Seth Godin is an author and thinker who’s been around digital marketing since the early days of the computer, and has reframed everything we think about how marketing and advertising work. He has a new book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, about how we misunderstand creativity and get in our heads about our work. He talked to Levels Head of Growth, Ben Grynol on our podcast, A Whole New Level, recently. This is an edited version of that conversation.
On realizing he wanted to be a teacher …
Ben Grynol: What was it about growing up in Buffalo that influenced your thinking so much?
Seth Godin: First of all, there isn’t one Buffalo just like there isn’t one Chicago or one Winnipeg, and I grew up in several Buffaloes. I grew up in a suburb of Buffalo that compared to the rest of Buffalo is pretty affluent. Compared to a place like New York city, not so much. The house I grew up in cost $80,000. That suburb was a place where I could walk to the hockey rink, read every book in the Clearfield Public Library, see the teachers. If we went out for pizza, they would be at the next table. It’s a small town inside of a big one.
My parents were both really active in big-city Buffalo. My dad volunteered to run the United Way one year; my mom was on the board of the art museum. And so I got to see what was possible when a community came together. Then my dad worked at a company that was on a different side of Buffalo, right next to the football stadium, and that was a corporate industrialized factory kind of work.
So when you put the three together, part of the influence is being able to see these micro-communities. For me, it was winning the parent lottery and having parents who challenged me regularly to be part of the community and to lead, even if I wasn’t popular, because I wasn’t. Even if I didn’t do the sorts of things that the community looked to for a leader, like play football and stuff.
But we always had strangers at our house for dinner. If somebody didn’t have a place to sleep, people would stay with us for months at a time. I thought that was normal. And I don’t understand why it can’t be normal.
Ben Grynol: You’ve said before that “I was a bit of a nerd.” Was there an introspective period where you recognized, “Hey, I think a little bit differently than other people”? What was it that made you think to yourself, “I want to communicate these ideas to the world. I want to influence a culture”? What was the catalyst for change?
Seth Godin: I was an outsider all along and knew it from the time I was seven. I think that the big shift that you’re getting at, though, is that I just decided to be a teacher when I was 17 and I knew I couldn’t teach in a bureaucratic structure because it would kill me. So I’ve just constantly been on the search for platforms to teach. The people I’m most interested in teaching are the people who are the least privileged and least popular.
Ben Grynol: I think that’s your underlying message with Akimbo. The podcast is everything that you do seems to be the sense of A, being a leader, B, trying to build other leaders, and C being the teacher that teaches. That’s the byproduct of having a solo cast where you’re like, “I do this in the same way that you blog.”
You don’t do it to interview people, you do it to express ideas and hopefully influence one person who influences one person who influences more and more and more. It’s such an interesting lens to think about communicating ideas from the perspective of teaching, as opposed to pontification, if that makes sense.
Seth Godin: It does. Isn’t it interesting that the interview podcast has taken off. There’s no interview blog, there’s no interview novel, there’s no interview book really. But the interview podcast has taken off because it gives the podcaster a way to somehow—not someone like you, but someone who’s just mediocre at it—get off the hook, because you’re just as good as your guests. So you just book people and let them talk. And that is how radio evolved. Radio evolved that way because it’s cheap.
I don’t have any problem with interview podcasts; I listen to them all the time. But the best podcasts are either from gifted interviewers like you or my friend, Brian Koppelman, or they’re from people like Roman Mars who have a thing to say. And I just don’t want to turn on a podcast and hear two people talking to each other about something that I’m not interested in.
Ben Grynol: The intimate part of being a fly on the wall to a conversation is that you feel like you’re part of a conversation. But when it feels like there is some agenda or some linear process, all of a sudden it loses that sense of being conversational because you think, “If Seth Godin and I were having tea right now, we wouldn’t be having this linear conversation of, ‘My next question for you, Seth Godin, is how is your wife’s bakery doing?’” It would just be so absurd to communicate like that. But I think when we give ourselves a medium or a platform, we think that we have to act differently, and that gets away from—we’re not going to use the word authenticity because I know that there are certain gripes with that word—the element of being genuine in a personal conversation.
On the fallacy of authenticity …
Ben Grynol: Now, we’ve got to digress into authenticity for a second, because why not?
Seth Godin: How many people are on the team now where you work?
Ben Grynol: 33.
Seth Godin: That means that every day, two of the people on the team are having a bad day. Just do the math. If I’m a customer or a vendor or a supplier and I’m interacting with one of those two people, I don’t want them to be authentic. I don’t want them to act like they’re having a bad day. I want the best version of them. And if I go to see Keller Williams performing a concert, I don’t want to see the true daily version of Keller, I want to see the best version of him. That’s what I pay for.
And if I’m flying—which will never happen, I don’t think—a Delta, and the pilot’s cranky because their spouse got into a fight with them, I don’t want them to be authentic. Go down the list. We don’t want authenticity in anything except a certain sort of Twitter diva. That’s the only place we have room for it. Actors are actors. They are not there to tell us how they truly feel, they’re there to perform. And as soon as you show up as a professional, you’ve given up the mantle of authenticity and instead you must embrace consistency.
Ben Grynol: That’s exactly it. You’ve talked before about how babies are authentic, they’re their most authentic version of themselves, but the parents can’t be authentic. You have to be patient, and being patient is not necessarily authentic when you might be a little upset if children are not listening—something that is near and dear to my heart at this point in life.
On having an early understanding of digital communication and advertising …
Ben Grynol: Let’s go into Yoyodyne and Yahoo. Interesting period, a lot was happening in marketing, advertising, everything with email communication. And it was something that you saw firsthand, you were very much a part of this—I don’t want to use the word movement, because it’s different than a tribal movement—but this forward movement in society toward, “Hey, we are now online.” When was it that you started to think differently about advertising versus marketing, and marketing as a sense of storytelling versus advertising being hacking attention?
Seth Godin: Those are two different questions, we’ll answer the second question. I read the work of Jay Levenson in 1985 and he wrote a book called Guerrilla Marketing. And Guerrilla Marketing, he thought, was a book of tactics for how companies with no money could do things that felt like advertising. And I really internalized a lot of those messages. I had millions and millions of dollars to spend. I was a 24-year-old brand manager at Spinnaker launching books based on science fiction novels.
And I just knew in my bones that the magazine ads and People magazine weren’t going to work. They just weren’t going to work. We didn’t have enough money. We were the 240th biggest advertiser in America that year, and you have to be in the top 20 or it’s not going to work. So even then I was saying, “Our marketing is what we do, our marketing is who we serve, our marketing is how we engage with people. Our marketing is the package, the way it makes people feel, all of those things are marketing. And if you make me buy some ads, I will, but that’s not why we’re here.”
I loved being in a new form of media that we were making software for the Commodore 64, the PCjr. I was just thrilled that the landscape would change every six weeks. And I think the reason goes back to football and hockey. The problem with hockey—besides the fact that it broke my nose and broke my arm and broke my spirit—was because the game of hockey hasn’t changed in 100 years. People who are good at it stay good at it, and the advantage is compounded. And I viewed myself as an outsider, so I liked the fact that we were the first people on the PCjr.
And then when the PCjr crashed and burned, I was like, “All right, well, we have enough resources. We’ll be the first company on the Apple II,” whatever it is. And you could just read InfoWorld Magazine because there was no web and be six months ahead of the people who were slow because the foundation kept shifting. That’s when I committed to discovering new forms of media. And when online services like AOL and CompuServe came along, I saw it happening again. And I realized that I was quick enough and knew enough about media to go into those spaces better than other people could.
I still remember there was a guy at Bantam Doubleday Dell, which was one of the five biggest book publishers. And his last name was Gutenberg, which I thought was hysterical because it was just such a flash from the past. And he was in charge of their CD-ROM division. And I finally got him to confess that his job was to go to meetings and not spend any money. They had decided that they would deal with this revolution by pretending to be in it. And I knew I could be in it, whichever one it was.
And so when online services came along, I had to do the math. Like, who’s paying? Where’s the money? So a couple of things occurred to me. The first one was that AOL at the time was charging $3 an hour and paying a royalty on hours spent, so that’s where the money is. If you could make a product that people would use for a lot of hours, you could get paid to do it. All right, so now we know what the game is, let’s figure out a structure on that foundation where we can serve people.
And then when AOL went to a flat rate and I realized I had been wrong about the World Wide Web—all the money from users disappears. So if the money from users disappears, you look at the media landscape and you say, “Oh, well, the equation has to be attention. It’s the only option.” What will people pay for attention? So it’s a two-sided thing: Either, how do you get a lot of attention? Or how do you sell attention you get for a lot of money? I didn’t predict all of what happened on the World Wide Web, but I predicted a lot of it.
And I helped invent email marketing because I understood that email was a very, very special sort of attention; hopped into an open API and I wrote books about it; and I built the first email marketing company. But I also saw where banner ads were going to go and I was famously castigated by the people at Yahoo for predicting that the banner ad price would go up. I remember it was $70 for a thousand, and I said it would go to a penny, and it did.
And once you start seeing the dynamics of a medium, and now it’s podcasting—or Clubhouse, which has stupid dynamics—you can say, “Oh, well, let’s follow the path.” Because if you follow the path, you will understand. You will understand why Netflix likes Dave Chappelle. Just follow the path.
Ben Grynol: So let’s say marketing is synonymous with storytelling, which is something you talk about often, and advertising [is] hacking attention, to be colloquial about it. One creates a lot of value: if you are storytelling and you’re teaching through marketing and you do it effectively, that’s very different than hacking attention. So, does advertising create value? Not economic, but intrinsic value for people, or is that the dichotomy between advertising and marketing?
Seth Godin: I don’t think there’s any doubt that advertising creates cultural value, that people tell themselves a story about Gucci or Prada or Nike or Chevrolet partly because of the advertising. And that if you read a fashion magazine with no ads in it feels very sad. The advertising in certain spaces is a spice that adds energy to culture given that we are used to it. When they start putting up billboards in national parks, we hate that because we’re not used to being interrupted in that place.
So the fascinating thing that happened when the web came along, is the web wasn’t invented for marketers and every other medium was. So advertising was in its accepted boxes for 100 years. And then the web came along and there were no accepted boxes. So we got spam and pop-overs and pop-unders and spying and cookie reading and things. And people don’t like to be surprised. On the other hand, when they started putting ads into the movies, which until last year was a bigger market than podcasting in total, people didn’t like it at first because they said, “Hey, I paid 12 bucks for this ticket.” But the ads were pretty good. They were culturally appropriate. And so people get used to it. So I don’t think there are many successful cultures that have banned advertising, but I know that advertisers should want there to be limits on advertising, because if there aren’t, then all the ads become worthless.
Ben Grynol: That’s the point where things get to be uncomfortable, where people opt in, they put up their hand, they say, “I’m willing to have my attention hacked.” The second that they get hacked too much, they go, “I don’t like this advertising thing.”
With advertising, everyone’s going to have a different outlook. My outlook is, hey, advertising can be cool if you have opted in and you put up your hand and you say, “I’d like to discover new things.” Let’s say, hypothetically, it’s pre-roll ads on a podcast. Great sense of discovery. A company that somebody didn’t know before, your favorite podcaster reads that out, there you go, it’s a sense of discovery, but you’ve opted into that.
Where you don’t like it is, exactly what you said, it’s pop-ups and it’s all these things in spam, email, and the list goes on and on. That gets back into this whole different rant about data and privacy, which you have talked very deeply about.
But I think people have somewhat of a tension between advertising that they opt into and want versus feeling like they are being overly targeted. It gets to be a much deeper conversation. What’s really interesting, though, is something that I think about often and, again, totally subjective: I think the most important thing that you have done from a concept standpoint is “People like us do things like this.” It’s something that initially was harder to wrap my head around.
On tribalism and community …
Sure. I could read it, but to truly grasp it. And so when I understood it, it was like a light bulb clicked and I was like, “Oh my goodness. I actually think this is one of the most important marketing concepts of the past 50 years.” It’s something that, when digging into it deeper, it seems like it started with Tribes. When you wrote Tribes, then you had the Ted talk, you talked about the tribes we lead, then you actually wrote the blog post in 2013, called People Like Us Do Things Like This. I think there’s a PDF along with it. And that was still this underserved concept. Fast forward to 2018, This is Marketing drops, and that was the foundation of that book. What’s your outlook on People Like Us Do Things Like This as it pertains to tribalism and community?
Seth Godin: I fear I don’t have enough time to decode all of the things you just brought up, but thank you for such attention to detail. People Like Us Do Things Like This has two classes. People Like Us has nothing to do with what you look like, zero. Is not about racism, it is not about the indoctrination of birth. People Like Us means you picked who the people like us are, and among that group that you picked, you are suggesting that what we do are these sorts of sacraments, ceremonies, and identities: People like us do things like this.
And it’s a blindingly obvious statement that is at the heart of every culture all the time. If we think back to the first 40 years of the Christian Church, you had to be an Orthodox Jew. That’s one group of people who do a set of things. And then you had to do a whole second set of things and you were one of a group of just a few thousand people. People like us do things like this. You didn’t try to get other people to do it—that wasn’t built in.
And it wasn’t until the year 50 when they realized how hard it was to get an adult to want to circumcise themselves, that they got rid of the Orthodox Jew part of it and they could say, “Anybody who wants to do things like this can be people like us.” And that’s how they grew into one of the fastest religions ever. Go all the way forward to any Apple Store. Well, there’s a certain way you’re supposed to act when you walk in there. There’s a certain set of products you’re supposed to own. You’re supposed to have a certain attitude about how technology works.
As Steve [Jobs] has said, in the words of Michael Schrage, he was trying to give people better taste when it came to digital interactions. That’s “people like us do things like this.” But a key component of it is that you have to forgive the people who don’t want to be people like us. If you can’t do that, then you’re a megalomaniac and you’re trying to just insist that everybody do what you want. And that doesn’t work. You don’t have the power to do that.
So instead what we say is, “If you want to be in this circle, this is what people in this circle do. And we are definers of culture around here. That’s our job and this is what our culture is like around here.”
Ben Grynol: On a podcast two or three years ago, you’d brought something up around signaling. The insight was, if you wear ripped jeans and it happened to be seen by somebody who is not part of the people like us, they go, “Look at Seth Godin in his ripped jeans. Why doesn’t he get new jeans?” And to other people, they go, “Look at Seth Godin’s ripped Japanese denim or Levi’s from 1962. Oh my goodness, can you believe he’s wearing that?”
People like us do things like this. There are very different pockets and perceptions. The takeaway is there actually isn’t a right answer because there are these long-tail pockets where each community can serve itself. It’s completely okay to not understand Seth Godin’s ripped jeans and to completely understand Seth Godin’s ripped jeans, and you find the others. It’s such a neat concept to start thinking about groups this way.
Seth Godin: And one of the reasons why, particularly in North America, we’re in so much cultural disarray is that we have shifted in the last 10 years—partly due to the web, partly due to selfish demagogues—from, “There is one people like us that people aspire to be doing things like this with” to “There are many.” And when those groups brush up against each other, tolerance is the only valid response, because everyone is right.
Everyone has their own noise in their head. If you’re not bothering anybody else and you are not being manipulated, then your taste is your taste. And the fact that my cousin likes to hear live music that is so loud that you must wear headphones in the theater—it’s true—I can happily tell you I think he’s an idiot, but he doesn’t think he’s an idiot. He is being his best self when he goes to these events and he’s entitled.
Ben Grynol: People are made up of a whole bunch of micro-communities that they’re part of and there’s always going to be some overlap in the Venn diagram. But where you get the friction is when there are sometimes people from two different communities that don’t have any overlap in the Venn diagram—that being interests or community or shared values. That’s where the friction comes from. As a society, we have to respect other people’s outlook and say, “It’s entirely okay to listen to loud music. I choose not to do it.” Instead, we decide that we’re going to make that our own issue.
Seth Godin: I think that there’s a second source of the friction, and this is, there are people who define their status and define their affiliation by embracing a status quo that is under threat. And they have just decided that people who do not adhere to their indoctrinated vision of what it’s supposed to be like around here, they’ve decided that’s not okay. And traditionally, those have been people of privilege, who are casting that blame on people who aren’t. But there will be a backlash and it will go in the other direction, where there will be people who newly have found a voice, who will say, “I cannot tolerate someone who doesn’t have my voice, not having my voice.” And that’s not as bad, but it’s not good either.
Ben Grynol: It gets into the idea of influencing the culture, so the culture is influenced by all these micro communities. I think you’ve said it firsthand: The way to create a movement, aside from making something that’s remarkable and is a great experience, is to create a tribe that creates tribes, that creates tribes, that creates tribes. It’s back to the start of the conversation of you being a teacher. You are teaching other people who have the shared interest in ideas to teach other people who can teach other people. And that’s what Akimbo has really done from a platform standpoint.
Seth Godin: You said two things, I agree with one, I disagree with the other.
Ben Grynol: Let’s get that.
Seth Godin: I agree with the second one—which is ten by ten by ten—that when you create evangelical voices with a remarkable product and service and a network effect that rewards people for spreading an idea, they will. I do not believe that the best way to have a movement is to start a tribe. I believe the best way to have a movement is to find a tribe that is looking for a leader and a connector, so that’s different.
So when I think about what your organization is doing, you’re not going to invent a nascent tribe of people who care about the thing. There’s already people who care about the journey that you are hoping they will go on. Your job is to go to them and say, “Oh, here,” and they will come.
Ben Grynol: Interesting. It’s creating the conditions to attract the like-minded people, knowing that within the like-minded people, the people like us, there are people like us within—this is getting a bit meta—the people like us, within the community. And that’s what gets really interesting when you start to say you can be interested in ripped jeans, the Grateful Dead, and a plant-based diet. That’s entirely okay and these are your people.
And there are other people that you interact with that are only the ripped jeans crowd, and only the plant-based diet crowd, and only the Grateful Dead crowd, but that’s what makes us all these individuals and brings together the glue of these larger communities.
Seth Godin: Yeah. If I think about my friends, Alan and Bill—Alan, mayor of Santa Fe now, who started Fast Company—they didn’t invent the Fast Company tribe. When they finally succumbed and allowed me to be a columnist, and I wrote more words for Fast Company than almost anybody, they weren’t my tribe either. I was narrating for a group of people that Alan and Bill were able to assemble that would have been there even if Alan and Bill hadn’t started the magazine. And that was a huge insight for me.
When I did this book in the milk carton [Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable]—there were only 5,000 copies originally sold—it wasn’t because I wanted people to talk about Seth Godin. It was because it would help you find the others who are going where you were going anyway if you had a badge. I’m a badge maker. I’m writing my blog posts so that people who already agree with me have something cogent to share with people right next to them to join in. But there’s no Seth Godin Godin tribe, I really believe that.
I believe that if I stopped working tomorrow, that group of people would still be making the changes and leading the way they are. I’m just narrating for them.
On shipping work quickly …
Ben Grynol: You’ve shipped so much work, though, that you’ve created a foundation for people to share these ideas and to find commonality around them. You are a huge, huge proponent of “ship fast and often.” There is a reason you write every day. You don’t write every day for everybody else. You write every day, you ship your blog every single day for yourself.
Seth Godin: I don’t think I’m doing it for myself. If I was really doing it for myself I would do it in private. If I’m going to do this work, I don’t want to have to renegotiate with myself every day about whether I want to do this work. So I made one strategic decision 25 years ago about the change I seek to make. Now, I have lots of tactical opportunities. Should I, like my friend Simon, come out with a line of t-shirts and a candle? That’s a tactic. I love tactics. I could spend all day, as you’ve heard me going on and on about tactics. But if I spend all day going on about tactics, I’m not fulfilling my strategy.
So I just decided one of my tactics is that there’s going to be a blog post every day. And there’ll be one tomorrow, not because it’s the best one I ever wrote, but because it’s tomorrow. And that practice is mine, but I do it because it serves my goal, my strategy, my long-term thing of: how do I become a teacher?
Ben Grynol: So then what is it about being comfortable shipping over and over and over again when work is never perfect? You can never perfect a painting. You can’t perfect a blog post. You can rewrite it 20 times over, but it’s not going to ship itself. So what is the hesitation that people have when it comes to shipping work—whether it is creative, whether it is art, or whether it is tactical work, like actually shipping a product update? Why can’t people wrap their heads around that?
Seth Godin: Well, the first rule of indoctrination is you’re not supposed to know you’ve been indoctrinated. And we have been indoctrinated from a very young age to be cogs in the industrial system, to do what the teacher says, to do the minimum because if we don’t, the boss will take more. To try to avoid responsibility and to look for authority, so we can tell other people what to do. All of those things are baked in the culture from the time our kids are really little.
So when you say to people, “Anyone who wants can have a blog, they’re free,” almost no one builds one. When you say to people, “Anyone can have a podcast, but they’re free,” almost no one does, because it’s not an assignment and because you’re responsible. And the thing about this voluntary leadership, and publishing, and creation is it flies in the face of all the things we were taught to do and not do.
Ben Grynol: Do you think there’s a sense of vulnerability with shipping work that isn’t polished? You’re putting yourself out there.
Seth Godin: Well, the polish thing is so important to talk about. If you have a phone, it’s defective. If you have a car, it’s definitely defective. If you have software, there are bugs in it, guaranteed. If you eat a food product, there are bugs in it, guaranteed. Is it possible to make one that is truly polished to the level that no one could notice a flaw? Possibly, but all of us regularly buy stuff that’s good enough, because the definition of good enough is it’s good enough.
That’s a good thing. That’s not an excuse. If you don’t think it’s good enough, change the spec to the point where good enough means what it’s supposed to mean, which is it’s good enough. That’s the spec. So half of my blog posts are below average. Every once in a while I write one that really resonates with people and I never ever know in advance the difference between the two—no clue. So if I was waiting for one that was without defects, there’d be no blog.
Ben Grynol: You can’t really get evolution without iteration. It’s impossible. There’s also a fine line, though, between shipping things that are functionally sound and shipping things that are good enough. Like the great case study, the Pinto of the ’70s, that was a little bit—and by a little bit, I should say very unethical—to ship. When people knew that there were mechanical issues with the car that would blow up if it was rear-ended because—
Seth Godin: We didn’t inspect. It wasn’t good enough.
Ben Grynol: And that’s where you can’t ship. But when you’re talking about things that don’t have a functional harm to others, to other people, there’s no harm in a period being missing in a blog post.
Seth Godin: Careful, be very careful here. First of all, more and more, all of us have to be experts in public health. And one of the reasons that I could never be a professional in public health is this: If you approve, I don’t know, a skin cream for athlete’s foot, one out of 100,000 people who use it are going to be in the hospital with a horrible side effect. Is that good enough? What’s the standard? Well, fortunately, we do have a standard, and once we understand the standard, if it’s good enough, we have to do it.
Self-driving cars, at some point, we are going to switch to self-driving cars and some people are going to die, but far, far fewer people are going to die than die from human-driven cars. I just don’t want to be the person who has to say, “Today’s the day we’re switching,” because then I feel like it’s my fault. What I’m getting at is you are giving voice to the noise of perfection. You can say, “Well, a period missing doesn’t really count, blah, blah, blah.” And I can say, “Well, what about an Oxford comma, and what about a capital letter, and what about putting the right conjunction in there? But even better, what about the fact that I could rewrite most blog posts, make them a little bit better?” When are we done with this?
The purpose of perfectionism has nothing to do with meeting spec. Perfectionism means “I will look for a reason to not ship this because then I will be off the hook.” That is not the conversation that someone who’s trying to meet spec has. A person who’s trying to meet spec says, “There are people who need my help. Am I willing to drive the ambulance to the scene of the accident, even though all four tires don’t have perfect air pressure? Because I know I can drive there successfully, I know I can rescue that person’s life, but all four tires don’t have perfect air pressure, so what should I do?”
Well, that’s an obvious choice, but everything is on a curve. And I guess what I’m getting at is, how many people can you help? And will they miss you if you were gone? I’m not saying do anything that doesn’t meet spec, I’m not saying do anything that’s not “good enough”. I’m saying, “Be really thoughtful about what good enough means.”
Ben Grynol: It’s an interesting perspective to have because if you start to think about reach, you start to think about impact. That’s where this discussion comes in. Are you impacting fewer people by reserving to ship? And if the answer is yes, assuming that something meets spec, then you’re not meeting your mission, you’re not meeting your goal. Whatever it is that you choose to reach the people like us who do things like this. And if you are a leader and a teacher, if you are hesitating to ship when something meets spec, then you’re not actually achieving your goal.
Seth Godin: Right. Let’s have a conversation about the spec for sure, but don’t talk to me about perfectionism, I’m not interested.
Ben Grynol: So Akimbo is the community, Akimbo is a podcast, Akimbo is many different things. A series of workshops. You’ve got the altMBA. What was it about building that that allowed you to say, “Hey, I’m building something so I can teach other people to teach.” Can you go a little bit into the Akimbo community and this idea of putting growth into the hands of the community?
Seth Godin: Okay, I’ll start with the punchline, which is I don’t own or run Akimbo anymore on purpose. It’s a B Corp in the public interest run by really talented people. My workshops were still there. Because my point six years ago was oh, the medium is changing again. And I was the number one instructor on Skillshare, I was number one in my category in Udemy, I knew how to make video courses. I also knew that the typical video course had a 95% dropout rate. And the reason is because learning requires tension to get you from “I don’t know” to “I know,” and when tension hits people quit.
So I said, “If I was going to play with this medium the way I played with email and the way I played with the web, what would I do?” And that over the course of a week led to me creating the altMBA. Then I worked with this woman, Wes, and the two of us brought it to the world, and it’s now in its 50th or so session. It worked great. As a creator of media, after the tenth one, I was like, “Okay, I’m not changing this too much, so what am I going to focus on now?” Because my job is not to be an educational bureaucrat, no, those are really important people.
And so I said, “Well, what new rules could I build about other kinds of workshops that maybe would cost a lot less and take less time?” And that led to the creation of cohort-based learning. I don’t think anyone was doing it before me, the way I did it, anyway. And once it was working so well, I said, “Well, now, I need to get lots of people doing cohort-based learning. It’s a bigger thing than Seth Godin as a teacher.” And so part of it is, Wes went on to start Maven and Candice has this going. It looks like Teachable and Udemy are going to start doing cohort-based learning. That’s what I wanted, that’s great. And I don’t have to run anything. That’s great too.
On the best chocolate in the world …
Ben Grynol: It’s probably a good place to end it there. We’ll get one closer. If you can only have one type of chocolate, which one are you going for?
Seth Godin: You mean brand or a flavor?
Ben Grynol: Flavor.
Seth Godin: Okay, let’s go to flavor. Halloween is around the corner. Don’t eat cheap chocolate. Cheap chocolate is made by some of the poorest people on earth who are poorly treated. Cheap chocolate doesn’t taste as good as you think it does, and cheap chocolate persists in maintaining really, really bad structures of colonial inequity. On the other hand, bean-to-bar chocolate made by craftspeople—whether they’re in Ghana or Panama or Missouri, who work directly with farmers, dramatically increasing the quality of their life—will completely change your taste buds if you give it time. It is a hobby that deserves at least as much attention as some people spend on wine.
So with that said, cocoa beans aren’t beans, they’re seeds of a fruit, and the fruit goes in a pod that’s about this big, and the pod is usually brown. It is not brown because chocolate is brown. It’s unrelated to that. But, 50 years ago, two people were walking through the jungle somewhere near Peru or Colombia in South America and they saw two trees that were extinct. And these trees had white cacao pods growing on them and they’re called porcelana trees.
And they were gone because Nestle and Hershey wasn’t paying anyone to grow good chocolate, and so bit by bit, they disappeared and these two trees were found. And the magic of a cacao tree is you can graft it, so you don’t have to start over. You can just take an existing tree and glue a branch onto it, and it starts growing a second kind of chocolate. You can just do all sorts of cool things.
So anyway, porcelana is back. Porcelana Chocolate, look for 70, 75, 80%, find it from someone who does it ethically. The people at Original Beans, the people at SOMA, you can find it. Just look for Porcelana Chocolate. Don’t start with that because you got to train your palette, but once you do, you’ll be hooked.
Ben Grynol: Amazing. Well, truly thank you so much, Seth Godin. Always fun to chat, always appreciate your perspective on everything.
Seth Godin: Well, I’m not going to let you off that easy. You, my friend, quietly behind the scenes make things better for a lot of people. You show up in ways that you don’t have to, you show up with consistency, and passion, and an openness to possibility. That is a model for me and for a lot of other people. That’s why I said yes to this podcast before I say yes whenever you ask me something. So thank you for the ruckus you make because it matters a lot.