#86 Seth Godin

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Seth Godin joined James Altucher to talk about his new book, dancing with fear, and what happens when we want all the upside but none of the down. Godin’s newest book is available at YourTurn.link and you can find his other books on Amazon.

James asks Godin why he decided to write this book, Seth tells him

This book is the most direct, brave testament I could come up with about what is holding us back. And I think what is holding us back is not access to tools or audience anymore. I think what’s holding us back is the voice in our head. (Click to Tweet)

Godin explains that whether it was 1500 or 50 years ago, if you wanted to do your craft you had to do it in your city. You had to know the right people. There were geographical and structural limits that restricted people from doing what they wanted. Those limits are largely gone.

Now we have limiting beliefs – Godin calls them “cultural pollution” – of things that are not true. School for example, he tells James, is an antiquated idea and this thesis is being defended in places beyond Godin’s ebook, Stop Stealing Dreams. There is the Hackschooling TEDx Talk by Logan Laplante who designs his own education. This is a growing movement of “free range schooling” that Ben Hewitt explained in Outside Magazine. Less extreme examples are small academies like, The Iron Yard in the Southest part of the United States. They offer a three-month course that gets people junior-level programming experience and they help you get a job. A three month coding school is a world away from a degree in computer science – as James often points out. We can read nobel prize winning scientist (even economists!) and learn anything we want online.

So what’s stopping us?

Godin implies that it’s an ethos we carry around with us, a cape we think we need even though the weather is mild. Godin says that in 1974 he was abandoned in downtown Cleveland by a ship captain, “with no money” and had to find his way to the airport. He got to the airport, called his parents, and arranged a flight for the next day. That next morning his mom picks him up from the airport and takes him to school! This was just an adventure because that’s what Godin had been taught it was. He was 14. Molly Shannon did him one better when she was 12.

Shannon, (originating in Cleveland rather than ending up there) sneaked onto a flight for New York City by convincing the flight attendant that her family was on board and she was just catching up with them. She told Marc Maron:

Molly Shannon

Well, again, because I had a crazy childhood, we called my dad, and we were like, we did it! And he was like, oh God! Molly! Oh, jeez, well, try to– so, basically, he couldn’t–

Marc Maron

Try to what?

Molly Shannon

He didn’t know what to do. He said, try to see if you can stay– go find a hotel that you can stay in, and me and Mary– my sister– we’ll come meet you. We’ll drive there.But basically, we didn’t have that much. We just had our ballet bags and a little bit of cash. So we went to a diner, and we dined and dashed, and we stole things. We were like little con artists.

Marc Maron

Wait, did you actually make it to the city?

Molly Shannon

We made it to the city. I was like, how do you get to Rockefeller Center? Because I had just seen TV specials.

Marc Maron

Nobody said, are you girls lost? Nothing like that?

Molly Shannon

No. Nothing. So we did try to go to hotels, and my dad would call and ask, could they just stay there until we get there? And none of the hotels wanted to be responsible. So he was like, all right. You’ve gotta come home. And he was like, but I’m not paying for it, so try to hop on one on the way back. So we tried to hop on many planes, but the flights were all so crowded. So we ended up having to have him pay for it, and he made us pay it all back with our babysitting money. The end.

Marc Maron

So that was the big punishment?

Molly Shannon

Yeah, that was– there was no punishment.

Marc Maron

Well, no, I know. I mean, clearly.

Molly Shannon

He loved that kind of stuff. Like I said, he was wild.

Economist Daniel Kahneman might chime in to say that we need these sorts of experiences to build up our library of possible connections. Our brains, he writes, are terribly bad about things we don’t know. He terms it, What You See Is All There Is (wysiats). If your brain solves a problem one way, following the path A-B-C, then it rarely even considers that happened if instead you go D-E-F, much less M-N-O, but these options often exist.

The problem of structured confinement is that it teaches us not to be resourceful, to find the other paths. A passive situation where the teacher provides you with what you need to learn, and how to learn it misses out on other skills. This handholding may actually be holding us back. Researcher Angela Duckworth writes about the value of “grit.” From Wikipedia:

Grit is conceptualized as a stable trait that does not require immediate positive feedback.[3] Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity. Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” amid challenges and set-backs. Essentially, the grittier person is focused on winning the marathon, not the sprint.

Beyond the academic examples are a list of real-world successes that show street smarts is just as valuable as book smarts. Mark Cuban for example failed at two businesses in Indiana before being fired from his first job in Texas. He bounced back by reading user manuals for networks and learning the things very few people knew about. Godin took this same tact of industry knowledge, writing about the pitfalls of Yahoo before Yahoo bought his startup. Each experience built up their respective skills

Altucher and Godin turn the conversation to our fears, to which Godin says, “marketing is everything…and the reason your marketing sucks is because you’re afraid.

He echoes an idea from Tony Robbins, that we need to be thirsty before we go get a drink of water. Robbins, a guest in episode #62 writes that things have to escalate to the point where the pain from the status quo outweighs the pain from change. To have this change Godin says we have to get out of our comfort zone, saying, “change happens when people take the blame but giveaway the credit.”

We resist this because we don’t want “skin the the game.” Past guest Nassim Taleb writes that you have to have something on the line to truly understand things.

The largest fragilizer of society, and greatest generator of crises, absence of “skin in the game.” Some become antifragile at the expense of others by getting the upside (or gains) from volatility, variations, and disorder and exposing others to the downside risks of losses or harm. And such antifragility-at-the-cost-of-fragility-of-others is hidden – given the blindness to antifragility by the Soviet-Harvard intellectual circles, this asymmetry is rarely identified and (so far) never taught.

Taleb and Godin both advocate a “skin the game” approach, because you have to look down over the chasm you’re crossing and bend to the risk to really know what crossing the chasm is like.

One tangible example is Rejection Therapy, the game. Created by Jason Comely, who was tired of being afraid of rejection, it’s a set of cards that challenge people to leave their comfort zone. Godin tells James his own idea. Practice giving away a $5 for a $1.

Really. Godin tells James that it’s a riskless transaction for everyone, but don’t worry about going broke. On his email list James writes:

“So I did this. I went up to everyone I saw and I said, “here is a $5 bill.Can I give you this bill in exchange for a $1 bill.” It was hard to do this. I’m shy so it’s hard to talk to strangers. Also, I had this natural reflex that I didn’t want a total stranger who I would never see again to think I was weird.“

Most people said no. But what if the stakes were larger, what if instead of a five it was a fifty and there were no strings attached. When Dan Ariely did this research he found that only 20% of people took a free fifty and only 1% took a free one dollar bill.

Godin calls this a dance with fear, and it’s one we apparently never get over. People afraid of giving and people afraid of taking.

If you want some inspiration (for anything), check out Ze Frank’s “An Invocation for Beginnings”

For you and me and it could be a blog. Godin says that “there are all these places we can go to dance with fear” and about blogging, “if you’re speaking the truth, your truth, every single day, on schedule. You will learn to dance with fear.”

At this point in the conversation, (36:30 if you want to find it) James asks how people can do this. Godin gives a specific and manageable answer, telling James, “contributing to a community you care about is work worth doing.” Take that time you spend watching TV and create a blog he says. Write about anything, even curling if that’s your thing and write about it every day. Maybe sell vintage things on ETSY, join a Facebook group, dive into the comments. Spend just three hours a week on it. But you and I don’t have three hours a week you say, ah, but you probably do. Laura Vanderkam wrote that we all usually overestimate the time we have in life. Add up a 50 hour a week job and assume you get 8 hours of sleep on average each night. That leaves almost 9 hours each day to spend on the things that bring you joy in life.

Godin suggests that blogging – and dancing with fear – is building something inside of you. You’re getting ideas, clarifying thoughts, and taking risks. You’re thinking about problems and solutions and this will work its way into all the domains of your life like a termite, only this bug is tearing down the walls that kept you blocked.

When asked about his legacy, Godin says, “I want to be judged by what people who learned from me teach other people.”

He realizes that it doesn’t take much to fade from the conversation, mentioning he listened to Zig Ziglar the night before this interview. If you like Godin, Altucher or Tony Robbins you will like Ziglar. Here’ a handful of YouTube clips, all good.

This idea of fading isn’t new, in fact it’s quote old. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius gave wise counsel about keeping things in perspective:

Survey the records of other eras. And see how many others gave their all and soon died and decomposed into the elements that formed them. But most of all, run through the list of those you knew yourself. Those who worked in vain, who failed to do what they should have – what they should have remained fixed on and found satisfaction in. A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.

He remembered that we all die and keeping that in perspective makes a difference.

Godin’s conversation ends with James asking for book suggestions that might inspire someone “to take their turn.” A few from the list with Godin’s thoughts:

Godin learned an important lesson from Tom Peters, “if I got one ideas out of a book that changes my life, it’s a bargain.” To go along with this, remember that the true cost of a book isn’t the financial cost, it’s the opportunity it cost. There are too many good books (and opportunities) to read to spend time with the bad ones.

Let me know what I flubbed, fumbled, or flummoxed on Twitter, @MikeDariano or via text, (559) 464-5393.

I write a weekly email about everything I learned, found, and wrote about this week. If you like these posts, you may like it. You can subscribe here

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