Seth Godin and Brian Koppelman

Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) joined Brian Koppelman (@BrianKoppelman) on his podcast The Moment to share what he did he to conquer his fears, the placebo effect, and more. Unlike the Ramit Sethi interviews (3) with Pat Flynn which focused on starting a business, Godin’s interviews (2) are more wide ranging.

This is good. Like a salad bar where we can pick and choose what we want or need to eat, Godin provides us with some suggestions on making our lives better.

thedipOne of their interviews was part of the promotion for Godin’s book The Dip, about which Koppelman says:

“That book and the way in which it makes you examine whether you’re on a hopeless endeavour or whether you’re in the moment before success is  crucial. Anyone in any pursuit can profit from that book. It makes you ask difficult questions, and the process from asking those questions will lead you to essential answers.”

Beyond the book there were many other big ideas, why are placebos healthy?

What do you tell that voice in your head?

How do you get an agent?

And much more. Let’s get started.

Placebo for you, placebo for me. Don’t ask your doctor, you can get them for free.

Talk of placebos comes up as Koppelman and Godin settle down in the studio and affix their headphones. Godin says that Beats headphones are less about the sound and more about the  “hey, look at me,” factor.

But there’s nothing wrong with this. The placebo effect is great says Godin, because it’s a low-cost, low-side-effect treatment that anyone can try. And try we should, because placebos are a tool that help change our behavior.

“We are wet machines that can easily be programmed.” – Seth Godin

Scott Adams calls us “moist robots,” and writes:

“The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.”

One way to program ourselves is with placebos. If you think wine is more expensive, says Godin, you will believe it’s better wine. So too for speaker cables (which Godin admits to).

Godin says that it even works on ourselves. We feel good because of the placebo effect, but also because we are the type of people who know the difference.

Brian Koppelman wears Sennheiser headphones because he believes they sound better and (suggests Godin) because he wants to be the type of person who notices this difference.

The voice in our heads that tells us we are the type of person who does something can be quite helpful, except when that voice is a jerk.

How Seth Godin quieted the voice in his head

Godin tells Koppelman that people live in two ways. The first, where most everyone begins, is just living. You respond to your environment and that’s it.

The second is asking what do I want to do with my life. It’s a big shift, says Godin. It’s when you look in the mirror and ask yourself, I’m on this planet and I got a head start, what am I going to do?

This second way is what Wayne Dyer faced. Dyer was about to be awarded tenure and have a job for life. But it wasn’t what he really wanted or needed. For Dyer he wanted the bumpier road with more adventure rather than the manicured sidewalks that a college campus would provide. For a long time Godin lived in the first way – reactionary and attune to the negative voices in his head.

It’s hard for me to imagine Godin as anything but Seth Godin™ but he was. In his early life Godin had a negative voice in his head. At that time he’d lost every election he had ran in. He didn’t make the trivia team he started. He was told by his peers at business school that he didn’t really deserve to be there.

What changed the voice in his head was a road trip. He traveled with a friend who suffered from  depression. When he saw what happened to her, Godin knew he had to change or else that would be him and he changed that negative voice.

We all have that voice, but there are tools readily available to us to quiet that voice.

Jim Kwik suggests we kill ANTS. These automatic negativmatrixleane thoughts can appear at any time and with practice we can stomp them out as quickly as they arrive.

Michael Singer says to visualize the thoughts moving through your brain and lean back. Imagine they go sailing through your mind and disappear into an ether – Matrix style if necessary.

Harv Eker talks back to the voice and tells it, “thank you for sharing.” This he says, is enough to take the sting out of the thoughts. Those thoughts aren’t the final verdict, and you can keep them as one of many options.

Godin didn’t have any of these tools. There was no blog collecting them and he replaced it with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which he “strongly recommends.” Rather than (poorly) explain what it is, I’ll (correctly) share the Wikipedia link.

Don’t put the agent in front of the cart

How do you become successful in _____________? (Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington D.C. Etc.)

You need to do the work. You don’t need an agent, a connection, an in. You don’t need your brother, your boss, your friend of a friend of a friend. You need to do the work. Want to be a writer, Steven Pressfield tells you exactly how:

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 11.39.02 AM

A lot of people want to meet Godin and Koppelman because they’ve got connections. I imagine this word glitters in their minds. Koppelman tells the story about a meeting with a young writer – we’ll call him “Crumbly Comedy. Crumbly was asked Koppelman about possible connections.

Koppelman says that Crumbly wasn’t very funny. If he made a connection that would mean that Koppelman was putting some degree of approval on the kid. Carol Leifer writes in her book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, that she’s stopped making these connections because she’s been burned too many times by them.

So what should Koppelman do?

He doesn’t tell us, but in the meeting he says that his wife suggested that the student connect with his alumni network because there were people there who were exactly who Crumbly hoped to meet. Crumbly balked at the idea.

Godin thinks he knows what’s happening. “His problem is that he likes being an unsuccessful creator of writing,” says Godin, “the comfort is fabulous. It’s bulletproof.”

The reasoning goes, “unsuccessful writer” is a badge someone can wear. It’s an honor they conferred on themselves but didn’t have to take any risk to get. It’s one they think looks like something where people don’t get what they’re doing.

And it’s too bad this student didn’t reach out to the network because even loose similarities can be much more powerful than we realize.

Generally we tend to like people like us, and we don’t even need to be that similar. One study that demonstrates this is about hotel rooms and towels. Many hotels have adopted placards for the bathrooms that say something like, “if you want to use your towel again, hang it up.” hotelbathroomtowelsign

Many times – like this one – there’s a picture of the earth and the guest is left to think about the rainforest, global warming, and other ways to keep the planet healthy.

But why not put a dollar sign? The hotel saves money by doing less laundry, having less staff to to do the laundry, and by keeping fewer towels. The text could say “hang your towel when you are done, and we’ll have more cash to have some fun.” But no hotel puts that because it wouldn’t really be that effective. Well, guess what, “save the earth” isn’t the most effective either.

Placards about doing good are a good place to start, but could be even better. To maximize our persuasion – and most people don’t believe this but it’s true – we have to pull in social pressures.

When a hotel adds “other people who have stayed in this room reused their towels” to the standards “save the earth” card towel reuse increased 33%.

Knowing this we can give Crumbly some advice, in Dear Abby style:

Dear Crumbly Comedy, thanks for writing in and congratulations on your chat with Brian Koppelman. He’s good guy to know, but you can do better. That’s not to dismiss Mr. Koppelman, who’s had great success, but he’s only one person. Your alumni network can cast a much wider net across the same industry, plus your connection with each of them will be stronger. Even though you went to the same school years apart, there’s still a pull they will feel to help.

You have to do the work – there are no shortcuts.

Seth Godin’s advice on how to write a book

While Godin gives the example of a book, it applies to everything. Amanda Palmer makes the point that we are all artists. If you sell cars, you’re an artist. Your stage is the showroom, the car is the prop, your interactions the script. We’re all creating and we are all artists.

But how do you be a successful one?

Make something, says Godin, “If it’s good it will be shared.”

It’s the advice given by Simon Rich, Nicholas Megalis, and Andy Weir – each of whom gave away much of their early work. Godin says there are four steps to writing a book:

1.Write it.

2.Format it nicely.

3.Send it to 100 people.

4.Write your second book. If your first was good enough to get to 10K people, you’ll have no trouble selling your second.

That’s all it takes, and it’s easier than it’s ever been but it’s still not easy.

Both Godin and Koppelman practically sing about the options and instructions available now.

Whatever you want to do in life, there’s a path to get you there

Do you want to write a best selling science fiction book? The best of the best all have specific instructions for you.

  • Neil Gaiman says that if you want to write a Tolkien like novel, don’t read Tolkien like novels.
  • Stephen King says that if you want to write good books you have to read a lot of books.
  • Andy Weir says that if you want to publish something, don’t tell other people you are working on it.

The list of the greats who have given advice goes on, what more do we need? This is like Michael Jordan coaching us on what drills to do each day or Heidi Klum texting us what the next fashions will be.

But no matter how much we hear what people tell us, we have to do it. It’s not about dreaming your way to success says Godin, it’s about looking around and finding goals that you can aim for and pursue.

“I’ve seen this path followed by 1,000 people, where they work as an intern, then in a mailroom… then that’s a goal, you can say this kind of effort will get me there.” – Seth Godin

Godin says that he doesn’t do much consulting anymore because, “If someone hires me to be a consultant, they want me to solve their problem. All I really can do is turn on the lights and help them solve their problem.” He continues, “The paths are well lit.  It doesn’t mean they are easy, it doesn’t mean they aren’t uphill. It doesn’t mean it works for everyone.”

Even if you find yourself on hard path, that might mean you’re on the right one. Ryan Holiday wrote a book with that very title, The Obstacle is The Way. Peter Thiel writes the best founders come from situations that are “difficult but not impossible.”

And you want the hard path rather than the dream path. Dreams are empty calories. Goals are fine, systems are even better, but dreams are hogwash. “The word dream is an impossible place to hide,” says Godin.

We have to start. We have to be in it to win it. “The lottery tickets don’t cost that much,” Godin says, “but if you don’t buy a lottery ticket, you can’t win.”

Orangerie.jpgScott Adams compares life to a slot machine, it’s free to play but you have to be willing to pull the arm.

The journey won’t be a stroll through the gardens of Versailles. This is a hike where you fall down, skin your knee, and sleep on the ground.  But whatever you do, you have to keep going.

Fail, but don’t take it personally

When Godin was younger he listened to a lot of Zig Ziglar and adopted one of his expressions, “no for now.” This temporizes the nature of the rejection for Godin.

Think of it like winning or losing a game of poker, says Godin.

If you don’t know the rules, and lose, then the cause is your ignorance. How do you become less ignorant, you learn the rules. You didn’t lose because you suck. You lost because you didn’t know enough. Fix it for next time.

If you know the rules and lose, then maybe it was bad luck. You have to figure out how often bad luck happens. Ramit Sethi suggests you talk to others and figure out how often they have bad luck. Then you’ll have a number to start with. .

If you learn the rules and lose again, and it’s not bad luck, then maybe poker isn’t for you. Godin tells Koppelman:

“If the phone doesn’t ring, you have to say, I made something that didn’t work, and if you make something that doesn’t work too many times in a row… you might be delusional and thinking you have talent you do not have. So go to another area.”

A pivot like this happens time and time again. Sam Shank pivoted from Hollywood to Silicon Valley. Adam Carolla pivoted from radio to podcasts.

If you’re not a poker player, try a new game. But find one where you want to be around the people there.

Why Seth Godin isn’t on Twitter

Seth Godin isn’t on Twitter because he doesn’t want to bullied. He thinks that if he got on there would be too many people trolling his work – so he stays off. It’s the same thing that Mark Cuban and Zach Lowe talked about. It affects Amanda Palmer, James Altucher, and Jim Kwik.

Koppelman though had success with his Vines, but why would that work? My guess is that the newish medium and type of message acted as a filter to people who followed him. The only people who received the message, were people who wanted it.

Aziz Ansari mentioned the same thing about his comedy in a Freakonomics podcast.

“I’ve been really careful about what I choose to do, and I only do things that I really like. So I do things, if you do a show like Parks, or you do stand-up, which is just gonna be you, like, you’re gonna attract people to your work who are people you would probably enjoy meeting or speaking with. Like if I did some like, douchey show that I didn’t like, I would probably have some douchey fans that I don’t like. But since I’ve done stuff that I’m proud of and respect, the people that come up to me are cool and respect me and I respect them and they’re usually cool people.”

In Ansari’s case the people around him are his fans, and he creates an environment where the only people who want to get in are people he would want in. Being around the right group matters. Paypal succeed – writes Peter Thiel – because everyone there was different in the same way. The Sopranos succeeded – says James Manos – because everyone there was focused on just making a good show. Twisted Sister succeeded – says Jay Jay French – because the guys in the band were focused on making good music.

Just like the foursome of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion all had to be on their way to Oz together, so too do we in our ventures. But on that journey we should not and I mean never, “chase the pudding.”

Don’t chase “the pudding.”

In her book Yes Please, Amy Poehler writes about what it’s like to be nominated for an acting award:

“The worst part of being nominated for any award is that despite your best efforts, you start to want the pudding. You spend weeks thinking about how it doesn’t matter and it’s all just an honor and then seconds before the name of the winner is announced everything inside you screams . . . “GIMME THAT PUDDING!!” Then comes the adrenaline dump, followed by shame. You didn’t even want the pudding and here you are upset that you didn’t get it. You think about all the interviews you did talking about the pudding or all the interviews you passed on because you didn’t want people to think you wanted that pudding too much. You leave the awards show hungry and confused.”

We all have our “pudding.” Godin says he avoids his Amazon number or blog stats because once he starts tracking those things, he’ll want to see them go up. Gretchen Rubin used this in the opposite way with her habits. She noticed that when she started paying attention to things she wanted to improve, she improved them.

That’s not to say you’ll never be tempted. “I still get distracted by the shiny things,” Godin says. To combat these feelings, Godin focuses on finding quality moments rather than quantitative ones. Getting an email from someone that says Godin helped them change is what he wants now. And you need something because the world is full of narratives about the shiny prize.

Godin offers this tip: say no to a really good opportunity. In his case it was an offer of $1B for a project. Godin said no. When he did this, he tells Koppelman, it freed him to say no to every other deal that comes after it, because none of them will be better.

When do you start?

There’s one question to ask yourself, says Godin, and it comes from a trivia competition.

Godin saw with his trivia team that it’s not enough to know the answer. You need to know the answer and buzz in first. You need to ask, am I the type of person who knows how to do this?

That’s all you need to begin. Are you the type of person who knows how to write a book, build a business, start a podcast? Then begin.

Other bits of wisdom

Oh man, there was so much more good stuff in the interviews and you should certainly listen. Here are a few other takeaways.

  • Find a good zone of risk. Godin does his best work on an edge where a project might fail, but avoids ones where everything he’s built might fail. The former gives enough risk for him to feel like he’s doing his best work, the latter brings anxiety that prevents it.
  • Read Finite and Infinite Games, Jon Acuff’s Do Over, and Man on a Wire.
  • Push yourself in some area of your life. Godin praises Koppelman for taking a risk with songwriting and says that the unease from that will positively bleed over into other areas of his life.
  • Find a middle ground between perfectionism and “always be shipping.” You don’t want to constantly be pushing or constantly holding back says Godin.

If that doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what does. Go download these interviews so that you can listen to them while you do the work. For more check out the Brian Koppelman and Seth Godin interviews with James Altucher

// Versailles Photo Credit: “Orangerie” by Urban at fr.wikipedia – From French fr:Image:Orangerie.jpg, personal photo under GFDL license by fr:Utilisateur:Urban. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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