Design Matters From the Archive: Seth Godin

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In his third Design Matters interview, writer Seth Godin riffs on his 20th book—“The Practice”—a milestone text exploring creativity and the sheer power of doing the work and putting it out into the world.

Transcript

 

Debbie Millman:

Seth Godin chose an unusual title for his latest book. It’s called The Practice. The subtitle is even more enigmatic—it is Shipping Creative Work. Seth’s new book is about the practice of creativity and the process of doing creative work. But shipping? How do you ship creative work? Well, lucky for us, Seth Godin is here to tell us about his title and his book, and about unlocking our creative energies by learning to trust ourselves. It’s his 20th book. And for Seth Godin’s many fans in the creative world, myself included, this is something of an event. Seth Godin, welcome back to Design Matters.

 

Seth Godin:

I have lost the ability to speak, and I have chills. I have chills. It’s good to see you, Debbie.

 

Debbie Millman:

Oh, thank you, thank you. Seth, this is our third interview, but this is the first one where I’m not sitting next to you talking side by side. So, I’m going to start my interview with a question I’ve been asking a lot of people via Zoom these days: How are you doing during these strange and surreal times?

 

Seth Godin:

Compared to most people, I’m doing very well. I’m so lucky, so many breaks, my family’s doing well. One of the challenges so many of us have is that life is always uneven, and usually, when you’re in a slog, there’s someone around you you can look to, who’s not. But this is universal, and it’s been a slog. I don’t think many people are going to miss 2020, but it’s also been a chance to decide what’s important, and to lean harder into that stuff.

 

Debbie Millman:

How has this changed what you think of as important? Or has it?

 

Seth Godin:

Well, I’ve slept in the same bed every night since March 7, which is the first time I’ve done that for seven months in a row since I was 7 years old. I’ve really tried hard to focus on the work that only I can do, that I do in an idiosyncratic way, that gives me fuel, as opposed to keeping the plates spinning just cause they were spinning. And I miss being with people a great deal, but that means I treasure the interactions I have with people like you in this moment even more.

 

Debbie Millman:

Listeners of my show know that I like to take a long journey into a person’s life in a sort of classic Design Matters interview. And we’ve done that twice now in our previous interviews in 2014 and 2017. This time, I get the great, good fortune of a deep dive into your brand-new book. And the book is so good, and I’ve told you this already, but I’m going to say it again for my listeners, that it’s pretty much all I want to talk about. I highlighted and noted so many topics in this book. I, for the first time ever in my life, surpassed the amount the Kindle lets you export. So, it’s the first time in the history of the show and history of my life that I’ve had to do that. I had to buy two Kindle copies from two different accounts so that I could highlight and take notes on everything I needed. I think that I highlighted about 23% of the book.

 

Seth Godin:

I am so moved by this. You’re a hoot.

 

Debbie Millman:

I am a hoot. I even talked about this book on another podcast that I did earlier in the week. So, as I mentioned in my introduction, your new book is titled The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. Before we talk about the title and the topics, let’s talk about the number—book No. 20. Wow, that’s a lot of books.

 

Seth Godin:

If you keep showing up, sooner or later … I mean, I certainly didn’t set out to do it. I used to be in the business of making books. I’m not anymore. I make a book if I have no choice. It is hardly a profession, it is something that we do when we can’t get rid of an idea, and where we think it’s going to be generous. But it takes a year of your life, whereas a blog post takes a couple of days. And it’s a lot of pushing things uphill, so I’m super proud to have done these books, but really grateful for the industry that lets me do it, and for the readers who let me do it. But I don’t know when I’m going to be crazy enough to do it again.

 

Debbie Millman:

Well, interestingly, in a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, you stated that probably for the last five books, you felt like you didn’t know when the next book after it would be coming. And this is one of those books. And you go on to state that if this had to be your last book, you’d be proud to make this your last book. So, I have two questions about this. First, what gave you the sense after the last five books that they could be your last? And why, if The Practice is indeed your last book, would that be OK?

 

Seth Godin:

OK. Some of it has to do with the fact that I’ve been on the edge of media for 40 years, and I think hard about how media works. And in the case of book publishing, the book publishing industry has a customer, and its customer is the bookseller. That’s why there’s no phone number in the back of your book, why you can’t call Random House, because Random House doesn’t sell to you, they sell to the bookstore. And the bookstores are all gone. And independent bookstores are wonderful, but they can’t sustain what’s going on here. And as a result, the book publisher, which offers so many things to the author, is clearly threatened because it’s being disintermediated by the fact that if you want to put a book on the Kindle, you can just put a book on the Kindle.

 

What that means is that if you want to publish a book and do good work on behalf of your publisher, there’s an enormous amount of heavy lifting that goes beyond typing the thing up. And talking to you is a joy, but I’ve done a lot of podcasts and a lot of work to get the word out, to cause people to do something that’s now unnatural, which is to go buy a book. And I’m fortunate, you’re fortunate, lots of people are fortunate that we can reach a lot of people by clicking a few keys on our keyboard. So, I need a really good reason to hoard an idea and put it in book form. So, that’s part of it. And part of it is I turned 60, and I am not entitled to just keep writing books whenever I want. I’m doing it for my readers. And if I don’t have something that’s book-worthy, then I’m not going to put it in a book.

 

And I don’t view myself as being beholden to the process of, you write another book, write another book, write another book, like I used to be. And so, if it’s not there, it’s not there. And I don’t feel like I’m going to die tomorrow, but I think all of us are aware of our mortality and want to leave behind work that we’re proud of. And when I look at this book … I reread it in the middle of the pandemic, because if it wasn’t, if it was tone deaf, I wasn’t going to publish it. And when I reread it, I said to myself, “I’m OK with this. This is something I think people need to hear.”

 

Debbie Millman:

You just mentioned that you didn’t think you were entitled. You use the word entitled to necessarily write another book. Why that specific word?

 

Seth Godin:

Because you’re taking up space on the bookshelf, and you’re taking up space in people’s heads, and you’re taking a spot away from the next voice, maybe somebody who didn’t get the privilege that I got, maybe they didn’t get the platform that I got. And there’s a scarcity in the world, a scarcity of attention, and a scarcity of trust, and I’m aware every day of not abusing the trust that I have, and not overloading people. Because it’s not about me, it’s about what connections can I create and what opportunities can I offer to people? Because the only way we’re going to make things better is peer-to-peer. It’s not going to come from somebody on a white horse, it’s going to come because each one of us figured out how to elevate 10 other people.

 

Debbie Millman:

The Practice is a book with 230 chapters, but it is also a book that is less than 230 pages long. So, can you talk a little bit about the structure?

 

Seth Godin:

OK. So, my brain, thanks to ADD, has always—“Oh, look, a puppy”—has always been easily distracted.

 

Debbie Millman:

I’m like, “I just got a puppy.” I’m like, “Did he come in?”

 

Seth Godin:

And the internet showed up and made it so that people with that sort of attention span did better for a while, because it rewards this stop-and-start thing. So my writing has always been a little bit choppy in that sense, but what I wanted to do here was lay a foundation, 200 bricks, one after another, and it felt to me like the bite-sized morsels that followed each other in appropriate ways match the way so many of us are thinking in this moment. But I’m also hopeful that it’s more than a collection of posts. It really should weave together.

 

Debbie Millman:

You’ve also said that the book could be a workshop that lasted 150 days. So, why the difference? Because that’s a long period of time versus the shorter, more concentrated chapters?

 

Seth Godin:

It actually is a workshop that lasted 150 days.

 

Debbie Millman:

So, it is. OK.

 

Seth Godin:

I made the workshop first. It took two years to make the workshop. And the ideas in the book started as … I think there are 50 principle lessons inside the workshop, but then I got to watch 500 people exchange 500 pieces of feedback per month with each other, back and forth, more than a half a million in total over the course of the workshop, back and forth, people doing this work. And the challenge of the workshop is, we say, “Show up for 100 days, 100 days in a row, you don’t have to spend a lot of time, five minutes, we don’t care, write something for 100 days in a row.”

 

What happened stunned me, because I’ve been running these workshops for a while in other topics, but the community showed up and they did it, and books were published, and businesses were started, and connections were made, because streaks work, and streaks matter. You have built a lifetime of streaks, Debbie, first with your branding business, and then as a dean and a teacher. If you know you’re going to class tomorrow, your brain is working on it tonight. You don’t make a new decision every day, you make the streak decision once. And watching people who had been unprofessional about their creativity turning pro all as a group. So, we ran it again, and it worked even better the second time. So we’re running it again, we … I’m not we anymore, Akimbo is running it again in January, and it’s extraordinary to see what people are capable of once they commit to it.

And so, once there was a workshop, turning it into a book, that was the straightforward part.

 

Debbie Millman:

Let’s talk about the title and the subtitle.

 

Seth Godin:

OK.

 

Debbie Millman:

The entire book title is The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. And I’m wondering if we can deconstruct it a little bit.

 

Seth Godin:

Yes, please.

 

Debbie Millman:

So, first, The Practice, you state that the practice is choice, plus skill, plus attitude. So, is that the backstory for the title and use of the word, “the practice”?

 

Seth Godin:

The backstory of the title is that the title is really trust yourself. And I own trustyourself.com, which wasn’t cheap, and I’m bad at ignoring some costs sometimes, so, I keep referring to it in my head as trust yourself. Why trust yourself? People talk to themselves. I talked to myself, maybe you talk to yourself, but we don’t really freak out about the fact that someone is talking to someone. There are two selves, the one that is talking, and the one that is listening. Which one is which? The one who is talking is a critic, is afraid, is a perfectionist. And the one who is being talked to is soft at heart, and brilliant, and generous, and has something to say. And we can extinguish it. Pressfield calls this resistance.

And if we could learn to trust that other voice and let it speak up, there’s no guarantee it’s going to work. Most of the time, it won’t, but it’s the best path to doing the work we need to do to trust ourselves. And the great Niki Papadopoulos, my editor at Penguin, said, “That’s a really good riff, but it’s not a really good title, because it’s too complicated and it doesn’t evoke what you’re after.” And the reason you work with someone like her is so you can listen to her. Because, as I pointed out in the book, good criticism is really scarce, and she knows what she’s doing. So, I had to take my advice and I listened to her. So, The Practice is simple, The Practice says, “We merely do this work. We make the choice to do the work, and then we do it without commentary, without drama, without reassurance, without needing to be assured of an outcome. We merely do the work.”

 

And I know a lot of creative people, not as many as you, but a lot, who have become famous, who have won awards, who are successful in every field, and this is what they have in common. It’s not a talent, it’s not something that the muse touched them and not somebody else—they simply do the work. And there are times that they’ll do a hack just to succeed, but most of the time when they’re proud of their work, it’s because they have a practice, and the practice is its own reward. And its output is a thing that might lead to the thing you’re hoping for, but that’s not why you do it, you do it because it’s your practice.

 

Debbie Millman:

Well, we’re actually going to take a deep dive into many of the words you just used—hack, trust, reassurance, especially reassurance, and so forth. In the book, you write that the practice is agnostic about the outcome, and the practice remains regardless of the outcome. Can you elaborate a little bit on what you mean by agnostic?

 

Seth Godin:

Let me just use an example that might not sound like it’s a creative’s work, which is being a doctor. If you are a podiatrist, you probably don’t have many patients dying on you, but if you’re an oncologist, unfortunately, you do. Does that mean an oncologist is not as good a doctor as a podiatrist? Of course not. It just means that the oncologist does her work, and her best work often leads to a good outcome, but sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s not about the work, that’s about the outcome. And it’s impossible to become an emergency room doctor or an oncologist and say, “I will only do it as long as everyone lives.” Can’t have it, doesn’t work. And the same thing’s true if you’re a blogger. You can’t say, “I will only blog if every blog I write works on everyone every time.” You simply do the work.

 

Now, you should learn from what you do, because if you’re busy writing your blog in Italian, and everyone who reads it only speaks English, you need to do a different kind of work. But learning from the work is different than trying to control the outcome as you do the work, because that means you’re not trusting yourself.

 

Debbie Millman:

Yeah, it’s so interesting. I used to say when Twitter was 140 characters that we lived in a 140-character culture, and now that it’s 240, I guess, or whatever it is, 280, I guess I could say we’re in a 280-character culture. I was doing a talk years ago when blogging was really, really big. And a young woman at the end of the talk, when it was the Q&A time, raised her hand and asked me … oh, actually she told me that she had started a blog, and that she was really frustrated because she was not able to catch anybody’s attention, that people weren’t reading, commenting, noticing. She was quite concerned and frustrated. And I asked her how long she had been doing it. And without missing a beat, Seth, she looked at me and said, “Six weeks.”

 

I have sandwiches in my refrigerator older than six weeks. And so, what kind of longevity do you think that people should anticipate before they can even begin to think of greatness when they’re attempting to do something new?

 

Seth Godin:

I was with you until the last sentence. You can be great on your second try. You can’t be popular on your second try.

 

Debbie Millman:

OK. Yep, I get it.

 

Seth Godin:

This is podcast number 800 for you, or something like that?

 

Debbie Millman:

That’s what it feels like.

 

Seth Godin:

It’s a lot.

 

Debbie Millman:

Something like that.

 

Seth Godin:

You were the pioneer. How many people listened to the second episode of your podcast? 10?

 

Debbie Millman:

If that.

 

Seth Godin:

Right?

 

Debbie Millman:

And if you take out my family, maybe two.

 

Seth Godin:

Every single podcast starts with 10 listeners, every one. Every blog starts with 10 readers. So, we first begin by understanding that commercial success or audience size. You could get lucky, you could not get lucky. They’re unrelated to what you did. But No. 2 two is, great has nothing to do with popular. And if you seek to be popular, you’re listening to the wrong two people right now. If you seek to do work that changes a person, five people, nine people, well, then Debbie Millman is a really good person to listen to.

 

Debbie Millman:

Well, you write that the practice demands that we seek to make an impact on someone, but not everyone. Is there an ideal number of someones that people should?

 

Seth Godin:

The ideal number is the smallest number you can live with. And so, in my case, that’s 10,000 people. If 10,000 people like my work enough to interact with it and share it, not only do I feel seen, I can make a commercial success with that. And that means that 99.9999% of the people on Earth never need to hear of me. We are not selling ketchup, Debbie, we are not selling Kraft Singles, what we are doing is selling something peculiar and idiosyncratic and specific to just a few people. And if you’re a podcaster on a specific topic, you could easily be successful by any measure with 300 loyal listeners. It’s not about how many people. The social media folks want you to think that because they’re in the business of making you feel uncomfortable, coming back and boosting … and the boost button is your enemy.

 

Debbie Millman:

Yeah. One of the things that I think really confuses and deflates a lot of new podcasters is the way that Apple measures their charts, the way that they construct their charts. Their charts are based on impact, not actual numbers. So, if you have a brand-new podcast and a bunch of your friends are listening, chances are you’re going to hit the charts. But after eight, 10, 12 weeks, because that impact isn’t really necessarily changing with any kind of big delta, you drop off. And people start so excited—“I hit the No. 1 place,” or, “I made the Top 10.” And I want to say, don’t look at the charts, because in three months, you’re going to be crying, and you don’t want that. You need to make 10 or 20 podcasts before you even launch. So, you’re doing it because you want to do it, and then let it happen as it happens.

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah. And if you’re doing the work for someone, who cares what the chart says? Famously, a few years ago, I fired The New York Times on my blog with detail about how it’s corrupt and corrupted, and how every week, The New York Times intentionally publishes a full page of information that they know is not true. And yet, so many authors talk to me, “I want to be on …” “Why? Why do you want to be in New York … Why?” “Well, I know it’s corrupt, but, yeah.” So, what you’re really looking for is reassurance and validation. That’s not why we do creative work.

 

Debbie Millman:

Right. We are going to talk about that at length. Before we get to that, I want to talk about one of my favorite things you write about, and that’s the concept of practice relating to sports. And you state, “No one criticizes the home run hitter for taking batting practice. At the same time, no one is surprised that 70% of the time, they don’t even reach first base. If you need a guarantee of critical and market success every time you seek to create, you found a great place to hide. If the need for critical and market success has trapped you into not being bold again, you found another place to hide.” And I talk to my students a lot about these stats. Most people don’t even realize that people like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, failed more than they succeeded with their respective averages.

 

Michael Jordan only got the ball in the basket 35% of the time. That means 65% of the time, he failed. And he’s the greatest of all time, or maybe him and LeBron. But people don’t realize how many times you have to do it to actually be able to even predict the possibility that you’re going to get it in the basket.

 

Seth Godin:

Well, if we think about the infinite game, which is more interesting to me than the finite game, the infinite game, Jim Carse rest in peace, and Simon Sinek’s follow-up, is the game we play because we get to play. If you’re playing catch with your niece who’s 4 years old, you don’t try to win at catch, you try to play catch because that’s the purpose. And the fact that we are lucky enough to be able to play catch is a thrill. We don’t practice our catch so that we can win next time, we practice our catch because the practice is the point. And I’ve been to several of the sessions you’ve run with students and the graduations and stuff, and you can feel the fear in the air, these group projects of people who want to make sure that they fit in all the way, because they’ve been brainwashed for 15 or 20 years to fit in all the way.

 

And as hard as you are working to help them see that there are no prizes for fitting in, it’s still so hard to stand out, because when we stand out … when I used to travel the world, people would come up to me afterwards and they’d say, “In our country, we have this thing called the tall poppy syndrome, where the tall poppies get cut down. I know you don’t know what that is.” They say that to me in every country I go to. Tall poppy syndrome started in ancient Rome or Greece, and it’s this idea that a despot just beheads the people who speak up the most. And then everybody becomes afraid. So, we’ve now translated that into an excuse to keep us from doing the work that we want to share. But the perversity of it is in the culture we live in now. Those are the only people who get prizes. Those are the only people who come out ahead.

 

It’s not the ones who say, “This is blameless, I fit in all the way.” It’s the ones who, a lot of people say, “I don’t get it. I don’t get it.” Those are the surprise bestsellers.

 

Debbie Millman:

Right. It’s so interesting that you bring up students because I very intentionally set up my program so that it was pass/fail. There’s no grades. And I can’t begin to tell you how many people still want to know how they’re doing. And I always say to them, “You know how you’re doing. Nothing I say is going to change how you think you’re doing deep down.” And that is the whole notion of that reassurance that you’re talking about. Before we get to that, and I keep teasing it—

 

Seth Godin:

It’s great.

 

Debbie Millman:

… but I do want to talk about the second half of the title. That’s all we’ve gotten to in this one, is the title.

 

Seth Godin:

Can you give me a seven-part series?

 

Debbie Millman:

Yes. The concept of shipping creative work. Why the specific word, ship?

 

Seth Godin:

If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count.

 

Debbie Millman:

So, could ship be publish, or post, or blog, or share? So, it’s really just—

 

Seth Godin:

If it’s in your head, it doesn’t count. I can tell you how many internet things I have pioneered in my head years before they were real. Doesn’t count. Why doesn’t it count? Because you’re not doing this work for you, you’re doing this work for those eight people, or those 80 people, or those 800 people. And if they never see the work, it doesn’t count. And the word work is also in the subtitle because work means you’re on the hook, and you don’t get to do it because you feel like it, you do it because you promised you would. And so, you’re a pro. You are shipping your work, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you are afraid, even when you are sure bad things will happen, simply because you said you would.

 

Debbie Millman:

Right. So, you ship on a schedule without attachment and without reassurance. That brings us to the first topic in the book that I want to talk to you about, Reassurance.

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah. This really rubs people the wrong way.

 

Debbie Millman:

Full disclosure, I had an ex that told me that I was a bottomless pit of need, and that I needed reassurance all the time. Now, this was 25 years ago, so I’ve done a lot of work since then. But you state this about reassurance: “Very few three-word mantras are more disturbing than reassurance is futile. But once you embrace the practice, you will realize it’s true. ‘Everything is going to work’ isn’t true, it can’t be.” Tell us why.

 

Seth Godin:

OK. So, I love reassurance, and reassurance makes people … it’s like showering, bathing. There’s nothing wrong with it, except it’s a trap and it will wreck your creative practice. So, what is reassurance? Reassurance is someone predicting the future on your behalf. Reassurance is someone you trust, saying, “Everything is going to be OK.” They don’t know. So, in the short run, you’re grateful. And then you realize, not only isn’t it true, but someone you trust just told you something to make you feel better, as opposed to something that’s true. What is helpful is for someone to say, “Whatever happens is going to happen, and I’ll have your back either way.” Because knowing someone has our back gives us the opportunity to go forward with honesty, because it might not work. That is what makes it creative—it might not work.

 

Debbie Millman:

Yeah, you’re taking a risk, or you should be taking a risk.

 

Seth Godin:

So, if Spike Lee called you up and said, “Debbie, loving your podcast, it’s going to be blah, blah, blah.” You feel great. And then tomorrow, you’d need him to call again, because some speed bump occurred, and we can never get enough reassurance. So, if it’s something that we can never get enough of, I’d rather live without it. And I’d rather say, “Let me surround myself with people who know how to give criticism, and who are going to have my back. Because if I have those two things, my practice is intact, and I can do the work, and I don’t need someone to tell me everything’s going to be OK.”

 

Debbie Millman:

Well, I think we metabolize reassurance in the same way that we metabolize success, or the same way we metabolize love. It changes. It seems as if we could trust ourselves, we wouldn’t need someone else to buoy us up.

 

Seth Godin:

That’s right. But we can only trust ourselves to do the work, we cannot trust ourselves to guarantee the outcome. And our capitalist industrial system has brainwashed us, indoctrinated us, into believing that all that matters is the outcome. That it’s OK to cheat as long as you win. It’s not. It’s OK to play well, even if you don’t win, because that is the practice, and that is what gets us to the other side.

 

Debbie Millman:

Yeah, we really do shy away from any kind of conflict or criticism. My students, I am very specific with them when talking about how they should show people their portfolios. I tell them, especially the young ones that are just starting, at the end of every time they show their portfolio, they should ask, “If you were me, what would be one thing you would recommend I take out?” Because most people aren’t going to tell you the truth. They’re just going to say, “Oh, that’s nice, oh, that’s nice,” but never really tell you that, “That thing right there, that’s ruining your whole portfolio.” Because they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I think that the avoidance of hurting someone’s feelings or offending someone is bigger than pain.

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah, there’re so many things in that example that are brilliant. Let’s start with this. I can’t imagine being a student to have to show someone my portfolio. And perhaps the first thing that I would do is have them show somebody else’s portfolio, someone successful. Because most people have no clue how to look at a portfolio. And people who love you and care about you, when you show them your creative work that hasn’t come out yet, will often try to dissuade you from doing it. They will often say, “No, no, no, you should hold back.” Because they’re trying to protect you from pain. And that feels like, “I don’t have your back.” That feels like, “You should just fit in, please.”

 

So be really careful about who you show your portfolio to ever. And I know, the first years that I was in the book business, I got really bad feedback from people who cared about me, because they didn’t understand what I was doing or where I was doing it, and they didn’t know how to give criticism. And I took it to heart, and it paralyzed me. And only when, I don’t know if you know my friend, Michael Cater—

 

Debbie Millman:

No.

 

Seth Godin:

But I met Michael Cater, and then I met John Boswell. Two people from the book business who understood, who were enrolled in the journey. Who could look at my work and say, “That. Maybe not that, but that.” And we need to hear that. That’s not reassurance, that’s someone who knows how to give criticism. And your point about “maybe you should take this out of your portfolio” is a great one, but half the time, that’s the one you should put on the front page of your portfolio.

 

Debbie Millman:

That’s true. I also say, ultimately, it’s up to you if 10 people looking at it all say the same. And you might want to consider how you either present it, or how you talk about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with it.

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah. And William Goldman famously said, “Nobody knows anything.” And what he meant was, every blockbuster in Hollywood is a surprise, every one, until Marvel movies came along. It was always a surprise, because nobody knows anything.

 

Debbie Millman:

A term that you write about quite a lot in The Practice is the word hack. And you don’t use it as, “We’re going to hack the system,” but rather more the way it was used several decades ago, or even several hundred years ago. Tell us why you use that specific word and actually what you mean by being a hack?

 

Seth Godin:

I use the word because it has a great backstory, and because I couldn’t think of a better, more specific way to talk about this. I need to be clear, it’s OK to be a hack as long as you’re doing it on purpose. So, what does it mean to be a hack? It means figure out what your customer wants and give it to them. Meet their spec and get paid. This year was going to be the 50th reunion anniversary tour of The Doobie Brothers. If you went to see The Doobie Brothers’ 50th reunion tour, if COVID hadn’t happened, you were hoping that they would play covers of Doobie Brothers songs from the 1970s. You’re not hoping to hear their new album, even if they don’t have it, right? No, you want to hear the classic songs.

 

So, basically, they’re a Doobie Brothers cover band, right? And there’s nothing wrong with that. In that moment, they’re being hacks. They’re not there to break new ground. “We want this,” “Here it is.” That’s different than choosing to go out on a limb and do something that might not work, which is creative work. Just because you’re playing guitar doesn’t mean it’s creative. They’re two different things. So, if I want someone to paint my house, I want a hack. I want someone who’s going to paint my house exactly the way it was painted last time for a little bit less money than last time. Thank you very much. Whereas if I want a painting for my wall, I don’t want a hack to do that, I don’t want it to be from Dolphin, China, where they paint any painting you want for $39. I want it to be something that changes me. And so, we need to pay the bills.

 

And when I do speaking gigs, I say to the client, “Do you want me to do my best stuff? Or do you want me to do new stuff?” Because if I do new stuff, it might not work, but you can say I did new stuff. If you want me to do my best stuff, it’s definitely going to work. But in that moment, I know I’m being a hack in the sense of, I know it’s going to work, and I am simply the vessel and the microphone to bring my previous idea for it. I’m doing a cover version of me.

 

Debbie Millman:

What do your clients usually say?

 

Seth Godin:

99 out of 100 times, they say, “Please do your best stuff.” And so, I have to do my new stuff to non-paying clients. I have to do my new stuff in other settings, because I’m not going to break that promise that I made to the group that just came to see me.

 

Debbie Millman:

You state that a hack isn’t something you want to be, a hack reverse-engineers all the work barely getting by. The hack has no point of view, it’s simply, “What do you need? How little do I have to do to charge to get this gig?” And back when I was working in corporate branding, one of my clients called that—and I thought you’d like this—being a design waitress. “What can I get for you today? The Italic or bold?”

 

Seth Godin:

“Make the logo bigger.”

 

Debbie Millman:

Right, exactly. Or the serifs. You also go on to state that if you go too far to please an audience, you become a hack. You lose your point of view, lose your reason for doing the work, become a hack. Focus only on the results, become a hack. So, is there a conscious way to avoid becoming a hack?

 

Seth Godin:

Oh, I think there are many conscious choices. Jerry Seinfeld has famously said, “I’m done with this material, I’m going to do new material.” I do that same thing often. We say, “There are some clients that need me to be like this, but I’m also going to work at this teaching hospital.” We say that, “I do two movies for the studio that make box office, but then I get to make my art film.” And all of these are part of, what does it mean to live in a commercial world and still be able to commune with yourself and bring that idea forward? And so, there’s nothing here that I’m trying to say that says it is wrong to give the audience what they need and want; what I’m saying is, we are constantly in a tense balancing act with that versus what change do we seek to make?

 

But what I am completely leaving out is I don’t think there’s any room for you to simply say, “This is my authentic muse, take it or leave it.” Because that’s a hobby, that is not professional work.

 

Debbie Millman:

Yeah, we’re going to get to muse. One of the great examples in the book reveals how Joni Mitchell avoided being a hack. And it’s so interesting because you wrote about a line that she says in one of her live concerts in Miles of Aisles, that I think about all the time. And I don’t want to give too much away, it’s really your story from the book. So, I’m wondering if you can share that with our listeners.

 

Seth Godin:

Her stories, so many of her stories, are inspiring, are heartbreaking. The misogyny that she dealt with for all of those years, when we would like to imagine she was in some sort of Woodstock-like garden, her health issues, all of it. So, part of the lessons we can take. In Miles of Aisles, someone calls out a request, and she says, “I wonder if people yelled at Van Gogh, play ‘Starry Starry Night’ again.”

 

Debbie Millman:

It’s one of the greatest rock and roll lines of all time.

 

Seth Godin:

Yes.

 

Debbie Millman:

All time.

 

Seth Godin:

And she says it just perfectly. So, what Joni did was, she figured out how to be Joni Mitchell with a capital ‘J’ and a capital ‘M,’ and she sold more records than almost any solo female artist had ever. Carole King was up there with her, but she was just a hit machine. And she knew deep down how to make a Joni Mitchell record, and didn’t want to. She did not want to become captive to that. Bob Dylan did the same thing; whether or not the motorcycle accident was real or not, he did the same thing, which is, “How do I move past this thing that got me? What was the point of getting this popular? Was it so that now I have to just make this over and over again? And so, she made Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter album that I really admire, and then one after that.

 

And the two of them, those two albums, pretty much alienated most program directors and a lot of her core audience. And she was like, “Phew, now I can go back to making Joni Mitchell records with a small ‘J’ and a small ‘M,’ because I got into this because I wanted to make art, not because I wanted to be a rockstar.” And at the time, it was easy for the fans to say, “You broke the promise.” But she never made that promise. The promise she made was, “Here I am, this is what I made for you.” And being able to go on that journey, if you’ve gotten lucky enough, to make a living, what a privilege, what a joy. And so not everyone needs to do that. It’s OK to be a hit machine, but you should do either one on purpose.

 

Debbie Millman:

Joni ultimately didn’t care about a mass audience, she wanted an audience that respected her work and her journey. And I think, it’s not like I know her, but I think, knowing her work and her journey, that she essentially chose her audience. And one of the chapters of your book is titled “Choose Your Clients, Choose Your Future,” and you pose this question—and I’d love for you to answer it for our listeners—you ask, “What is the difference between Chip Kidd, the extraordinarily successful book cover designer, and someone with the same tools and skills that Chip has?”

 

Seth Godin:

Right. I learned a lot of this from you, and I should have name-checked you in this here.

 

Debbie Millman:

Oh, not at all.

 

Seth Godin:

No, but I need to say that out loud because as you’re talking, I’m hearing your voice in my head, I just didn’t realize it was your voice when I was writing.

 

Debbie Millman:

Oh, OK. Well, it’s funny because I got really excited because Chip is one of my best friends. So, I immediately took a picture of the screen and I’m like, “Look, you’re reading Seth’s book.” So, I have to tell you what he said, because I thought, “You know what? This is just serendipity. Seth is going to love this response.”

 

Seth Godin:

I can’t wait, because he and I don’t know each other well, but he knows I’m a huge fan of his. His TED talk, if you watch his TED talk, I was on right before him, like 10 minutes before him, and what you’ll notice is, his glasses are missing one of the struts, and I still to this day can’t figure out if he did that on purpose or not, because—

 

Debbie Millman:

Oh, he didn’t, he didn’t. They broke and he couldn’t fix it, and he had to go on.

 

Seth Godin:

So, the deal is, Sterling Brands had some really good clients, and Sterling Brands had some not so good clients.

 

Debbie Millman:

Correct.

 

Seth Godin:

And when you chose to teach at SVA, you have some students who push you, and you have some students who are just there for the ride. I taught at NYU, and I taught at a community college. When I taught at NYU, the students took. And when I taught at the community college, the students gave because they were there for a different reason. Pick your students, pick your future. And in Chip’s case, he has better clients. Better clients demand innovative work and pay on time. They pay extra. They talk about your work. They challenge you. They say, “That’s not good enough, make it better.” You don’t get better clients by first having a lot of mediocre clients and working your way up, you get better clients by becoming the kind of person that better clients want to hire.

 

And the thing is, if you go to Chip Kidd and say, “I’d like you to do a book cover for me and it should look like this,” Chip Kidd says, “No thank you, because I’m Chip Kidd. If you want me to make a Chip Kidd cover, you’re going to get what I make. That’s why you should hire me.” And the only people who go to him are good clients. He chose that path. Now, it’s not easy to choose that path, because along the way, people say, “Well, who the hell are you?” And there’s a lot of days when you’re just sitting in your office by yourself because you’re not deciding to hack your way forward, you’re deciding to attract a certain kind of client. So, when I look at his work, I say, “I can’t even copy Chip Kidd’s look and feel. I can’t even parody it, because he is such a unique voice with a point of view, and that unique voice and point of view earned him better clients.”

 

Debbie Millman:

As I mentioned, as soon as I saw it, I photographed the screen and I sent it to him. And he wrote back. He was thrilled, but he wanted me to tell you that not only did he have better clients, but Chip has never quit his day job. And I think that is so important to understand because he had … that sense of freedom gave him that ability to experiment, and that’s really where his heart sings. So, yeah, I mean, I think it just proved every single thing in your book in that one text back from him. Like, “I can’t wait to tell Seth.” It also reminded me a little bit of something that Michael Bierut said, another great, great graphic designer, and he said this to me about his success.

 

This is his quote: “I actually think that I’ve compensated for whatever flaws and shortcomings I have as a creative person by being smart, and well-read, and by working really, really hard, and by getting more at-bats. I seem to hit a lot of home runs because I have 10 times as many at-bats as everyone else in the league. Meanwhile, the stands are littered with foul balls and strikeouts, and no one knows about them because I don’t count those. Right?” And it reminded me of your quote about batting practice. And for Michael, that’s true. I mean, he is just a workhorse. And I think that people don’t always see all of the strikeouts and all the foul balls, they just see the home runs, because those are the ones that are reported.

 

Despite all the talk about failure porn in our culture now, people are still really reluctant to experiment with anything out of their comfort zone. I mean, not everybody, but a lot of people. How did we get to this place where people are so reluctant to get scraped up?

 

Seth Godin:

Well, part of it goes back to indoctrination—no prizes for getting scraped up in school. And high school is an unforgiving place where people who need to find status through separation will remind us forever of the thing we didn’t do. Right? But I think it’s probably primordial. I think you got kicked out of the village or the tribe 10,000 years ago if you offended the chief even once. What’s different now is, there are so many safe, completely safe ways to fail, that call our bluff. So, writing a blog under an assumed name, why wouldn’t you do that? Why wouldn’t you use a fake name and post a piece of your art every day, or a piece of your writing, or a riff from your keyboard every day? Because if it works, OK, you don’t get credit, but you learn something. And if it doesn’t work, you learn something, and no one can lay a glove on you because they don’t know who made it. Right? And this act of being able to put things into the world.

 

So, one of the cool things about my blog is, people only share the good ones. So, I don’t even have to do what Michael does, which is get more clients, I just write another blog post tomorrow. And for the people who only get my blog because it’s forwarded from one of my readers, they think I’m hitting a thousand, because those are the only ones that anyone ever forwards. And so, no, I can’t do something on my blog that I would be ashamed of. I can’t do something on my blog that’s selfish or hurtful. But there’s tons of days when I write a blog post in a slightly new form, or in a slightly new topic, that might not work, because I’ve lowered the stakes so low, the same way Chip hasn’t quit his day job. Right?

I don’t have five houses, I don’t have a plane. It’s pretty easy for me to not need tomorrow to work. And you can get there with sleeping on a couch, and brown rice and black beans. I mean, the point is, unless you figure out a practice, there’s never going to be a potter at the end of the rainbow anyway.

 

Debbie Millman:

How many blog posts have you … what’s your streak now?

 

Seth Godin:

I think it’s 7,500, give or take.

 

Debbie Millman:

So, I get your newsletter every day, seven days a week. And it would be interesting the next time we see each other—I should share with you my folder, because then you could see the ones that I like. Because the ones that I want to keep forever, I have a NSF coding folder in my email. And so it’ll be interesting. I wonder if you can tell something about a person by the blog posts they specifically keep. What is the common denominator in those? Because there’s hundreds and hundreds in there now, but it would be interesting to understand the commonality. Sometime we’ll have to do that.

 

Seth Godin:

But just since we brought up streaks, just a little insert here is, there’s going to be a blog post for me tomorrow. And I happen to be pretty pleased with tomorrows, but there would be a blog post for me tomorrow even if I wasn’t pleased with it, because it’s tomorrow. And that is a key part of my practice—tomorrow. If you wait to have a negotiation with yourself about, “Is this good enough to ship?” you’re going to spend all of your time rationalizing that negotiation. I am not permitted to have that, because it’s tomorrow.

 

Debbie Millman:

You and Cal Ripken. I meant that as a compliment.

 

Seth Godin:

I appreciate it.

 

Debbie Millman:

One of my favorite paragraphs in your book is about skills and what we can learn. And this is a fairly lengthy quote, but I think it’s worthy of being read. You state, “We can learn to be more honest, we can learn to be more diligent, we can learn to be more persistent, and that’s great. Because if you can learn them, then you’re not stuck where you are, you can become who you want to be. If we start by acknowledging that our attitudes are skills, and that our skills are learnable, suddenly talent recedes far into the rearview mirror. We’re going to be rewarded not simply because we can beat someone on a test, but because our whole posture is based on the possibility of better. And the possibility of if your goal is to win, to win. That’s the second piece that goes right next to the other skills, and people overlook it because our industrial system doesn’t really reward us for measuring that stuff.”

So, my question to you here, Seth, is, why not? Why doesn’t our industrial system reward us for measuring that stuff? And then, second part of the question, what are the most important things to measure, if anything?

 

Seth Godin:

I don’t think we get rewarded because it’s hard, it’s hard to measure, and the system is ultimately lazy. So, it defaults to what’s easy to measure. How many words per minute can you type? How many followers do you have on Instagram? How many pounds can you bench press? These are easy measurements. It’s hard to measure resilience, it’s hard to measure loyalty, it’s hard to measure kindness. And so, since we can’t have an easy agreement about that … a small aside. The SAT was invented by somebody between World War I and World War II when there was a shortage of slots, and they needed to figure out temporarily how to make sure they got the right people to come.

And the inventor of the standardized test ended up becoming a college president in Kansas, a very prestigious job. And when he spoke up against standardized tests when the emergency was over, he was drummed out of the academy that he was persona non grata. How dare he say that standardized tests needed to go away? Because the entire structure of most bureaucratic hierarchies is about standardization. And if we don’t come up with a standardized way to measure resilience or loyalty or kindness, we can’t build a hierarchy around it, we can’t build a bureaucracy around it. So, that’s why it’s a problem. And so, whole countries are built around standardized tests. And what we’re finding is that’s a race to the bottom. And the problem with the race to the bottom is you might win. And the alternative is to figure out how can we be a little softer and a little bit more flexible to do work that’s harder to measure, but that’s more important?

 

Debbie Millman:

Embedded in all of that measurement is comparison, and then embedded in all of that comparison is feeling that you’re not good enough, feeling that you don’t measure up, and then the whole notion of imposter syndrome, which is also something that you talk about in the book. And I learned from your book that imposter syndrome was named by several researchers—interesting commonality there—30 or 40 years ago, and it afflicts people of every gender and background and so on. And it’s the feeling that we have of being a fraud, when we’re about to lead or do something important. And it’s a feeling of being an imposter. And I think I read this correctly—do you still feel that way sometimes? Do you still suffer from imposter syndrome?

 

Seth Godin:

Only if I’m doing good work.

 

Debbie Millman:

Why?

 

Seth Godin:

Because good work for me is work that I’m not sure is going to work. I am asserting something about the future, and I’m not sure. So, who am I? Who am I to show up and say, “Yeah, I think X or this might work”? Because the world wants a guarantee, particularly now because people think I know what I’m talking about. And so, my imposter is bigger because they’re swayed by the fact that I have a reputation, which actually makes it worse. And there are plenty of times when I will hesitate to do something, and there’re very big projects I haven’t done, because I don’t want the person who I’m engaging with to think I am promising it’s going to work. And they have no way to go forward unless they think I’m promising, and I don’t want to be on that hook.

 

Debbie Millman:

Right. When you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, is there a part of you that’s excited about it, excited about knowing that you’re feeling that for a specific reason?

 

Seth Godin:

I’ve trained myself to do that. It is not natural to do so. I am not a runner, but I’m told that runners get tired when they do something like run a marathon. And I think that you finish the marathon because you figure out where to put the tired. And if you’re a competitive runner and you’re not feeling tired, that’s a signal that you’re not trying hard enough. Tired is a good thing. It is a compass. But it would seem to me that your natural systems are telling you, “Please slow down because it hurts.” It’s tired. Well, just like me, my natural systems are saying, “Dial it down a little bit; let’s wait, because you’re feeling like an imposter.” And the part of me that I’ve trained is, “Thanks for letting me know I’m doing good work again.”

 

Debbie Millman:

That’s so interesting. I have one of those little triggers also. When I hear myself say that I’m too busy, it usually means that something isn’t important enough for me to do. So, I say that busy is a decision, because ultimately, if I’m saying I’m too busy to do it, it’s because I don’t want to do it as much as the thing that I’m actually doing, even if that thing might be sleeping.

 

Seth Godin:

That’s a great title. Busy is a decision.

 

Debbie Millman:

You’ve written about how you’ve learned that the way we act determines how we feel way more often than the way we feel determines how we act. So, can you elaborate on that a little bit for me?

 

Seth Godin:

People like you and I are addicted to flow. Being in a state of flow is thrilling, that things are working, we’re in the right place, we’re doing the work, it’s flowing through us. Nobody starts working in a state of flow. The only way to enter a state of flow is to begin working when you’re not in a state of flow. The only way to fall asleep is to lie down in bed when you’re not asleep. We have to do things acting as if to accomplish the feeling that we seek, not the other way around. So, if you want to be a runner, the answer is run every day, then you are a runner. And if you don’t feel like painting an oil painting every day, that doesn’t matter. It is possible to show up and do the work, and then you will discover you’re glad you’re doing the work.

 

Debbie Millman:

Let’s talk about authenticity. You think it’s a crock, and a trap, and overrated, and talked about too much. So, I have to make you talk about it a little bit more. That’s a word that so many people are using these days; it’s sort of the new strategic. Why do you think it’s a crock and a trap and overrated and talked about too much?

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah. Well, I mean, you and I have both been around for a while, and I think if we think back to the ’80s or ’90s, no one talked about being authentic, no one. It’s an artifact of influencer culture, social media, bearing of souls. It’s a spectator sport to watch somebody have their authentic meltdown or whatever it is. I think when we say, “Well, I was just being authentic,” what we’re really saying is, “I tried something, don’t blame me that it didn’t work,” because we’re not authentic. Since we’ve been out of diapers, we’ve been very calculated about what to say and how to act to get what we want. And it is not authentic to comb your hair before you leave the house. Your hair didn’t look like that before you left the house—why did you comb it? You’re faking it, because you’re trying to send a message to people that I care about you and my appearance above all.

 

So, we’ve built all these layers around it. There are a few people who can succeed by throwing their tantrums on Instagram. That’s why we’re watching them. But the rest of the time, what we want from people is for them to be consistent, to be the best version of themselves that is possible in this moment. And if the chef is having a bad night, we don’t want them to authentically serve us bad food, we want them to figure out how to consistently be the chef we thought we were coming to hire. And the same thing is true for almost all the things we engage in. So, yes, there are levels of artifice that we would like to remove, but what we’re trying to come back to is, what’s a brand? A brand is a promise, it is not a logo. It is a promise of what to expect. And so, let’s strip away the artifice and get back to, “What did you want me to expect from you? Did you give me that?” Because that’s why it’s called work.

 

Debbie Millman:

Right. I think that brand authenticity is actually an oxymoron. And I also think that people that are seeking to be brands are going down a really slippery slope because brands are manufactured. Brands are created by people with a very specific goal, and humans are inconsistent. And we’re messy, and we lie, and those are all things that brands really aren’t aspiring to be. We should be changing our minds. And the idea that a living breathing soul of a person could aspire or should aspire to be a brand feels like you’re really undermining everything it means to be human.

 

Seth Godin:

Well, can I push back on you a little bit?

 

Debbie Millman:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, please.

 

Seth Godin:

So, I adore you, and I don’t know you as well as I want, and I really wish I could get in my car and drive to wherever you are right now.

 

Debbie Millman:

Me too.

 

Seth Godin:

But you’re a brand to me. There is a story in my head about who you are, and different facets of that brand are revealed as I get to know you better, as I see—

 

Debbie Millman:

You don’t think that that’s just reputation?

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah, they’re the same thing.

 

Debbie Millman:

That that’s my character? So, I don’t think that reputation and character are the same as brand.

 

Seth Godin:

Well, they are in my vocabulary, because what they all add up to is, if Debbie says, “Please come on my podcast,” there is zero expectation that we’re going to get in a fight. There is zero expectation that you’re going to phone it in. There is zero expectation that you haven’t read my book. Because your reputation, I’m just using corporate words here, is, in some ways as a human, part of your brand. I don’t expect you to have a tantrum when I’m with you. There are other humans I know who reliably I expect to have a tantrum, because that is their reputation. And so, what I’m saying is, when we entered the world of, “You’re not my cousin, and you’re not my roommate,” every circle that’s bigger than that, we have to be aware of the fact that no one knows us, that no one will ever truly understand us, and that our reputation has layers of magnitude that are hard to overstate.

 

And so, I have to show up as Seth Godin with a capital ‘S’ and a capital ‘G.’ And I get that that’s part of my job. And that when I am working, part of my reputation is to say, “I have this privilege, this leverage, this trust.” I shouldn’t blow it by saying, “I have a really bad headache,” and swear somebody out, because who cares that I feel that way because of the fear I’m feeling right now? That’s not what I earned, and it’s not what I owe people.

 

Debbie Millman:

Well, I guess when I’m talking about the notion of brand versus reputation, is the idea that there’s a humanity in how you’re going to show up, which you can decide. And brands, there isn’t.

 

Seth Godin:

Totally agree with you.

 

Debbie Millman:

And that for me is the key difference, and why I bristle when people talk about building their personal brand. Build your reputation, build your character.

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah, I agree with this.

 

Debbie Millman:

And then everything else follows suit.

 

Seth Godin:

Yes.

 

Debbie Millman:

OK. I have a few last questions for you, and then a request.

 

Seth Godin:

OK.

 

Debbie Millman:

In your book, you state that we would never work for somebody who treats us the way that we treat ourselves.

 

Seth Godin:

Yeah.

 

Debbie Millman:

That was a beauty. I tell people, “Don’t go to work for somebody that doesn’t like you, or that you don’t think likes you, because it’s very rarely going to change.” And I just know that from personal experience. But why do we talk so harshly to ourselves?

 

Seth Godin:

When in doubt, look for the fear, look for the fear inside yourself, look for the fear in that boss who doesn’t like you, or in that person down the hall. Fear underlies so much of how human beings behave. And so, in the middle of the night, when your boss calls you and wakes you up because they’re worried about something that’s upcoming, and it turns out that boss is you, you’re being mean to yourself because you’re afraid of something. You are looking for reassurance, you’re looking for control.

 

Debbie Millman:

And approval.

 

Seth Godin:

And approval. And so, if we go back to the practice and acknowledge that the future is out of our control, that we are all falling, and that the good news is there’s nothing to hold on to, as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche would say. Don’t keep looking for something to hold on to, including berating yourself; instead, do better work, just get back to work, because that is the single best way you have to improve the impact you have on the world.

 

Debbie Millman:

What about people that believe that they’re suffering from writer’s block?

 

Seth Godin:

Ah, writer’s block. There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

 

Debbie Millman:

It’s sort of like my busy is a decision thing. Writers block is a myth.

 

Seth Godin:

It’s totally a myth. It’s real in the sense that people suffer from it, but … we know it wasn’t used in literature until the 1900s. We know that no one gets plumber’s block, no one gets juggler’s block. Why don’t we get talker’s block? No one gets talker’s block. Why do we get writer’s block? Because we are afraid of bad writing. If you show me your bad writing, page after page after page of it, then you can tell me you have writer’s block. I don’t think you can show me that, because you haven’t done any. And the reason you haven’t done any is because you’re afraid to be on the hook to put it on paper, to put it on canvas, to put it wherever you do your work. Show me the bad stuff, do enough bad stuff, and some good stuff is going to slip through, no matter how hard you try.

 

Debbie Millman:

One of the things that I was thinking about in relation to my own practice of writing … I’ve been struggling for the last, I want to say two years, to write a book that was due a year ago. And then I got a year extension. But I realized, as my second deadline was approaching, with just about enough time to actually do it, if I could figure out a way how, was that I didn’t want to write the book. That the writer’s block wasn’t writer’s block, it was just writer’s wall, because I was trying to write something that I didn’t want to write. And I think that that is sometimes mistaken for writer’s block. Because suddenly I thought, “You know what? I actually don’t want to write this book. I don’t want to write this book.”

 

Seth Godin:

Why don’t you want to write the book?

 

Debbie Millman:

I didn’t want to write the book because I felt that I was repeating … ooh, because I’m being a hack. This is like a therapy session, because now I’m realizing it was because I was being a hack. I don’t want to be a hack. But I didn’t realize it at the time. But now I can say that, because I just this moment, like light bulb, because I was going to be a hack doing it.

 

Seth Godin:

So, just like busy is a choice, the book is a choice. And you said, “This isn’t rising to the level of something that I want to put my name on.”

 

Debbie Millman:

Right.

 

Seth Godin:

That, “I can write this book but I don’t want to write this book.”

 

Debbie Millman:

Exactly.

 

Seth Godin:

Very brave.

 

Debbie Millman:

It’s scary as hell. It’s actually, “OK, I think I’m going to have to give back my advance, and, OK. So, bye bye book deal.” In any case, I have one last question for you, and then the request. Although the question is two-parter. You ask in the book of people to consider, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” And I’m wondering if you might share that with us. When was the last time you did something for the first time? And how did it go?

 

Seth Godin:

Often, when I ask people this question, they tear up. And they tear up because if they’re honest with themselves, it’s been too long. That feeling of doing something for the first time is so precious. And we have built a luxurious world where so many of us are not living hand-to-mouth with no other options, and yet, we waste it, because we watched the seventh episode of “Emily in Paris” instead of figuring out how to explore a frontier. The dramatic visual is, I built a canoe in my backyard over the last five months from scratch using hundreds of sticks.

 

Debbie Millman:

Wow.

 

Seth Godin:

But every day, I do something small, engaging with a human in a way that doesn’t feel like rote to me. And that for me is the practice of that first time thing of saying, “I might not know this person very well, or I might not have been in this situation before—how can I engage with them in a way where they are actually seen?” And I had a conversation with a woman this morning that I think helped both of us a lot because I saw the journey that she was on as a creator, and I was on thin ice in how I was talking about it, but I was helpful. And that was thrilling, I think, for both of us, because I don’t want to get into the business of doing rote. So, when I think of that, and then I think of paddling my canoe on sugar pond, I’m trying, I’m trying to do things for the first time.

 

Debbie Millman:

Seth, I was wondering—this is my request—I was wondering if you could read something that you include in The Practice titled “The 45 Ways,” which is a list of 45 ways we sacrifice our work to our fear.

 

Seth Godin:

A small preface, these contradict each other on purpose, and this list is not complete. “There are at least 45 ways we sacrifice our work to our fear. Stall, expand the project so it cannot move forward, shrink the project so that it doesn’t matter. Ship crap, don’t ship work that can be improved by others. Refuse to listen to generous critics. Eagerly listen to well-meaning but chicken-hearted critics. Sacrifice the work for the commercial short term. Hide from deadlines. Become a diva. Compromise on the good parts. Compromise on the hard parts. Assume that inspiration lies in a bottle or a pill. Don’t go to work. Work all the time. Wait for the muse. Talk about the work too early, looking for a reason to abandon it. Don’t talk about the work with the right people, crippling it. Define the work as you, and you as the work, making it all personal.

 

“Work only when inspiration strikes. Fall behind on domain knowledge. Copy everything. Copy nothing. Embrace jealousy. Taunt yourself. Announce that the important work takes longer. Expect applause. Demand cash commensurate with effort or insight, and hold back until it arrives. Avoid sales calls. Read your reviews. Memorize your reviews. Respond to your reviews. Catastrophize. Focus on your impending or eventual death. Assume immortality as a way of stalling. Listen to people who are afraid. Confuse perfectionism with quality. Hold on tighter as the ship date approaches. Let go too soon as the ship date approaches. Miss ship dates on a regular basis. Don’t set ship dates. Redefine your zone of contribution to be smaller than it needs to be, thus letting yourself off the hook.”

 

Three more. “Surround yourself with people who have small dreams. Polish your excuses.” And the last one, “Pretend you have writer’s block.”

 

Debbie Millman:

Seth, thank you, thank you, thank you for your extraordinary generosity, and thank you for joining me today on Design Matters.

 

Seth Godin:

What a treat, what a total treat. Thank you, Debbie.

 

Debbie Millman:

Thank you.

 

Seth Godin:

I miss you. I’ll talk to you soon.

 

Debbie Millman:

I miss you too. Seth Godin’s latest book is titled The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. To learn more about Seth, go to sethgodin.com and sign up for his class starting this January, and please sign up for his daily newsletter. It is the very, very best newsletter out there. This is the 16th year I’ve been doing Design Matters, and I’d like to thank you for listening. And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we could make a difference, or we can do both. I’m Debbie Millman, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.