Seth Godin shows us what radical empathy looks like. He reminds us to do work that matters, for people who care by focusing on serving a minimum viable audience. He teaches us that the way to stay indispensable in our work is to do work where you can’t write down the steps. He also reveals how faked empathy is just as good as real empathy for the true professional acting ‘as if’.
This is Marketing
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Seth Godin is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of the altMBA and The Marketing Seminar, online workshops that have transformed the work of thousands of people. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. You might be familiar with his books Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip and Purple Cow. In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth has founded several companies, including Yoyodyne and Squidoo. His blog (which you can find by typing “seth” into Google) is one of the most popular in the world. In 2018, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame. His latest book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn is now in its fifth printing, and his new book, This Is Marketing, comes out this November. A fun fact about Seth is he did the first generation UX for educational computer games in 1983…when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
- Creating UX for Early Computer Games (4:23)
- What Book Would the Seth Godin of the Industrial Revolution Write? (6:43)
- How Do You Define Empathy? (9:30)
- Why is Empathy Important in Doing Great Work? (12:01)
- What’s Your Greatest Story of Empathy in Action? (14:50)
- One of the Greatest Marketing Lessons Seth Ever Learned (18:44)
- Status Over Empathy (25:07)
- Empathy Learned the Hard Way (28:19)
- What’s Your Best Advice in Building our Empathy Levels? (30:33)
- Advice for Becoming Better Storytellers (32:51)
- Are Our Smartphone Addictions Negatively Affecting our Empathy Levels? (34:27)
- Seth’s Apple Rant (37:44)
- Apple Could Solve the Texting & Driving Dilemma in 4 Minutes (If They Wanted To) (39:31)
- How Do We Stay Indispensable In Our Work in an AI World? (41:16)
- Faked Empathy is Just as Good as Real Empathy (43:59)
- What Makes You Angry? (45:34)
- Jason’s Blurb for Seth’s New Book “This is Marketing” (48:10)
Empathy as a Design Superpower [PODCAST]
The Life-Changing Impact of Empathy in Design [ARTICLE]
Empathy is Difficult [ARTICLE]
Samples of “This is Marketing”
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Jason Ogle: Welcome to User Defenders Seth, I am super excited to have you on the show today.
Seth Godin: Well, thanks for having me. This is something I think about all the time and it’s a privilege to talk to you.
Jason Ogle: Oh, thank you so much Seth. And you an expert in early computer games that is fascinating to me. I started in the ’80s on an Apple II, and some of the games I think it was all DOS based. And can you talk about that a little bit what that was like creating UX for early computer games?
Seth Godin: Well, in 1980 or so, two guys named Bill and David started a company with $10 million from Harvard venture fund that saw that “The Apple II,” “The Commodore 64,” “The T-I Machine” eventually “The PC Jr,” would become platforms in the home for parents to educate their kids. And their mission was to do the opposite of what we’re seeing now which is manipulating people into spending more time. Their mission was to bring a popular vision of how a kid could interact with a computer in a package that people could buy at Target or K-Mart. And they hired me at 24 in 1983, I was one of their brand managers. So, I found myself working with the first generation of professional computer game designers, you may have played some of our games like “Kids on Keys” or “Fraction Fever”, and then I co created the first generation of “Graphic Adventure Games.”
So after “Infocom” had succeeded with “Zork,” we were the people who developed games with Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke to have people be able to play games with pictures and music in 1985. And there’s a whole bunch of problems you need to solve that no one had ever thought about before. For example, there’s something in a computer called “The Parser” which is a program that lets you type in words and have it sort of understand what you’re saying, so pick up the axe and throw it at the door. Well if no one’s ever used a parser before or how do you teach them in that moment what they can type? Because if they think it understands the entire language of English they’re going to be frustrated. So, every single day it was a user interface conversation about well, “No one’s ever done this before, how do we teach them how to do it?”
Jason Ogle: Right? That’s crazy. Yes, the field has come a long way since then, but that’s really cool that you were there right at the beginning of kind of trying to figure some of this stuff out. So, I’m going to throw you a curve ball out the gate I know our main topic today is “empathy” and I know this is going to be super, super-enlightening and valuable. You’re known as someone who thinks about and obviously writes a lot about the marketing of ideas in, like a post-industrial connection economy of the digital age. And you’re here as Mordecai would say, “At such a time as this.” What if Seth Godin existed during the industrial revolution and you wrote a book…what would it be about?
Seth Godin: Oh, I probably would have written scientific management by Frederick Taylor if I could have. Frederick Taylor changed the world with a book inspired by Henry Ford in the work he did as a consultant which was simple. Which is if you own a factory you should use a stopwatch and you should use that stopwatch to measure all of the inputs into the stuff you make because when you add up the cost of materials and the cost of time, now you know how much it costs you to make that item. So by using the stopwatch, what Henry Ford was able to do was drive the cost of a car from $6000 to $600 and that shift enabled him to basically corner the market on cars but also to put cars into the hands of the masses all because of one idea that fueled how we go forward in an economy based on industrialism.
And so, what I’ve tried to do, I have no delusions of Frederick Tayler’s grandeur, but what I’ve tried to do is put a similar bunch of ideas into the world that make sense after industrial age and so I think that they’re the same sort of thing that Taylor was talking about which is, “Can we measure the inputs and can we do a better job and not waste them?” And the mistake that so many people who do “UI” so many people who build software, so many people who market make is they think that attention is cheap and they can burn it. And I’ve learned the hard way over 30 years, it’s precious and you should never burn it.
Jason Ogle: I love that. Your new book which is incredible by the way it’s called “This Is Marketing.” And it’s really rooted in empathy and that is a big topic for me, I’m a huge advocate for empathy and I strongly believe that any great product that exists today and that will exist in the future is going to be rooted in empathy and serious consideration of those on the other end using it.
So, I really want to kick this off with just kind of talking about empathy and I think that’s going to be a theme throughout this this conversation but I love the tagline on your book it’s, “You can’t be seen until you learn to see” I love that a lot. Seth, how do you define empathy?
Seth Godin: Well it’s really not sympathy. I think instead it’s recognizing that no one believes what you believe, no one knows what you know and no one wants what you want. And if you can be okay with that as opposed to insisting that you are right and they are wrong, then you have a chance to go where they are. Now we don’t go where people are because we’re humble, we go to where people are because we have no choice. We have no choice because if we don’t go to where they are they will ignore us.
And that didn’t used to be the case, that’s really not the case in middle school. In middle school, the middle school teacher has compliance on his side, he can demand obedience and the standardized testing, grades and threats all push us to live in a world where the teacher doesn’t necessarily have empathy for us but it’s interesting to note the great teachers the ones we remember, we remember because they used empathy even though they didn’t have to.
And my point is unless you work for the latest monopoly of the moment, you know the Microsoft of this year, you can’t demand that the user do what you want and that the user see what you see. You have to go to them for them to help them get to where they want to go.
Jason Ogle: That’s so good. And I think about some of my favorite designers that I’ve studied like – and one of the reasons I love doing the show is the designs that are rooted in empathy, like that have had the biggest impact on people that I have heard about like “MRI” designer “Doug Dietz” who designed “The Discovery MRI” for children…
Seth Godin: Right!
Jason Ogle: …with terminal disease I’m sure you’re familiar with that?
Seth Godin: Sure!
Jason Ogle: That story, that’s the only designer I’ve ever seen literally cry every time he talks about his design and the impact that it’s made and you can see the videos and I get choked up every time I think about it, but I love stories like that. And even you know Margaret Hamilton who was a programmer on the Apollo Saturn missions, she had so much empathy for the astronauts up there and so she made subroutines that would continue to work whenever the systems were overloaded and we didn’t have you know obviously very smart chips back then, so she was smart enough and empathic enough to consider that in her programming and that’s actually what helped make the Apollo 11 moon landing possible.
And so, I love stories like that. Why is empathy important in doing great work?
Seth Godin: Well, I can’t help but resist to insert that there was another Margaret Hamilton, the woman who played the “Wicked Witch” in “The Wizard of Oz” who also transformed that product, that movie because she had a little kid at home. And she was – most of the actors on that movie just showed up and read their lines they were vaudevillians. But Margaret Hamilton had a big voice in how that movie was made because she knew that her kid was going to see the movie and that shift of accepting responsibility is at the core of the message I’m trying to share here that you know I’m in the direct marketing Hall of Fame and my dad passed away a few years ago was harassed as an elderly man by people who were selling coins, fake collectible coins by phone preying on senior citizens, calling them, be friending them, taking their money.
And this company that did it was a member of the Direct Marketing Association, so I called up the people who run the DMA and a couple letters from you know their general counsel got this company to back off on my dad. The question is, why are they doing it at all? Of all the things you could make, of all the things you could do, why did you decide that the way you’re going to make a living is by ripping off 75 year old, 80 year olds who have nothing to do at home? How do you go to work in the morning that this model, this “Ayn Randian,” if it’s legal and I have the right to do it mindset? It’s just ridiculous and I think it cannot stand, it certainly cannot stand scrutiny that marketing is a privilege. That what we do as marketers is we make change happen. If there is no change, there is no successful marketing. All marketers do is they change people state, they change their behavior.
So, that’s something you get to choose. What change are you choosing to make? So, please don’t tell me it’s just your job, please don’t tell me your boss made you do it. You have a choice. If you are going to use this incredibly powerful tool then you better be responsible for what you do.
Jason Ogle: Wow, absolutely and that’s been a theme throughout all your work really is how are we serving people through marketing instead of you know like shouting at them and bothering them and everything, so I love that story you know. And in addition to – well and by the way Seth I’m sorry about your dad, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. He sounded like an amazing man.
Seth Godin: He was– thank you.
Jason Ogle: Yes. What’s your greatest most impactful story of empathy in action that you could tell us today?
Seth Godin: Well, you know the thing about stories is there only purpose is to resonate with the listener. So, there are stories that have resonated with me but they’re not necessarily going to resonate with other people. So, what Nike does for a living is it tells stories about people who just happen to be wearing their stuff but the stories are about Nike, the stories are about the athlete who has done something that inspired the person who saw that story and if you grew up in a certain place in a certain way you might be inspired by a Michael Phelps story, but if you go up in a certain way in a certain day you might be instead inspired by a story of a paraplegic athlete.
My point is that, stories that inspire me tend to be stories from the nonprofit world for example, but those aren’t stories that are going to inspire everyone. I did a bunch of work with ACH and still do that works to fund and support businesses that do business with the poorest people on earth. These are people who make $3 a day and I think it’s impossible for any of us to imagine what it’s like to make $3 a day. But one of the thing that’s essential and I’ve learned so profoundly from the companies there that I’ve tried to help is that people make $3 a day don’t like shopping. Shopping is a threat, shopping is not a sport. Shopping means, you are going to buy something you never bought before that’s what shopping is. It’s not replenishment, it’s ‘’let’s go shopping’’.
And in the privileged world, if you make a mistake when you’re shopping, you’ll still go shopping again tomorrow, that’s part of the magic of shopping is that addictive cycle. But if you make $3 a day and you make a mistake shopping, someone in your family isn’t going to eat dinner tonight. Someone’s not going to get the medical care they need. Someone might die. And getting your arms around the idea that when you show up to sell a solar lantern in a little village with no electricity people aren’t welcoming you with open arms. Even though this solar lantern is demonstrably better and cheaper than a kerosene lantern, even though the solar lantern can charge your cell phone, even though the solar lantern will pay for itself in 90 days. If you’ve never used a solar lantern and if your parents and grandparents didn’t have a solar lantern, the solar lantern sales person is not a messiah, they’re a threat because now you either have to deal with the loss of status that will come from not buying it or you have to deal with the fear that will come from buying it.
And so, what we discover is that having empathy for that customer doesn’t mean, don’t make solar lanterns, it doesn’t mean don’t show up to sell them. It means look for the fear, understand the tension, get a hard look at the status dynamic, the affiliation and the dignity because that is what’s on offer, not an electric light.
Jason Ogle: And Brené Brown said “Sympathy is feeling for and empathy is feeling with,” and she tells a unique story in her “Power of vulnerability” about sympathy is seeing your friend fall in the hole and saying like, “Oh, what are you doing down there? You know sorry this happened to you.” And then empathy is actually getting in the dang hole with your friend and sharing your perspective but knowing it’s not your hole and helping that person get out.
And I love the story in your new book about “Vision Spring” Seth and I think it’s a nice kind of segue from what you just shared. Can you tell that story?
Seth Godin: Well, here’s the opportunity that challenge the possible. There are perhaps a billion people on earth who need reading glasses, who are alive longer than anyone expected, and they hit 45 and they need reading glasses. And if you are someone who weaves silk for a living, you are now unemployed because you cannot see the thread. And not only are you unemployed but for the next 10 or 20 years, you are going to be a burden on your family.
So, if we can get you a pair reading glasses that could change everything. Well what Vision Spring does is there a scalable enterprise in the sense that they buy reading glasses in China for two bucks and they sell them in Costa Rica and in India and other places for three bucks. That dollar in profit pays for the transport, for the sales people, for the scaling so as a result there are now millions of people around the world who have reading glasses because Vision Spring sold them a pair. That is more sustainable than just giving them away and also gives the person you’re seeking to serve the power in the relationship which is the power to say “No.” The power to say, “I don’t like this.” The power say, “I don’t want this.” And by empowering the consumer you make your product better.
So, I went with Vision Spring and we’re in this little village 105° out and its noon. And at noon when its 105° everyone’s at home, there’s nothing else to do. And so we’re in the center of the village and so we’re the entertainment for the day and these folks come out mostly men. They’re wearing the traditional Indian work shirt which is a beautiful white embroidered shirt with a pocket on the front and I can see through the pocket the people have money in their pocket. So even though are these customers making $3 a day they have cash. I can also see that they’re 50 years old, so I know from rudimentary biology that they need glasses. And I can also see that most of them don’t have them.
Also, their friends do have them which mean that glasses are not a newfangled technology, there are no batteries or user manuals and they’re aware that classes have helped others. So, we show up we set up a booth and we have one table with ten gift-wrapped beautiful, not gift-wrapped, shrink-wrapped glasses all different styles and on the other table we have a sample pair of glasses and a reading chart. And the reading chart works for people who don’t speak English or speak Tamil, it doesn’t require literacy. And so someone sits down and they hold a reading chart they can’t see anything they can read it. We hand them the sample glasses and they can read. So there’s no doubt that the glasses work. And then we say, “Please come over to this other table and pick whatever kind of glasses you want. We’re giving you the dignity and respect to pick your own style, they are $3.”
And I was astonished to discover that about two-thirds of the people left without buying a pair of glasses. And I’m standing there sweating in the heat, some people say I’m good at marketing what am I not seeing? Why is it with all the things I just told you that two thirds of the people aren’t buying a pair of glasses that they know they need and they have money to pay for? And after an hour I almost had a stroke sitting outside in the heat.
Jason Ogle: [Laughs]
Seth Godin: After an hour. I changed one thing and I doubled the sales rate. And that one thing was based on empathy and user design. And the one thing I changed was I took all ten samples and I put them away. So now there were ten styles to choose from, there was just a pair of sample glasses. And when you put them on and you could see, then we said to you “Do they work?” And if you said, “Yes.” We said, “Okay, which would you prefer, you can give us back your glasses or you can give us $3? And that sentence doubled the rate of sales. Why? Because; give us back your glasses is about fear of loss, you have something do you want to give it up? That’s not shopping that’s defending what’s yours. And by eliminating shopping from the experience, we served the people we sought to serve and it transformed the way that Vision Spring was able to do their work.
Jason Ogle: I love that story. So from ten samples to one, Apple, are you listening? [Laughs]
Seth Godin: Well, it’s interesting because; what Steve did, when he came back from “Next” was he canceled 80% of their products.
Jason Ogle: Yes!
Seth Godin: Because; he said this product is a status-based product and it’s one where we’re trying to demonstrate that we have good taste. And by offering people choices instead we were saying to those people you know what you want, but Apple has never been about you know what you want, Apple is about we have better taste than you. And if you want to be like us, pay us some money.
Jason Ogle: It’s funny you talk about status and there’s a lot of reflections in the book about that too and how you know a lot of times we’ll buy things just for the status even if we can’t afford it you know like there’s that quote about how “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” You know we do that, and it was funny how you mentioned the Porsche Cayenne you kind of cited that as an example that, “There’s no conceivable utility proportionate to the expense and it’s a status symbol.” And it just made me remember that my first “Uber” ride was in a Porsche Cayenne which kind of surprised me. I was like “Wow, this is kind of cool.” I was like “Oh, I’m kind of impressed that Uber drivers drive such a nice car,” because you hear Porsche, you immediately think “Oh luxury, expensive and everything.”
But then I started thinking about after I was reading your book, I start thinking about it it’s like, “He’s an Uber driver because he has a Cayenne. He probably has to drive to make the car payments and he probably has several other jobs.” I think I remember him saying he had several other jobs too and I just don’t know if that’s worth that?
Seth Godin: Well so, now we get back to empathy. I disagree that the Cayenne has no utility, it has a lot of utility, and the utility is that it makes your neighbors feel small, and it makes you feel bigger than your neighbors. That is something that might be worth paying for.
So, years ago I was in Sydney Australia and they had just opened Uber, and I called an Uber. And a 1932 Cadillac limousine pulled up.
Jason Ogle: Oh my God.
Seth Godin: And so, I talked up the driver and it turns out Uber was paying him triple to drive this car around. Why would they do that? They did it because if you arrived in a 1932 Cadillac limo your status went up. So, they positioned Uber as a choice for smart people who could afford it not as a cheaper alternative because status is a simple idea. Who eats lunch first and who eats lunch first goes all the way back to the oasis and the hippos and the rhinos and the giraffes. Who eats lunch first is deeply ingrained in us…way more deeply ingrained than what the left mouse button does.
And so, when we offer people a route toward the status they seek, they’ll consider taking it.
Jason Ogle: Seth, have you ever had to learn empathy the hard way, like is there a story they can tell us about where you didn’t show empathy and afterward wished you had, like you could click the left button for the undo?
Seth Godin: Oh, every day.
Jason Ogle: Is there something that stands out, and maybe even more recent?
Seth Godin: Well you know I read this, the original host of “The Tonight Show” used to go into the audience and do improv. So, he would do his opening monologue and then he engage with different people in the audience. Steve Allen, and he was pretty good at it. And one day he’s up there doing his monologue and he notices there’s this woman in the second row who’s not applauding. So, he turns up the house light, and he decides he’s going to engage with her about her for the fact that she wasn’t applauding. It was live TV, and only after the cameras were turned on the woman did he realize that she had been born without two arms.
Jason Ogle: Oh, gosh.
Seth Godin: And so, it’s not about him, it’s about her. But his lack of care for who she might be haunted him for the rest of his life. And that story made a huge impact on me, I heard it when I was like 18 or 19. Because, I was always you know engaging with whatever committee or crowd I was in front of sort of arrogantly pronouncing my view correct. And so, the lesson for me is, “If someone’s treating you a certain way, it’s almost certainly because of what happened to them yesterday or this morning or a week ago or a year ago and if you were in their shoes, if you knew what they knew, or if you believed what they believed…you might be just as ornery as they are.”
So, the opportunity is to reestablish what people like us do? Because people like us do things like this, this is the essence of our culture. And so, we can engage with other people where they are, we’re going to get more done than if we insist that they are wrong.
Jason Ogle: Wow! I always say, “Empathy is a choice that becomes easier to make the more we practice it.” What’s your best advice for us in building our empathy levels for fellow humans especially the ones we’re trying to serve?
Seth Godin: A lot of the time we have trouble with empathy because we’re afraid. And you know it’s very hard to be a lifeguard if you’re wearing heavy boots. Because as soon as you jump in the water you start sinking and so it’s really difficult for you to offer help to the person who’s drowning. That what it means to be a lifeguard is (A): You need to find someone who wants to get rescued. And B: You have to have enough confidence in where you are that you can help them. And if you can’t find that confident then you should probably seek a smaller audience.
Jason Ogle: I love that theme in the book about “Quit trying to be all things to all people and trying to get everybody to clap.” Obviously in that case there was an accessibility issue that he didn’t see because he didn’t have the empathy to think about that beforehand, but I love that message in the book about just find the smallest audience and serve them well with your great ideas and word will get out as it needs to. And so, I just really love the reinforcement that message in your book.
Seth Godin: Well, thank. I think the key word is viable, the smallest audience is one person, and you can’t make it with one person. Part of the magic of Dropbox, part of the magic of classic Apple days is they were willing to say, “There is a group of people big enough to support us who want XY and Z. We will serve them and if you are not one of those people, we understand good luck to you, it’s not for you.
And then over time if you’ve built something that has a ratchet it will spread but you must identify a viable audience that you can live with. Given that you get ten draft picks or 100 draft picks or 10,000 draft picks, who are the people that will make you or break you? Just make it for them…only them.
Jason Ogle: I love that. Seth. You are an incredible storyteller, and I don’t know how you do it but you always seem to have a story at the ready, and you’ve even in this interview so far you just have those stories and when teaching something. And you know Mariel Rukeyser said “The universe is made of stories not of atoms.” You know, and since stories make the world go around, and selling design through storytelling is an important part of the field, do you have advice for the Defenders listening on how we can become better storytellers?
Seth Godin: Well a story is not, “Once upon a time,” and a story isn’t even – it’s not the same as an anecdote, so you know I’ve worked hard to create a collection of anecdotes, but a story says “I’m going somewhere, I’m going to go there using your vernacular, do you want to come with me?” And too often engineers say none of that matters. I have proof that I am right, and I’m a trained engineer so I know that feeling and it’s not even arrogant, it’s just wrong. Because, maybe you think you’re right but in a different universe, a different invention would have happened, and I could show that you were not right.
Right is an evanescent concept that what we’re looking for instead is useful. How can you do something that’s useful based on who I am and where I am and where I want to go?
Jason Ogle: I’m going to shift gears a little bit, we’re still on the empathy subject but do you have an opinion on how our smartphone addictions are impacting our levels of empathy toward other humans?
Seth Godin: [Long pause] Oh! I’m sorry, I was just checking my Facebook. What was your question?
Jason Ogle: [Laughs]
Seth Godin: And I don’t have Facebook, so it’s okay.
Jason Ogle: Yes, I don’t either I just deleted mine recently, I don’t like Mark Zuckerberg at all.
Seth Godin: Well, I’m not sure I dislike Mark he grew up one town away from where I am right now but I dislike the business model. The thing that people forget is if you’re using a social network and you’re not paying for it, you’re the product you’re not the customer. And I think a lot of people are waking up to realize they didn’t like being the product and that’s why I think paying for software are so important.
You know the thing, is that human beings are capable of an enormous range of behaviors more than any other species by far and we get what we practice. So, if you spend your time trolling people or you spend your time reading what the trolls are doing, that’s what you’re practicing. If you spend your time keeping track of how many people like you and don’t like you that’s what you’re practicing, and you get more of what you practice. So, I think the intentional act of figuring out what we want more of is really important. And in the case of Facebook the original idea was expanding beyond Dunbar’s number having a little bit of knowledge on our radar of what the thousand people in our life are up to could have opened us up for more empathy. But what we did was we exhausted ourselves and it turned everybody into quick bait. And when you’re viewing someone else’s life in that swipe, swipe, swipe way it’s impossible to truly care about them because this soon as it gets too hard you just swipe.
Jason Ogle: And when we start just looking at everybody through the lens of our screens as other humans I think you know we can’t help but kind of lose empathy and even the way we, a lot of us we text and I love the technology, I love the convenience of it but I mean how often is it so easy to be misunderstood through text right? Your intent, your empathy you can’t see you know the person’s face and things like that so it’s – and I think you’re right about it. “Is this person hot? Swipe left, if they’re not, swipe right kind of thing?” And it just feels like – I have some strong opinions about it. I love tech, I kind of like it’s funny I host a show about it about design and tech, and I love it, but I also don’t like where some of it’s, brought us as well. I just don’t think we were ever meant to have this kind of lens into other people’s lives that we do it just breeds a lot of discontentment, and just feelings we shouldn’t really be feeling.
So, I am glad Apple has (you know I don’t know much about Android as I am an Apple person) but I am glad that they’re kind of seeing that need and they added a new feature to their new iOS that’s helping people to kind of monitor their activity a little more so I’m glad to see their empathy for that. And I think it’s also in their best interest from a business perspective because you know if people are just constantly addicted their behaviors are going to change and I mean you know they want living customers to continue buying their products so.
Seth Godin: Yes, I mean I could rant about Apple all day, I’d just rant for two minutes. Here we go…If Apple wanted to get rid of texting while driving, they could solve the problem in four minutes. They haven’t done so because they’re not run by leaders who care about people dying while texting and driving–they’re owned by people who care more about the stock price.
Apple changed my life when Guy Kawasaki brought me a Mac to beta test in 1983, when he was 25 and I was 23. They changed my life again when the user interface got even better and I could demonstrate stuff in print and on screen that was better than I thought I could. They change my life again when they put a computer in my pocket.
But a long time ago they decided they’re in a different business now.
They’re in the business of selling a luxury good where status is gained by having the latest Item and using it a lot not to make your life better but merely to gain a certain kind of status. So, Apple has put the thing in that you’re talking about but they haven’t done anything to key that in to your status, to your behavior, to your social networks. They also haven’t invested at all in building the kind of mutually beneficial online connection that so many other companies are getting behind. So as somebody who has purchased more than 150 Macs in his career and who has been a fanboy since the very first day I got my first Apple in 19 whatever it was something, I’m so disappointed and I’m sort of bereft because; there’s no place good for me to go, but I hope that one day soon there will be.
Jason Ogle: I appreciate you sharing that, Seth. You said that Apple can solve the problem in four minutes…what can they do?
Seth Godin: Well it’s pretty simple, they know that you’re moving right? So, if you’re on a phone that is moving then I can think of six different ways that I could differentiate passengers from drivers and if I’m a driver it’s just not going to work and there’s no way to make it work–I have to pull over that’s not hard to do. And the fact is that the incremental change in our culture normalizes certain behaviors. I have a friend who wrote, “The History of Drunk Driving,” and when you think about it drunk driving has a history because first you needed cars, so we know when drunk driving first happened and we know how it was an unchecked problem for 70 or 80 years that couldn’t possibly hurt the status of someone who engaged in it. And we know how hard it was for Mothers against drunk driving and others to try to stigmatize that behavior well that’s how our culture works.
Someone puts a change into the world over time we normalize it, we engage with it as part of our status and then it’s really hard to undo the negative impacts of that change. And Apple’s benefit is also their problem which is they control the platform and if you control the platform, I think you have to be responsible for what people do with the platform.
Jason Ogle: Yes, I agree with you. And I appreciate the insight on that too I think that, and I hope that some of the right people hear that and maybe consider doing a little bit more because that is a big problem and it’s not worth it, and that’s the thing, it’s just not worth it.
Seth, the bots are coming, nay they’re already here. You know, many of the day-laborer jobs that we’ve known in the past and even creative jobs that we know today that many still depend on to provide for their families could possibly be going away and actually may the likelihood is high. Your primary message in my favorite book of yours, “Linchpin”, is all about staying indispensable in our work. Has the advent of AI, machine learning and automation changed your perception of what it means to be indispensable? If so, how? If not, how do we stay indispensable in our digital and ever increasingly artificially intelligent world?
Seth Godin: That’s a great question. You know in 1917, I was on this podcast and they asked me about the “Jackhammer”
Jason Ogle: [Laughs]
Seth Godin: And they said, “You know the jackhammers coming what will that do to people have to dig up streets?” And I point out that most people who dig up streets are saying, “Well, they’ll just work harder at digging up streets and they’re not worried about the jackhammer.” Which of course is absurd. Lots and lots of people with pick axes got put out of work over the course of decades because why would you hire a guy with a pick axe who could use a jackhammer?
Well if you’re a radiologist you need to accept the fact that a computer can read an X-Ray better than you now and multiply that times a thousand. If I can write down what you do, if I can write down the steps, I can get a computer to do it better than you. So, the only plan is to do a job where you can’t write down the steps. That’s it, you need to do jobs where you can’t write down the steps. If you have a job where you do write down the steps hire someone cheaper than you to do those steps, so you can go back to doing a job where you can’t write down the steps.
Jason Ogle: Ha, that’s fascinating. Yes, and I think that – I love how you mentioned emotional labor so much, that is such an advantage especially when we’re trying to start something or make a ruckus as you say you know it is just putting that emotional labor into it. And I think that those are still things – I don’t think I know that no matter how intelligent robots get, even sentient. No matter how much they can move their eyebrows or whatever like that creepy Sophie robot, they’ll still never ever have be able to demonstrate genuine empathy ever. It’s all manufactured. So, I think that that emotional labor, putting that emotional into something, having empathy for those you’re doing it for genuinely I think those are some of the keys. Would you agree…and anything to add to that?
Seth Godin: Well, I do agree. I think though that faked empathy is just as good as real empathy if I can’t tell the difference.
Jason Ogle: Oh, can you elaborate on that?
Seth Godin: Sure! I don’t think you have to be in a wheelchair to design a hotel room that someone in a wheelchair can use. And that person who designed the hotel room may not care about you one bit…they might just be a professional. And to be a professional means to act as if – the surgeon who took your appendix out didn’t show up and say, “Oh I can’t do it, I’m not really in a good mood. I don’t really feel like doing surgery today.” No, you don’t care. You just want the surgeon to show up and do what she said she would do, that’s what a professional would do.
You know if we think about the absurdity of major league sports, the players act like they care about the team but as soon as they get traded, suddenly they care about a different team because they’re professionals. And so, I’m not arguing that you need to actually wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats because you care so much about that human being you’re exerting emotional labor for. I am arguing that if you’re a professional, it’s your job. The ditch diggers job is to dig a ditch, and your job is to act as if. And if you can 100% fake the empathy that’s as good as actually being empathetic as far as I’m concerned.
Jason Ogle: Oh, I love that. That’s such a great takeaway.
So, you seem like a super mellow and happy guy, Seth. What makes you really angry? And Trump off the table by the way? [Laughs]
Seth Godin: You know I have a big problem when brands have a privilege and then they don’t keep their promise. And it’s hard for me to find empathy for organizations because they’re acting like professionals, they’ve got money, they’ve got resources, they could have kept their promise and they didn’t. And so, when Google shut down RSS Reader leaving you know millions of blogs and millions of blog readers behind, that’s just a selfish short term active not only not empathy but on professionalism and there’s nothing we can do about it.
And lately I’ve been ranting without success about how Google puts my blog and lots of other people’s blog in the promotions folder because; they can, because it impacts…it makes their monopoly even stronger. So, I’m not sure I’d say that makes me angry because I have found that anger doesn’t make me better, but it certainly makes me frustrated in the sense that I use it is fuel to try to help us make a new standard. Because the fact is, in our world there are so much choice that we get the culture we accept–and if we don’t want to accept it, all we have to do is speak up and it stops. And over time, if enough people speak up, then things change. And I get email almost every day from people who say, “How can I get the people in charge to change what they’re doing?” And my answer is, “You should be in charge. Because you can get five or 10 or 50 or 100 people to follow you, so lead, so go, and that’s where all the changes ever come from in our culture and that’s where the change is going to come from. Someone who cares enough to make a ruckus and to show up and raise their hand and say, “Here we go.”
So, you know my book comes out this week or so in November and it’s a call to arms and the reason I made a book it because the book is easiest thing I know that you can share with other people. And what I’m hoping will happen is that people will walk into the office with four copies and say, “This is what we’re going to do.” That’s why I wrote it as a book and that’s my mission. And if people want to see some samples it’s at Seth.blog/tim and my hope is that this ruckus I’m making will spread at least enough to make things a little better.
Jason Ogle: I love that, I’m so glad you said that, and you know I have a blurb for you Seth if you need another one…wink. [Laughs]
Seth Godin: You are very kind.
Jason Ogle: [Laughs] and here it goes: This book (and this is from the heart my friend) “This book clearly defines once and for all with an exclamation point what true marketing is and always should be…ever-empathic, and in genuine service to the marketed.”
Seth Godin: Well, I’m honored. Thank you for the time you were able to spend with me today, this was a really fun conversation and I can’t wait to see the ruckus you’re going to continue making and leading these professionals.
Jason Ogle: Thank you so much Seth, I appreciate you so much and keep doing what you’re doing, keep fighting on and all that you do. I am such a beneficiary, and so many others, and I know, I’m excited to introduce you to any of the Defenders listening who may not have heard of you. And definitely Defenders, pick up Seth’s book, it is incredible. It will change you, and change the way you see things. Thanks again Seth for being here, for all you do, and last but not least I just want to say, “Fight on my friend.”
Seth Godin: Alright, go make a ruckus, we’ll see you.
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