Small business marketing resources

Interview with Seth Godin

Seth Godin: On Passion, Fighting Resistance & Being Weird

Seth Godin doesn’t need an introduction.

You already know about his booksremarkable, etc.  And simply highlighting some of his other achievements wouldn't do him justice anyway.  Read his full bio instead.

This interview focuses on what you might not know about Seth, and getting to know what drives him to be a successful artist and business man.

Seth shares the following in this insightful interview:

  • His business ventures starting at age 14
  • Why “gift giving” is important to him
  • How he fights resistance and “lizard brain” thinking
  • Why fear motivates him
  • How he chooses employees and business partners
  • What defines a great boss
  • Why it’s important to be passionate enough to fail
  • Why small businesses need to embrace and love the weird

Read the full interview with Seth . . .

Seth Godin

Interview with Seth Godin

Seth, you’ve challenged all of us to get up and do something that we’re passionate about. You live this out by writing about what you love, leading The Domino Project to help authors, working with the Acumen Fund to help reduce world poverty, etc. Was there a point in your life when you decided to follow your passions as a career? What resistance did you face?

Seth: When I was 14 and starting my own business, or 16 and running a for profit ski club, or 19 and forgoing business opportunities or real-world experience to work with kids at a camp in Northern Ontario, not many people were congratulating me on following my passion. I've always done that, with the very rare exceptions (easily remembered because they were so horrible). It seems as though work with passion is so much more fulfilling and efficient that it's a reasonable choice for everyone, not just an exception.

At the root, you are a gift giver. You give of your time and energy to help others – and often take on projects that may not benefit you financially. What drives you to be a gift giver?

Seth: Gifts are not favors. If you expect something in return, it's not a gift.

So why give them? What's in it for you?

Seth: I've found that giving gifts is transformative. It makes me better. It clarifies my thinking and allows me to do better work. I see things differently when I'm focused on opening doors for other people, and more often than not, my doors are opened as well. At the same time, I sleep better... I feel like I'm treating people as I'd like to be treated.

In 2009, you offered a six-month alternative MBA program absolutely free. Why did you give away so much of your time to mentor? And what did you learn from the experience?

Seth: I learned a great deal about how people think, about different sorts of worldviews, about the resistance, about new ways of teaching. I also made some friends for life.

You’ve written extensively on fear and resistance in Linchpin – and how it holds us back from breaking away from the status quo to do something new. How do you fight your own fears and “lizard brain” thinking to move forward with your new ideas and business initiatives?

Seth: I think the key is to give it a name and to befriend it. When you recognize its tone of voice, don't recoil and hide. Say hello, welcome it in, make it a cup of tea. The lizard brain isn't going to respect your weakness, but your calm certainty will run it out of town.

In a previous interview, you mentioned that fear is often a signal that you’re headed in the right direction. Can you elaborate on that?

Seth: Our economy is organized around people who are artists, who stand out, who lead and who make a difference. All things the lizard hates. So if the lizard is hating, you might just be on the right track.

You encourage people to be indispensable with a desire to embrace the edge, so I know you must have very high standards when hiring an employee – or choosing a business partner. How do you choose employees or people you’ll work with?

Seth: For me, the only way that makes sense is to turn freelancers into project directors into employees. If you have a tiny team, you owe it to yourself and to them to work together first. For someone hiring wholesale, that's not going to work, but unfortunately, that's pretty rare.

How do you work on keeping your employees motivated?

Seth: I don't! The only long-term motivation is self motivation. So hire people who are self motivated and get out of their way.

What do you think are elements of a great boss?

Seth: Challenging people in the right way. Leading, not managing. Supporting them by giving them both a platform they can count on and expectations they can stretch for.

Many employees are passionate about their work – and striving to innovate—but are always running into roadblocks at work. Many end up feeling discouraged because their ideas are never taken seriously or are not reaching the right people. Any encouragement for them?

Seth: I think the secret is small failures. If you're passionate, be passionate enough to fail. Fail small, accept responsibility, repeat. The people who make change are the survivors of serial failure.

Some will argue that everyone is replaceable. How do you respond to that?

Seth: At some level, sure. But there's a huge difference between being a replaceable cog on the assembly line, where 120 seconds is all it takes, and being the one who is missed, the one with a unique contribution, the one who made a difference.

In We Are All Weird, you write “the opportunity of our time is to support the weird, to sell to the weird and, if you wish, to become weird.” Your book goes into detail on this, but could you share what this means to the small business owner?

Seth: Most small-business owners pretend that they are merely small big businesses. They're not. They're micro. They're scalpels, not machetes; they are focused, not diffuse. So, instead of caring about everyone and taking what you can get, embrace a subset, find the weird, and love them more than anyone else ever could.

Some might think it’s weird to decide to only publish 11,000 copies of your new book. You could make a lot more money in the long run by printing more. Can you talk about what led to your decision to do that?

Seth: The only reason to buy a paper book any longer is to own it and cherish it and remember it and tell a story about it. If limiting the supply helps with this, then it works. Digital is better at infinity -- the ebook will never go away!

Recommended Reading

On Management

On Being Indispensable

On Fighting Fear & Resistance

On Gift Giving

On Being Passionate

On Being Weird