In this video best selling author, speaker and successful entrepreneur Seth Godin shares his views on taking risks, challenging the status quo, and starting a business.
Failing Until You Succeed
The long tradition of people having jobs is over. the model of working your way up the corporate ladder is busted.
This notion that you have a job does not really make a lot of sense. If you work on an assembly line putting truffles in a box – that’s a job. But if you have almost any white-collar job where you have access to the internet, where you do not have a list of things to do all day, then you do not have a job – you have an opportunity.
We now live in the ‘project world', where we try things out and try something new.
Seth Godin has failed many more times than he has succeeded. He invented the first videotaped aquarium and videotaped fireplace so that if you were feeling lonely or cold you could put in a videotape and watch fish swimming or a fire burning. He placed a full-page ad in a magazine but did not get enough orders so he threw in the towel.
He’s made videotapes that did not work and books that did not work. His lesson was, “If I fail more than you do, I win”. Because built into that lesson is that if you keep going then you may keep failing until you learn enough to sooner or later succeed.
The people who lose are the ones that do not fail at all and get stuck or the ones who fail so big that they don’t get to play again.
Is The Risk More Expensive Than The Opportunity
If you are talking to a pacemaker assembly lineman or an airline pilot they do not try and experiment with stuff. They don’t say, “I wonder what will happen if I do this?” We are really glad that they don’t do that because the cost of failing is greater than the cost of discovering what works and what doesn’t.
Most of us now live in a world where the kind of failure being discussed is not fatal at all. If you create a blog post and it does not resonate with people, then post another one tomorrow.
If you tweet something and no one retweets it then tweet again in an hour. We are obsessed with doing what everyone else is doing because most of us are afraid of someone saying, “You’ve failed”.
Jumping Out There and Taking a Risk
We have to decide about definitions. A freelancer is someone who gets paid for working. That means the more you work, the more you get paid.
An entrepreneur gets paid while they sleep. They build a business bigger than themselves and get paid even when they are not there.
When freelancers act like entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs act as freelancers chaos ensues. If you have a job with a boss, you need to think about whether your boss is asking you to do a set of tasks. Because if your boss is, then they are going to try and find someone cheaper than you to do them.
Or is your boss asking you to solve interesting problems? if that’s the case, you now have your work cut out. People in all those 3 categories should then take appropriate risks. Appropriate risks mean risks that keep you in the game even if you fail.
Figuring out how you can be in an industry or a space and how you can try things out. A simple example is if you always have a look, appearance, and stick when you’re at cocktail parties. You should then go and buy a ticket to a charity gallery where you don’t know anyone. Wear a completely different outfit, try a completely different stick, and see what happens.
There’s no real risk in that. You may find out that when you look people in the eye they are nicer to you. You may have been afraid to do that in your home town but when you’ve done it somewhere else it’s worked.
No one has ever died from giving a public speech but so many people are afraid of doing it. What’s the downside? The people who tend to do it often discover things about themselves.
What Does the Title of Seth Godin’s Book, “Poke the Box”, Mean
It’s a permission flip. it’s where someone is saying, “It’s ok with me if you fail. It’s ok with me for you to figure out what works”.
The expression ‘poke the box', is one that programmers use. It’s how you learn a program. You keep trying something and see what the computer does. Programmers don’t get bummed out when their code does not work. They just make a change a do it again.
The purpose of the book is to have an impact. It’s only 85 pages long but books have an impact. They have more impact than Youtube videos or a 5-minute podcast. What a book does is hit you over the head again and again.
You can leave it on the shelf or a desk and it reminds you that it is ok to do these things. And you can pass it on to others.
The book comes in a 5-pack and a 52-pack because it’s hoped that some will say, “Everyone in my company needs to read this” and will purchase a 52-pack and leave it on the reception desk for others to read.
How Important Is It To Be Curious?
There is a company called ‘Penguin Magic’ and there business model is great. Their website is filled with videos of people doing their magic tricks. But they’re not doing them in a tuxedo with a white rabbit.
They go into the streets of Las Vegas, find semi-drunken tourists, and do tricks on them right there on the street, usually at night. The tricks are amazing and inevitably people start screaming. “Oh my God, it’s Satan”. Then they’ll say, “How did you do that?” They all want to know how the tricks are done. The way ‘Penguin Magic’ makes revenue is that people buy the trick to find out how it’s done.
Too often in our world when somebody does something extraordinary, we don’t say, “How did you do that?” We don’t wonder how it works. How did that business get from here to there? What’s the technology behind that? It’s like magic but we don’t care.
If you are not curious then you are not going to learn. In the old days that was fine because the world was the same but now the world is so different now you have to learn.
Why Aren’t We Curious Enough?
We have been brainwashed. When America was electrified there was one outlet in the house and that was the light bulb. No appliances had yet been invented. So when the clothes washer was eventually invented you had to unscrew the lights in your house and then screw in the power cable for the clothes washer.
It was inevitable that you figured out how it worked because if you didn’t it would electrocute you. Once that hump was got over, by the 1940’s electricity businesses worked, cars worked, the system worked.
Then school got to work brainwashing us just to accept it all. We were taught not to ask questions. This was compounded by big banks and big government agencies saying, “Don’t ask. Just listen”.
Now we’ve entered this revolution that we are in right now where so many things are being rebuilt. Now 20-year-olds are building their own websites which are making them a million dollars. The rest of us will just sit there and say, “Oh, we never thought of that” because we’re just waiting for somebody to tell us what to do.
The Resistance To Change
How do we end up accepting the dictatorship of this system? How did it end up becoming the status quo? It turns out we are evolutionarily organised to do that. There’s a part of our brain called the amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that’s been around for a million years – the same part of the brain a chicken or lizard has.
Psychologists call it the ‘lizard brain’. If certain things happen, like turbulence or anxiety in our lives, the amygdala part of the brain activates. All of our systems then shut down.
And so what happens in school is that teachers activate this part of the brain in children and the kids become compliant. So we set up this system and we hire people and say, “Do this or you’re fired”.
People then say to themselves, “I’ll get fired and won’t have a job. I won’t get another job. I’ll run out of money. I’ll become homeless and end up dying”. We then start to associate what our bosses say with dying.
So this brainwashing system was in place for a really long time. You can get power and become a dictator with it. You can also become a boss or a teacher or a parent using that system.
Which is all great until the ‘revolution’ comes. And when the revolution comes the people who can figure out how to shut down their amygdala long enough will be the ones able to succeed.
That’s why Silicon Valley works because everyone is sitting around assuring themselves to be calm. When everyone else in the world is freaking out those in Silicon Valley will say, “Ok, let’s try something new here”.
The problem is that we have been punished so much for trying new things and conditioned not to do it. And then we punish ourselves if it doesn’t work out.
Thankfully, right now we are not being punished that much to try new things. It’s easier to start a business today than at any time in history. The only person that’s stopping you from starting a business is you.
Access to technology, access to capital, access to information, access to markets has never, ever been like this before. When Seth Godin first started building g companies he needed 70 people and raise millions of dollars to start a company.
Now you he has started companies like The Domino Project and Squidoo (now part of Hub Pages) with zero. It’s not hard anymore except the voice in your head, “the resistance” as Steve Pressfield calls it.
No one gives you initiative, you have to take it. Most people don’t think about it that way but it’s true. Seth used to teach a course at NYU Business Graduate School with no tests and no homework, 100% class participation. It was one of the most popular courses.
In one of the classes where he asked every student to bring a cell phone. He brought each student up one at a time and he gave each of them a phone number of someone else. he then told them to call that person and sell them a subscription to Time Magazine while everyone in the class watches.
The downside is that person may hang up on you. But Seth told the students that if they didn’t call he would give them an F grade. One-third of the class would not make the call. Because the act of having to talk extemporaneously to a stranger in front of the class was so overwhelming for some people who had never, ever been asked to take the initiative that they just shut down.
The way you get to the second year at this business school is that you get A’s from the time you are in Third Grade. The way you get A’s is by saying, “What are the instructions? What does this do? What do I need to follow?” Conformity.
Does Conformity Work In Other Places?
Let’s compare Singapore and Japan. Japan is in real trouble because the conformity thing is not working. It doesn’t work for Sony and it’s not working internally for a lot of companies. Because if all you’re going to do is what you did before there is not somebody like William Deming at the moment with a new road map.
Singapore is just as crowded as Japan but in Singapore, the government does not give you some freedoms but they give the population the freedom to go and figure out how to fail at different businesses until they succeed. And that’s what they built the country for.
In China, they figured out that they do not want to be the low-cost producer of other people’s junk. So they keep trying to move up by inventing stuff whether it be solar power or better ways to make cars.
They’re not thinking about waiting for somebody in the USA to fax them the plans. Those in the USA are losing that initiative because they are lulling themselves into thinking they are the only ones in the world who know how to take the initiative when really all they know is how to watch the Superbowl.
The whole, “My boss wouldn’t let me…” thing is a problem. What happens if you go to your boss and ask to do something and they say no. Well, of course, they so “no” because if you do that thing and it fails it will reflect on the boss, and if it succeeds the employee will look good.
If you truly work in an organization that will not even let you take a little initiative you ought to try and get fired and get out. Why are you wasting today, tomorrow, the week, and the next six months working in a place like that?
Usually, we stay in jobs like this because we feel stuck. But it’s all in our minds. When Seth Godin worked in his only real job, a software company, he would come in and answer the phones on Christmas Day when most people were opening the educational games that the company produced.
It was better than having no one to answer the phones and it was fun to him – speaking to kids on the phone to help them get their games set up. Was someone going to fire him for using his initiative?
So a few weeks later when he was in a meeting and best operating practices were being discussed with other staff members, he could bring up the fact of answering the phones on Christmas Day. He will then become the expert as he’s figured out what to say to customers on the phone and has talked to about 200 of them. What does that cost?
The point is that we all have so many more degrees of freedom than we give ourselves credit for. Even if you are a waitress you can figure out how to be the waitress that customers miss when you’re not there.
And if the waitress thinks the napkins are out of place or shinier spoons are needed they could use their initiative and take care of that. Every now and again you hear about the waitress who got a $10,000 tip because a satisfied customer who comes in regularly has finally decided to say thank you.
The waitress is not doing good work for the $10,000 tip but is doing it because discovering how to talk or smile differently, to make the customer have a pleasant engagement with you, is her real job.
Your job is not just to bring the food or drinks from one place in the restaurant to another. That can be done by the customers themselves in a buffet. You are a human being and what human beings do is art, new stuff, connections.
It’s this humanity that’s been taken out of us but it’s coming back. People are not brands they are people. There is a big difference between Dell and Michael Dell. We are now entering this world where it’s becoming easier to be a person again.
It’s all about how you can connect with people and how you can bring them up, and there is not enough of that in this world.
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