The best quotes from Seth Godin’s interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast
Tim Ferriss’ podcast is one of my favorites. He recently interviewed Seth Godin, who I’d never heard of. It’s possible I should be embarrassed about that. But that is one of the things I love about listening to podcasts like Tim’s or to the Longform podcast: they take me out of my narrow experience and introduce me to people who many times I didn’t know existed who are brilliant and provocative thinkers, and I am exposed to and interact with their point of view.
Seth is an entrepreneur, a marketer, a public thinker, and he is passionate about something I am increasingly passionate about as the father of five children: education. (And when I say education, I don’t mean what happens to my children’s brains only. I mean their whole person: their mind, their soul, their emotions, etc.).
I’ve transcribed my favorite parts of Seth’s interview with Tim. Here is the link to the full interview. Many thanks to Tim for doing this. And one note, when you read Seth’s comment about Suzuki’s versus Harleys, compare that analogy to politics. Jeb Bush is a Suzuki. Donald Trump is a Harley.
SETH GODIN on the Tim Ferriss podcast
On deciding whether to be an entrepreneur — 47 minutes
Let’s pick two different kind of entrepreneurs. One kind of entrepreneur, you say, ‘Who’s need am I satisfying today, and can I assemble assets where I satisfy in a defensible way so I don’t have to be the cheapest?’ And by that I mean … snow shoveling. We know there’s a need for snow shoveling. We know that if you spend time and effort, you can arrange a team of ten snow shovelers who don’t have the initiative you have, and you can use existing almost free technology to assign the snow shovelers to where they need to go. You’re not going to win because you’re the cheapest snow company. You’re going to win because you can get to customers faster and better and more efficiently. That’s a very straightforward form of entrepreneurship. It is available to everyone without an enormous amount of talent or artistic creativity required. Because you just make a list of the thousand things around you that people need and want. You make a list of the kind of assets and connections you can build, and you go do it. And you do it and you do it and you do it until you’re big enough. The other kind to quote Michael Schraeg here, is to say, ‘The purpose of my business is to change people, to change them from something into something else.’ This is the kind of business that we remember generations later. So, Harley Davidson, my favorite example, changed disrespected, disconnected outsiders into respected family members, insiders. That’s what you get when you pay $12,000 for a motorcycle. Because if all you want is transport, buy a Suzuki. And the way to think about it is, no one gets a Suzuki tattoo. You can decide that you want to be tattoo worthy, that you want to change a population in a way that makes you indispensable. That kind of entrepreneurship requires insight at a different level. Ther’es nothing unattainable about it. I encourage people to go do it, but know that it is a higher stakes game than being a person who applies systems thinking to an existing clear need.
You are an employee of the social media companies — 59 minutes
If I’m busy sorting through more stuff, the cognitive load goes up and I can’t do what Neil Gaiman does. Neil famously has said that the way he writes a book is he makes himself extremely bored. And if he’s bored enough, a book is going to come out, because he needs to entertain himself. Well the problem most people don’t understand about social media: social media wasn’t invented to make you better. It was invented to make the companies money. And you are an employee of the company and you are the product that they sell. And they have put you in a little hamster wheel and they throw little treats in now and then. But you gotta decide, what’s the impact you’re trying to make? … One of the biggest misunderstandings of the people who are into that whole quantified self thing is, they are confusing quantifying the self with dancing with the fear, and they’re completely different things to do in a given day. One is tailorism, it’s scientific management, it’s productivity. We need to move these widgets from one place to another, what’s the most efficient way. And I’m glad we got good at industry because it makes our lives more rich, right? But our economy, our world and our soul aren’t fulfilled by that. They’re fulfilled by people who do something that has never been done before. And if it’s never been done before you can’t quantify it because it’s never been done before. And so to be good at it doesn’t mean you quantify your way to it. It means you clear the decks so that all that’s left is you and the muse, you and the fear, you and the change you want to make in the world … We don’t need folks like that to go from 90 words per minute to 120 words per minute when they type. It’s not a factor. What we need is for them to type something that’s worth reading.
The scarcity of attention and trust, and what it means for book publishing — 1:03
Trust and attention .. are the two things that are scarce … Attention is .. scarce because we’re not making any moe of it. And there are ever more tools to interrupt ever more people. But interrupting people well is not easy. And it doesn’t really scale. So the first thing we have to do is earn attention. And if we earn attention, over time we gain trust. So if someone says, ‘Tim Ferriss is coming to give a speech tomorrow,’ the other person doesn’t say, ‘Tell me exactly what he’s going to say and then I’ll decide if I’m gonna come.’ They say, ‘Oh Tim Ferriss, I trust him, I’ll come.’ That’s what we seek to build. So the book industry is magical. Because the book industry, 500 years of the book industry is someone at a publisher picked you, said to their readers, ‘I care enough about this idea that I’ll spend x number of dollars to bring it to you.’ The bookstore said — this is before there was infinite shelf space — there are a lot of books we could del you but we picked this one because the publisher is so excited. And then by the time the reader touches it, it’s a trustworthy object. Now that’s being hacked and hacked and hacked some more. You can buy your way onto the New York Times best seller list for not much money. You can self-publish a book that looks like a real book. You can put — anyone can publish for the Kindle, therefore anyone does. We’re stripping away the trust-building element of the book industry, but if your book did work and people encountered it and now they trust you, then the job is to find a social media platform — there isn’t one right answer — where you can continue to connect people, continue to tell stories so you earn more trust, more permission. More permission gets your more attention, which gets you more trust, which lets you make the change you want to make in the universe.
How do we help our children flourish? — 1:35
Sooner or later parents have to take responsibility for putting their kids into a system that is indebting them and teaching them to be cogs in an economy that doesn’t want cogs anymore. Parents get to decide. I’m a huge fan of public school … But from 3 to 10 those kids are getting homeschooled, and they’re either getting homeschooled watching the Flintstones or they’re getting homeschooled in learning something useful. And I think we need to teach kids two things: one, how to lead, and two, how to solve interesting problems.
There are plenty of countries on earth where people are willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. So we cannot out-obedience the competition. Therefore we have to out lead or out solve the other people … who want whatever is scarce. The way you teach your kid to solve interesting problems is to give them interesting problems to solve. And then, don’t criticize them when they fail. Kids aren’t stupid. If they get in trouble every time they try to solve an interesting problem, they’ll just go back to getting an A by memorizing what’s in the text book …
We don’t need to have them spend a lot of time getting good grades so they can get into a famous college, because famous colleges don’t work anymore. Famous colleges don’t work anymore. The point is, is there an entity that will have trouble living without you when you seek to earn a living? Because if there is, you’ll be able to make a living. If on the other hand you’re waiting in the placement office for someone to pick you, you will be persistently undervalued.
You’re not too busy to be a parent — 1:38
You know super well that busy is a trap and that busy is a myth. What could possibly be more important than your kid? Please don’t play the busy card. If you spend two hours a day without an electronic device, looking your kid in the eye, talking to them and solving interesting problems, you will raise a different kid than someone who doesn’t do that. And that’s one of the reasons why I cook dinner every night. Because what a wonderful semi-distracted environment for the kid to tell you the truth, for you to have low-stakes but super important conversations with someone who’s important to you. This idea: get home from work, put on some sneakers and go for a walk with your kid. My friend Brian walks his daughter to school every day. That’s priceless. How can you be too busy to do that?