Seth Godin on linchpins, focus, spreading stories

Seth GodinI asked Seth Godin a few questions and he was kind enough to answer them. The majority concern his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

While for most people he requires no introduction, I should mention that Seth Godin is a well known author, speaker, and entrepreneur (Squidoo) and blogger (one of the most popular business blogs and the most popular marketing blog in the world). You can read more about Seth on his bio page. Now, without more ado, the Q & A.

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Q: How has Linchpin been received so far?

Seth: It’s been a bestseller from the first day, but what I’m keeping track of is the change it enables in people. The feedback I’m getting is just extraordinary… the book makes people uncomfortable, and many respond by stepping forward, by choosing to do work that matters. And that’s the entire goal of the project. I wanted people to choose.

Q: Permission marketing. Idea-virus. Purple cow. Tribes. Linchpin. I sense you place a great deal of importance on words – the right words. Is that true and if so, why?

Seth: Words tell stories, of course, and they enable us to spread those stories. If a story doesn’t spread, it’s worthless. In the case of Purple Cow, when one person says to another, “we need a purple cow” they’ve enabled the story to spread in just one sentence.

Q: If everyone embraced your linchpin idea, would it be difficult to get consensus? Wouldn’t there be a risk of too many heads going off in too many directions?

Seth: Take my word for it… everyone is not going to embrace my linchpin idea.

If 1% did, the world would be revolutionized. I’m not going to hold my breath. I’ll be happy with .00001%.

Q: As I read Linchpin, it occurs to me that you are walking a bit of a highwire. You’re criticizing some fundamental concepts and beliefs about how we do business. In a simplistic and superficial way, a lizard brain could cherry pick what you’ve written and frame it politically as being against capitalism, free enterprise and all that. In the current highly polarized political environment, has politics had an impact on how readily people accept what you’re saying?

Seth: I don’t think so, because in fact there’s nothing in the book that is against capitalism or free enterprise. In fact, the opposite. The book is against mindless industrialism and the dumbing down of the individual. While there are some captains of industry that continue to benefit from this, I think most thoughtful people understand that challenging people to stand up and do things that matter.

Quote about focus.

Q: Have we misunderstood the purpose of business and career success? Have we made business/career success an end rather than a means to personal success, such as a happy life?

Seth: Totally brainwashed. The work that truly matters is rarely taught or encouraged in school, and people have far too often traded busy-ness for happiness.

Q: Let’s say we get the lizard brain down on the mat and can be the creative, artistic people you suggest we need to be. Given that, how important are focus and tenacity?

Seth: There’s not much more important than focus and tenacity. I think that making the choice to do art, the choice to make a difference… do that and add focus and tenacity and you win.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? - by Seth Godin (book cover)Q: In a pattern similar to the one you describe in The Dip, popularity grows then peaks and a backlash begins. Some people/brands fade away and some seem to ride it out. While I’m sure you have your critics, you seem to have maintained, even grown, over a considerable period of time. How have you managed that?

Seth: Not sure I have much choice William. This is what I do. So I ignore the critics I can’t learn from, listen to those that might steer me in a better direction and then I ship.

Q: Your web presence (site, blog, Twitter etc.) is very simple. Why?

Seth: See The Dip. Can’t be best at everything. If I started Twittering, I’d have to diminish my blogging, or think less about the next thing. Being choosy and focused is key for me.

Q: I recently wrote a post (What does Seth Godin do?) and argued that while it may be true that you are a “marketing guru,” as you’re often described, you’re really a people guru. What you do is observe and describe human behavior. I also argued that you must have a fascination with people to do that. Would you agree or disagree with that assessment?

Seth: I notice things. Mostly people. Mostly decisions, actually. Ideas that spread don’t spread without people. I’m not so much fascinated with the people part, though, as I am with the decisions and the ideas…



I need to thank Mark Dykeman at Broadcasting-Brain. While I had wanted to ask Seth questions for some time with the idea of putting the Q&A up as a post, it was his Thoughts From series of posts, including his own Q&A with Seth Godin that prompted me to get off my behind and do it.