Interview: Seth Godin on Achieving GreatnessOctober 09
Seth Godin is a marketing genius, and in this podcast he will teach us to win. If you want to hear quick, actionable advice on getting what you want in the world, this is it. No pressure!
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Thank you and enjoy the show today. On the show, we spoke with one and on Lee Seth Goat, and we talked about his career path, how we got started intact to becoming the prolific author and influencer that he is today. We also talked about achieving greatness and the elements that need to come together in order to achieve it in what he describes as the dip. Now, it isn't just about perseverance, though. It's also about circumstance and happenstance in many regards. So I know you're gonna enjoy this. Stay tuned. We'll get right into our interview with Seth Goden. Welcome to Rocket Ship that F M Season four of rockets. We're diving into everything Product and growth. Rocketship FM is produced in partnership with Product Collective,
where your hosts Michael, Sokka and, like Belle Sito were opinion and your thoughts around the 10,000. Our rule, the
10,000 our will is really seductive because it reduces to a simple number the secret of success.
And there are certainly areas of endeavor where it holds up there.
Interesting thing for me is to think about the edge cases where it doesn't and why it works sometimes and why it doesn't work.
I've spoken a Juilliard twice a Carnegie Hall to professional musicians who have done more than 10,000 hours worth of work.
I've also been lucky enough to teach people who have had huge amounts of success in various fields in far less than 10,000 hours of work.
So I think we can agree that without an obvious causation,
10,000 hours is not magical.
But we do know that purposeful,
focused practice pays off.
It pays off on the violin because you have to train your muscles to do something,
and it pays off on the violin because you need to learn the work you need to learn what's available.
The the art.
but none of that really makes sense when you talk about something that doesn't have 400 years of history and the dozen involved muscles,
So for me, I think the lesson has to do with emotional labor. Emotional labor is what most of us do for a living Now. We don't dig a ditch, we don't carry weights around, we work with feelings, and if we're getting paid, it's probably because we're doing something we don't feel like doing on any given day that it takes emotional labor for an oncologist to look someone in the eye and talk to them about their impending doom. It takes emotional labor for a flight attendant to smile when she doesn't feel like smiling. It takes emotional labor to engage with a customer and help her understand that she could achieve Maur if she just dug in. Yeah, and so part of my quest has been toe understand? Where do we get the reserves to do this emotional labor? If you think about finishing a marathon, the difference between people who quit it while 20 and people quit at Mile 26 isn't lactic acid. It's figure out where to put the tired, because everyone's tired. But the people have finished for you are how to put the tired somewhere so they can finish. And I think that the training that we go through and the culture that we build around us is what enables us to do this emotional labor?
Absolutely. And you wrote the dip right, which the concept being that there is a trough, and when you get through that, when you put in that that work there is there is success on the other side, and I'd like to talk a bit about getting through that that trough and how you see people getting either emotional or social support to get through it, do with there any examples from your research? Um, around that?
people like Jim Collins do research.
I just make up stories sometimes find examples in real life.
my work works because it makes sense to people on.
In this case,
the magic of the dip is that we all have joined a gym in January and quit in February because it's fun to join and fund to quit.
But the people who are in shape by summer are the ones who didn't quit.
They got through the hard part,
which is the February,
march and April,
when nothing much seems to be happening and your body's actually responding so we can look at musicians at entrepreneurs at politicians at just about any field where it's easy to get into it.
Very few people get through the next step,
and the next step is the filter.
it's really hard to get.
A literary agent is really hard to get a recording contract.
It's really hard to win a primary, Uh, but once you get through to the other side, the number of people competing with you is much smaller, and it's in those moments that you have a chance of really being seen and breaking through. So the question you're asking, which is a brilliant question, is, why are some people able to get through the trough and others aren't? Yeah, So pick a Canadian example to begin with. Which is, why are so many hockey players Canadian? You know, I grew up in an off road in Buffalo, New York,
and we had a skating rink right around the corner. It was 25 cents, so they were certainly access to ice. And the cost of ice was small. I played hockey. Lots of kids play hockey, but there isn't one NHL player that I know of from Buffalo. What what's that about? And I think the answer is simple. Which is, if you're from Edmonton, where you're from Paris sound, your parents and your friends don't expect you to quit playing hockey when you turn 14. In fact, they expect you to go to practice more often that there is pure pressure toe. Get yourself through that dip,
and it's only later when you're in junior leagues or college leagues, that it's easier to stop playing because you have other options in your life. But we see so many more Canadian players because there's a cultural imperative that you don't quit just cause you broke your arm like I did, where it broke your nose like I did. You keep doing it because that's what people like us do. And what's practical here is not the lesson that you should grow up in Canada, though it's a good thing to grow up in Canada with practical is to realize that you can simulate this on your own, and you can simulate it by seeking out a mastermind group, a support group, a circle of fellow travelers and committing to one another that you're going to set a standard that we see this happen when people join a CrossFit gym. Or when they joined Alcoholics Anonymous that in those settings it's much harder to quit the work. And that is the real benefit of Alcoholics Anonymous. There's nothing magic about 12 steps. What's magic is pure pressure.
What's, um, what's systems do we have currently set up to create that? That peer pressure, um, for for business leaders?
I'm glad you added the last part because we have tons of systems in place to create bad habits.
We have fraternities and college is designed to turn people into alcoholics when they're 20 years old.
We have plenty of cultural systems designed to get people to watch 3 to 5 hours of TV a day.
We have systems in place to encourage people to troll one another online,
so those are the negative systems that are fueled by money.
It's harder because when you join a big club like the lot the Lions Club for the rotary or whatever,
the pressure is mostly to fit in.
Not to stand out,
because that's why those clubs have been around for a long time.
There a good place to hide your in the center of the pack.
You're not gonna get picked off by a lion on the outside like a gazelle.
But then we find little organizations that sometime become bigger ones that take this mastermind concept from Napoleon Hill and they organize it and they say,
Let us find you five or 10 people and organize together or you see things like,
the Y P O. R. The wiII over the Ted Conference, people who go to Ted feel a lot of pressure that if they're gonna come back next year, they better have something interesting to say because it's expected that you will have something new to say. So that's part of the challenge that we have. Each have is not to read our comments online or to count our Facebook followers because that's false data. That's merely there to freak us out. Instead, it's to seek out people who aren't necessarily more successful than we are, but who care as much as we do. And if we can, I swap caring with them. I'll care about you if you'll care about me. If we can set up that dynamic with a group that stable, it can last for years. And those circles keep people going right when they feel like quitting. Who
was that for you when you were starting? Who created that system or were What system did you join that that allowed you to become the prolific author that you are today? Well,
I think it's important to put an asterisk e er,
er I'm not a great example.
no one you talk to is a great example,
And the reason is that as soon as There is a great example.
We get to think about the other,
Ellen must Did he what he did?
Because he's the third child out of seven.
And because I don't have six brothers and sisters,
I can't be him,
we look for what kind of pencil did Stephen King use when he wrote his book is if I just had that pencil,
I'd be better. And so I resist this idea of, you know, sort of heroic pornography. And who is that? What happened to that person is different than me. Uh, I will entertain your question by pointing out that, uh, I got to really lucky breaks After I turned 18. And before I was 18 I had another lucky break. So the first lucky break waas by parents were extraordinary human beings. And they established a standard for me that I still tried uphold to this day. Now you don't get to pick your parents, and I know successful people who didn't have my parents. They're not my brothers and my sisters.
And I know people who have had great parents who didn't succeed. So it's helpful, but it's not required, so you can forgive yourself. Ah, the other two things that happened were when I was in college, I got hired Thio run a fledgling student run business, and the same day they hired me without telling me they hired someone else to do it with me. So the two of us showed up the first day and were surprised to discover the other guy was there. And Steve was the perfect partner because he called my bluff and pushed very hard for me to do the thing I was good at, and I'll never forget what he contributed. Then when I got the business school a couple years later, a guy named Chip Conley I was 20 to Chip was 23 just pick me out of the blue with three other people and put a note in our mailbox at Stanford and said, I'm starting this club on Tuesday nights. We're gonna meet in the anthropology department at 7 30 and every Tuesday for a year. Five of us sat in a room and made up business ideas over that period of time. I think we buy me 5000 businesses, and it was the first time I understood there were other people like me, and it was huge fuel because it made me feel less
than crazy. We'll be right back after a quick word from our sponsors. Now, back to the show. Yeah, that's that's amazing. Um, when did you start writing? When did you When did you start developing that, um, as a skill and has a passion.
when I was in high school,
my English teacher wrote in my yearbook that I was a failure,
and I would never amount to anything.
And I took her advice and only took one English class in all of college.
so then I started to write out of,
I don't know,
When I was,
it's bigger software.
They had a line of five suffer products,
and they canceled them and my career was over.
But I asked the boss if I could have 1 24 hour period left.
He gave it to me.
And in that 24 hours,
I redesigned all the package, wrote all the copy, wrote all the yet and just did it myself because there was no one else to do it. And that was a good mother of invention. Then when I became a book packager, I was hiring writers. But the writers I was hiring were pretty flaky, and more than once, something didn't come in on time. So I just finished it for them. And along the way, I figured out if I write like I talk and I talk in complete sentences, it's something I could do. So I don't think it's a gift. Uh, I know that my work at the beginning wasn't particularly great because I can read it.
Uh, but writing it's a lot like walking. I have a young friend, Leo, who's learning how to walk. And here's what I can tell you. He falls down all the time and nobody says, Oh, poor Leo. He's never going to be able to walk. No one says that because he's gonna be able to walk. And the same thing is true for people who want to, right, You're gonna be able to write.
Do you still, um, you still trip when you're when you're writing? Have you ever have you reached a level where you feel completely confident in your ability?
Well, my keyboard might be different than yours. But above the return key is a backslash and above that is a key that says delete. And I press that key more than any other key on the whole
keepers. Um, do you have? Um I'd love to, if you would entertain it. I'd love to hear a bit more about some of the discipline of the practice that your parents, um, gave you If you if you would check.
Well, I think the key part is ah, no penalties for failure, tons of points for trying. And in most households, it's the opposite. Ah, and that's a year's lesson. And then you combine that with a belief that everyone is welcome. That Thanksgiving in my house, you used to be, you know, 15 people who didn't speak English that if somebody needs a place, if someone wants a chance, you give it to them because chances are in short supply and we have plenty to hand out. So go ahead and give people a chance. So that combination of trying and opening doors for people has stuck with me for a really long time.
Yeah. I mean, I could tell even just by coming on here, right It's, um it's Ah, you almost give us a chance, right? And open up your door to to us.
Well, I mean, Michael, you know, but your your listeners don't. It's a pain in the ass to make a podcast and over and over and over again. And it's really your job. It's your project. Just showing up and doing it and the chances that you're gonna be Marc Maron or zero. But you're doing it anyway. It's and more power to you. And if I can support you by showing up for half an hour, I'm happy to do so.
Well, thank you. Um, when we talk about the dip, do you feel like you went through, um, that or what? Did your journey through that look? Like as as an author and entrepreneur.
I've mentioned this more than once.
I was near bankruptcy for more than five years,
like literally having to get in the car to pick up a check from a client,
cause if I waited one day for FedEx,
we would miss payroll and the company would go under.
the dip for entrepreneurs is wide and it is deep.
And sometimes it's a dead end.
Sometimes you could stick in it forever and never get to the other side.
That's the hard part.
How do you know? How do you know the difference? That a well was our biggest customer for a while, when I was helping pioneered some of the stuff on the Internet and I invented a really cool idea and ay, well said, once we built it, they would put it on their site. And based on our tests, it was gonna generate between three and $5 million in revenue a month. And it was really great. The day we finished the software, a well switched its business model from $3 an hour to flat fee on. They switch their royalties from 15% to 0. That's what the dip feels like. I know. How much deeper can you go than that?
And we had a piece of software that was brilliant and useless. Did you do that over and over and over again? Until one day your timing happens to be good and you say Wow, Wasn't I lucky? Well, yeah, you were lucky, but you also failed nine times before that cause you were unlucky and it all averages out,
right? Have you Have you felt, um or what did it feel like crossing kind of the Chazz? Um, if you will. That was there a moment that that you knew that you were on the other side or temporarily on the other side. Well,
so what happened was yo,
Dine was competing with companies in California who had way more money than we did,
and we needed to go raise some more money.
It was really hard and painful.
And I decided when I spoke to a company called Excite that I would just sell him the company.
It was easier.
And I wasn't gonna delude anybody.
And it was time.
And so you feel okay?
And five days into the negotiations,
they called us up and they backed out of the deal.
You had another dip,
luck timing four weeks later. Yeah, who bought us, and I didn't believe it. And I didn't believe it, and I didn't believe it. And then there was one day in December when someone called on the phone and said, I'm looking at your account. The deal is done. That's what it is. You know, that's what you believe it. But for me, this has never been about making an income. It's been about making a difference. And so it was long before we actually sold the company that we knew we had done something of substance,
that we were sending more email every day than any ethical company in the world, more email than IBM or email than Microsoft, with a company with only 70 people in it. And when you have that work, when you can go on a sales call and people have heard of you before you get there, it felt to me like we were starting to be professionals, and it was frightening because now I could let people down. But it was also thrilling because it meant we could do a different kind of work. You wouldn't have to spend all day explaining ourselves.
Yeah, that's, um that's awesome. So and that was that was your mission then, and and then you've You've switched. I mean, not switched. But you have got a new mission now in in teaching and education and inspiration, even, um, how did that shift for you. And why the focus on giving back to people through, You know, you're writing
that's been the goal all along.
It's to be a teacher.
I grew up.
I grew up in Algonquin Park.
and I was accusing Instructor and those were still some of my best professional moments to this day.
Being able to help a 10 year old or a 12 year old get into a 16 foot long both by themselves,
sit up straight and control it and make it do what they wanted to do.
Watching the transformation on a kid's face in that moment,
was just incredibly heartening.
So I can't run a summer camp,
but I can try.
And the writing,
once the company had more than 2030 people in it, my job was to help people grow to become the people they could become. And so when I lost the company all at once when I sold it, the question is, what do you do now and permission marketing and just come out. So going to the next step and teaching through books made perfect sense to me. Uh, it was the publishing industry was ready for the kind of work I wanted to do. And I didn't have to go on sales calls anymore, which was good. And as as the Web has grown and publishing has faded, I can go direct to the student now. And so, you know, my pulpit is the ability to connect with people who trust me, point out things that they may be need to hear and help teach them.
And I can't believe I get to do it for a living. Uh, but it gives me great pleasure. You know, this morning I had someone is doing really important work for people with disabilities in the office for a couple hours and watching how the pieces could fit together. I mean, that was a week's worth of work In an hour and 1/2. I was delighted because figuring out how to make change happen, it's worth it.
Yeah, yeah. Um, and it seems like a natural. A natural transition. Did you ever doubt, um, your your ability or the kind of impact that you would have when you were moving from being a CEO on running a company into more teaching? One of the world or anyone that would that would listen. Oh, I have
doubts every day. You know, if you stand up and give a speech to 1000 people, I guarantee 100 of them don't get it. And they're wasting their time and yours, which means that you succeeded with 90% of people. But it also means that you weren't good enough for people who trusted you, who showed up. And the same thing's true. You know, My best block posts are often the ones with the least shares in social media because they're not optimizing for quick and easy. Tell all your friends I'm optimizing for Can I get under your skin? But the cost of that is that a whole bunch of people aren't gonna get it. And that's the magic of teaching.
It is nearly impossible to change people who are not enrolled in the journey. People who do not want to learn cannot be taught. But, real change can happen when someone leans in.
Yeah. D'oh! Who do you care about more or you focus on that 90% Or do you try to bring over that tent? So that's what this
Zig Ziglar changed my life for the third time.
Zig was my friend and teacher,
and once we worked together on stage in front of 23,000 people,
it was thrilling and backstage I said,
there's always that guy in the third row.
He's not paying attention.
I couldn't say checking.
Marcus was before smartphone.
I put all my force of will on him.
I put all my energy on him.
It's not helping,
and zig turned to me and I used to be able to do his accent.
I can't think anymore. And he turned to me and he said, You know what? He's not there for you. The other people are there for you. You need to bring your game to them. And it not only changed my work, it changed my life. It changed the way I write. It changed everything about what I do. Because the fact is, it's almost impossible to change someone who is not enrolled in the journey. You can't teach something to someone who doesn't want to learn really hard. On the other hand, if you can find enrollment, you find someone who's leaning forward. You can make real change happen. So that's
what I do earlier. Yeah, that's great. Um, so is there anything that you're working on now that you would like us to to share it. Well, I wrote I
wrote a book just for this purpose. Okay, all, uh, what to do when it's your turn and it's it your turn dot l i n k your turned out link and the magic of the book. I illustrated it myself. It's really fast to read because it's illustrated and filled with provocations. But the purpose of the book is I wrote a book that you could share with other people. So I'll send you a five pack or a 12 pack or 120 pack. And that's what's happening. We're 150,000 copies in the world right now with people saying to the folks around them who they want in their circle thistles. The kind of support I need. This is the way I'm looking at the world. Will you join me?
Oh, I love that. Amazing. Okay, well, thank you so much. I don't I don't want to take up any more of your time, but I really appreciate you coming on here.
An absolute pleasure. Go keep making your
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