Interview – Seth Godin – Author "Linchpin" and "Tribes"

by Braden Kelley

I had the opportunity to interview Seth Godin, author of “Linchpin”, “Purple Cow”, “Tribes” and nine other books, at the World Innovation Forum 2010 in New York, NY. In this video Seth talks about innovation, education, and more.

Here is the innovation interview transcript:

Hello everyone this is Braden Kelley with Blogging Innovation here with Seth Godin author of 12 books including most recently Linchpin. Seth, I would just like to have a quick chat about innovation and marketing with the folks out there that read the blog and follow along. So first question I would like to explore with you is about insight and you talked a bit about insight versus execution and you talked today at the world innovation forum and I just wanted to explore a bit more with you when it comes to insight and organizations, organizations often times when it comes to innovation think about ideas in generating lots of ideas but for me insights were important, what do you think?

Seth: You know Jackson Pollock was one of the great painters of the 20th Century and people think he didn’t know how to paint. His teacher was Thomas Hart Benton who was one of the great painters of the early 20th Century. Dealing with Jackson Pollock’s work, you don’t say this is the work of someone who doesn’t know how to paint. You say this is someone who had insight about what he wanted to do. He had a vision for what a new kind of art could be like. A lot of organizations would like to pretend that that part isn’t true.

They would like to pretend that you can churn out things that work in the market place on a regular schedule in a predictable basis but in fact human beings create art work worth talking, work worth doing, things that we marvel at in an erratic way and it is not about brainstorming, it is about having the insight to understand where the market is and where it is going. We are not good at talking about it. We are not good at managing for it, we are bad at hiring for it but every once in a while an organization comes along that culturally gets it.

When Howard Schultz was running Starbucks, Howard has insight into the community and the way they are going to interact with caffeine and a building in a third place, that when Phil Knight was arrogantly building Nike into this major company, his gut, the insight that he had was not “Oh I have an idea, let’s make sneakers that are orange” he had insight about what goes on in the mind of a runner or an athlete or a basketball player that is something we need to get better at producing and thinking about by we are not going to do it by treating it like a good that comes from a factory.

Braden: So you can talk about getting good at it, obviously our educational system is not necessarily training people to think creatively or work on problems in an integrated manner as much as we might like, obviously there is teachers that are working on it.

Seth: You are being way to kind.

Braden: I’m being way to kind.

Seth: Our educational system is intentionally dampening, deadening, eliminating, stamping out any shred that people have of actually developing these critical skills. Our educational system is organized, no child left behind test, test, test, SATs, number 2 pencils to create compliant factory workers and we need to be really angry about that and not give them a pass.

Braden: So what would you change?

Seth: Well I don’t get to change it, right? I don’t get to run every school board and change the way funding works, what I do get to do is deal with kids from 3 o’clock in the afternoon to 10 o’clock at night. What I do get to do is change the way people apply for a job or change what jobs people think are important and we need to home school kids every single afternoon to understand that what is important is to solve interesting problems and to lead and to connect, and until they start doing that they are going to be setting themselves up to be a more expensive version of what you can buy in China for half the price.

Braden: Well that is a definite risk and as we look at our children, as we look at the future before us, and as we look at some of those interesting problems that are out there to potentially be solved, what is one interesting problem that you haven’t written about yet that sort of bouncing around in the back of your head that you think is interesting and the people should explore more?

Seth: Even though I have written 12 books, I’m not a writer, I don’t wake up in the morning and say what book am I going to write now and in fact I’m done writing books and that the Linchpin is my last book with a traditional publisher and the reason is because this is my life’s work, my life’s work is to help people see and understand the biggest shift of our generations happening right now. We don’t need more competence, we don’t need more obedience, we need more innovation and leadership and we need to conquer the fear in the back of our head.

You know a lot of people who will read your blog would like to be more creative, but a lot of them want to figure out how to make it a predictable factory driven system, why? Because they are afraid, they are afraid of failing and the biggest, biggest shortage, corporate America has is failure. We are not failing often enough. There are many companies that are proud of the fact they never fail, those companies are a waste, those companies are going to fade away and die because in times of change the only hope is innovation and what innovation means is failing on your way to succeeding.

Braden: Right and that is a very important concept, failing on your way to succeeding because if you look at some of the organizations that people hold up as being very innovative, Apple for example, Apple has failed several times. If you look at the Motorola ROKR, if you look at the Apple TV, not huge market successes but they are learning things as they go along so the Motorola ROKR, what they learn there helps to inform the iPhone. The things that they learn from the Apple TV are going to likely inform the thing that is coming next and I’m sure it is coming next but hasn’t come next yet.

Seth: But sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it doesn’t inform anything. Now here is how I can tell if you are serious, years ago when I come in it had a lot of people in there. I took aside one of my very best employees and I said “You know I noticed you haven’t had any failures in the last 3 months” he was very proud of himself he said “yeah.” I said “if you don’t start failing, you are fired” and the only way I’m going to tell if a company is serious about innovation is how many people do you fire for not failing. Until you start firing people for not failing, you are not serious.

Braden: Well that is a very good point I think to end on, again this has been Braden Kelley of BloggingInnovation.com here with Seth Godin author of Linchpin and 11 other books.

Seth: Thanks.

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