101: Seth Godin: Work that matters for people who care (transcript)

November 15, 2018 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Seth Godin

Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment conversation with Seth Godin. First, I’m posting this conversation today because Seth just launched his book This is Marketing. We recorded this conversation months ago. So you get to hear previews of his book. We talked a lot about marketing, leadership and environment which are all very closely related. I got to see a new side of Seth’s interview partly because I was in his home. He met me at the train north of New York City. He was coming from the farmer’s market. On the way from the train to his home we talked about CSAs which is community supported agriculture, also called farm shares, volunteering with food things like that. I got to see a genuineness and authenticity. You really get to see even an amazing TED talks and books. I’d seen his TED videos. I’d read a couple of his books. But speaking to him about my topics revealed something special. There are a lot of people teaching and coaching leadership, management, marketing on the environment. Some are excellent at it but a few speak with the experience that he does of leading and practicing, teaching, leading which I think is the most important thing. A lot of times he calls it marketing what I would call leadership so I’m using these words interchangeably with him. His experience shines through in everything he says. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear him several times anticipate and answer the next question that I was about to ask. That comes from experience, having answered and lived that question before. We talked about how to influence people, how to get ideas to spread in today’s world, not yesterday’s world but today’s world, how to discover your passion, how to help people change and that’s what this podcast is about. So enough preparation. Let’s listen to Seth.
Joshua: Hello and welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Josh Spodek. I’m here with Seth Godin. Seth, how are you?
Seth: I’m fantastic. Thanks for asking. Thanks for coming.
Joshua: Thanks for having me here. It’s a stunningly beautiful trip up here. I hope you never get used to the view of the Hudson.
Seth: Never. It’s a fjord. And like how often do you get to live next to a fjord? A tidal estuary filled with brackish water. Half the time the water goes toward the Atlantic and half the time it goes in the other direction.
Joshua: And the stunning cliffs with the trees coming all the way down to the water. I wanted to get to the environment stuff later but the beauty of nature is just so incredibly here. I was thinking, “I’m glad people like California. I’m glad people like other places but this is really amazing.”
Seth: Yeah. No place like home.
Joshua: Yeah. So we’re talking now in July but it’s going to be November and you have a book coming out and it’s early now so I want to give the listeners a chance, if it’s OK with you, to share what’s the new book about.
Seth: The book is called This is Marketing but it’s not about what people think of when they think of marketing. It’s not about advertising or hype or scamming people. It’s not about getting people to do things against their wishes. That’s what marketing became but that’s not what marketing should be. This is a book about doing work that matters for a small group of people who care. It’s about making a difference in the world, about leveling up our culture and our community and doing it in a sustainable way that if you need to make money, it makes money, if you need to make change, it makes change. But I think that marketing has changed forever and it’s about time we started talking about that.
Joshua: I feel like there’s a big trend in your books and your work that education’s really a big thing. Is this something that emerged from altMBA?
Seth: No. I’m a teacher and I’ve been since 1977. That’s what I do. I teach. I was a NYU professor adjunct, I was a professor at Murphy college, I don’t like teaching in a traditional environment because the tropes don’t help me and that bureaucracy gets in the way. So I keep trying to find new poppets, new places to do this work I want to do. And it turned out in ‘99 when I wrote Permission Marketing there was an alignment between the ideas I had, the way I wanted to teach them and what the world needed to hear. And so I’ve been doubling down on that platform ever since 7000 blog post later. A blog is a great way to teach. [unintelligible] is a great way to teach. And so I think about books, I think about education partly because I’m a parent and a citizen and partly because I’m a teacher. And so as I watch education and its platforms change I narrate that as well.
Joshua: I’m hearing a lot of passion in what you’re talking about and what you are doing.
Seth: Yeah. I don’t have to do this. I do this because I want to.
Joshua: What is the passion behind what you do, if you don’t mind my asking?
Seth: I think some people get satisfaction out of winning and some people get satisfaction out of getting. I get satisfaction out of watching people change in a way that lights them up. And I get even more satisfaction when those people teach other people. That’s what I learned when I was 17 and I’ve been hooked on it ever since. How do you get someone out of their head into a new place where they are super grateful to be in that new place and where that new place pays dividends to others? Because I view that positive ratchet in our culture as priceless.
Joshua: And you’re teaching in an area that is… I mean you’re calling it marketing. It feels to me like leading people. It feels like leadership. You know something that what you said reminds me of something that I say a lot to students of mine, I want to teach them leadership, is that a lot of them think, “If I lead someone to do something, then they weren’t going to do it otherwise which means that they don’t want to do it which means I’m trying to get to get them to do something that they don’t want to do.” And a lot of people feel funny about that. They feel like, “Oh, I’m manipulating them.” And I feel like when a lot of effective leadership is finding what people wanted to do and helping them do what they always wanted to do but did not see how. Is that what….
Seth: There is the difference between leadership and management and the problem with putting yourself out there as a teacher of leadership is that most people who show up want to be taught how to manage. Management is using authority to tell other people what to do. We need management. We wouldn’t have most of the institutions in our world if we didn’t have management. Management is essential to the factory, to the franchise, to any system that has to meet spec. You have to manage it. Leadership is totally different than that. And so I got tired of saying to people who show up with something bannered as leadership to say, “No, no. Don’t be a manager. Be a leader.” When you show up and say, “This is bannered as marketing”, people show up because they think what that means is “I can make money” and I can get to say to him, “No, no, no. It’s not about making money. It’s about making a difference.” And I find it easier to sell that shift to get people who could become leaders to lead than it is to get people who want to be managers to lead.
Joshua: So to call it marketing is more effective marketing.
Seth: I think so, yeah.
Joshua: People keep saying you’re a really great marketer. Do you consider yourself a great marketer? I mean you’re your teacher. Is that another identity of yours?
Seth: Well, it’s funny. You know I got inducted to the marketing Hall of Fame in May. And there aren’t very many people in it. So it’s pretty cool. And I was really torn about it because by most marketers’ definition of marketing I’m not a marketer. I don’t spam people. I don’t interrupt people and I don’t make hundreds of millions of dollars from my boss. That’s what the profession of marketing has become. But kudos to the American Marketing Association, they say, “Well, there’s lots of kinds of marketing and the marketing Seth is doing is the narration of what many marketers do which is we make change happen.” And I would argue marketers make more change to our culture than people who call themselves leaders do because leaders, calling yourself a leader usually means you are a manager, you have authority, you have an army or a building or a budget and so they revert to the ideas of management. And what I’m saying is in order to be effective as a marketer today, you can’t get there with authority. You’ll only get there with persuasion and leadership.
Joshua: I would say that using authorities… I found that people try to use authority to influence people you might get compliance. You’re also going to get people trying to undermine your authority. Usually using authority to lead someone or to get someone to behave in some way, usually it doesn’t… I think actually maybe inevitably there’s an implied threat or an overt threat of, “I’m going to hurt you in some way if…”
Seth: For sure. That’s the authority part. But if you do it persistently and consistently cognitive dissonance will set in and people will actually change so that school brainwashes people for 12 years using authority, not leadership. And as a result, we leave school most of us completely broken for the rest of our lives about how things are supposed to be. Or if you grew up under a Soviet influenced dictator in Eastern Europe in the 1950s it’s entirely possible that even when that wall fell down for the rest of your life the wall was still there because you’d lived under it for so long it got internalized.
Joshua: Like fleas with the…
Seth: Yeah, that jumping out of that thing with the [unintelligible]. Exactly. If you want to train fleas, all you have to do is put the lid on. They’ll hit the lid, they’ll hit lid, they’ll hit the lid, they’ll hit the lid and then they’ll stop and the lid take the lid off [unintelligible].
Joshua: And we’re all little fleas.
Seth: Yeah. Flea trainers.
Joshua: So yeah, reading your stuff I think we share a real annoyance, let’s just say annoyance for now, at the traditional compliance-based educational system that does what you’re talking about and you’re doing a lot to do something about it. How do you feel about it? Because I think if on my side it’s like an outrage or it’s definitely more than annoyance.
Seth: Yeah. I’m not annoyed. I’m sad. I’m sad. It would be like if you visited a village that had poverty and they were spending half of their resources digging a big hole every day and then filling it in all weekend and that’s all they did. Dig a hole, fill it in. Instead of investing in healthcare, housing, real education, etcetera. We said, “What a waste. This is so sad.” And so what we’re doing is, not just the United States, it’s even worse in Asia, even worse in Europe, what we do is we say to people, “We have a shortage of compliant factory workers. Give us your children and 12 years from now we will put them back into the system where they can have a job as a compliant factory worker.” And then we say, “Oh, I’m sorry. All those jobs are gone. So now not only have we wasted 12 years, we’ve trained your kid to expect someone in authority to tell them what to do.” And so we’ve broken the culture as well and I hear it’s super sad.
Joshua: Now a big thing that someone asks you… You’re doing something about it. You are writing your books. You’re getting your message out. You have done MBA. A lot of people when they’re talking about the environment, they will point at something that an individual does no matter how big it is like that’s still nothing compared to 7 billion people changing their behavior. But I don’t read you as… And I am starting to think a lot of people give up. They feel like, “What’s the point?” How do you feel about what you’re doing?
Seth: Well, I’m impatient about what I’m doing and you know I’m spending most of my time modeling different ways to teach different ways. We have the marketing seminar, we have the altMBA, we’re launching the bootstrap workshops soon. So I’m trying to build these new models of institutions about how teaching can work. But I’m not doing nearly enough, I get that, but I’m still trying to speak to this.
But your point, which I think is essential, is there are two models of the world. The model of the world that’s based on industrialism, authority and compliance says, “It’s somebody else’s problem to create something of scale that will solve our problem.” So for example, really trivial example, aluminum bats kill little league players because they’re too powerful. The balls get sprung too fast off the bat so pitcher gets hit in the chest. Boom. It’s a problem. So we say we should go back to wooden bat because wooden bats are what we all remember, Babe Ruth etc. and they’re safer. What’s the problem? And everyone waits for the central authority to say, “OK. Everyone’s using wooden bats.” Everyone waits for a law to be passed that everyone should use a wooden bat. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to me and I don’t like baseball. I don’t have kids at Little League but Little league is little. It’s 12 teams. Okay so why don’t 12 coaches get together with the 12 team to say, “None of us are going to use metal bat. Problem solved for us.” And then the word begins to spread. And if we look at the change of culture every change of culture for the last ten thousand years happened that way. If you want to understand why head covering is required in certain cultures for women or for men. If you want to understand why some cultures keep kosher or buy meat that’s [unintelligible]. If you want to understand why some vegans eat honey and some don’t. If you want to understand why places in the Nordic countries read five times as many books per person as places like Sardinia. It’s all because people like us do things like this. That simple seven-word sentence. People like us do things like this is why the world is the way it is. The peer pressure, people talk about peer pressure as the bad thing. Peer pressure is the only thing.
Joshua: That’s how things work.
Seth: It’s all there is. And where does peer pressure come from? It comes from peers. So the question is are you making peer pressure or are you bending to peer pressure? Because if you just changed seven people in a way that caused those 7 people to change five people, then you’re are not, start to approach one and the word spreads. And will it take a generation probably but it took more than a generation to get rid of cannibalism. It took more than a generation to get rid of child labor. But these things happened not from the top down. They happened from the bottom up because the bottom isn’t the bottom. The bottom is just the base and you’re the base. We’re all the base. What are you doing about being the base?
Joshua: Now going back to when you said you don’t get why people just wait around waiting for some central authority.
Seth: Well, I get why they do. I just don’t think it doesn’t hold up to examination as a rational behavior.
Joshua: Okay. I was going to ask, “Did you ever feel that way?” Because I certainly did and I think a lot of people out there are like they don’t quite see how to act even though as obvious as it seems. I mean I’ve got a Ph.D. in physics. I was constantly following the path ahead of me that other people had set up. Yeah, I love physics. Yeah, I liked working on a satellite but I felt trapped. Like I asked myself when I didn’t want to do physics anymore and I thought, “Well, what can I do with a physics degree? I could keep doing physics. I could go to Military-Industrial. I could go to Wall Street. I was like, “What else can I do?” And I felt despite having more education I felt like I had fewer options because I was buying into more and more of what people told me. And so what you say however obvious it seems to me now, if you’d sold it to me when I was in my 20s I would think, “Yeah. Maybe you can do that because you’re whatever but I can’t.”
Seth: So the story I like to tell everybody and maybe I have a couple of other examples. So when I got my first job, I was 23 and a half, 24 years old, ‘94. I walk into a startup company, 30th employee, in Cambridge, Mass. There’s no voicemail, there’s no e-mail, fax machine was just being installed and on the receptionist’s desk is a 12-inch round plastic carousel with 50 slots in it. And any slot had a little dimer label of your name on it. So you got to work, you’d spin and spin and spin and it’d found your name and there would be a pink while you were out slip or more. You’d take the pink slip and read the phone messages that had come in while you’re out. OK. So I know if you’re under 50, this is all bizarre but that’s the way it used to work. And the pink slips were just a little too big so they hid the names. So every single time you came in it was going to be a 30-second operation if there were three people coming in and you’d all have to stand there wait while your [unintelligible] for your pink slip. For the second day I’m there I see this thing and I reach over and I grab a paperclip from the receptionist paperclip and then I put a paperclip next to my name. So now I got to do a spin for the paperclip. And within two days that room had a little flag, a little, a different color. Problem solved. I didn’t ask the CEO, I didn’t ask the president, I didn’t ask the head of marketing. I just put a paperclip on the slot. It never occurred to me not to do that.
Or if you’re walking on the street in Telluride, Colorado, Main Street where the rents are really expensive and it’s January and it’s 4 degrees out, what you will notice is that many of the stores have their doors open. Now there’s an ordinance that says you can’t have your door open when it’s 4 degrees out, but they have the door open. And so as you’re walking down the street you say to yourself, “Why doesn’t the City Council make the law have enforcement done it through the store owners will close the door?” Because it’s costing them money for sure but they think their sales will go up if the doors are open. It didn’t occur to me. I just went into each store as I passed and said, “Do you mind if I close the door?” And it’s an oligopoly thing because if one person goes up and down the streets saying, “Do you mind if I close the door?”, they think he’s an idiot and if three people do it, they think they’re all flakes. But if five people do it, it’s a movement. And once ten people every day are going up and down the street saying, “Do you mind if I close the door?”, the shop keepers are like, “Fine, fine. I’ll just keep the door shut. I’m tired of all these people coming in and saying, “Do you mind if I shut the door.” That’s all it takes.
And you know I’m not talking about someone who says in private, “I will never eat tuna again. Tuna is a glorious creature, it’s an endangered species. Ethically, I’m never going to eat the guy. I think that’s important.” But that’s not going to solve the problem. What’s going to solve the problem is if enough people go to enough sushi places and when they’re ordering say to the waiter, “Would you please tell the owner I’m offended that you’ve got tuna on the menu?” Because if three people do it and five people are doing it and ten people do it, then a few weeks from now tuna is not going to be on the menu because that’s the way marketing and commerce work is you don’t need very many people to speak up before the people who do have authority have to listen or else they worry about what will happen next.
Joshua: I’m going to quote you a lot. Do you realize how much you’re talking about what you’re saying was relevant to the environment?
Seth: That’s why I am talking about it because I am here to talk about it.
Joshua: Well, did you consciously think about it when you were saying that because it applies very strongly…. Because I was translating it into like environment speak as you’re saying it. But I think you you’ve said that probably before in other contexts having nothing to do with the environment.
Seth: Yeah. I think environment is a funny word, isn’t it? Like where do we draw the line between killing innocent fish or poisoning our environment versus killing the curiosity of our children or launching products that hurt the ecosystem of….? I mean it’s all a spectrum and the spectrum is all about something very simple which is ideas that spread win and the thing that makes ideas spread is person to person.
There was a brief period of time where ideas spread because Oprah spread them, TV spread them, ad budgets it spread. But that parentheses as Jeff Jarvis calls it is closed. We’re done with that. Now we’re in this new mode and the new mode is what people talk about among themselves, how they influence their circle of 20 or their Dunbar circle of 150. That is at the backbone of who we are and what we do. So every single election of my lifetime would have been shifted if people who cared had gotten ten of their friends to take action. Everyone.
Joshua: Well, I’m going to transition into… I am doing all those actions. I’m trying to share them. I’m doing this podcast and so maybe now I feel like if the frontier is closed on influential people influencing people, then maybe you’re just another person.
Seth: Right. I am.
Joshua: But I still think it’ll make a difference if… You know we talked earlier this week before I started recording about the point of this podcast. So I was working with individuals and the people around me and one thing that I think will make a difference is if Seth Godin makes it clear that he’s acting, then I think others will feel more comfortable and feel like, “It’s not just me.”
Seth: Yeah. I don’t think that lasts. So I if I blog a book on my blog, it’ll sell a thousand copies. If I sell a thousand copies of somebody else’s book, it’ll will go to number 40 on the Amazon, that’s among all books in the whole world. Do the math. Amazon can’t possibly sell more than a thousand copies of number 40 because if they did, they’d be selling 20 million books a day. And there aren’t that many books being sold every day. 1000 books isn’t enough. So the question then is why do some of those books go on to become you know a Dan Pink book or a thriller that’s a number one bestseller. The answer is because when those thousand people get the book after they read the book, can they go to bed tonight without telling 10 other people about the book? Because if they can, the book is going to fade to zero. But if they can’t and they need to tell 10 other people, the book will go up. Its [unintelligible] goes above one briefly and it spreads like a virus. That’s why books work, not because of Oprah. It’s because if you plant the seed with the right people and they talk about it, then it goes. So the problem with saying if someone like “Seth Godin says to go do this, then it’s more likely to happen.” that doesn’t scale, it doesn’t extend even if I was on this podcast every week. What extends is did you get satisfaction out of converting three people into evangelizers? Because if you got satisfaction from that, it could be your hobby. Go do it again. If you can train yourself to find that satisfaction, you don’t need anybody to cheer you on. That’s how every idea that we now take for granted spread because the people who spread it got satisfaction in spreading it.
Joshua: Can I give you a different perspective?
Seth: Please. Go ahead.
Joshua: So do I think that… How do I begin this one? There’s a headline that I came across that said, “The top three executives of Google have eight airplanes among them.”
Seth: Including 747.
Joshua: Was there 747? I thought it was 767.
Seth: [unintelligible] You can sleep in this.
Joshua: And it’s years ago and I don’t think things have changed and so there’s a lot of news about making Google carbon neutral, things like that. I think that as long as the people are getting these airplanes, then everyone else can say, “Yeah. I want to be carbon neutral too but I want to be like them.” And as I think of it if you want systemic change, if you look at a leverage point, I think that the heads of Google are at a leverage point in the system. What they do if people say, “As long as they’re doing that, I want to be like that. And if the people around me change, I still want to be like that.”
Seth: That’s not a really good excuse. I’m not buying it. I’m not buying it that people you know say, “Well. I don’t care about global warming because Al Gore has three houses.” That there’s always going to be outlying bad behavior from resource heavy people. And if it’s not the Google people, it will be a different resource heavy person.
We’re never going to get to the point where people have enough shirts on, where they’re living in enough modern wabi-sabi teahouse poverty, that everyone then feels shamed into cycling in that direction. Capitalism doesn’t ratchet that way. But what we know is that when Zsa Zsa Gabor has a glamorous divorce, it’s still possible to have a happy marriage. And you should have a happy marriage not because it’s shameful to get divorced and that the shame is being decreased when celebrities get divorced. You should have a happy marriage because it makes you happy, the choice. So if you make $20000 a year or $100000 a year or $250000 a year, you can’t have a 767. You can’t. So given that you can have a 767 here are your two choices. Choice number one. Litter, eat tuna, be profligate with your carbon footprint as a way of sort of acting out the fact that you don’t get a 767, or decide that you can find as much or more satisfaction from the story you tell yourself about walking lightly on the Earth, from the story you get to tell yourself about the inspiration you are having on other people, about your ability for example to come up with a technological innovation that gets lightbulbs cumulatively to burn so much less power that we get a 50 767s and we’d still come out ahead. That’s available to a huge number of people that somebody at Home Depot who wasn’t the CEO figured out how to get an end cap of LED bulbs at Home Depot. That person I’m guessing made 120000 dollars last year. That individual undid ten 767s worth of damage.
Joshua: Ok. I wasn’t offering it as an excuse.
Seth: But it is an excuse. You’re saying people are looking at the celebrated titans of our cultures and say “I want one of those. I want that life.” And I’m saying I can’t get rid of that. So given that we can’t get rid of that, let’s rewire our conversation and not even have that conversation that what it means to be an esteemed member of our circle, what it means to be people like us is that you are playing a longer game and bigger game and a more generous game.
Now the thing is that it’s pretty easy for certain people who have usually leveraged lives like Sergei to justify a play like that in the following way, “Because I have a plane like that I could take 45 influencers to Kenya and when we get to Kenya and go to Kibera, we’re going to be able to bring to bear millions of dollars of resources to transform the lives of a million people who live in Kibera. If I didn’t have a plane, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.” And that’s the argument that they make. They’re not sitting there like the Monopoly man just like you know burning polar bears for fun. What many of these people with good intent are saying is leverage is leverage. And when we think about how we use our leverage like putting a satellite into space. Putting a satellite into space is incredibly wasteful unless we say that data that we are going to get from satellites in space is going to pay off 100 times, a thousand times, 10000 times because we’re going to be able to do stuff with the data that we never would have been able to do if we didn’t have a satellite. So all fits together into this piece of each one of us can only do what each one of us can do. So the question is What will you do in a way that puts you on the hook?” You’re not allowed to point to the worst behaved actor and say, “They’re worse than me, therefore I’m off the hook.” I think that what we get to say to ourselves, what our parents would have wanted us to say to ourselves is people like us put ourselves on the hook because we can. So what hook do you want to be on? And it doesn’t matter what somebody else is doing.
Joshua: So being on the hook is to me in my language is taking responsibility for my actions.
Seth: Not just your actions. Taking responsibility for your potential.
Joshua: This is something that I think you do in your life all over the place.
Seth: Not well but I’m trying.
Joshua: So can you share is the environment something you’ve thought about, your effect on the environment, how it affects other people, things like that? Is that something you thought about?
Seth: Well, so I was just reading this morning an article I wrote 10 years ago for transplantation journal which is a very fancy medical journal that I wrote with a guy I share my office with and I figured out how to dramatically increase the number of kidneys that get donated. And it’s very simple. It’s free and it will work. And so we wrote it up in this paper and it’s not surprising to me at all it has not been implemented because the fact that it’s a good idea is irrelevant. What’s missing is I didn’t go to 50 conferences, I didn’t organize thousands of people to write tens of thousands of letters. I didn’t persist and persist and persist and persist until the policy changed. I said, “Here, go. You care. I care. Go, take, my dear. Run with it.” Insufficient. And so I had blood on my hand. There are people who are dead because I didn’t devote five years of my life to making that policy change.
And if you look at the world that way every day about all the things that you do… And so Peter Singer, the philosopher, can make [unintelligible] anybody’s day. And part of his stake is, “All right. You’re walking through the woods and you pass a little girl, four years old, face down in a puddle and she’s drowning in four inches of water because she tripped. She’s drowning. And you know that if you just run into the puddle and pick her up, she will live. But you’re wearing really expensive new Ferragamo worth 400-dollar loafers and you know that if you run into the puddle to save her, your shoes will be ruined and it will cost you four hundred dollars.” So the question is should you run into the puddle and save the little girl? And everyone says, “Well, of course, of course. How can I not?” And then Peter says, Well, for the 400 dollars those loafers would have cost I can go save the lives of ten people who you will never meet. I can prevent river blindness in 20 people. I can get clean water to Borrelli, India. I can electrify this. 400 bucks. 20 kids. Where’s the money. [unintelligible] What’s the difference? Still a little kid.
So if we’re willing to think that way, we can become paralyzed because we can say, “There’s never going to be the perfect project and I’m never going to be ever again allowed to go out for dinner because going out for dinner is killing someone.” That’s what it means.
Joshua: So you’re not paralyzed though.
Seth: I know. Because what I’m saying is I get that all of this hypocrisy is at every corner. If we have a smartphone, we’re hypocrite because the smartphone caused somebody somewhere to have a miserable life. We say, “Yeah, but my smartphone enables me to make other people’s lives better and the whole system, the system, the system.”
Joshua: So I think what you’re saying, sorry to cut you off, I think you’re saying there’s a hypocrisy that people feel or guilt and I think what you are saying is liberating them from that constraint.
Seth: I’m embracing my hypocrisy. I’m saying I’m a hypocrite too. Totally a hypocrite. There’s no question about it. OK. So what are you going to do about it? Are you going to become pure? No one’s pure. You can’t do it. If you have kids, you’re the primary cause of global warming in this world that no one who is an environmentalist should have kids because it leaves this huge carbon negative legacy. Hypocrite, hypocrite. Okay, fine. So we’re all hypocrites. What story will we tell ourselves to allow ourselves to function tomorrow and to be productive in the direction we seek to go? If you’re looking for evidence that it’s not going to pay off, you’re looking for evidence that there are people worse than you. You don’t have to go to Google to find that. It’s easy. I try to move away from that and instead say in the next hour I get to do something and in the next week I get to do something. I do projects. I’ve made many, many projects. You’re in my office. You can see some of them. What project is worth doing? Am I doing this project to make cash so that then I can have a fancy dinner? Am I doing this project to make a difference? Who am I trying to escalate? Will I choose to be responsible for the change I’m making in the world? And that rant informs everything that I tried to teach about marketing.
And so the example I’ll give you is my dad passed away a few years ago and the last couple years of his life like many people he had dementia, mild dementia, and his phone number showed up at those places that sell collectible coins, one hundred to five hundred dollar, 2000-dollar coins minted by countries just to raise money. And these guys call you on the phone and they befriend you and then they say it’s going to go up in value because it’s made of silver and blah-blah-blah and you buy a thousand-dollar coin that’s worth eighty dollars. And my dad had a trunk filled with them.
Joshua: Because there were just scamming him.
Seth: Yeah, of course, there were scamming him. He didn’t have the ability to rationally analyze his action. Well, you know there are benefits to being in the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame so I called up the people at the Direct Marketing Association and said, “The people have been selling my dad stuff. We’ve asked them in writing three times to take his name off their list.” So you know the General Counsel writes the letter because these people are certified by the Direct Marketing Association. Finally, they stop. They just stopped for my dad. They don’t stop for the 10000 other people they’ve been stealing from. And so the question I want to ask the person who’s dialing for dollars is “What are you doing? What are you doing this for? This change you’re making in the world. Tell me why are you doing it. Tell me why it’s worth it. If everyone did this, would you be proud that they were doing this? If people did this to your mother or grandmother, would you be happy?” When did we lose responsibility that in the village in the Staten Island the 1900 you didn’t walk up and down the street just throwing trash on your neighbor’s lawn. You couldn’t do that. People like us don’t do things like this. But Hooker Chemical can build a love canal because industrialism depersonalizes. It is off the hook.
So what I’m trying to say about marketing is please don’t tell me you need to do things you’re not proud of to make your Facebook likes go up. Please don’t tell me it’s okay to troll people because it’s allowed. It might be allowed but that doesn’t mean you should be proud of it. It doesn’t mean you should do it. So you know I’m not in charge of ethics, I’m not in charge of behavior but I’m trying to teach people we have more power than we think we do, way more power than we think we do. What do you do with it? That’s a question.
Joshua: So I think you’ve probably saying that as something that is how you live your life. And I think probably also you’re saying it for people who are listening to say, “If you’re not doing something, you could do something. These are the reasons to do it.” It’s a whole shift in perspective because a lot of people don’t think this way and they’re probably pretty miserable. And if they did think this way, probably would look to them like, “It’s a distraction from getting…I want to become a leader only to get ahead by following…” which is backward but in that model it feels like it makes sense. And if you get off of that model and into what you’re talking about, then what looks like it’s going to be hard and backward is actually liberating and freeing. Yes, it’s a lot of responsibility. Yes, you are going to have to accept hypocrisy.
Seth: So you have control and if you can tell yourself a story that it’s satisfying to sweep your neighbors sidewalk, your neighbor is not going to tell you to stop sweeping their side. If it’s satisfying to do that work, you can do it. I find that thrilling. I find the idea that I can for free put something on my blog that changes the way 10000 or 100000 people will act in the next 15 minutes. That will make their lives better. What a thrilling privilege. I don’t have ads on my blog because I would pay to run it. I don’t need to get paid to run it.
Joshua: I’ve gone back and forth about this because you know one of the things I do is ask the guests if they’re interested, if they’re willing to take on to a change of behavior to act on well, for whatever reason to do something environmental so that people listeners can hear afterward what the experience was like. Actually, the big reason I’m doing is because when I’ve made those changes in my life these have been some of the best things I’ve ever done. We talked about when you picked me up from the train you were carrying your food from the farmers’ market and we talked about CSAs and I certainly was sharing joy. I mean huge joy and it sound like you were too. And I got to change my vocabulary from asking people taking a challenge to “I’m sharing joy. I’m sharing delicious” and actually now you’re in my world so maybe I’m just sharing with you something. Forget about you being Seth Godin. Forget about you being Seth Godin, the one in quotes. Forget about being someone that are a lot of people know. Just being you. Some guy I’m talking to in his house. Interested in trying something you haven’t done that might spread joy or… I mean you were talking about you were delighted to share something on your podcast, on your blog that makes people’s lives better. Want to try something new?
Seth: Well, I try something new all the time. I’m not sure I want to try something new that’s on your agenda but I’m happy to hear it.
Joshua: A lot of people have something that is when I have this conversation with them, they are like, “You know I have been meaning to try X.” And it’s something they want to do but they haven’t really gotten around to it and now maybe with a chance to share it with others it’s like, “Oh, that’s the reason…” I usually say it doesn’t have to be something that changes the whole world and fixes everything overnight. But one thing I say is if it’s telling other people what to do, I don’t like that because we got a lot of people doing that already and I don’t think it’s effective but something that would make a difference. It’s something you care about.
Seth: And again, going back to this horizontal spread of ideas. If you go out to buy a car and the best car for the money is getting 35 miles per gallon, it’s a normal car. But there is a car that is almost as good that’s a hybrid car or a battery powered car. And you buy it. What will happen? What will happen is you will have sent a message to people who are listening super carefully about what you just did. And that message will lead to the next one that they make being even better in that direction.
Or if we think about you know the way that when you go to buy something and you say, “I’m going to buy it in the bigger package” that doesn’t have a lot of packaging to it, it is just a bag instead of the one that’s in the fancy box. That act took a little bit out of the way stream. But what it really did was sent an early signal to people who were listening super carefully about what’s going to happen when your neighbor goes to buy next. And so this idea that we can be a little less selfish in our short term thinking when we interact with the marketplace becomes really important. So for example, the reason that Apple keeps making new iPhones but almost never makes new Macs is because every time they make a new iPhone lots of people buy one and every time they make a new Mac almost no one does.
We want computers to advance, we should buy more Macs more often and skip iPhone releases. It doesn’t take very many voices to start shifting what people who do marketing are hearing. But to get back to the kind of work you’re doing as opposed to silicone and stuff like that when we think about someone in our community who’s trying hard but not doing it in the way that you think is optimal, the answer is not to criticize them. The answer is to support them and to walk away from the people who are doing it worse than them, not to yell at the leader and say, ”Wait, wait. I’m looking at what…”
I’ll give you an example. So there is a nonprofit that I support and they had an event where some of their investments were there and one of these people is solving the problem of the food desert in Los Angeles that lots of people in Los Angeles don’t live within eight blocks of a place where they can get a decent healthy well-priced thing to eat. And so what these guys are doing is building places that are like fancy upscale New York sandwich shops but L.A. style. And when they’re in a fancy neighborhood the dishes are 12 dollars each and when they’re not in the fancy neighborhood, exactly the same dish is six dollars and they use the profit from the 12 to subsidize the six. And the theory is like McDonald’s, they can ratchet it forward. So that’s what they’re doing. It’s working. You can see that the people in the neighborhoods where it’s six bucks can afford it. It’s changing the way that they’re interacting with food, not every day but it’s making a positive difference.
Any questions? Yes. First question. Are all your delivery vans electric? Second question. Are you buying direct from farmers or are you enriching the middleman? I just want to put my head in my hands. Why aren’t you asking those questions to McDonald’s? Asking the questions to this guy who’s already leaning way out of the boat, who’s paying everyone who works for him fifteen dollars an hour, who is leaving money on the table so he can do this work. But all you can ask him is “Why aren’t you perfect?” That’s bogus. I get why you’re asking it. You’re asking it because you’re trying to hide because you say, “Wel, no one’s perfect and I can still be a hypocrite.” Well, no that’s the wrong thing to do. If you really care about those two issues, go talk to people who will have the resources to respond to what you’re saying and if you could organize enough people because you’re not hiding to make it on MacDonald’s radar, it won’t be very long at all before McDonald’s switches to electric delivery vans. Because they can’t afford to have just 400 people in Detroit yelling at them. 400 people would be enough to make McDonald’s switch.
So that’s my rant. My rant is OK, I get it. The people around you aren’t perfect but they’re leading. That’s what it is to be a leader. We don’t know the right answer. We’re just trying to find our way. My mission is to get more people to lead imperfectly, not to surface the right answer.
Joshua: OK. So let me say if I’ve understood you right. Is that what you do is among the things you do is help people learn to lead and lead more effectively or market effectively and that’s what you’re good at. And the more I can support you in that, the more people will be leaders and they will act on their values, they’ll do the things that they want to do, that’s going to be the most effective way to use this relationship between you and me. And if I really want to change people, I should really get like people who work at Coca-Cola or people who work at Exxon the leverage there is much greater.
Seth: Yeah, I think those two. I’m not trying to leverage our relationship but the two things aren’t perfectly joined but they’re related. So the thesis of my new book This is Marketing is to say work that matters for people who care. Stop worrying about everybody else. Shun the nonbelievers. The nonbelievers are not your problem. Do work that matters for people who care because people who don’t care won’t listen to you. They’re going to ignore you, it’s easy to do that. And if you’re not doing work that matters, then it’s not going to make change happen. Work that matters for people who care.
So if we think about someone who are trying to shift at let’s say Exxon and say, “Look just close the valve every night when you go home instead of having that stuff all go out into the world. Just close the valve. It won’t cost you anything.” There are people at Exxon whose only job is to make it so that when the world starts talking to Exxon they are listening so that the world will stop talking to Exxon because that’s their nightmare. Their nightmare is tens of thousands of people protesting against Exxon. They don’t try to fix that. They are a runaway train that would be really bad. So if you show up on the radar of someone who is trying to make that not happen and all you got to do to make it not happen is cause the valve, then close the valve. That’s all we’ve got to do. Get a thousand people to be that person radar. Done. Work that matters for people who care.
There are people in Exxon who care but the work that matters has to be somebody that those people can take action on and then they ratchet and then they ratchet and then they ratchet. That’s what we’re trying to do is turn it and it’s turned dramatically in my lifetime. When I think about what we were doing to the world in the 60s when we do bad things to the world now, we do it at much more volume but we’re also way more aware of what it is to have an open pipe dumping PCBs into the Hudson River and it’s easier now for… In 1968 if you didn’t own a TV network or a major magazine, you weren’t going to get hurt. Now you make a YouTube video it is going to be seen by 100 people no matter what and if it’s good, it’ll be seen by a thousand people and if it’s great, it is going to be seen by a hundred thousand people and it’s free. So what are you waiting for?
Joshua: What you’re saying is so incredibly empowering to people and it’s the opposite of a mainstream message that so many people have which is what I said before you know, “If I do it and no one else, what difference does it make?” And maybe you’ll stop here and just say this message. I hope people will go back and listen to this again. I mean it infuses a lot of what you want to communicate to the world so they can read your books, watch the videos, watch the TEDs, all these things. But I hope that they get this. How do I put it? I mean I can’t put it better than you can but maybe I’ll try to summarize it which is why not do it? If you do it and you like it and you share it, people will also like it and then they’ll share it more too and they will share it more too and they will share it more too and that’s what changes the world. That’s what… Forget about that. That’s what makes your life better. That’s what builds relationships. That’s what will get you promoted and get you raises. That’s what brings joy, increases the joy in your life and the life of people around you. And you don’t really have to get past that. And when people say, “Yeah, well, but it won’t make it.” and you say, “Maybe it won’t. My life’s better.” And you say, “You do your thing. I’m busy enjoying this delicious food that I wouldn’t have had had I not gone to the farmers’ market instead to the supermarket.” And I guess you don’t go to Stew Leonard’s anymore.
Seth: [unintelligible]
Joshua: And it’s about joy. And responsibility isn’t, “I can’t do these things any more that I used to do.” Or “I have to do things that I don’t want to do.” It’s this is who I am and this is who is my life. And it’s great. Ok. I am a hypocrite. Yeah, got me. Guilty. OK. Nonetheless I think this is kind of Buddhist message, you have this misery. What am I going to do about it? Am I going to just accept it? Let me bring a full circle. So if they read your book, it will enable… I haven’t read it but I would guess you haven’t written it yet.
Seth: No, it’s done.
Joshua: OK. It will probably help them do it more effectively, more efficiently or… They hear us now talking like, “Great!”. But then they’re like OK, what? This will get to more nuts and bolts.
Seth: OK. Now. This. Try this.
Joshua: OK.
Seth: Exactly.
Joshua: So the viewers can’t see this but I’m reading… Yeah, that’s exactly it. Like you’re saying, “Yes, Josh, that’s effectively it.” Well, we’re over. So you’ve been generous with your time. Any last words for… Actually, there are two questions that I like to end with. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask that’s worth bringing up? And anything you’d like to say directly to the listeners just on your own?
Seth: Well, I think it’s worth noting that this work you’re doing isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming, it’s difficult and it’s scary. And someone who shows up with a podcast like yours relentlessly deserves the applause and attention and respect of the people who are engaging with it. So too often we protect our attention and feel like if we’ve given someone our attention, they owe us something. But in the case of the work you’re doing I think it’s a mutual engagement you’re having with your listeners and I just want to thank you. I’m sure they don’t thank you as much as they should.
Joshua: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And I think that covered probably both things of…
Seth: It did.
Joshua: OK. Well, Seth, thank you very much.
Seth: It’s a pleasure.
I doubt I have to tell you that I’m touched and motivated by the sensitivity and the things that Seth showed at the end. Since this conversation I’ve re-read and re-watched his work in his voice and it came alive much more to be able to read the words on the page in the voice that I heard him speak with. I’m also much more interested in persisting and persisting and persisting after he shared the stories of his persisting reaching great success but it took a lot of time. Of course, you know that, everyone knows that but hearing it makes a difference. Also, working on making ideas spread not just having ideas or vetting ideas or playing around with ideas but getting them to spread. What makes people want to share these things. I’ve got a lot of work to do in that area. I recognize that. That’s what I’m working on. It’s one of the things. Also, accepting and embracing what he calls hypocrisy and I’m also about to meet in the next few days with people at some of the major polluters of the sort that he talked about. You remember he talked about “Why are we challenging people who are trying? We should be challenging people at McDonald’s.” So it’s not going to be McDonald’s but places like that. Still I wish I were moving faster. I wish I was getting farther but I know these things take time.
And by the way, I’m not using this podcast to use celebrities to influence. I’m not trying to get a message out. Seth is doing it. You should do it too. On the contrary, it is to build community. One of the things driving me or a way that I put it off in is one of the top predictors of people getting solar on their homes is not how much money they’re going to save. It’s not their politics, it’s not how much money they make. One of the top predictors is does your neighbor have solar. What people in your community do influences people’s behavior much more than many other things. And people like Seth, people who are celebrities, it’s not that I want them to say, “I’m a celebrity. You should do this.” but so many people out there say, “I want to act but if no one else does, what difference does it make what I do?” Well, if someone in your community is doing something, you’re more likely to do it. And now when people that you know are doing it and celebrities are people that everyone knows, then it’s harder to say that and I think people are more likely to say “I should do it too because people in my community are doing it, not because they’re celebrities but because I know them.”
I just have to close by saying he is thoroughly genuine and authentic. He is acting out of passion. I can hear he’s caring when he talks about education, when he talks about the environment, when he talks about leadership, when he talks about marketing. He talks about getting things done, not to plan forever. So I hope that you will speak up about what you care about to influence people by speaking to them for people that you agree with to further your message and for people you disagree with to help influence them.

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