Last night I went to see big thinker Seth Godin give a talk about his trilogy of new books at The Mermaid Theatre in London. The releases make for something of an odd triumvirate, combining a picture book (‘V is for Vulnerable’), a compendium of Seth’s best blog posts of the past six years (‘Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?’) and what might best be described as a more typical Godinesque thought provoker (‘The Icarus Deception’).
The three books – particularly ‘V is for Vulnerable’ and ‘The Icarus Deception’ – have an overarching theme of risk taking, innovation and a ‘life’s too short’ attitude that puts me in mind of the philosophies of Alan Watts.
The tale of Icarus (for whom the third book was named) is familiar to us all: “The story says don’t fly too close to the sun,” explains Seth. So what’s the ‘Deception’? Well, the second part of the story is often forgotten: it also tells us not to fly too low. “Because if you fly too low, the mist and the water will weigh you down, and you will perish.”
Seth argues that the industrial revolution ingrained in us a sense of comfort in sticking to the flight path. We knew it was safe. There would always be jobs, homes and things for us to consume if we stayed in the slipstream: flying neither too high or too low. Our grandparents knew this, our parents knew this and in turn, we knew it. In this recessionary age, the parameters of the safety zone have moved, and yet we carry on as if they haven’t, sticking to our old, familiar course.
Taking risks is completely outside our comfort zones – we’re afraid of melting our wings, or else being weighed down and drowning – and yet those who are successful are the ones who have dared to fail.
One of my favourite moments of the night was Seth explaining a Japanese concept (for which there isn’t an English equivalent) that something could be so perfect it is ‘as if made by God’. He showed us a video of a cheetah running and asked us if we thought the cheetah was worrying about what it looks like, or the way it moved when it ran? The answer was, of course, no. It runs intuitively and with passion. As Seth said, “It runs like a god would run”. In order to let go of your fears of risk and embrace the opportunity to innovate and make ‘art’ you need to ‘go full cheetah’.
I won’t spoil the book with a blow-by-blow account of the evening – if you want to know more, get yourself to your local bookshop and pick up a copy. Needless to say however, it was an electric night.
I must say though, I was quite surprised by the vehemence of the Godinites (as my friend @DanBMarketing, who is a self confessed Godinite himself, describes them) in attendance. The fanatic fervour rippled through the crowd – I overheard many conversations comparing favourite books, blog posts and Godin concepts. And every person who stood up in the Q&A or took part in the ‘Icarus Session’ had a story of how Seth had changed their lives. A magician, a DJ, a business mentor, a teacher, a singer, an author: the breadth of people who applauded Seth’s influence was surprisingly wide.
Though he hates the term, many really do view him as a guru – someone to follow. He’s uncomfortable accepting responsibility for other’s success though – reminding us that not everyone who ever reads a Seth Godin book, or indeed, Malcolm Gladwell, or any other thought leading writer goes on to “make art”. But those with the motivation to do so, to try new things and not be afraid of failure, value the guidance those thinkers provide.
Thought leaders like Godin spark innovation in others. They plant the seed, but it’s our responsibility to “go make a ruckus”.