Seth Godin and I had a recent e-mail exchange. I asked him ten questions:
1. QUESTION: Your latest book, “Small Is The New Big”, is not a narrative or a thesis in any sense, but a collection of your favorite writings from your blog and your old Fast Company column. A collection of synapse-firings, the way I see it. Is it important to you to have your work “immortalized” on paper? Do you find the internet and magazines just too ephemeral, and wanted to created something more “lasting”? Or was it just simply because, as you say, you wanted your ideas to reach beyond the blogosphere?
ANSWER: It’s important not to underestimate the totem value of a book. The same way a white lab coat makes a placebo more likely to be effective (or a witch doctor’s hat for that matter), a book delivers an impact that a blog can’t.
While there’s certainly some ego in wanting your thousands of posts not to disappear, there’s also a real desire on my part to give my existing readers the ability to taunt their co-workers by handing them a book instead of emailing them a link. If my job is to make change, I need to use the best tools that are available.
It’s also hard to read a blog at the beach.
I want to be clear about something I just discovered though–that there IS a theme. The title really captures what the book is about. I’ve been amazed that reviewers (professional and pro-am) have seemed to find something that I didn’t when I was busy writing it… that acting small, treating people like people, changing like an individual, not an organization… these are attributes that are essential now, and they’re on every page of the book. I think I picked the right riff for the title.
2. QUESTION: As a cartoonist, I find myself quite surprised that very few of the more prominent bloggers out there are in the “Arts”. It seems we have lots of business thinkers, technologists, entrepreneurs, consultants etc, but why do we have so surprisingly few filmmakers, playwrights, novelists, musicians, painters etc at the top of the pyramid? I have a few theories myself as to why this is, but may I ask what may be your take on it?
ANSWER: They’re coming, for sure. Postsecret is one of the three most popular blogs in the world. I think mainstream artists are rarely the first to embrace a new medium (silkscreening, for example, took a long time to get its Andy Warhol), but they’re coming. It’s going to be a new generation of artists that embrace the nature of the medium, and they’re just getting started.
3. QUESTION: Let’s imagine, for whatever reason, you had decided not to start blogging, and keep on exclusively writing books instead. How different do you think your career would be today?
ANSWER: My books would be longer, more appreciated by critics and less popular. I’d have notebooks filled with unfinished sentences and people wouldn’t mail me bermuda shorts. Thanks for the shorts, by the way, I love them.
What your readers already realize is that blogs aren’t just a way to waste time at work. It’s a big shift, a change for a generation.
4. QUESTION: From what I can tell, you make a pretty good living from your books and public speaking gigs. One could intelligently argue that you don’t really need to set up other enterprises- Squiddoo etc- in order to maintain your current standard of living. But you do so anyway. So assuming I am correct [I may not be, but hey, it’s not like it’s any of my business either way], that you’re not doing these enterprises primarily for the money, what do you think motivates you to increase your workload in this manner?
ANSWER: It’s not a workload! Look, there are 8 million millionaires in the USA. Why do these people go to work every day? Why not downsize appropriately and just sit on the beach? Because they’re too smart. They realize that the purpose of living isn’t to bake in the sun until you die. I write and speak and experiment because that’s what I do. I’m thrilled to have the chance to do it every day. Any day I’m not thrilled, I’ll stop.
As a result of the transparency of blogging, a lot of people have realized, almost as an aside, that people do what they love to do. It’s just now you get to see it on your screen. Sometimes those things appear to have no financial incentives (raising goldfish) and sometimes they do. But let’s be clear… unless you work for Goldman Sachs or are selling drugs on a street corner in Topeka, you’re almost certainly not in this, whatever this is, for the money.
Most of the time, for most people, in most industries, it’s not REALLY about the money.
5. QUESTION: A lot of people read your books and speak highly of them. But is there any particular part of your body of work that you think is misunderstood by a surprisingly high percentage of your readers?
ANSWER:I’m not surprised that a percentage (not so big, though) of people who read my books use them and misconstrue them to justify their own strategies. Permission Marketing is not about spamming people just by claiming you have “permission.” And a Purple Cow isn’t purple because you think it is… it’s up to the market. But in general, I’d say that the ideas are traveling pretty well.
On the other hand, my briefer riffs, cryptic blog posts and such, get me in trouble all the time. I make assumptions about people understanding my train of thought and my tone of voice, and I got caught. I’m trying to walk a fine line between clarity and pithiness.
6. QUESTION: Of all your books, which one would you rewrite, if the publishers would let you?
ANSWER: I wish I had another shot at “Survival is Not Enough”. I’m not sure how I would change it, but I think it’s a very strong book, and it wasn’t a total failure.
7. QUESTION: I know for a fact that you inspire a lot of bloggers. Could you name a few of the bloggers who inspire you?
ANSWER: Joi Ito got me started. You challenge me regularly to rethink the limits. Tom Peters reminds me that I don’t work hard enough.
I also read dozens of blogs a day, including: acleareye.com, Joel on Software, Brand Autopsy, Boingboing, Springwise, Buzzmachine, Presentation Zen, Guy Kawasaki, Kathy Sierra, Fred Wilson, Rick Segal, etc.
Most of my inspiration, though, comes from walking down the street, or working with the gang at Squidoo or reading my email every day. It’s so easy for a blogger to try to be like other bloggers, merely because there’s so much input available. Resist!
8. QUESTION: If you’re a marketer, I believe that thriving in the old, top-down “TV-Industrial Complex” era, as you call it, and thriving in your new world of “Permission Marketing” and “Idea Viruses” require completely different skill sets. So although you may sell a lot of books, do you ever get frustrated that your ideas are slow to reach the people who probably could use them the most? [AFTERTHOUGHT: Possible title for a future blog post: “The best ideas are always last to reach the people who need them the most.” Yes? No? Maybe?]
ANSWER: I’m astonished at how long it takes an idea to filter from the early adopters to the masses. What sort of person just read the Da Vinci Code or just discovered the iPod? I was standing in a nice store in a nice suburb and heard one 25 year old explain to a 30 year old what gmail was… it’s so easy to assume that everyone already gets it.
9. QUESTION: Was your eventual transition from business entrepreneur to writer a long-held ambition of yours, or did it evolve slowly, perhaps almost happening by accident?
ANSWER: I wrote my first book in 1986… at first, I enjoyed the entrepreneurial nature of packaging books–the barrier to entry was tiny, the publishers gave you the small stake you needed, and if it worked, you could run with it. In fact, it was just like blogging, except it cost more. I have no doubt at all that if there had been blogs in 1986, I would have skipped a whole bunch of intermediate steps along the way.
Five years from now, there are going to be at least 2,000 (maybe 20,000) freelancers who have turned blogging into a technique to leverage a successful media business. First in have a head start.
10. QUESTION: Last year I asked you what effect having a blog has had on your book writing career. Would you mind repeating your answer here, for the benefit of my readers?
ANSWER: A year ago, I told you that blogs had killed my interest in writing books, because they relieved the pressure of ideas building up. My blog got me quick, good feedback and made it easy to spread ideas without resorting to a dying industry.
Since then I’ve learned that books reach a different population in a different way. I really need to do both. Live and learn!
11. BONUS QUESTION: What is your definition of a “global microbrand”? And do you consider yourself to be one?
ANSWER: A “global microbrand” is a little like a jumbo shrimp, I guess.
Brand is an old-fashioned word that was invented for marketers who couldn’t measure connections between people. Brand is a collection of notions and hints and desires and wisps that allow a consumer a shortcut when thinking about an organization, product or even a person. So, I don’t really know Sumner Redstone, but he has a brand, at least in my mind (scary thought).
The thing about these shortcut and placeholder ideas is that they are always slightly inaccurate, different for different people and not as subject to manipulation as most marketers would like. As a result, talking about them as a monolith is silly.
So, if you’re a brand, Hugh, then I’m a brand. But we’re people, too, and our only option is to paraphrase the great groupies of the 60s and reply, “I’m with the brand.”