Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is that all there is? No.

A conversation with Linchpin author Seth Godin


Q: How did you write this book? I follow your blog at http://sethgodin.typepad.com, and have read most of what you've posted and published during the last decade, but most everything herein seems new — at least to me. Given your schedule of blogging and other work, where and how did you write this?

A: We have so much time, all of us. We don't have to spend hours tilling the fields or 12 hours in the factory; we don't have to walk three hours just to get water. We have time for TV and time for a restaurant and time to update Facebook. Making time to write isn't a challenge for me. I could write a book every month if I felt like it would help move the needle for people.

I think the hard part isn't finding time; the hard part is deciding that we're worthy. The hard part is overcoming the fear of actually making something happen. Fortunately for me, when it comes to writing, I'm fearless.

I write on my laptop. I write in moleskin notebooks. I write on post-its. For this book, I stopped at the Muji store in Newark airport and bought their biggest-size Japanese notebook. Bigger than usual, because I wanted bigger ideas than usual. And then I bought some special pens, pens just for writing this book. If I opened the big book and took out the big pen, then, it was to write something big.

And I just wrote. A lot. And fast.

I ended up deleting more than half the stuff I wrote. Words I loved, like little members of the family, but words that weren't going to help advance my argument. Sometimes writing less is worth more.

Q: You seem frustrated. Your tone isn't angry, bitter or snarky but... disappointed. Are you?

A: Very disappointed. Disappointed that we're close to blowing it. We've taken so much from the system and from the land, and for what? To buy a bigger house? What a waste. I'm disappointed that we built a system where we've worked so hard to cull the creatives, to dampen the outspoken ideas, to maximize efficiency. And then we smugly call it a dream, when it's not what it could be.

I walk into a museum or a concert hall or a kindergarten or a Fast Company advance or TED or read your column and then I feel better. Better because we haven't extinguished the opportunity, just diminished it. I'm working overtime to pour a little gas on the embers.

Q: All of your books focus on individuals as well as businesses, but this one is directed at employees more than anyone else. Why them?

A: I hear a lot of people talking about the system or their boss . . about how they're not allowed or permitted to do work that matters. A lot of my books have focused on strategy and mechanics and the fundamental shifts in the marketing dynamic, but I've come to see that this is really a grass-roots problem. If you've been brainwashed into believing that the system wants you to be a certain way, it's going to be hard for you to do the work you're capable of. So I'm trying to call people out and help them see that there has never been another time, certainly not in our lifetimes, where individual initiative is easier or better rewarded.

Q: I read a lot of books, yet of those in your bibliography, I've only read a few, which is very exciting to me! But the fact is, most people I talk to say they don't read -- books, newspapers, Kindle whatevuh. Is this aliteracy a problem, in your opinion?

A: A bigger problem than nonliteracy is noncuriosity. Reading is a great way to feed your curiosity, but it's not the only way. I want our kids (and my peers) to get better and more comfortable at asking, "Why does it work that way?'' and "How can I change it?'' The more you read, the more likely you are to ask (and answer) those questions. We've never had more words to choose from, never had them more easily available, and never had so few people who could read, not do so.

We fought for the right to have this choice and this leverage, and I hope we don't blow it. Can you imagine how much it cost to build and deliver the Internet? Why? So we could watch Paris Hilton videos on demand?

Q: Why did you essentially bypass the MSM [main-stream media] and newspapers by not sending review copies of Linchpin? Was this a cost-cutting decision or what, not making ARCs [advance review copies] and sending hundreds out? Or was there another reason, after all, you're generally pretty well reviewed!

A: Here's the thing, Richard: The MSM is mistreating big thinking book reviewers by firing them, cutting their column inches or yes, going out of business. The few reviewers who are left have a long line out the door of authors waiting for attention. Add to that the status quo mind-set of most MSM papers . . . I just didn't see the point of enduring snarky feedback from someone with a lot of fear of change and a lot of leverage. So I made the decision to write a book reviewers might not like, but one that my readers might embrace and share. And my publisher backed my decision of going directly to my newly empowered readers, the ones with blogs and twitter accounts and passion -- and giving them the same respect and attention we previously paid to traditional reviewers.

It's faster, cheaper and a lot scarier. Scarier because you can't tailor the message to a particular reviewer and because it hadn't been done before and because there's a lot of people at once. But one thing I learned from writing this book is that often, scarier is exactly what you should do.

Q: And, of course, your next book is...? (Ha!)

A: Truth: I haven't written a page, not even a word, of a new book since I handed this book in. I'm empty, at least right now. I gave this every single drop I had.

Q: Bonus points: Linchpin, to me, fits quite neatly between Daniel Pink's last book, A Whole New Mind, and his new one, Drive. Agree, disagree or what?

A: Just to be compared to Dan is an honor.

You have to write a book about a year before it comes out, so figuring out what's next is a challenge. If Dan and I are in sync, that helps me sleep better.

Originally published in The Miami Herald

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