Ten Questions with Seth Godin

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by: Guy Kawasaki

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.

Original Post: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/08/ten_questions_w.html