I’ve admired Seth Godin for a long time – I read his wildly popular and influential
Recently I went to hear him speak to the Digital Publishing Group (now The Publishing Point), where he gave a fascinating talk about “Changing Publishing from Within” — you can see him on Galleycat, answering a question (you can’t see me, but that’s my voice).
Seth has a new book coming out this very day: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Once again, he’s pointing out new ways to think about communicating ideas and working creatively. As part of his effort to spread the ideas that are highlighted in the book, he has set up a Squidoo post, the Linchpin Posts.
I was very pleased to get the chance to ask him some questions about Linchpin.
Gretchen: You write about the importance of thinking creatively. Do you have any habits or exercises that you follow to try to boost your creativity or to give yourself the breathing room need to think big?
Seth: There are two secrets to creativity:
1. Understand that there’s no gene for it. No cultural or family history required. Creativity isn’t a gift from above, it’s something that everyone is capable of.
2. The only thing that prevents your creativity from showing up is fear. Fear of being laughed at, fear of being wrong, fear of seeming uninformed. So many creative exercises and habits revolve around overcoming that fear.
For me, the single best thing you can do to become more creative is to be wrong more often. Creative people are wrong all the time (look at Apple’s long string of failures). The goal is to create a safe place to be wrong, a way to be wrong without destroying yourself. [Along these lines, I remind myself to Enjoy the fun of failure.] The more wrong I am, the more often, the better I seem to get at being creative.
There are very few chances a day to be really creative, even for someone who is creative for a living, the way I am. So I seek these moments out, I treasure them and I try to be intentional. “Here’s something I’ve waited for a day or a week for… a chance to say or do something that might change the status quo, that might improve a system… I wonder how I can mess it up?”
You emphasize the importance of connection. Technology makes it far easier to connect with large numbers of people – far beyond what we can actually handle in a thoughtful way. At the same time, loose connections can be both satisfying and useful, so it’s tempting to want to maintain as many as possible. How do you manage this yourself?
I think that ‘connection’ is a very loaded term online. There are certainly a lot more friendlies online. Friendlies are people you have a modicum of permission with, the ability to show up without appearing to be a stranger. But that’s different from being missed when you don’t return. If you’re not missed, you really haven’t made a connection with leverage.
My blog has enabled me to engage with a huge number of people, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity. I enjoy learning from the people I hear from online, and I’m pleased that they give me an opportunity to teach or at least provoke. I’m careful not to confuse this privilege with the other sort of connection that I’m talking about–the connection that humans are only able to have with a few dozen people perhaps.
The opportunity I talk about in Tribes is that you can now lead groups of connected individuals. You can help them go places that they’ve wanted to go all along. The idea that each of us can find and connect and lead a tribe is truly powerful. Watching the people in my tribe grow and develop and connect is absolutely thrilling.
You argue for people to change their way of thinking about the world, and that’s exciting — but it can be hard for people to translate big ideas into practical actions. What are some concrete steps that would help people put these kinds of ideas into action in their everyday lives?
It’s extremely difficult to “to do something big.” I think setting out to do something small is easier and more likely to work.
Small as in human, transparent and connected. Small as in ‘worth doing’ but also ‘worth failing at.’
You’re asking me a specific question, and I think a specific answer is the worth thing I can hand you. We won’t solve this problem with 9 ways to do this or 11 ways to do that. Instead, I think it begins with a fundamental set of assumptions.
Who are you leading? Where are you going? Does it matter?
Don’t let the resistance get in the way of doing something that makes a difference. That little voice in the back of your head that says, “this will never work,” or perhaps, “you’ll fail and they’ll laugh at you…” That voice must be ignored, or even better, do the opposite of whatever it says!
So, the first step is the hardest: you need to care enough about the outcome that you’re willing to call out the resistance, to stand up and shout it down.
Once you’ve made that commitment, there are a hundred techniques that will work. Most of the successful ones have one thing in common: they inch along, below the lizard brain’s radar. They don’t involve huge jumps, instead they take small steps. You don’t go and give a speech to 1,000 people. That’s too scary, the resistance is too strong, the voice inside your head recoils in fear. Instead, you give a speech to three people, then six and then twelve. Over time, bit by bit, you continue to increase your footprint and bit by bit, become ever more remarkable.
As you point out, it’s hard to resist inertia and the status quo. Is there a mantra you repeat to yourself, or a quotation you call to mind, that helps remind you to think big and to think original? (For instance, in my case, as I think about how to be happier, I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.” That always works.)
I’m going to have to try the “Be Gretchen” one.
For me, the restlessness is now ingrained. That’s the goal, to make it a habit. Yes, restlessness is the goal, not a tactic, but the point of the exercise. Once you can become restless enough to persistently challenge the status quo, you’re on your way back to being the artistic genius you used to be.
I was lucky enough to discover Zig Ziglar’s work when I most needed it, about twenty years ago. I bought 72 hours of his tapes and listened to each one at least 20 times. I’m talking about two or three hours a day of audio for years. I’m not saying you need Zig, or even tapes. I’m pointing out that the act of working on quieting the lizard brain, the effort to consistently and persistently push yourself to move forward… it’s an effort, it’s not a hobby.
If you had to sum up in one sentence what you want a reader to understand from reading Linchpin, what would it be?
The world wants you to be a faceless, replaceable cog in the vast machinery of production–but if you choose, and you work at it, you can become the sort of person we really need, an indispensable linchpin, a person who matters. The marketplace needs and embraces artists, creatives, initiators, challengers and movers. You have that skill, the challenge is unearthing it.
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