Seth Godin has written 13 books that have been translated into more than 30 languages—and every one has been a best-seller. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, changing everything. American Way magazine calls him America’s greatest marketer, and his blog is perhaps the most popular in the world, written by a single individual.
His latest book, Poke the Box, is a call to action that urges people to move away from conformity, to take the leap, to “do something.” He released the book through the Domino Project, a joint effort with Amazon.com that is described as “a series of manifestos by thought leaders” (named after the domino effect—where one powerful idea spreads down the line, from person to person).
The following is an edited version of a recent interview with Godin for AMA’s Edge Wise Podcast series. You can listen to the complete interview here.
AMA: In today’s era of the iPad and Kindle, with more and more reading being done on electronic devices, how do you view the role of traditional book publishing?
Seth Godin: There’s a difference between publishing and books. Publishing is risk taking. It’s venture capital for ideas. Book publishers don't print books. They hire people to do that. What book publishers do is advance money and effort to bring books to the world.
Book publishing is more important than ever. People who are putting stuff on iPads and building blog networks—they’re basically publishers as well. The notion of a book is different now from what it was just 20 years ago, when a book was pretty much the only reliable way to spread a complicated idea. Moreover, it was the primary way people entertained themselves other than movies or television. Now, the number of replacements for a book is screamingly large. For the “almanac” type of books I used to make, there’s no market whatsoever, because Google is a much better answer.
On the other hand, books have never been challenged as the authority when you want to have a complicated idea delivered with confidence. If you hand someone a book, he or she probably won’t throw it in the trash. He or she might not read it but won’t throw it out. It carries authority with it. So, what I’m seeing is a world where publishers have mistakenly tried to make books scarce by overcharging and under distributing. What I’m trying to do is make them abundant, but still use their force in our culture to make change.
AMA: What exactly is the Domino Project?
Godin: Well, after my 12th best-seller, I put up a blog post saying that I was done being a hypocrite, which meant that I couldn’t really work with traditional publishers after criticizing them so much. A couple of weeks later, my friends at Amazon reached out and said, “We’d like to power a project where you can publish books by you and other people in new ways.”
The Domino Project enables us to use Amazon’s leverage and platform to bring books in many formats to market much faster than any other publisher can and with a lot more leverage. My first Domino Project book, Poke the Box, came out two weeks ago and so far, it has pretty much outsold my last three books put together. The reason is we are not approaching the world from a position of scarcity, but trying to make these ideas abundant.
AMA: Do you see social media as playing an important part of the whole Poke the Box concept?
Godin: Well, it’s a key part of the Domino Project because ideas are spreading faster than ever. The Internet is basically radio for ideas. Poke the Box is about starting things—starting, finishing, shipping, making an impact. What the Internet does—not just social media but the Internet—is make the cost of failing smaller than ever before. And that’s the key thing. Putting up a blog post that doesn’t resonate costs me nothing. Writing a book that doesn’t resonate costs me a year of my life. That’s a fundamental shift. If we approach writing books and writing blog posts the way we used to write books, we’re going to get stuck. Instead we have to have this other mindset that says, “You know, this world is complicated. We’re not sure what’s going to happen. Let’s try poking it and see.”
AMA: Where do you think we’re headed regarding issues of intellectual property rights, content ownership, and the open exchange of media?
Godin: Well, now we have this medium that lets us broadcast all sorts of ideas—white papers, project plans, blog posts, notions about what kind of company you want to build. And some people are saying, “Don't do that. Don't link to my newspaper. Don't talk about what I just said. It’s a secret.” And those people are failing. The people who are succeeding are the ones who are saying, “The more abundant I can be in sharing this, the happier I’m going to be.”
AMA: What will drive American employment over the next five to ten years?
Godin: I think American employment needs to be redefined. It’s not a factory job where you get paid to do exactly what your boss says and where your boss’s job is to get you to do what you did yesterday but cheaper and faster. Any job where what you do can be written down is a job where they’re going to try to find someone else to do it cheaper.
I think employment going forward is about projects. We now live in project world. The best jobs will go to people who build a reputation for stringing together series of projects.
AMA: Is there a role for small-scale innovation or practical innovation? Not everything can be a gigantically huge idea. Some innovation is really what happens on the phone with a customer, on the factory floor, or in front of a computer.
Godin: Well, actually, this may be daring, but I think all innovation is small-scale innovation. The iPad, which is a $1-billion home run, did not just leap forward as the iPad. The iPad consists of thousands of small innovations all wrapped together by a project manager.
And so, I think we’re setting ourselves up a place to hide a safety net, as it were, where we say, “Oh, my innovation isn’t big enough,” when in fact, we need people to come up with smaller innovations and actually get them out the door.
Now, go make something happen!