January 16, 2010

There are No Superstars of Bowling

I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing marketing guru Seth Godin in person yesterday. Seth was introduced by a friend as an "elevator: he elevates everything around him."

His talk was timed to promote the release of his new book, Linchpin. He began by admitting that of everything he was going to say, "
the people in the room are the ones who need to hear it least. So it is my goal that you will take what you hear and put it in your own words and then share it with 10 people."

When asked, few, if any of the audience members admitted to thinking of themselves as a genius. Seth complained that "
Albert Einstein ruined it for the rest of us" and then proceeded to explain that "what a genius does is solve a problem in a way that no one ever solved it before."

The talk, loosely, offered this equation:
Genius + Fearlessness + Internet + Passion + Generosity = Success

Seth was inspiring, always interesting, and enthusiastic. This was the first time he was delivering this talk, and the connections between the concepts were less than smooth. I offer many of his pithy statements below.

Seth defines art as "
when a human being, working without a manual, connects with another human being and changes them." In an era of cheap mass production, both human initiative and connection are essential to success. "If you say to your boss, 'What should I do next?', at some point, she will say to you, "Someone else can do it cheaper.'"

He cautioned not "
to engage in any activity where the best you can do is known." Such as bowling, where the best one can do is 300. "That's why there are no bowling superstars."

Seth suggested that we grade ourselves when starting a project, and to "
give yourself a 'D'. If you can get over the fact that you've gotten a D, then you can go on and make art. 'I'm going to paint something that everyone hates.' - Now, you can paint!"

No one pays attention to your ads anymore. They pay attention to how they are treated when they show up."

Gift giving is essential to being an artist." For example, Prufrock Coffee in London, offers customers what seems like a disloyalty card: if you get the card stamped at 10 of its competitors, but then choose to return, Prufrock will give you a free cup of coffee!

The definition of anxiety is experiencing failure in advance." [This reminded me of Mark Epstein's definition of anxiety as "attempting to make the future known."]

Seth talked about fear of failure, and the false comfort that comes from never taking risks or fully exploring one's passion. He cautioned against "Pulitzer Prizefighting: wanting to compete in an arena where there is a known prize." In other words, "Are you doing what you are doing because there's an easy way to keep score?"

We closed with two handy questions that double as mantras - and connect to the title of his book [
a linchpin "has the highest usefulness to weight ratio in a car"] and -- of course! -- to Improv:
  1. "What is the point of having this interaction if I can't make it better?"
  2. "You are taking a seat: is that seat taken to the best of your ability?"

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