Failing to Start: Why We Accept Mediocrity and How to Change

Do you accept your lot in life?

Are you afraid of starting something new?

To learn how to accept who we are and how to make a change, I interview Seth Godin for this episode of the Social Media Marketing podcast.

More About This Show

Social Media Marketing Podcast w/ Michael Stelzner

The Social Media Marketing podcast is a show from Social Media Examiner.

It’s designed to help busy marketers and business owners discover what works with social media marketing.

The show format is on-demand talk radio (also known as podcasting).

In this episode, I interview Seth Godin, the bestselling author of Purple Cow, Tribes, Linchpin and many others. His most recent book is The Icarus Deception. He’s also the CEO of Squidoo.

Seth shares his experiences of having an idea and going for it, even if you think it might fail.

You’ll learn why he thinks everyone should be willing to fail and why art is so important. You’ll also discover how Seth used Kickstarter to fund The Icarus Deception.

Share your feedback, read the show notes and get the links mentioned in this episode below!

Listen Now

You can also subscribe via iTunes, RSS, Stitcher or Blackberry.

Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:

Taking Risks

The idea behind The Icarus Deception

The idea behind The Icarus Deception was Seth’s manifesto rant that will hopefully shine some light on the revolution that he thinks we are living with right now.

Seth explains how people don’t understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution of 1880–1910. Before 1880, there was no such thing as jobs. The unemployment rate was zero and most people worked on the land or for their family business.

The Industrial Revolution changed this and it also changed government, regulations, school, culture and society. It invented the weekend. We accept all this because it happened before we were born.

industrial revolution

We need to move beyond the Industrial Revolution. Image: iStockPhoto

You’ll discover why right now we have a new revolution that is replacing the fading industrial age. What’s happening now is that we have a revolution built with the connection we have about ideas, people to people and the ability to reach markets. We’d have never thought back then that one person working by him- or herself anywhere in the world with a laptop could touch a million or a billion people.

Seth talks about how PSY, who made the Gangnam Style video in South Korea, was viewed 900 million times and how this was impossible 15 years ago.

When Seth wrote Permission Marketing 12 years ago, he didn’t realize that he was writing about a different way to make connections with people. He believes that it isn’t about Facebook or Twitter, it’s about a passion for doing things that might not work. The industrial age is about polishing things so they do work. It’s the giant gap. Seth wants to teach people to like the idea of doing something that might not work.

Listen to the show to find out more about why it’s connections that create all of the value in business.

Why the commonly told version of the Icarus story is no longer relevant

Seth believes that all myths are true, to the extent that although there are no supernatural beings involved, they’re about us. Myths have developed over thousands of years to talk to human beings about how to be our best selves.

The myth involves Icarus and his father Daedalus stranded on an island. Daedalus fashions some wings for his son and says, “Put these on, but don’t fly too high because if you do, the sun will melt the wax and you will die. But more importantly, don’t fly too low because the mist in the water will get in your wings and you will surely perish.”

wings

Seth believes that many of us are flying too low. Image: iStockPhoto

Seth explains the reason why the industrialists want us to fly too low is because they benefit from this.

Listen to the show to find out why Seth thinks we are flying too low and what he wants us to do about it.

The meaning of art

Seth shares his definition of art. Art is the work of a human being doing something that has never been done before, that will make a positive impact on somebody else. And also knowing that it might not work.

Listen to the show to find out what kind of person in Seth’s eyes is an artist.

Why most people will never make art

A lot of people aren’t making art because of fear, propaganda and being brainwashed. We are not taught to say, “This might not work,” yet try anyway.

The things that are around us today—like the podcasts we listen to, or the blogs we read, or the brand of computer we would like to buy—none of these things were around a few years ago. This means that the person who chose to do it woke up with the idea, thought it might not work, but chose to do it anyway.

Listen to the show to hear why artists are full of weaknesses and are constantly failing.

Seth’s failings that led him to this point

Seth wrote a book called This Might Work and if you flip it over you will see on the back it says, “This Might Not Work.” The first 3 pages of the other side is a list of things that he completely failed on. If he could go back in time, the only thing he wish he knew at the time is that everything is going to be OK.

Part of what it means to make art is to not bet every penny you have, because you must have enough left to keep playing. The game goes to the person who fails the most, but you don’t get to fail the most if you get thrown out of the game.

It’s about exposing yourself to emotional labor and risk and about connecting with people in a generous way. And it’s not about beating yourself up when you’re wrong. It’s not the wrong of selfishness or the wrong of arrogance, it’s the hubris of good intention.

Seth believes as an artist you don’t need a map, all you need is a compass. He believes that his book is the compass, and with this compass the reader can figure out how to get from A to B. It’s the figuring out that’s the privilege. Failure is not permanent.

Listen to the show to find out the meaning behind the “No For Now.”

The three foundations of art: seeing, making and embracing the blank slate

Seth gives many examples of people who have the ability to see what we can’t. Clive Davis, one of the greatest music producers ever, could tell the difference between someone who is going to become the next Aretha Franklin and someone who wasn’t going to sell any records at all. The way we learn to see is by practicing, predicting and writing it down.

If you want to be really good at viral video, you look at them before they become viral and write down your predictions as to whether they are going to make it or not. Over time you are going to get better at predicting because you are going to see the difference between right and wrong. You are going to see the opportunity and see what others are struggling with.

Most people start with the making and not the seeing. Seth believes that having technique is silly if you don’t know what it is you are trying to do with the technique. Studying a million business projects has helped Seth see, which gives him the incentive to learn how to make.

With regards to the making, when you meet someone who doesn’t know how to change their email settings or doesn’t understand the architecture behind the Internet, this person hasn’t chosen make in their chosen field. Having your hands on the tactics and knowing how to make what’s in your head happen, whether you do it with your own hands or hire someone, is critical. You can’t do art unless you can execute it.

Seth says art is something that hasn’t been done before. So if you’re not comfortable working in a space where there is no one to copy, then you are going to have a very hard time being an artist.

Listen to the show to hear the story of how Jeff Koons knew how to see and just did it.

What “embracing the blank slate” means to entrepreneurs and marketers

Most entrepreneurs are so focused on raising more money than their peers that they try to find all the magical steps. A lot of companies become rigid because of fear. What Seth would like to see is people looking forward and thinking it might not work.

If you find in your organization that it’s OK to end a meeting by saying “This might not work, let’s do it,” then you are on the right path. But if you want to study it until you are sure, then you are an industrialist, who is working in a fading industrial age.

Listen to the show to hear Seth explain which two things you need to combine to make art.

Using Kickstarter to raise funds for The Icarus Deception

Seth shares the strategy behind using Kickstarter to raise funds for The Icarus Deception. He saw what his friend Amanda Palmer had done 6 weeks earlier with Kickstarter, which turned out to be one of the most successful Kickstarter music projects ever. Amanda organized her tribe, raising $1.2 million and caused a ruckus.

the icarus deception

Seth's new book, The Icarus Deception.

It occurred to Seth that a lot of people in the book publishing world would want to see how that might work for a book. He didn’t do it because he needed a way to get his book into the world, he did it because he wanted to make a point to authors about how to organize  readers. If you organize your readers, then the publishers understand they have no power.

Once Seth had 4,500 readers organized and 10,000 copies of the book spoken for, all the hard work was done. The publishers then saw this core group ready to go and wanted to take the risk of bringing it to the world. Seth believes that anyone who spends 7 years building an audience like he did can do this.

Everything Seth tries to do is self-referential. He hopes people will take advantage of the birth of the connection economy.

Listen to the show to find out why the goal is to delight your tribe, not to profit.

The main message from The Icarus Deception

Seth explains that if you take the jacket off his book, you will see the sun and a message that he hopes will inspire people. It says, “Fly Closer to the Sun.”

Caller Question

Robin Carlisle asks: “What do you do when you are interviewing an expert and that interview doesn’t go quite the way you thought it was going to go?”

robin carlisle

Robin Carlisle reSources.

Robin, here’s what you need to do.

Make sure you send your questions ahead of time to the interviewee and check that everything is OK. The critical part is that you need to tell the interviewee who your audience is.

With a simple transaction via email, you can tell him or her what you want to focus on. It helps to negotiate what you are going to talk about. If you do this, it greatly reduces the risk of the conversation going off the deep end.

You’ll always have situations where the person you are interviewing is going to want to talk about something that is off-script. Sometimes it’s OK to follow the flow and go with it, but the easiest way to get back on track is to say something as simple as, “Hey, thanks for that, my next question is …” This is a way to make a smooth transition and keep the conversation on track.

Call in and leave your social media–related questions for us and we may include them in a future show.

Other Show Mentions

Social Media Marketing World is Social Media Examiner’s latest mega-conference—taking place at the waterfront San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina in San Diego, California on April 7-9, 2013.

As you’d expect, Social Media Examiner recruited the biggest and best names in the world of social media marketing for this conference. Only the best for you! Be sure to check it out.

Check out this amazing new video showcasing all the event has to offer. Don’t forget that San Diego averages 70 degrees year-round.

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Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:

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What do you think? What are your thoughts on starting something new? Please leave your comments below.

Images from iStockPhoto.

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About the Author, Michael Stelzner

Michael Stelzner is the founder and CEO of Social Media Examiner, founder of My Kids' Adventures and author of the books Launch and Writing White Papers. He's also the host of the Social Media Marketing podcast. Other posts by »




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  • Tim Britt

    “Maps are no good to an artist” for me singularly describes the journey someone takes without knowing the definite outcome of their ideas but who is willing to try something different that might not work.

    I love the positive nature of the discussion and the suggestion that we settle for too much compliance forces you to consider the possibilities that are out there should you be willing to take an element of
    risk.  It’s easy to forget that we’re individuals, all built differently but still restricted by out of date
    conditions.

    Changing the way we learn and the way our authorities teach will help to transform these conditions for future generations and is a perfect example of seeing things differently but for what they are and what they could be.

    Having the vision and the skills to encourage this way of thinking/living takes courage, but I suppose that’s the whole point.

    Many thanks.

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks Tim! 

    Sometimes we need to go on an adventure without a map and that is when we discover amazing treasure.

  • http://www.EntrepreneurOnFire.com/ John Lee Dumas

    I love this part of the article: “If you find in your organization that it’s OK to end a meeting by saying “This might not work, let’s do it,” then you are on the right path. But if you want to study it until you are sure, then you are an industrialist, who is working in a fading industrial age”.

    This thinking is what propelled me into the world of the Entrepreneur.

    Thanks for a great article SME! Keep rockin everyone!

  • http://www.evolveyourweddingbusiness.com/ Heidi Thompson

    This is the most inspiring thing I’ve heard in a very, very long time. It took me 25 years to realize that failing is useful and necessary and it changed my life. I take more chances and I refuse to accept mediocrity in my life. It also made me think differently about how jobs work and how strange it is to pay someone an hourly rate instead of rewarding the effort they put into their work.

    I love that Seth has been brave enough to put this idea forward and I hope that it can help others as much as it has helped me.

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hey John – I fully agree that embracing the possibility of failure is so key to making forward progress.  Be sure to listen to the podcast :)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks Heidi – Glad you embraced this idea. It sounds like you’ve reaped the benefits lately?

  • http://www.evolveyourweddingbusiness.com/ Heidi Thompson

    This idea is the driving force behind my business. I want to help the business owners in my industry evolve. I’ve also adjusted my goals and aspirations. I never thought to question the standard path until recently. I got my degree, found a job but felt that something was missing. It’s so refreshing to know that I can live and run my business my way. No 9-5 until I’m 60 something (Which is fine for some, but not me. I’m no good with rules and authority). I’m just thankful that I live in a time that has the technology to make just about anything possible!

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Amen sister :)

  • http://www.social-media-design.com/ Lori Randall Stradtman

    Mike, you’ve inspired me today. I don’t often wander over to SME anymore, though it’s full of practical goodness. I was in the midst of retake #101 of my bio, feeling led to do something totally new and scary, and there your Twitter link flew by. I’m so glad I stopped to read it. Thank you. :)

  • http://ashleylange.wordpress.com Ashley Lange

    “Seth explains how people don’t understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution of 1880–1910. Before 1880, there was no such thing as jobs. The unemployment rate was zero and most people worked on the land or for their family business.”

    This is so flagrantly, mindlessly, breathlessly stupid that I have no words. No words! It sounds like facts, assuming you are a total dumb ass that never took a history class past your 5th grade “world studies” course. Good lord. 

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Lori – Welcome back and glad you found this helpful

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hey Ashley – I think you should listen to the context of the discussion.  What he was saying is no jobs the way we think of jobs today.

  • Vic Mafucci

    I couldn’t disagree more with this man. Everything I read from Seth emanates from a non-knowing position – especially of past events and their relationship to the present and to the unpredictable future. This article, especially, made me actually laugh out loud when he started to talk about myths. If Seth had done any type of therapy (and he needs it), he would have been privy to the importance of myth in our society, and how it affects every aspect of life from when we all start to speak and formulate ideas as children. Ancient wisdom is something so foreign to Seth that he should be barred from speaking about relationships in any form whatsoever. And because intuition plays no role in his life. His view of the world—and the past being so horribly wrong—is very disturbing and threatening to our society. Yes, I’m an “older” guy but I have a 19-year-old daughter studying at Vassar, and an 18-year-old son accepted into Bard, and I am very current on the state of what we now call “communication and connection.” This is such a falsehood, and I thank my lucky stars that I have taught my children how to really communicate — clearly, concisely, and with substance. Something Seth has yet to learn.

  • Dara Khajavi

    Mediocrity is definitely the easy way. It is incredibly easy to just become complacent. However, to create art we have to constantly looking for ways to improve and evolve. I enjoyed this podcast immensely, and I hope to hear more like it. 

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hey Vic,

    I think you need to listen to the podcast interview.  He says myths are important but are often changed.  In the case of the Icarus, in the original myth he was ALSO told to not fly to low to the water or the waves would surely pull him down.  His point is that this has been removed from the myth and people are only told don’t fly too high.

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hi Dara – Glad you like it.  This is one of about 21 episodes.  You can find them at http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com//podcast/

  • Sarah

    Seth urges us to like the idea of doing something that might not work;  as marketers in this constantly changing digital landscape, we absolutely must get on board with this. This is agile content marketing. This is asking for feedback. This is growing with our consumers, learning mistakes alongside them through their journey online.  

    Very practical, empowering insight here!
    Cheers
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752831347 Jennifer Lark Kent

    Great interview Mike! 

    I was one of the Kickstarter supporters and it was an exciting and fun process to watch. I am just reading the books now and they do not disappoint. For me, The Icarus Deception is making me re-think some long held beliefs and assumptions about failure and risk.

    Thank you for continually offering great podcasts and posts on the Social Media Examiner. It has become a valued part of my day!

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Fully agree and thanks for adding your voice to the discussion Sarah

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks Jennifer – Glad you enjoy the podcast, now go make art :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706869312 Gary B. Faerber

    There are many avenues to explore without knowing which one to take, so you have to try them all in many different ways or however many you come across.  I know for many years talent came out with the use of television from the Ed Sullivan show where the Beatles really started in the United States, Jenny Jones, Oprah, Talent Shows, etc..  The vision is from the talent, you have to show the right display!  

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hi Gary,

    YouTube is the new Ed Sullivan show and blogs are the new Time Magazine :) .  You no longer need a “big break” to be discovered.

  • http://blog.tianakai.com/ Tiana Kai

    Great write-up. Fear seems to be the worst evil holding us all back in one way or another. Maybe some need a push and others need to just take a jump! 

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Glad you liked it, be sure to catch the audio interview

  • http://blog.tianakai.com/ Tiana Kai

    YES! I am in the mountains now with dodgy connection, so have it saved for when I get back to sea level. :)

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  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    His view on art is great. Thank you for this interview Michael (and Seth). It was well done I got a good deal from it.

    K, bye

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  • http://www.mdhomesearchonline.com/ Bridget Hendricks

    Great interview. I can’t wait until I read Seth’s book.

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

     Glad you enjoyed it Christopher

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks Bridget – I am sure you will enjoy the book

  • http://www.mycompletenutritionist.com/ Christine Wokowsky

    I found this podcast very, very thought provoking.  I listened to it twice and now am accessing the notes. It was like a transfiguration experience for me to connect the dots of why I am falling in love with social media so much!  I am creating art, and I truly feel it in the very essence of my being. 

  • Angela Ponsford

    Loved this one. Just listened to it again to get my favourite quote written down: ‘Failure is not permanent, it is merely a lesson on the way to getting something useful done”

    Thanks again for your awesome work Michael & the SME team :)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks Angela – Glad you liked it :)

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    really glad you enjoyed it Christine

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  • Mredding

    …It’s about
    a passion for doing things that might not work.  Newest quote for the whole office to see!

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  • http://www.patcoakley.com/ Pat Coakley

    I just caught up with this episode and I thought of one of my all time favorite SNL skits titled, “You Can Do Anything.” Now, I’d contribute to a Kickstarter project to have them recreate this with Seth Godin playing Daniel Radcliffe’s part. Although, granted, it is difficult to Irish dance while flying close to the sun.  PS. I am a photo blogger so humility is required to submit this clip.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSjLiQxEZlM

    Michael, Love how you list all the things mentioned in each podcast and hyperlink to other materials.

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  • Doris Collier

    I believe that there is an addiction to mediocrity in society. There is an obvious statistical pattern of persons that have been erradicated from society when they rose above the norm or possessed high hopes, aspirations, or dared to dream. There is the standard that most people accept, but to surpass that standard puts you at risk.

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