How does one article accurately capture the man, the myth, and the legend that is Seth Godin? After more than two decades of trailblazing entrepreneurship, 18 best-selling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages, and his recent induction into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, where do we begin? Perhaps with a Seth Godin Ted Talk. But wait, which one? There are six--not counting the interview he had on NPR's Ted Radio Hour Podcast. Okay, let's try this. Here are some of the incredible pearls of wisdom I've learned from Seth Godin over the past two decades:

Be remarkable.

This insight came from his bestselling book, Purple Cow. It's simple, really. If you blend in, you don't get noticed. You stand out only when you are truly remarkable. Why would you want to be anything else? This is such a powerful filter when questioning the worth of anything your business is doing. Are we truly remarkable? Or are we following the herd and doing what everyone else is doing? Are we just another brown cow or do we turn heads and make people take notice as we flaunt our purple?

Being risky is safe, and being safe is risky.

A powerfully true paradox. The safer you play anything in life, the riskier you are actually being. When you "play it safe," you are following a path toward irrelevancy and redundancy. The opposite is also true. When you take bold, calculated risks, you are being a lot safer than you think. Those very risks help you take control of your own future; your destiny. By not doing what everyone else is doing, you become more desirable. People want to work with you and support your alternative view of the world.

Never use more than six words on a PowerPoint Slide (assuming you use PowerPoint at all).

Still one of my favorite publications of all time, Really Bad PowerPoint taught me how to stop "reading" slides and confusing my audience. Instead, says Godin, focus on the key message you are looking to convey and use emotionally charged imagery to deliver the impact you desire. Better yet, skip the visual aids all together. If you truly know your stuff, you can speak from the heart and engage your audience to take action. If you're not ready for that step, then stop using PowerPoint as your prompter. How do you expect your audience to take you seriously and remember what you can't remember yourself?

Ask for permission before you market to someone.

Ah, Permission Marketing, arguably the birth place of "Opt-In" check boxes and a deep misunderstanding of what it means to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers. On the one hand, the permission marketing movement dramatically reduced the "Opt-Out" prechecked options on forms. On the other, this minimalist approach of checking boxes and permission settings missed the point that Godin was driving at: Great marketing is not about interrupting or spamming your customers, but rather finding new and creative ways to entice, encourage, engage, and nurture them. Only by adding real value will you build raving fans and long-term loyalty.

Make yourself indispensable.

Are you a Linchpin? If you're not indispensable, then you are replaceable. Doing your job is simply not enough. Only by becoming indispensable can you become an essential building block of your organization. To do that, you need to "produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about." A linchpin makes things happen and is a leader regardless of title. You have the potential to make an incredible impact on the world, as well as the company you work for and the people you serve. It's about shifting your mental state to a place where you make yourself indispensable and go the extra mile.

Charisma doesn't turn you into a leader. Being a leader makes you charismatic.

Ordinary people become leaders.We tend to think of leaders as having a certain charismatic aspect to their personality, but this is actually a result of simply doing what needs to be done (see related article Step-Up, Step-Back for more on this topic).

Seth Godin wants you to steal his ideas.

Really? Yes. As he puts it, "Please don't steal my car. If you drive away with it, I won't have it any more, which is a real hassle. Please don't steal my identity or my reputation either. Neither travels well, and all the time you're using it, you're degrading something that belongs to me. But my ideas? Sure, yes, please, by all means, take them. The scarcity underlying the industrial economy (what's not yours is mine) has pushed us to make a mistake about ideas. If everyone in town comes to my plant and takes a free sample of what I make, I'll go bankrupt. But if everyone in the world takes a free sample of one of my ideas (or at least one of my good ones), we'll all get richer." See "Why I Want You to Steal My Ideas."

Very good is boring.

It's expected. If you want your ideas to spread, they have to be incredible, eye-popping and unexpected. If you're creating things that are very good, you're going to have a really hard time getting people to share them.

Always give something extra.

Perhaps the best book packaging I've ever seen, Godin's Free Prize Inside lived the very principle he was explaining. The book came inside of a custom-made cereal box with a surprise item inside the box. I kept two unopened versions of this book in addition to the one I opened to read. The fact that I kept them as examples of great book marketing shows the very idea he was getting at--when you give something extra, people take notice and talk about it.

All marketers are liars tell stories.

Storytelling is powerful. It's how we communicate as human beings. Really great marketing begins with telling a great story about your product, service, or brand. When the story is garbage or just doesn't ring as authentic, we feel cheated and lied to. The story must match the brand essence. When it does, it is incredibly powerful.


Did we scratch the surface? No, not really. "Seth Godin may be the ultimate entrepreneur for the information age," Mary Kuntz wrote in Business Week nearly a decade ago. "Instead of widgets or car parts, he specializes in ideas--usually, but not always, his own." Thank you, Seth Godin, for being an icon of entrepreneurship and for inspiring the generations of entrepreneurs who have listened and followed your sage advice. You have saved many of us years of pain and heartache by simply telling it like it is. You rock!

Published on: Mar 26, 2015