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Seth Godin
Ash RoyJun 25, 2020 9:55:46 PM43 min read

200. Seth Godin On Marketing — With Ash Roy

Seth Godin On Marketing — With Ash Roy

 Seth Godin

Seth Godin and I caught up on the Productive Insights YouTube channel to talk about a few things recently. The conversation meandered around business growth strategies.

A lot of these strategies are particularly relevant in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

  • The truth is, we live in a noisy world and it’s hard for a business owner to be heard in the cacophony of voices out there.
  • We have two choices: Spam people or find our minimum viable audience and go from there
  • Great companies exist because they have empathy. While Apple has taken a different path lately, Seth explains that from his conversations with Steve Wozniak he knows that Apple started its journey using empathy marketing.
  • Steve Jobs’ ability to lead (rather than to manage) was to decide when to say “no”. He was able to decide where his grit was going to lie and we can too.
  • “Fine” is a goal. You don’t have to be the ‘winner’ you just have to serve enough people who care. To cater to a small community that resonates with your product is scary, but you need to learn to ‘dance with fear’
  • You might say: “But Seth you’ve been doing this for 20 years … what if I’m starting today? How do I make a difference? How do I make a mark in the world?” The answer: You start with one person and so delight them that they’ll tell their friends. (We talked about the conversation between Seth and me, which led to my blog post titled “Just begin” Seth explained how in the first three or four years he wrote, his blog had dozens of people read it not thousands.)
  • We talked about habit-focused planning as an alternative approach to goal-focused planning.
  • Goal-obsession by definition robs you of the present moment and keeps you distracted with the future.
  • Goals are different from outcomes and risk is different from fear.
  • We talked about how we as business owners can contribute to preserving the environment. A cultural shift away from the Milton Friedman profit-at-all-costs mindset is the key to solving this. And it starts with us.
  • We riffed on how to survive and thrive in a world increasingly driven by machine learning and the importance of being a creator and facilitator of valuable networks.
  • Here’s a thought experiment for you: Imagine there was no internet and there were only 300 people in the village … in that setting what would you do to make those 300 people want to talk about you. How do you do the really hard thing of being worth talking about? We talked about emotional labor and the fact that it is work worth doing.

Links Mentioned:

Related Episodes:



  • [0.30] We’re in a very noisy world. How does a business owner who’s looking to grow his or her business makes something she loves
  • [1.05] You have two choices: Spam people or find your minimum viable audience and go from there
  • [2.03] Seth’s view on how Apple built a great business
  • [3.10] Great companies exist because they have empathy – Seth
  • [3.28] Apple’s product strategy is interesting.
  • [4.50] The internet works because the network effect keeps it working
  • [5.43] Seth explains that from his conversations with Steve Wozniak he knows that Apple started its journey using empathy marketing
  • [6.20] Steve Jobs’ ability to lead (rather than to manage) was to decide when to say “no” and to decide where your grit is going to lie
  • [7.07] How do we as small business owners discipline ourselves and be intelligent about what we say no to
  • [7.37] Stop chasing mass. Stop chasing more.
  • [8.28] “Fine” is a goal. You don’t have to be the ‘winner’ you just have to serve enough people who care
  • [8.40] To cater to the small community that resonates with your product is scary.
  • [9.00] How to ‘dance with fear’?
  • [9.55] Every time you do something important you probably face fear
  • [11.13] “But Seth you’ve been doing this for 20 years … what if I’m starting today? How do I make a difference? How do I make a mark in the world?”
  • [11.37] The importance of the word “yet”
  • [12.07] Person by the person I’ll find the right person and so delight them that they’ll tell their friends. If I don’t pick the right person that’s on me. If I don’t delight them that’s on me too. I can fix both those problems.
  • [12.50] “What we know about the internet today is it’s the greatest sorting mechanism for humans every invented” – Seth Godin
  • [13.39] The backstory with Seth Godin that led to the blog post titled “Just begin”
  • [14.34] Marcus Sheridan's story on how he ‘gave away all the secrets’
  • [15.43] “The first three or four years I wrote my blog dozens of people read it not thousands” – Seth Godin
  • [15.48] Habit focused planning as an alternative approach to goal-focused planning
  • [16.30] “Goal-obsession by definition robs you of the present moment and keeps you distracted with the future”
  • [16.41] James Clear on habits in episode 175
  • [17.00] “Goals are different than outcomes. You can make a goal that you’ll write every day” – Seth Godin
  • [17.34] “Creative breakthroughs to some degree come from action, not the other way round” – Ash Roy
  • [18.01] Sonia Simone on writing one line every day
  • [18.23] “Risk is different than fear” – Seth Godin
  • [19.24] How do we as small business owners make this planet a bit more sustainable
  • [19.51] We need to make a cultural shift from the Milton Freedman profit at all costs mindset
  • [20.42] How [[Akimbo]] approaches cultural change
  • [21.36] Seth Godin’s book Lynchpin, Henry Ford’s production line, the internet, and the implications of all these on our world today
  • [23.00] How do we survive and thrive in a world increasingly driven by machine-learning
  • [24.20] As small business people, we can’t be a small version of a huge thing like amazon or Walmart but rather be a huge version of a unique thing
  • [25.11] The creators of networks create value. The facilitator is the person who creates the most value
  • [26.18] Most people in online marketing are selfish short-term, lying, narcissistic profit-maximizing, don’t care about building trust or giving people dignity, and are looking for the latest scam. As soon as you walk away from that what you should do next becomes obvious
  • [26.44] People who get connection and dignity from you will probably come back
  • [27.21] “Imagine there was no internet and there were only 300 people in the village … in that setting what would you do to make those 300 people want to talk about you” – Seth Godin
  • [28.15] If you’re fishing and you’re counting on Google and Facebook to be your net then don’t be surprised they sell to the highest bidder who isn’t you. But fishing isn’t the only way to grow … – Seth Godin
  • [28.51] If you think about Google and Facebook as their yellow pages it’s not rational to build your pages on the Yellow pages
  • [29.10] Do the really hard thing of being worth talking about
  • [29.35] Bob Dylan Nobel prize winner has had 50 record albums and half of them are below average by definition if he’d waited till lay lady lay was ready to sing before he started singing you would never have heard about Bob Dylan
  • [29.58] What if you were a lifeguard and someone’s drowning? … You could say to yourself I’m not sure if I should save this person.
  • [31.26] Emotional labor is work worth doing. It’s the labor of showing up when you don’t feel like it.
  • [32.28] You’re a fine correspondent and a good egg
  • [32.44] How do you give insane value to your audience without appearing like you’re trying to elicit reciprocity?
  • [32.54] Insane value is different from low prices…. in almost every market people don’t buy the cheapest thing
  • [33.04] How is the AltMBA different from the traditional MBA

Ash Roy and Seth Godin Video Transcript (This transcript has been auto-generated. Artificial Intelligence is still in the process of perfecting itself. There may be some errors in transcription):

Seth Godin (00:00):

It’s Seth, how are you, Ash? Hello? Are you there? No? You can’t hear me. Can you hear me now?

Ash Roy (00:08):

I don’t have my audio set up properly. I think I can hear you now.

Seth Godin (00:11):

Let’s see. Two cannibals are eating a clown and one says to the other, does this taste funny to you?

Ash Roy (00:20):

I’ve heard that one before.

Seth Godin (00:21):

I got more. I was late for the countable banquet, so they gave me a cold shoulder.

Ash Roy (00:30):

So let’s get straight into it. So in your book, Seth, This Is Marketing. You said something that really resonated with me. You talk about your approach to marketing and you say this approach is simple, but it isn’t easy to embrace it – patience, empathy, and respect. And I think that empathy is probably one of the least used words in marketing that I have come across. And in my opinion, probably the most important words in marketing. In today’s world, we’ve got a flurry of information flying around everywhere. We are competing with machines to create content. Increasingly there’s machine learning. We’re in a very noisy world. How does a new business owner, who is starting to grow his or her business, start to develop empathy and reach out to people in a way that is meaningful and connect with them and make something that they love?

Find your smallest viable market

Seth Godin (01:21):

Well, you have two choices. One is you can say you’re really stressed. You’ve extended yourself. You’ve spent a lot of money. Therefore, you have the right and the privilege to steal whatever you can get away with – steal attention, steal trust, trick people, make some money. Or you could say the most confident and moral way, the most reliable way for me to build something is to find a very small group of people, the smallest possible group, who desperately need what I can offer them. Because if I have what they desperately need and I whisper it to them, they will beat down the door to get it. Not very many of them, but a few. And that might be enough and even if it’s not enough, they will tell their friends. That is where great businesses are built. Then if you name a great business, I will tell you how it became a great business –

Seth Godin (02:19):

Not by insisting that people buy what they make, but instead, by figuring out what people need.

Ash Roy (02:25):

Okay, I’ll name a great business. Apple.

Seth Godin (02:28):

Okay. So when Steve Wozniak, who was truly the godfather of Apple, made the Apple I, he had no plans whatsoever, to turn it into the most valuable company in the world or second most valuable. He went to the Homebrew club and gave away all of the plans and insisted that other people build it. And it was only when people came to him and said, thanks for this gift but I would rather have you build me one that is when people started buying Apple computers. If we think about people waiting in line for hours to get a new iPhone, who’s hassling them to go do that? They’re waiting to get there. Well, that’s the opposite of those people who were spamming me on the phone, pretending they’re from the car dealer, trying to upsell me on some fake insurance policy.

Seth Godin (03:19):

That’s a scam. I don’t like the way Tim cook runs Apple now, but Tim cook has persisted in following a path to say, if you want a luxury good that costs more than it needs to, I have one for you. And you know, I can say this, tell you the same story about Shopify and the same story about Harley Davidson, and the same story about Starbucks, and the same story about Aravind Eye Hospital in India… I can go down the list. great companies exist because they have empathy because the people they serve don’t know what they know, don’t want what they want, don’t believe what they believe and that’s okay.

Ash Roy (03:56):

Okay. You know, what else is really interesting to me about Apple said is the product strategy. I think the products that they create have a lot of thought put into them. And this iPhone, for instance, is also a distribution channel for the apps. And yeah, the products have become the infrastructure to deliver a whole lot of content now. It’s the payment system. The watch is going to do a lot of, gathering the data in the health space. So do you think that they are intentional and intelligent about that product strategy?

Seth Godin (04:30):

No. I think that Apple has lost its way, in the sense that I’ve bought over a hundred max with my own money through the years, I am both an early adopter and a persistent loyal user but Apple isn’t doing it with empathy for me and mine. No, they ship devices with keyboards and they don’t work very well simply because they have decided it’s important to them that the thing looks a certain way, not that it’s important to me, that it works a certain way. Apple has failed repeatedly to build anything useful on the internet because they don’t understand what it’s like to work in a world of abundance – that Apple’s world, is mostly a world of scarcity, scarce shelf space, scarce luxury goods, etc.

Seth Godin (05:20):

The internet works because the network effect keeps it working. And Apple has embraced the network effect in a really productive way. The phone you showed me is a triumph, a triumph, but it’s also the single most profitable consumer product in the history of the world. If you have something that is that profitable, I think you have an obligation to advance the craft. But in the last five years, they haven’t advanced anything. You can’t name one breakthrough innovation that Apple is taking a chance on, on behalf of people like you and me. Instead, they’re incrementally building the biggest luxury goods company in the world and luxury goods are fine, but that wasn’t the promise of their brand when they started. So in my opinion, if you want to learn about luxury goods, you can learn a lot from Apple now, but Apple is no longer the poster child for what is it to do in empathic technology marketing.

Ash Roy (06:14):

But you agree that that is how they started?

Seth Godin (06:17):

Yes, that is totally how they started. I’ve spent hours talking to Wozniak about this and I know how Jobs bullied his engineers into changing what they were making in a world of Windows, before Windows, and a world of DOS to make things not for them but for the user. And that’s a massive mindset shift that made a big difference in technology.

Ash Roy (06:42):

So what role did you see Jobs has having played in Apple?

Seth Godin (06:45):

Well, so what it means to lead as opposed to managing is to decide when to say no – to decide where your grit is going to lie. Steve was not a great designer. Steve was not a great typesetter. Steve was not a great programmer. Steve said, no really well. No, we’re not going to ship this. No, this isn’t good enough. No, we have to do something X, Y, or Z better. And these choices, hardware choices, and software choices showed a rigor and attention to his view of the world and who precisely he wanted his customers to be. And he was totally comfortable saying to everybody else, it’s not for you and the vibe that I get from Apple now is if you have money, it’s for you and that’s different.

Learn How to Say No!

Ash Roy (07:37):

Okay. So here’s my question for you then, how do we as small business owners trying to build our businesses in an increasingly noisy online world, discipline ourselves and be intelligent about what we say no to?

Seth Godin (07:54):

Right. So, the first thing which we just talked about is to stop chasing mass, stop chasing more, and instead focus on better – the smallest viable audience, 1000 true fans, as Kevin would say. Number two is all the pressure is for you to make a commodity product. All the pressure is to make something that when someone searches for the generic, they will find you – that is SEO. Instead, make something non-generic that people will only find if they look for you, right? So if you want a Seth Godin book, a Seth Godin speech, or a Seth Godin workshop, there is only one person in the world who can give it to you. Whereas if I was trying to write generic books about marketing or trying to run a generic course to teach freelancers, I’d have to focus on stuff that would appeal to a much larger group of people because I’ll be casting a wide net and throwing most people overboard. But instead by obsessing about what only 1 million people need out of the billions on earth, I’m fine, and fine is a goal. You don’t have to be the winner. You just have to be fine. You have to be able to do your craft for the people who care.

Ash Roy (09:03):

You’re right. The environment is screaming out at us, telling us to be the biggest, the best and the greatest, and to cater to a small community that resonates with your product is scary. It’s scary to make that choice that I’m just…

Seth Godin (09:20):

That if you are wrong, then you’re really toasted. Yeah.

Learn to Dance with Fear

Ash Roy (09:23):

And this brings up a good point. I like the choice of words you have, you say dance with fear. Now, most people will tell you to face your fear, confront it and stare it down but you say dance with fear and I like that because it touches on something that I’ve been practicing for years now and that’s mindfulness. It’s the ability to watch your emotions but not necessarily react to them and maybe even harness them. So I sense when you say dance with fear, you mean, almost use it like the one in Aikido, where they use the force of the other person, but you use it to create something beautiful, that tension. Can you talk to us a little bit about that and how can our audience learn to dance with fear and then create something that is meaningful?

Seth Godin (10:11):

Well, if someone can tell me how to make the fear go away, I would be in favor of that. But I don’t know how to do that. What I do know is that every time you feel like you’re about to do something important, you probably feel some fear. This means that fear is a compass, which means if you’re not feeling fear, you’re probably not trying hard enough. This means that heading toward the fear instead of away from the fear is where generosity lie. So I’m using it as a compass. And once you show up and the fear is there, if you try to make it go away, you will either exhaust yourself or average down your product or service to the point where it doesn’t matter. The alternative is to say, “Oh, welcome. It’s good to see you again.” I talk about the marathon. The thing is no one goes to a running coach and says, I want to run a marathon. Teach me how to run without getting tired because no one runs a marathon without getting tired. The difference between the people who finished and the people who don’t finish is that the people who finished know where to put the tired. And so I’m encouraging people to figure out where to put the fear because you can’t make it go away.

Create Content for your True Fans

Ash Roy (11:21):

How does that work practically, if I’m a person starting today, a lot of my audience, I have this membership site and it’s a small community and I’m helping them grow their businesses online as I am doing with my own business, and often I hear, well, you know, you’ve got a podcast with some of the leading minds in your podcast. Do you have established authority? I’m not in that position and one could argue the same thing they could say, Well, say you’ve been doing this for 20 something years, you’ve been writing every day. It’s all well, very well for you when you started there, no SEO strategy, there was none of that needed. What if I’m starting today? How do I make a difference? How do I make my Mark in the world? And I know you’re going to say find a thousand true fans, and that’s a great start, but how do I find them?

Seth Godin (12:06):

Well, actually I was going to talk about the word yet because I don’t have a popular podcast yet. Yeah. Kind of a popular blog yet because they haven’t started yet. But if they start today, they’ll have one. If you want me to get a thousand true fans, it helps to get a hundred. If you want a hundred helps to get 10 tomorrow, you can get one. There’s no way to get to a thousand until you get to one that taking a look at the Kardashians as a role model is a bad idea on so many levels.

Seth Godin (12:37):

The alternative is to say person by person, I will find the right person and so delight them that they tell their friends. And if I don’t delight them, I either pick the wrong person, that’s on me or I picked the right person and they didn’t make something good enough, also on me, and you can fix both of those problems.

Ash Roy (12:58):

How do you pick the right person?

Seth Godin (13:00):

Well, if you’re a lifeguard, you should pick a drowning person, right? Drowning people really appreciate it when a lifeguard shows up.

Ash Roy (13:09):

They do yes.

Seth Godin (13:11):

If you’re an allergist in Buffalo, New York, you should pick people that have allergies. You shouldn’t try to sell allergy treatment to people who don’t have allergies. Well, what we know about the internet today is it is the greatest sorting mechanism for humans ever invented. You can find people who not only have a problem but know they have a problem.

Seth Godin (13:31):

So if you want to make $200,000 stereo speakers, the kind of people who want to buy $200,000 speakers are all hanging out in the same place. Go there, talk to them, earn their attention, earn their trust, create tension, and then offer them a way to relieve their tension by being one of the few people who can buy one of your speakers. Everyone else in the world will never hear of you, that’s fine.

Ash Roy (13:58):

I have a question back in November 2018, you talked about writing every day and I’d sent you an email and said, “What is this and what is that?” and a whole lot of questions. And you said, just begin. So I wrote this blog post on my website, just begin. And I wrote every day for the month of November and I was delighted initially because the traffic and yes, I confess I’m as obsessed with Venturi metrics more than I should be. I should say, my traffic went up fivefold and I was like, wow, this is amazing. I’m making an impact. People are listening. But then I found that the average time on site had dropped dramatically and a huge proportion of the people visiting my site had been there for less than one second, which meant that it must have been the bots. And I realized I’m writing for bots and then I got disheartened that I gave up. Was that a mistake?

Seth Godin (14:46):

Well, I don’t know if it was a mistake, but you weren’t writing for bots. You were writing to you. And as long as writing for you is helping you with clarity. Then it’s probably a good idea to keep doing it. If you want to write for other people, it helps to know which other people you are writing for. In the US, there’s a fairly large industry of people who will install a swimming pool in your backyard and they have a reputation for being pretty sleazy. And this guy who sells swimming pools for a living, started a blog in which he gave away every secret of the swimming pool salesperson – every trick, every gambit, every shortcut. Day after day, he just gave them all away. In the beginning, no one read it. Why would they? How would they even know? But over time, one person read it and four people read it and they told four people. Now it’s 16 people and the next thing you know, it’s a couple of hundred people a day. Well, if a couple of a hundred people a day, who were about to buy a swimming pool, by reading you, giving away all the secrets of swimming pool construction, don’t you think the phone’s going to ring with someone who wants to buy a swimming pool? Okay. It might take five years.

Seth Godin (15:53):

And if you’re not getting anything out of it, maybe you shouldn’t do it. But if you want to compete against six and a half billion, other people on a medium where anyone with a keyboard is allowed to say anything they want, I think it’s naive and arrogant to think you’re entitled to a quick hit, right? I’ll just say the first three, four years I wrote my blog, dozens of people read it, not thousands, right?

Have Habits that Help

Ash Roy (16:19):

This brings up an interesting approach to writing and business in general and that is the idea of habits. I recently ran a planning workshop with my membership and my approach was a bit different from the traditional approach. We tend to do our planning with objectives in mind, and that’s the traditional Western approach and planning, you know, you’re very obsessed with objectives but what I said is I’m going to take a different approach. We’re going to decide on our objectives for the quarter but then we’re going to map those to habits. And we’re going to transfer our focus from objectives to habits so that we’re not spending our lives with one eye on the goal. We’re fully given, committed, to the here and now. Because goal obsession by definition robs you of the present moment and keeps you distracted with the future. Whereas if you fully give yourself to one thing, there’s true freedom and complete commitment to one thing. And James Claire was on the podcast episode 175 and he’s shared some beautiful ideas as well. He talked about habits being the compound interest of self-improvement, which I really liked. What I’m hearing is if we can…

Seth Godin (17:24):

I think you mean self-improvement is the compound interest on habit. Sorry to interrupt. So goals are different, different than outcomes. You can make a goal that you will write every day but having a best-selling book is not up to you. Having a best-selling book is up to the market.

Ash Roy (17:41):

This is true.

Seth Godin (17:42):

It’s not a useful goal. It’s a useful goal to say, I’m going to write every day. Roy, about this just today, she planted that seed into my head – that habits are opportunities we have to start wherever we are and get to where we are going.

Ash Roy (17:56):

Stephen King says in his book on writing, I think it’s in his book. He says, “inspiration hits me every single day at 9:00 AM when I sit down to write”. So, creative breakthroughs, to some degree come from action, not the other way around, but a high proportion of us and me included at times kind of sit there, waiting for the lightning to strike. It’s not going to strike. We have to put in the work, but it’s scary to put in the work. It’s scary to make a commitment to put in the book. But if you have a habit and you sit down and you say, I’m going to sit down at 9:00 AM every day in my office, and I’m going to write one line. Sonia Simone told me this from Copyblogger. She said, if you sit down and just do it every single day, it is actually more effort then to not do it than it is to do it. So I think if we can build it into our routines, to dance with fear, to take those little risks, then it de-risks that to some extent, that makes life a bit easier.

Seth Godin (18:51):

Exactly and risk is different than fear. So let’s be really clear here. The two greatest risks we are facing right now is the certainty that a billion people are gonna lose their homes because of atmospheric cancer and global warming and that odds are an earthquake or an asteroid is going to come along and wipe out big sections of the Earth. These are both risks, but there are very few people who are paralyzed in fear by them. Instead, we are paralyzed in fear, many of us by risks that don’t exist at all, that someone who you knew in third grade is going to realize that you’re a fraud, come to your house and put a big sign in your front yard. The risk of that is zero but our fear of it is not zero. And so, if we’re going, to be honest, we’re bad at risk management, we’re bad at risk analysis and we spend most of our time living in fear.

Ash Roy (19:49):

Hence the case for learning to dance with it, not live in fear of it, fear of failure. So you mentioned global warming and that is something that concerns me a lot and it’s something that I often think about how do we, as small business owners, as digital citizens, what can we do to spread the word? What little things can we do to try and do what do our little bit to try and make this planet a little bit more sustainable?

Seth Godin (20:14):

Yes. So, it is fashionable to believe that we can feel like we are doing our part by recycling our grocery bags but it’s pretty clear to me from the Science that it’s a cultural shift that we have to make. And the cultural shift is to undo the Milton Friedman profit at all costs mindset, as well as the mindset that has been put upon us by people who extract fossils fuels from the ground. And to speak up early and often to say, if we all paid for carbon and we all got a benefit if we didn’t use carbon, the free market would go to work really fast and really hard in sequestering carbon. And if we could do that with the same energy, we have spent stealing three hours to six hours a day of every human on earth to use a smartphone, it would have a spectacular impact on how we’re going about walking on the earth.

Ash Roy (21:11):

So how do we do that?

Seth Godin (21:12):

Well, how does any cultural change happen and this is what I talk about in a Kimball all the time. You know, people like us do things like this. If you are in a Harley Davidson motorcycle gang, you don’t show up with a Suzuki motorcycle ’cause we all ride Harleys. And while we’re sitting around the table, after work and someone brings up the idea of coordinated action to address a problem and the outlier who’s loud, who wants to say, well, no, Milton Friedman says, what we should do is not worry about any of that, if you can make money, you should make money. We need to be able to say to that person, no, that’s not what we’re like around here. And I think this is happening faster than any cultural change in my memory, is that it’s becoming obvious and urgent that we need to do something collectively and it’s going to tip, that’s my hope.

Ash Roy (22:06):

Mine too. In your book Linchpin, you talked about this analogy of 400 quarters piled up and I really liked that because it gave me this visual image. Let’s say you have 400 quarters piled up. And the top quarter represents the last 250 years of our civilization, which includes the industrial revolution. And the remaining 399 quarters represents the remainder of the hundred thousand years of which 250 years was the most recent, where we have been more or less the human race as we know it today, you know, tribes are organizing tribes and so on, but we sort of understandably seem to think that 250 years is as far back as our history goes, which is not the case. And Henry Ford came along around in that last 250 year period and he changed the world with a production line. And then in the last 10 or 20 years, we’ve seen that the internet has come along and it’s changed the world again because it’s enabled us to do with the information, what Henry Ford did with cars. We can not productize information. We Inventorise it, we sell it like widgets. In a world where we are now seeing an increase in machine learning, some people call it artificial intelligence, I don’t, I think it’s more machine learning at this stage. What skills do we need as a business owner to be able to innovate, to out-innovate, maybe the machines to survive in a world where machines are potentially writing content. I mean, how do we make sense of this?

Start to Innovate

Seth Godin (23:36):

Yeah, so when the steam shovel came along, the ditch diggers were really freaking out. When the punch press came along, the people who used to punch holes with a hammer we’re really freaking out. Every single time technology has done something that a human used to do, we come to the conclusion that there’ll be nothing left for people to do. And the difference is time, that it’s happening much faster. That within the last 10 years, we went from your X-ray, if you broke your leg was read by someone in the next room to your x-ray was digitized and read by someone far away, to your X-ray is being read by a computer. And each step along the way, the quality is going up, the price is going down, the speed is going up and your local radiologist is less and less happy.

Seth Godin (24:23):

If the radiologist just believes that they have a scarce skill, they’re going to stay on happy forever. On the other hand, if they say, wow, anything that can be written down, it’s gonna get done better by a machine learning system than I can do it. Therefore, I better learn how to do things that can’t be written down. And that is the essence of where we need to go as small business people, which is you can’t be a small version of Walmart, you can’t be a small version of Amazon, you can’t be a small version of general motors, you have to be a huge version of a unique thing that it’s an advantage to be small.

Ash Roy (24:59):

Right. Can you think of some examples of these unique things? One would, of course, be creating a product, as you said earlier on, that is only made by Seth because that can’t be made by a machine. Is that what you mean?

Seth Godin (25:10):

That’s part of it. You know, if I think about why I pay extra to see the doctor I see, it’s not because I have proof that he’s better at being a doctor, it’s that I have proof that he’s better at being my doctor.

Ash Roy (25:21):

Right, that’s a good subtle point.

Seth Godin (25:24):

Thank you. For someone who buys a hundred dollars bottle of wine instead of a $5 bottle of wine, not sure it’s going to be anytime soon before our chemical analysis can tell us which wine is better. There’s a human chain that happened that made someone want one instead of the other. I think the huge shift is the creators of networks. If you are somebody who maintains the circle of 20, if you want it, I mean, with those 20 people, you need to be with the person who maintains that circle. And so the person who maintains that circle has created value, right?

Ash Roy (25:58):

And so the role of the facilitator becomes important.

Seth Godin (26:02):

Well, the role of facilitators, all of it, which is when we were hunters and gatherers, that’s all we had, right? Everyone ate what they ate. They hunted where they could hunt together, they gathered what they could gather. But it was the chief, the organizer, the shaman, the medicine person, the big mom in the village, those were the people who had status and authority because they were the only ones who could organize.

Question and Answer

Ash Roy (26:24):

Okay. Now I’ve got a question from one of my members, I should say. His question is, what do you think is the biggest mistake people make in online marketing and how do they fix it? I think I know your answer but I just want to see what you have to say.

Seth Godin (26:39):

In online marketing, it’s pretty easy that most people’s big mistake is that they’re selfish, short-term lying narcissistic, profit maximizer who don’t care about building trust or giving people dignity. They’re in too much of a hurry, figuring out the latest online scam. As soon as you walk away from that, what you should do next becomes very obvious. You should de-anonymize. You should stop hiding. You should stop sneaking around. You should be clear and you should realize it. People who get connection and dignity from you, we’ll probably come back.

Ash Roy (27:16):

Do you mean even if they were previously one of your customers and left, they’ll come back? Is that what you mean?

Seth Godin (27:20):

No, I mean that if you think the only way to get a customer to come back is to be cheaper, then you’re going to lose because someone will be cheaper than you. If you think that the only way to get someone to come back is because you’ve optimized your website, that’s unlikely as well. That if you optimize a website long enough, it becomes a porn site because if you just keep churning and churning and churning to see what thing people will click on, that’s not really the work you’re proud of. It feels familiar to work on what you’re proud of is imagine there was no internet. Imagine that there were only 300 people in the village. Imagine you had a small operation in that setting, what would you do to make those 300 people want to talk about you and care about your success? You can do the same thing on the internet.

Ash Roy (28:09):

Okay. But in the recent past, we’ve seen Google start to hold traffic and more than 40% of their traffic stays on their site. We’ve seen Facebook, in my opinion, has done some inappropriate things. Like..

Seth Godin (28:25):

I agree

Ash Roy (28:26):

the Cambridge Analytica scandal that, you know, there’s a lot of unethical stuff going on, but these are forces that in a huge way, influence our daily existence and our survival.

Seth Godin (28:39):

If you are fishing and you are counting on Google and Facebook to be your net, don’t be surprised if they sell to the highest bidder who isn’t you. But fishing isn’t the only way to grow. It’s not the only way to do work that you care about. There was for years, a restaurant in Los Angeles that always had a waiting list, that had an unlisted phone number. How does that work, right? It works because if you’re one of the people who benefit from the status of knowledge about this restaurant, it’s entirely possible, you will share your status by telling someone else about the restaurant, and Google and Facebook had nothing to do with it. If we think about Google and Facebook as the yellow pages, it’s not rational unless you’re a pizza place, who choose to build your business on the back of the yellow pages. There are many more human ways to find, connect, and keep the attention and care of other people.

Ash Roy (29:37):

So you start with an audience of one or 10.

Seth Godin (29:40):

And do the really hard thing of being worth talking about, which is what I wrote about 10 books ago.

Ash Roy (29:46):

Do great work and part of doing great work is being willed to put yourself out there and do not great things on the way to doing great things. Would you agree?

Seth Godin (29:57):

Yeah. I’m not sure. I put, do say the put yourself out there part, but yes, the failing and the failing and the failing, the shipping of mediocre work, you know, Bob Dylan Nobel prize winner has had 50 record albums and half of them are below average, by definition. And if he had waited to “Lay, Lady, Lay” was ready to sing before he started singing, you’ll never hear of Bob Dylan.

Ash Roy (30:19):

It takes guts, man. It takes guts to just put this up, but when I say, put yourself out there and put products out there and as you say, see, I made this because…

Seth Godin (30:28):

What if you’re a lifeguard and someone’s drowning, you could say to yourself, I don’t know if I’m the best swimmer on the dock. You could say to yourself, there’s no guarantee I’m actually going to be able to save this person. You can say to yourself, uh, I’m not sure I have the right to go save this person or you can realize that if you don’t save them, they’re going to drown. And so what the hell?

Ash Roy (30:51):

Yeah. That’s a good point. Like that’s good framing actually because I can imagine a lifeguard sitting there and contemplating the meaning of life and what he or she does before saving somebody. So yeah, I hear you. So we need to create a certain sense of urgency and a certain sense of maybe somehow bring up a sense of agency in us, in terms of creating content and products in someone.

Seth Godin (31:16):


Ash Roy (31:17):

This brings up another term that I liked that you use Emotional Labor. Can you talk to us about that?

Seth Godin (31:23):

Yeah. So yeah, Arlie Hochschild uses it differently than me, but we also use it the same way. Emotional labor used to be a term reserved for massage, which is the flight attendants in 1962, they didn’t lift a lot of heavy objects. What was their job actually? And their job was to present positively with a smile, even if they didn’t feel like it. That’s labor. It’s labor just as much as digging a ditch. You’re exhausted at the end of the day, standing on your feet and smiling. And so some people talk about emotional labor like it’s a bad thing, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s work worth doing. It is the labor of showing up when you don’t feel like it.

Seth Godin (32:04):

No one actually cares about authenticity. What we care about is consistency, about you keeping your promise. So if you are having a lousy day but we have scheduled knee surgery for me, I don’t want you to say at the last minute, I’m in a really bad mood. I’m going to do a lousy job on your knee. That would be authentic, but I don’t want you to be authentic. I want you to be consistent. So show up, bring some emotional labor to the table. Act like you couldn’t imagine being anywhere more than you are right here, right now on my knee, and do a great job because that’s the deal we made. So, most of us have no choice if we want to matter, but to do emotional labor in our work.

Ash Roy (32:50):

And that is something you’re doing right now on this podcast. So I appreciate that. Thank you.

Seth Godin (32:55):

Actually, I am really pleased to be able to talk to you today. You’re a fine correspondence within a good egg. So sometimes I have to show up when I don’t feel like it. Right now, I’m showing up because I do feel like it, but hopefully, people can’t tell them apart.

Ash Roy (33:09):

Well, thank you, sir. That means a lot to me. I really appreciate it. Okay. Two more questions. One is one of my other members asked, how do you give insane value to your audience without appearing like you’re trying to elicit reciprocity?

Seth Godin (33:25):

To sustain value is different than low prices. Low prices do not create insane value. That’s in almost every category, in almost every market, people do not buy the cheapest thing. Even in, you know, little villages that are off the grid. People are not buying the cheapest thing. What we buy matters a lot to how we see ourselves. If you are giving people insane value, in order to get them to then take action, then I would say smart people are going to see what you are doing. You could still do it and it might work, but I didn’t write 7,600 blog posts. So that one day someone says, wow, I didn’t know Seth a lot, I’ll go take the author MBA. They’re not related. Just one and the other are things that I do, but I’m not looking for reciprocity. I have earned attention, which has come with some trust and I’ve used that attention and trust to talk to people who I think can benefit from this and said, we do this. Show up if you think it will help you and that is different than the quid pro quo of “Here, I did this for you. Now you owe me something.”

Ash Roy (34:34):

How is the altMBA different from a traditional MBA?

Seth Godin (34:37):

The only thing they have in common is three letters. The altMBA is not a great name for it, but I’m sort of stuck with it. It’s a 30-day intensive online workshop. We’ve run it in 75 countries. More than 4,000 people have graduated. You are in video conferences a lot like this one, with groups with three or four people, there are no video lessons. It’s project-based. You do 13 projects in 30 days and it will change your life. It will change the way you see, the way you make decisions, the way you lead. And we only ran it twice and then I was done, but it has been so effective that we keep running it but you have to apply to get in. If the right people don’t show up, we don’t run it.

Ash Roy (35:18):

And how do people apply?

Seth Godin (35:20):

If you go to, you can see all the details. There are a lot of details there. The next session is this April and the signups are in January.

Ash Roy (35:29):

Thank you, man. Yeah, that was great. Thank you very much. You’re welcome. All right, Seth. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. It was wonderful. Take care, man. Bye for now.


Ash Roy

Ash Roy has spent over 15 years working in the corporate world as a financial and strategic analyst and advisor to large multinational banks and telecommunications companies. He suffered through a CPA in 1997 and completed it despite not liking it at all because he believed it was a valuable skill to have. He sacrificed his personality in the process. In 2004 he finished his MBA (Masters In Business Administration) from the Australian Graduate School of Management and loved it! He scored a distinction (average) and got his personality back too!