Andrew: Before we get started I’ve got to acknowledge the support that I get from Grasshopper, the virtual phone system that entrepreneurs love, from Shopify, where you go to create an online store in minutes and from RichWP.com where you get a new theme for your website that you can customize. Guys, really thanks for all the help here with these programs. Alright, here’s the interview.
Andrew: It’s Andrew Warner, founder of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, and Seth Godin is the author of several business books and the world’s most popular marketing blog. He’s also the founder of Squidoo, the publishing platform which Quantcast says has over 15 million monthly visitors, his latest book is called Linchpin. I’ve invited him to mixergy to talk and teach some of the ideas from the book. Seth, before I even ask you any questions about it, first I have to thank you. The first time you did an interview with me I remember one of my questions for you because my audience was just tiny. One of my questions was, why are you even doing an interview with me, but I internalised the message that you gave here when you talked about tribes and how to build it up, and how in the early days of building an audience you just have to deal with the fact that’s it’s going to be you and one other person, and be grateful that other person’s there, and how to build up, and I did and I did and I did, I’m now looking at dozens of people who are watching this live on mixergy even though the hour happened to be changed, they’re still here, who thousands of people are going to watching this interview, and an audience that’s just so supportive and helpful, so thank you for getting me here and for getting everyone else who listened to that program here too.
Interviewee: Well sorry I have to disagree that thanks go to you Andrew, I mean leaders are in short supply. You stood up, your risked people laughing at you, you took a shot and people are eager to follow you now. We own you a thank you, so thanks for showing us how it’s done.
Andrew: Thank you and you know what, I’m glad that you brought that up. People laughing at you, there’s so many times that I think, who’s watching my interview, right now, with Seth Godin and seeing this dopey-dope Andrew with his little webcam operation, what’s going on here? And one of the messages in this new book, in Linchpin, is to find a way to get rid of those voices right?
Interviewee: You know the voice is the problem. Let’s talk about the opportunity first because if we lead with the problem people turn us off. Here’s the opportunity, the opportunity is that the industrial age just ended. It lasted for 200 years, the cotton gin, the assembly line, interchangeable parts, Henry Ford, the TV industrial complex, interrupting lots of people was spam, and average products for average people, and compliant cogs working in the factory, doing what they were told. I can go on for a while. We all grew up with it, it was our lives. You sit in school in a straight row, number 2 pencil filling out little circles, no stray marks, what’s that about? It’s about training you to work in the factory. And then all of a sudden the race to the bottom ended. It ended when you could buy a barrel of pickles at Walmart for two dollars. It ended when you could go online and buy anything in the world cheaper from someone else. It ended when Ford Motor Company laid off 10,000 innocent people that didn’t do anything wrong, but they lost their jobs because they’d followed all the instructions. And so, with all of that pain, where’s the opportunity? The opportunity is we’re now rewarding individuals who make a difference. We’re now celebrating leaders. We’re now seeking out people online and off, who make things by hand, or keep their promises, or challenge the status quo. So the question that the book asks is, why don’t you do that? If it’s so valuable and so fun and so rewarding why don’t you do that? And then we get to your question Andrew, which is, what’s with this lizard-brain thing? What’s with the being afraid of being laughed at? Why is it that people are afraid of public speaking, and afraid to apply for a job off-campus, and don’t know what it’s like to live life without a resume? Well there’s good evolutionary reasons for it, but they’re obsolete now, and so I’ve been pontificating, I’ll stop…go ahead.
Andrew: No I’m actually, tell you what, let’s lead into, because I think I kind of gave away the villain before I showed the hero of this story. So let’s spend a little bit more time about, what we get if we can recognise these powers, because when you say make things by hand, that seems to me kind of small time. I’ve got these big dreams, these big ambitions, and I don’t see how making these works of art by hand is going to get me there. When you say that we’re all taught to confirm, and to maybe work in the factory, I don’t see that in myself, and I don’t see that in my audience. We want greatness for ourselves, don’t we?
Interviewee: OK, first let me clarify what I mean by make by hand. Google was built by hand. In 1999 or 2002 there was no book called How to Build Google for Dummies. The model of how you build an organisation used to be quite mechanised.
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Intervierwee: How you build an organization used to be quite mechanized I have an MBA they taught it to me and its worthless, none of the steps are true anymore. That the way you build a 37 signals now, the company that’s kicking Microsoft’s butt, is by hand. The way that you build a political movement is by hand. You can’t go back and look at how Barry Goldwater did it, or how Richard Nixon did it and copy the manual; because the manual doesn’t work anymore. That’s what I meant by hand, not carving tiki things..
Andrew: …and when you say that we’re artists, that we’re making things by hand, we need to be creative now. I’ve got to tell you honestly, because you and I, keeping honest with you here, that scares me and doesn’t make me feel like I can do it. It doesn’t make me feel like I know where i’m going to go. When things are business, when things are numbers I can sit and I can plan them out. When you tell me ‘Andrew, you’ve got to be an artist’. Artists? Those are the people that I laughed at my way up the latter, right? Those are the hippies who are going to make things, be creative who are never going to go anywhere. So now if I want to be creative, and I don’t have the mindset of an artist, how do I do it?
Interviewee: Well, let me again be really clear about my work. Pablo Picasso was an artist but so was Bill Shakespeare. But so was that guy, Goldman ???, who figured out that speadsheets, that when used a certain way, created a billion dollars in value by combining certain kinds of securities in a certain way. Never been done before, changed things. What artists do is not paint. What artists do is put together things, see the world as it is and make change happen. And yet, almost all of us were raised to fit in, follow all the instructions, and be compliant and it’s very hard to overcome it. Now i’ve been living that life for 30 years and failing almost every day at it. Lucky for me, the world changed, reorgainzed, and made it so being noncompliant is actually benefitial. So what I know for example is when I want to launch a book, the more agita I cause my publisher, the better the book’s going to do. So if the way the book is written, the way the book is packaged, and the way the book is marketed – the more they hate it, the better the book’s going to do. Because if I just fit in and follow, there are 175,000 books going to be marketed this year, why pick mine? You won’t. So, I think you’re selling yourself a little short, Andrew. You may be pretty good with numbers, I don’t think you ever laugh at creative people though. And I am certain you have all the creativity you need to go to the next level. But I also know that the only thing holding you back is the little voice in the back of your head, and you admit to it, the resistance, as Steve Crestfield calls it the ‘lizard brain’, that voice is telling you ‘Ahh, I don’t really feel like it right now. I think I should think about doing something else.’ That is the enemy.
Andrew: Seth, we talked last time about all the creative, clever ways that you’ve marketed your books in the past, and they always stand out in some way. I’ve talked to so many authors here on MixerG who would love to be that creative. They would love to have the kind of attention that you have for your book. But they don’t do it, and it’s not because they’re not working hard enough, I see them sweat so hard to even go back and forth with me a million times, to schedule an interview is hard work, and i’m just one piece of their publicity machine. But they’re not being creative enough, what can they do?
Interviewee: They can decide, right? I don’t do anything secret or anything hard. I don’t spend any money. The permission marketing website costs $450, and that was on the high side of what i’ve spent to market a book. This isn’t rocket science, right? What it is is making the decision. I was talking to a guy who makes a desert item, and he was a friend and doing stuff for charity so I was giving him some free advice. I proposed to him a totally radical package, and he and his partner came back and have taken all the rough edges and smoothed them out – making it worthless! Rough edges are what we pay for.
Andrew: Like what? Do you have an example of a rough edge that he smoothed out?
Interviewee: It didn’t have the name of the product on it.
Andrew: I see.
Interviewee: It was just a picture, right? Because you’re sitting there and there are twenty items to choose from and nineteen of them look the same, but one has a giant picture on it. Now if you were the first into the category, that would be a dumb thing to do. But if you’re the twentieth in the category and you look like the other guys, it’s already over. So you might as well add some rough edges. Might as well say, ‘Okay, how do I go to an extreme?’, right? The kind of stuff that ??? wanted to be a creative artist. So what does he do? He scrawls profane cartoons on the back of business cards. Those are rough edges. All the way around. And someone can say ‘Hugh, why don’t you make it a little bigger’ and ‘Hugh, why don’t you leave out the F-bomb every once in a while?’
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Interviewee: Why don’t you do this? We could smooth all this stuff out. And then he’d be like everybody else. What makes Hugh, Hugh, what makes Andrew, Andrew, is you embrace the rough edges. So when Radiohead says we’re gonna get rid of the record label completely and this version of the thing is free. It’s not a penny or a nickel or a dollar, which as accountants would say would be a nice compromise. Free. Zero. That is an edge. The authors who are sweating are saying I wanna work hard but I don’t want anyone to laugh at me. And Twitter amplifies this because you can now type your name into Twitter and see hundreds of people laughing at you, one after another. And if that’s the way you want to spend your day, it’s miserable. So you need to isolate yourself from the laughter or embrace it and say, “Wait! This is good news! They’re laughing at me. I’m on the right track.”
Andrew: You know what though? Ten years ago, I’m not even gonna go back a hundred years. I’m not gonna go back to when Henry Ford was still around. I’m gonna say ten years ago if I wanted to build an internet company this is exactly what I did. Said whose out there doing it well? How can I copy their idea but put a little twist. Maybe my twist is I’m gonna add another add-on to it and that’s where I made my money. At least it was a formula. I’d like a formula for creativity that would make me as clever and help me stand out as much as Seth Godin would. It’s not just me. It’s not just me being all Andrew-centric. I’d like that for my audience, too. Am I being too rigid in asking you to give us some kind of formula or some path where we could do this?
Interviewee: This is a very simple question to answer because you’re a business guy. You understand what creates value, scarcity. If there is no scarcity there is no value. Right? That the reason water costs more in the desert than it costs in New Jersey is because there isn’t any water in the desert. Scarcity creates value. If this is a great lifestyle and it works and anyone can do it and I could give you a map, an instruction manual, then everyone would do it. The thing that makes it scarce is there is no map. You go to art school, the real kind of art school, they don’t teach you how to be Shepard Fairey or Andy Warhol or Pablo Picasso. They can teach you to draw. They can teach you to do a still life that looks like a photo. That’s easy. They just can’t teach you how to do the next thing, because if they knew the next thing, they’d do it themselves. There is no map. And the people who are going to hate this book, there’s two kinds of people. One, the kind of person whose lizard brain is yelling at them really loud and they’re looking for someone to blame. They can blame me, OK. And number two, the people whose lizard brain says I need a map. The people whose resistance says where’s the how to thing? Where’s the list of bullet points? Here’s what I know. I know that if I want a blog post that’s gonna outperform all my other blogposts what I need to do is follow a simple formula. The formula is ten ways you can blank. Probably including the word traffic. And then among the ten ways I should mention Apple, Ron Paul, and talk about the distinction between men and women or black people and white people or tall people and short people, something. And then I should start a firestorm in a fight and then stand back. And my blog was to go like this. I just gave you the map. And it’s worthless because once everyone does it won’t get you any traffic and, by the way, the traffic it gets you, worthless. Because those people are looking for car accident. They’re not looking for gross. They’re not looking to exchange value. So what I’m arguing here is not that I know how you could be an artist, ’cause I don’t. What I’m arguing is if you don’t decide to be an artist it’s never gonna happen. And if you do decide to be an artist, you’re gonna figure it out.
Andrew: I see. So it’s just a matter of me here, mixer D, trying to get a better audience, and a smarter conversation here and more people watching or somebody whose watching us now whose creating a web app who wants more people on a site. Just saying, I’m gonna be artistic. I’m gonna be creative and I’m just gonna let that come out of me, and that’s gonna lead to creativity?
Interviewee: No. It says I’m gonna fail a lot. I’m gonna have a lot of bad ideas. People are going to laugh at me. I’m going to do things that don’t make any sense all the way to the edges and then I’m gonna fail again. That’s OK. I’m willing to do all those things because my study of every artist in history is that’s the way it works. That’s the map.
Andrew: OK. You said something earlier that I took a note on. You said you were failing every day. I’m watching you from the outside. I’m watching some of the top internet entrepreneurs from the outside. I don’t see you guys fail. I don’t see Seth Godin flop on his face. I see every day there’s a new blog post from Seth Godin, sometimes on the weekends there might even be two blog posts. I see he keeps cranking out these books. He’s bringing people into his office to do an MBA program that’s not a real MBA program. It’s a Seth-dreamt-this-up MBA program. Not one of them is upset on the internet because Seth screwed them over and promised something he didn’t deliver.
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Andrew: …because Seth screwed them over and promised something he didn’t deliver. They’re all loving it. Squidoo is doing well even though Tech Crunch… I went and saw an old article by them saying, “Uh, oh. Seth Godin now is going to prove that he’s not the marketing guru and he’s going to lose that revenue stream.” Squidoo is doing well. Where are the failures?
Interviewee: Well, the MBA program wasn’t a failure because I had nine brilliant wonderful people; they get all the credit. For every blog post you read I write 10, 20, 30 in my head. I type a few, they go away. Those are private failures. There are failures of projects that almost launched that get cancelled. Projects that cost me a bunch. There is a slide that goes in a presentation that’s supposed to be really funny and it’s not. There’s a page of a book that’s supposed to resonate with people. There’s a chapter of a book that I work on for two months, the hardest chapter of all, and my editor doesn’t get it and I have to take it out. There’s the failure of some guy posting on twitter, “I don’t even think this book shouldn’t have been published.” Well, for him I’m a total failure. The market adds up, maybe not.
Andrew: That’s a small percentage. I do the research. I would look for any dirt that I could find on you just to bring it up and ask you about it here. But for the most part, you don’t fail in public. What you’re telling me is you’re failing in private. It’s in the blog posts you write in your head –
Interviewee: I’m going to interrupt you. This is your lizard brain talking; you’re looking for an excuse, right? I started more than 100 businesses before I had one that really worked. I was three weeks away from bankruptcy for six years in a row. I went window shopping in restaurants. I launched a video tape with fish swimming back and forth for people who couldn’t have an aquarium. I had a business selling light bulbs door-to-door to raise money for marching bands. There’s a really long list of failures. The difference is once you get going you have enough reserve that you can fail more quietly because you can test market. You can put things into a different space. Pablo Picasso painted a lot of really bad paintings after he was Pablo Picasso. That’s the privilege you get after you have momentum. But, please, do not speak on behalf of your audience saying, “Well, Seth Godin gets to do that but I can’t because the magic genie hasn’t come to me yet.” Well, the magic genie didn’t show up in my office. It was a really long time before we had the momentum to make things work. If you look at Squidoo’s traffic, sure we’re number 100 on the Quantcast chart now, but for the first year it was pretty quiet. And for the second year it was quiet but we were losing money and we’re not venture funded. So it’s pretty easy to look back and say, “Wow. That was obvious.” But if it was so obvious, why didn’t you do it?
Andrew: I’ve got to come up… we one day have to do an interview about how you built up Squidoo. There are too many people talking just about you and your writing but the brilliance of what you were able to do there I’m not seeing enough written about. Let’s focus on this book for now. You said, I think you said in the book that, and maybe this isn’t a perfect quote, but I think you said, “Everybody’s a genius,” or “Everyone has genius in them.” True? Every one of us for the most part?
Interviewee: Well, see Albert Einstein ruined the whole genius thing because we think to be a genius we have to come up with a five letter equation that changes the world. That’s not what a genius is. My definition is somebody who solves a problem in a way that no one expected or haven’t been able to solve. So when you were four you solved an interesting finger painting problem. And when you were seven you said something to your that no one expected, that really changed the conversation. And when you were 12 you made a joke that was so funny people wet their pants, right? But then along the way it got drilled out of you. Along the way acts of genius were laughed at and acts of compliance were rewarded. So we marvel at entrepreneurs who break this many rules. Well, the reason we marvel at them is we’ve been trained that no rules should be broken. And my point is surely you have touched someone in a way they have not been touched, open a conversation in a way that’s never been opened before, solved a business problem in a way that has never been solved. So those are acts of genius. How often do you do them? You could do them more. That’s what we’re willing to pay you for.
Andrew: Okay. We’ve talked several times about the lizard brain. Maybe we should define it and then talk about where that comes from because it ties into what you just said. So what is the lizard brain?
Interviewee: Okay, so it’s right here. I shaved my head so you could see it. It’s near the top of your spinal cord, near the amygdala and what it is is prehistoric, it’s been around for hundreds of thousands of years. We evolved to have it. It protects you from sabre toothed tigers. It protects you from the being thrown out of the village and being eaten by animals. It is responsible for revenge and anger and fitting in and reproduction. We have many brains. It’s one of them. There’s another brain that worries about breathing and another one that worries about lust. Right? And that brain, the lizard brain, is quiet most of the time, but it’s aroused when the boss comes in and says, “Andrew, I need you to give a speech tomorrow.”
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Interviewee: But it’s aroused when the boss comes in and says “Andrew I need you to give a speech tomorrow.” Now it’s on this “wooowooo” tongue. And Elizabeth, you’re going to like to say, that I’m, now I, heck I’ve changed a little bit changed a little bit but, she says “you noticed that people get writers block but noone gets plumber’s block. You know the plumber doesn’t shows up and say “You know, I just don’t feel like pluming your toilets. Do you have any whiskey or scotch? Maybe I can drink my way out of it.” But we expect writers to act like that. My argument is that physical labor is not so good anymore. You can’t make a living really with physical labor. So we get paid for emotional labor. Get paid for digging deep and doing work we maybe don’t feel like. That’s your job, so do the work. And we work for people like you and people listening to this. The work is not to just ditto everything you hear. The work is to innovate. The work is to go to an edge and touch someone and make and edge and be generous. Once we understand that that’s the work, as long as you are to do it.
Andrew: I got a quote here from one of the documents that you guys sent over before the interview. “So many back and forwards through people. I should be paying them for all the time they are spending with me. An information worker develops their skills at confronting fear”, that’s the work they’re saying. To work on confronting your fear, that’s part of your job.
Interviwee: You know. You go to You go to the eighth day counter at Delta or United. And there’s 40 or 60 people behind you. And the 40 people in front of you has been hassling the person behind the counter. And you say “I know my bag weighs 52 pounds, is there a way that we can get it on?” And she says “no.” Is that what Delta paid her for? To be a clog cause they haven’t been able to mechanised that? What would happen if she could spend exactly the same amount of time? Smile at you and say “Hello there” with my hands by my side. “Why don’t you just unzip that bag and take out the down jacket and wear the jacket instead?” How much would that cost her? Nothing. It’s a generous act. It’s an act of humanity. Right? That doing that is not in the manual. Doing that requires initiative on her part. It’s art. It’s art cause it changed you. It changed your relationship with you and her. So what we’ve discovered now. In the book I quote General Charles Coolack about this Coolack’s law. What we’ve discovered is that the lowest paid people in the company are your marketing team. Now. You have all these airlines and all these ads and all these runways and all these buildings. And it all comes down to one. $18 an hour junior person. Who decides to make a connection or not, with the person on the other side of the counter. Dealing with “I might get in trouble for saying that.” Dealing with “I don’t know if that will make my supervisor happy.” Dealing with “uh, I have four more hours on my shift.” That’s the work. That’s what we have to do.
Andrew: Alright. Actually I said earlier that I was talking several of your people but there was just one person who acted like several people. Her name was. Tell me if I’m mispronouncing her name. It’s Ashida Gouta right?
Andrew: She’s phenomenal. There are few of you who talked about how to interact with people and I always will pay attention to people who work for you guys. you, Gary, Dane and Chuck. A couple of others, I pay attention to people who work for you guys. They say, they really snow in the Republic and when I look under the hood, I see where the dirt is. No, she’s phenomenal so, if you don’t mind. How do you? WHat’s your relationship with her? How is she so phenomenal? What’s the deal here? Because I’d like to have people like that on my team.
Interviewee: Ashida does not work for me. I work for Ashida. The deal? She was one of my MBA students. And when the semester ended I asked her to just come on as head of Hoopla for this project. And what I said is, “You’re in charge. You’re the head of Hoopla. Tell me what to do.” And I work for her. She says “You’re going to talk to me Andrew? I show up.” And, so you start by hiring somebody who loves to be like this. Not somebody you have to tell to be like this. And then you completely get out of the way. You get out of the way and say “You are better at this than I am.” And that’s the secret of Scadoo by the way. Six people, all who are better at what they do then I am so I don’t bother them. And, I work for her. If I can support what she is doing, that’s my job. It is not my job to tell her what to do. Because then she become a compliant clog in the factory of Seth Coating. that’s not the deal.
Andrew: I see. OK alright. Let’s go back to the lizard brain. How do you stop it? You get this thought in your head. You’re sitting down to create the next web act. A thought comes in your head and you go “That Jason Freed. He had an interesting Blog the other day. He’s probably whipping his Blog posts out in his sleep and then waking up to create it. And just churning out profitable web acts. I can’t compete with him. Now intellectually you know. That’s nonsense, you’re not really competing with him. You’re in your own world with your own customer base. But you can’t stop that thought. How do you do it?
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Interviewee: Well I’d start with Steve Pressfield’s book The War of Art, where he talks about the resistance. This resistance is nefarious, it will never give up, it will use every opportunity it can to find an excuse to get you to yakshave. To spend three more hours checking your status on all these social networks just one more time. To make sure you’re in the right emotional moment to move forward, and then, you know its name and you know its tactics and you know how it does its job, and you’re smarter then that. So if it’s important to you, you beat it. What did Issac Asmov do? He wrote four hundred books in his career, right? Fortie times as many as me. How did he do it? Every morning he woke up at 6:00 and he wrote till 10 A.M. and then he was done, right? Robert Parker just died, he wrote dispenser novels. Everyday, day in and day out he wrote five pages, that’s all, five pages. That’s how he beat the resistance. He can spend as much time as he wants at the keyboard but he cannot get up until five pages are done. There’s a million ways to beat the resistance, after all it’s a hundred thousand years old it’s very primitive. You just got to decide that that’s your job. Once you decide that that’s the job you’ll figure out how to beat the resistance. If I tell you how I beat it, it will not help you. You have to beat it your way.
Andrew: Maybe it will actually. Do you mind telling us? You can’t tell us?
Interviewee: I’m not going to tell you. Sorry.
Andrew: Because it’s to embarrassing? Because it takes away from personality or something?
Interviewee: No because then you’ll be following my map. Then you’ll be following my manuel, and when it doesn’t work you know what the resistance is going to say? Idiot! You’re following Seth Godin’s book! He’s a jerk! Don’t listen to him! And then you’re stuck. What I’m forcing you to do, trying to force you to do, is sit quietly in an empty room. Confront it, deal with it, live with it, talk to it, and figure it out. If you don’t figure it out, no tool, no rulebook is going to help you.
Andrew: A lot of this sounds like meditation techniques. I went on a meditation retreat where they forced me to not talk for seven or so days. And they taught me about the “monkey brain” they called it. By the way you name things right? Like lizard brain, I’m gonna be talking about lizard brain with my wife tonight and we’re going to be talking about it in the chat room and you did it intentionally right?
Interviewee: Well I didn’t invent the lizard brain, it’s from something called triune theory, you can check on wikipedia, but yeah I name stuff all the time because if their isn’t a name for something we will be unable to take action on it. If permission marketing didn’t have a name you couldn’t go to Adventure Capital since they haven’t started a permission marketing company. If I Give Viruses didn’t have a name what would we have called them? They’re not viral marketing it’s The Noun right? So by naming things I’m providing a service and the service is I want us to have a conversation so let’s just agree to call it this, go talk among yourselves. I think that’s pretty valuable, it’s not particularly difficult and other people should do it too.
Andrew: To name things, come up with their own names where possible. So they own it. Okay so a lot of this does sound what you hear on meditation retreats, true?
Interviewee: Yes, meditation was invented to deal with the resistance. It was invented to deal with our need for reassurance. Now one of the things the resistance does, the lizard brain does is it always wants you to tell it everything will be okay. It always wants to hear the bad things aren’t gonna happen cause of your art. And so this constant need for reassurance never ends and it actually escalates and the magic of meditation were done properly, is if you can live with the empty space. You discover you don’t need reassurance and if you don’t need reassurance you’re more willing to do stuff that might get you laughed at. The twist here, is some meditation goes so far as to say and in fact you shouldn’t even try to accomplish anything, just be. And in a capitalist world that’s frustrating, and I think that for a artist that’s frustrating. Cause no, you shouldn’t just be, you have an obligation to do the work, and you have to do the work even if it gives you a stomach ache. Even if you’re not going to get to sleep tonight. Doing the work is more important then you getting to sleep tonight.
Andrew: Doing the work is something that I saw in a lot of the reviews. You’ve got a lot of readers review the book… I love the way you release your books. I would study just the way that you work, instead of going to school. Another thing they said was as far as books they kept recommending The War of Art which I love, I can’t stop recommending it too. And shipping, Seth Godin ships I kept seeing over and over again. You’ve got… I think your website’s a little out of date. It says that you published 10 books, I don’t think your website can keep up with how many books you’ve published. Is it twelve now? Thirteen?
Interviewee: Well the reason it’s hard to keep track is I just knew about packager. Inventing ideas for books, working with a team of ten people, and shipping. We did a hundred and twenty or so books over ten years. So the transition from one to another…
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Interviewee: …isn’t really clear. I don’t know how many books I wrote. That’s not part of the gig is keeping track.
Andrew: So how do you produce so much? Is it that you sit down and say every day I’m going to write five pages?” Is it that you have your own version of that?
Interviewee: You’re trying to trick me into telling you how I deal with resistance. All right, well one thing I’ll tell you is this: I refuse to start something unless I’m prepared to finish it. Now by “start” I don’t mean brainstorm it, I don’t mean prototype it. I mean after that there’s a day and on that day it’s, “Is this good enough to be a book? Is this good enough to be a website? Is this good enough to be a blog post? Yes or no?” If it’s no, I throw it out and I never think of it again. If it’s yes, I will not stop until it’s done, right? So I can write a book in three weeks; I didn’t write this book in three weeks but I have written other books in three weeks. Because if you don’t watch TV and you don’t go on twitter and you don’t go on Facebook and you don’t go to meetings, which I don’t, there’s a lot of time, especially if you write like you talk and you refuse to let the resistance get in the way of what you’re saying. So it’s not that people have trouble writing or painting or doing customer service, it’s that they don’t want to because leaning into it all the way, all the way, is painful. It’s scary. And so you’ve got to decide, is that what you’re going to do for a living? If not go work at 7-11. It’s safer.
Andrew: Now your concern was earlier that you’ve just said, one of the techniques that you use. The concern is that somebody’s going to listen to us and say, “Once you start and commit you can’t stop,” and then 30, 40, 50 years into it they’re going to look at their lives and go, “I wasted my life because of that Seth Godin.” That’s the thing. They’ve got to find their own tactic.
Andrew: And to get to here you had to try a bunch of other tactics that you failed at?
Interviewee: Exactly. You know, I was born with ADD. I still have it and in the old days that was horrible. I mean everybody hated people with ADD. We were obnoxious in class, we were obnoxious on the air plane. Everywhere you looked you just didn’t want someone with ADD around. Well the internet is great because now it’s cool to have five screens and you’re doing this and flitting from this to this. But one of the things that people with ADD do for self-preservation is they force themselves, when something’s important, to become laser focused. And so it ends up being this great benefit, that you had to go through the process of learning how to do that. And now I’m lucky. I live in an ADD world so it all worked out for me. But if I had been born 20 years earlier or 20 years later it probably wouldn’t work.
Andrew: All right, it’s still a challenge for me. I actually read a post by Paul Graham, the guy behind YCombinator, who said that he has a separate computer that he goes to when he needs to get work done. And I tried that but it’s impossible. I need to go check email or I need to research the interview I’m about to do with you. I need a solution and like you’re saying, it’s in my head, not in my hands. It’s not in my computer.
Andrew: All right, let me challenge you on this other thing. Seth, does it ever get annoying that I’m so craving education but at the same time challenging? Do you ever go, “Well, what is this guy doing here? Either you like what I have to say or you don’t but quit challenging me here?”
Interviewee: You’re so wrong. This is such a gift you’re giving me. So few people are willing to stand up and say, “I read what you said, I respect where you’re coming from, let me tell you where I’m stuck, where I disagree. Teach me.” Very few people are that generous and that brave and it means the world to me that you’re doing it.
Andrew: Thank you. Thanks for understanding and for coming at it this way. Otherwise I would look like a jerk. This way, hopefully, you can see that I’ve got the curiosity of a child. And here’s where my childish curiosity goes: you talk about giving is…I’m going to paraphrase it. Giving is the new receiving. That years ago it was all about how much can you receive and accumulate. And now it’s how much can you give to the world? I kind of like the old days where it’s how much can I accumulate? Is there something wrong with me?
Interviewee: Yeah, I’m afraid so Andrew. Okay.
Andrew: I’m exaggerating for effect here but…
Interviewee: We don’t have time for the whole history lesson, but here’s the short version. Why do you want to accumulate stuff? My guess is you want to accumulate stuff because it makes you feel good. Not because you need it, because you want it. You want to accumulate stuff because it gives you a sense of stability and security and that there’s a cultural thing that if you can accumulate a lot of stuff people think you have power, right? Well, in the Pacific Northwest the Native Americans had a tradition called “potlatch” where the chief would give away everything he owned. Everything. And there were wars of potlatch where people were competing to see who give away the most. Why? Because if you can give away everything you must have a lot of power because you’re not even worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow. And on the internet, a world of digital goods, where accumulating more stuff isn’t worth very much because it’s all bits guess what the most valuable thing to accumulate is? Respect. Attention. People who think they owe you something. This idea of people opening themselves to your idea. That’s where power lies. That’s where joy lies. Now.
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Interviewee: To your ideas. That’s where power lies. That’s where joy lies. Now. Unlike ten or fifteen years ago. That if we think about something like Cory Doctorow who’s written fifty five thousand posts on Boing-Boing, in ten years, right? Cory’s one of the most powerful people in the world. Not because we all mail him gifts. He’ll never have trouble making a living, ever. But anywhere Cory goes, in the world, he has a bed to sleep. He has someone who’ll shuttle him somewhere, him somewhere. He has people who will believe him when we says something. Cory can say, I hate Canadian copyright law, everyone go write to this guy, and we do. But, why? What happened? Well he gave to us relentless, persistent, over the top generosity day after day after day with nothing expected in return. He didn’t say I’ll do this for ten years then I’ll get elected. No, he just does it ’cause it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege for me to write a blog post that even four people are going to read. I would never add ads on my blog. How stupid would that be to pimp out the audience, for a hundred bucks? No. This is my, my pride and joy that people are trusting enough of me, that in the morning they’ll tune into see what I have to say. Thank you so much for letting me give you this. And that is where we’re headed as a culture. That the people who can give the most, get what really matters, which is peace of mind. The ability to do their art. The ability to leverage new genius and make change in the world. That’s the new economy. Working for Ford Motor Company in Detroit on the assembly line putting widget A into widget B? That is not a job with good prospects.
Andrew: At the same time you can’t take, you can’t take reputation to the grocery store. When you’re dying to travel to another country, you can’t use reputation to fly you out. And we might come up with a few examples of people who’ve done that, but for the average person listening to us it’s not feasible. And when we look at accumulating, I don’t mean accumulating more furniture or more cars in my life, but I was pretty impressed when I saw that Squidoo had a big audience. I was impressed that I had Seth Godin and other smart thinkers who I respect on Mixergy and I do want to accumulate more of those. And to that degree, in those senses doesn’t it make sense to accumulate money so you can afford to pay for the things that you want? To accumulate traffic or tension and all the other things?
Interviewee: I’m not, down on money. I think money’s fine. So let’s say you’re a programmer and you want more money. Well, one model is go to work everyday. Be Dilbert. The other model is, focus as much energy as you can to get as many lines of code as you can into the Linux kernel. Right? For free. Give the code to the Linux kernel. Or write a piece of shareware that’s free that gets used by, I don’t know, four million people on their Mac to take screen shots. Be generous. Tell me. Honestly Andrew. Do you think that person’s ever gonna have trouble getting a good job?
Andrew: Yeah we can see evidence everyday that they don’t.
Interviewee: Exactly. Now Shepard Fairey, Rhode Island School of Design. Lots of people went to art school with him. Can you name anyone else who went to art school with Shepard Fairey? I can’t. How did Shepard Fairey make it so that he’s making over a million dollars a year? What’s his strategy exactly? Right? His strategy is posters, everywhere. Free art everywhere. Here, go, take it. Go down the list. I’m talking about programmers and architects and designers and people who know how to use a pen and people who know how to write and people who know how to build things and people who know how to build sustainable businesses. I’m talking about Paul Graham. You mentioned Paul Graham. What’s in it exactly for Paul Graham that you read what he wrote?
Andrew: Well, lemme, lemme suggest this. I’ve talked to several entrepreneurs who drove miles just to see him and share his, share their ideas with him with the hope, some of them, that, that he’d invest, but others just so he’ll bless their ideas or just to spend some time listening to him. He’s able to transfer that into a business model, right?
Interviewee: Yes, that’s my point. Paul Graham calls you on the phone and says Andrew I wanna invest in your company. Right? Do you do ?? on him. Do you check over three times? Or do you just take the money? You take the money. Is he able to get a better investment rate because he’s Paul Graham? Of course he can. That’s money. Right? Where’d the money came from? It came as a souvenir of his art. Right? It came because his reputation made him more valuable to be part of what you do. It came because that guy who got lines in the Linux code, you trust him more as a good programmer ’cause he’s proven himself. So, we either fool ourselves into thinking that the only way to make money is to sell out and do what we’re told. Or we make money by being exceptional, by being indispensable, by being someone they can’t live without. And my argument, and I think I’ve got lots of evidence to back it up is that the first.
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Interviewee: That first category gets paid less. In my presentation last week, I showed a chart, “Hourly Wage, Adjusted for Inflation, from 1960 to Present, for Untrained Workers”. You know, burger flippers. 1960, they made $15 an hour. Now, they make $15 an hour. Zero change in 49 years. That’s a lousy bet. I don’t want to take that bet.
Andrew: You’re changing minds here in the audience. First of all, here, on the other side of the video camera, but also in the audience. I see, I won’t even start reading each individual one, but I see you’re re-shaping people’s view of art, of creativity. And I love seeing this feedback. We have about two, three more minutes left. I’ll just ask, where did the idea for this book, The Linchpin, come from?
Interviewee: The answer to the question, where do good ideas come from, is always the same. They come from bad ideas. If you come up with 20 bad ideas, you’ll have a good idea. I have a lot of bad ideas. I have more bad ideas than anyone I know. I’m in the bad idea business. And part of my skill is throwing out the bad ones. And whatever’s left, is interesting. I don’t write books to make a living. I don’t write books because I like it. Writing books is exhausting. And it’s nerve-racking, and it’s a pain in the neck. And it’s not lucrative. I write books because I have to. I had to write this book because I was hearing from people by email who were in pain. Who were upset. Who had bought the deal. And it wasn’t working. They had seen the strategy. They had heard strategies I’d talked about for companies. And now some of those strategies weren’t working where they were working. And they want to know why were they getting a pay cut. And why are they so unhappy. And I realized I couldn’t talk about strategy any more. I had to go grassroots, bottom up, and talk about people. Because if we don’t have people with right intent, no strategy is going to pay off. And so this isn’t passionate works. I mean, I haven’t written a word of a new book since July, when I stopped writing this one. I have nothing left. This is all I have to say. But if I could just get one person to decide to change their perspective because I wrote this, it will be worth all the pain and suffering.
Andrew: Just one person. It’s not, you don’t have a number in your head that it has to be a bestseller. No. One person.
Interviewee: Bestsellers are a figment of the New York Times’ imagination. It’s an easily gained system that has no bearing on reality.
Andrew: All right. Well, let’s leave it there. I want to be fair with you with the time. Thanks for being so generous, and giving me more time, I think, than we originally talked about. So thank you for being here, Seth. This won’t be the last time that I’ll have Seth Godin on. I’m going to keep asking questions like this. And I’m so grateful to you for taking it the way that I present it. Thanks. Thank you all for watching, and I’ll see you guys in the comments.
Interviewee: Thanks for what you’re doing, Andrew. I really appreciate it.