not whether commentary happens (because it does).

It probably was an interesting conversation between yourself and Seth - would have been interesting to be the "fly on the wall"!!

I agree with oh-geez, what's up with the Coulter reference? Sure, she's got a vile tongue, but a "dangerous idiot" might not send armored vehicles into Mogadishu with our troops, then leave Somalia in the wake of that failure, and then stand on the sidelines while the Rwandan genocide ran its course a few years later. That is 1 million people massacred. What do you call Madeline Albright?

I can attest that Seth is *great* at responding to e-mail. That's a genuine rarity in someone so visible. Excellent interview, Guy. And terrific answers, Seth. Thank you both.

Holy shitake!

Seth and Guy, two of my favorite bloggers, in one place. It's like a crossover with Batman and the Green Hornet!

Seth, "taking up drinking" is actually proven quite effective in "showing up" and "being incompetent." In addition, "in a hurry to make mistakes and thinking your right all the time" is much easier. You could make a quantum leap here. Just a thought.

And btw, aren't you two already the oldest survivors?

Excellent interview! I've been a fan of yours from way back - especially since I'm a Mac guy in the midst of a Windows wasteland (middle Georgia).

I teach a college omputing class, and I deal with the information overload syndrome - I REALLY appreciated how Seth phrased it (about ignoring data that wouldn't affect his actions anyway).

Well said. Perhaps even wise?

You are correct about a podcast. Editing audio (which I love to do, and is incorporated into one of my many "jobs") - is time-consuming for it to be done well. We already have too much badly-produced audio available online as it is!

Great interview. Enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to the next one.

Regarding the interview podcasts that Aditya mentioned. Many bloggers use Skype for doing and recording such interviews. From the podcasts done this way I listened to, I'd tell this works pretty well. I think, the bigger problem would be to find a time slot where both, the interviewer and the interviewee, have time to get together via Skype. :-)

Cheers,
Thomas

Guy, did you have to smoke a cigarrette after doing this interview?
Was it good for Seth, too?

***************

Next time I do an interview like this, I'll check to see if I'm smoking.

Guy

Guy,
Interesting questions and equally interesting answers. Q.10th was the best one :-)

So how do you interview these people for your 10 questions? Do you do voice recording/podcasting? Or you send these questions in writing and other person responds in writing?

Sometime its really interesting to know how people answer to these questions in person? The prompt responses are different than thoughtful answers.

If you can post the podcast version of such interviews, then it will be great to listen to such great leaders like you and Seth.

Please ponder upon it.

Thanks,
Aditya

******************
Aditya,

All the interviews thus far have been done via email. The respondents answer, and I edit. It would be very hard to get both parties to do these as podcasts. Also, editing a tape/transcription is very time consuming. Even in text form, each of these Ten Questions With... takes about four hours. Editing/transcribing would probably triple the time requirement.

Thanks,

Guy

After reading that entry I have to say, I really appreciate how you let us leave comments and even respond to them. So thanks and here I am!

*********************

Harry,

It's my pleasure. I enjoy reading comments...event the negative ones!

Guy

great question on the ranking and comment. I think seth godin made a good point on the noise level you'll have your way when you host comments on heavy traffic blog like these. I mean I've read plenty on here already. at certain point, I think most sane bloggers will limit their comment hosting--I know I would.

to be honest, I'm rather surprise you can handle (or seem to handle) the amount of commenting (both positive & negative ones) without popping some blood vessel. hope you'll address commenting w/ other bloggers at the SIPA event.

rather cool that godin doesnt check his technorati rank. i wonder how many on the top 100 do? how come you seem to place some emphasis on it anyway?

not that it's not awesome to be in the top 100 blog, but yeah.

Guy: So, Seth, tell us how you're so prolific...
Seth: Oh no I won't even dare, Guy...YOU'RE prolific.
Guy: No, please, please, Seth. YOU'RE the prolific one.
Seth: Ok fine, let's just hug and write more books for the proles.

****************
Amit,

Perhaps you should write a blog too because you clearly have great interviewing skills.

Guy

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