The Icarus Deception: Seth Godin wants you to fly closer to the sun

icarusdeceptionIf you haven’t made your New Years resolutions yet (as Seth would say “NOW is the time to start”), maybe you should give yourself a prod by picking up a copy of The Icarus Deception and seeing if the prodigious Seth Godin can exhort you to go make some art.

Since writing Linchpin in 2010 (my review), Seth has been on a campaign to get us out of our comfort zones and creating the art that is within each and everyone of us, but we are just to scared to let it free.

Seth is on top of a major movement here – according to the Census Bureau about 3/4 of US firms have no payroll (21.4 million vs 5.9 million with a payroll).  If you add in small businesses with less than 10 employees (77% of 3.6 million of the 5.9 million) the segment is even bigger.  At 21.4 million the self-employed sector is nearly 2x the employment size of  largest industry segment (education at about 12 million).  The change appears to be accelerating too (as a proxy, those working from home grew 41% in the last decade to 13.5 million)

It’s a spin on the old follow your passion line – it’s better to love and lose than to never have loved at all. He argues passionately and persuasively that the people wrongly assume they are taking the low risk path in a “safe” corporate career that they don’t care about.

That’s the clever and unexpected component of the title of this book – the part no one ever talks about is that Daedalus told his son not to fly to low either – because being too close to sea there would be no lift.

There’s a lot of repetition, but there are also some handy ideas and lists and a few (albeit brief) case studies.  Seth works hard to make sure you get what art is and requires:  being vulnerable and honest, relentless persistency (grit), putting your best work out there, realizing those who value your art will find it, and learning to live with the inevitable trolls who won’t value what you do.

Like most of Seth’s books it’s a quick and easy read.  If you’re still procrastinating, this might get you moving.

Finding the time to Crush It!

photo courtesy of IanL

If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of Gray Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!, do yourself a favor.  As Gary admits, during one of his many ad libs, he dictated the book to a ghost writer anyway, so this is actually the format it was meant to be heard in.  Scrap that, you need the video-cast, to get the full “gary vee” experience (like his awesome Wine Library TV video blog).

For those not familiar, Gary is another of the social media celebrities, who helped grow his family’s wine business from $4M to $60M in 5 years, who has a ridiculous number of followers on twitter and fans on facebook. He brought passion and a raw approachability to demystifying the enjoyment of wine, which the industry sorely needed.

If you need to get pumped up about whatever it is you are passionate about doing, the audio version of this book  could get just about anybody excited.  The passion and excitement in his voice is palpable and infectious. And for most of us, finding time to listen in the car or working out is a lot easier than finding time to read.

Now this takes us to the crux of the problem – finding the time.

Unlike Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week, Gary is not suggesting creating a “muse” that will earn big dollars for you with minimum time investment, so you can life the life of your dreams now.  He’s actually suggesting a LOT of hard work.  Your priorities are family, health and then your passion.  Kiss the wife and kids good night and get to work 9pm-2am.  Every night. Repeat.  Don’t worry about the stats, if you’re the best in your narrowly-defined field (finding a niche small enough that you can be best in the world at it is key), and passionate about it, the rabid fans will come and stay, and, over time, you’ll be able to monetize your passion, and give up your day job.  We’re not talking crazy wealth here, just $50-100K which is good enough for a decent life, and at least your spending your waking hours doing something you give a damn about.

The book has a decent amount of tactical advice on how to do all of this, from getting a URL to setting up a blog site, to creating great content.  Where all the work comes is in engaging with the audience.  This is of course where most of us fall down.  We get obsessed with the content and forget about building the community.  They won’t appear all by themselves, you have to make them want to come, again and again.  If you want to understand the degree of this dedication, he still answers every tweet or email, despite the staggering volume he receives..  I tried this and its true.  Less than 24 hours after tweeting props about the audiobook, he @ replied back with a thank you.  Amazing.

After hearing the book, I was naturally pumped to try this out.  And that’s when it dawns on you.  You have got to want this more than anything else to make it happen.  You need the chutzpah and the hustle to self-promote.  Endlessly. I can handle a few late nights in a row, but then I run out of gas.  And I love spending time with my family.  And I have an awesome day job.  So now, I want to combine Seth’s Linchpin with Gary’s Crush It! and make this happen on my day job.  Because that’s near and present.  And that way it doesn’t have to be 9pm-2am every night.

My lizard brain wants me to stop…

But I must ship this before the publication date. Even if its not perfect.

A mother and daughter in the row in front of me start arguing over something like who paid for the DIRECTV. The argument escalates into a rehash of an apparently longstanding feud with lots of name-calling and cussing. They eventually settle back into an episode of “Keeping up with the Kalashnikovs” or whatever they call it – life imitating art I suppose. The girl next to me is whining incessantly on the phone about some injustice her father has apparently inflicted upon her. None of the flight crew is doing anything more than trying to survive this flight. I picture them all with lizard heads poking out from their shirts and retreat back to my advance copy of Linchpin, Seth Godin’s latest, desperately hoping for a little art or the opportunity of a gift in the day.

The Ritz-Carlton in Ft. Lauderdale comes to the rescue with an artful greeting (the magic is achieved with headsets relaying the guest’s name to the check-in desk) followed by the unnecessary but delightful step of helping me find my room, confirming that it is ok, and asking about the purpose of my stay. I hesitated at the conclusion (time for the tip), as Seth suggests that money cheapens the gift, but the protocol is pretty clear on tipping (unlikely many other aspects of American tipping which I continue to find baffling and embarrassing) and followed the easy path of convention. Seth suggests adding a why it was great through a “Thank you and …” construction – I guess I’ll need more practice on that one.

I love the central idea behind this book and the logic of the call-to-action. Your choice:

  • Take the apparently risky and courageous path of becoming an indispensable human, and in the meantime discover meaning and lifelong employment, or
  • Follow the indoctrination of many years of society and education and remain a faceless cog in the machine, increasingly dispensable, and at the mercy of your employer and the forces of globalization

If you accept the hypothesis that we all have this choice (and Seth argues that regardless of nature or nurture that we all have genius within us), or even that it’s better to die trying than not, it’s pretty obvious which is actually the less risky path.

Much like Dan Pink’s wonderful A Whole New Mind, which I reviewed previously, Godin passionately argues that times have changed, and a new approach is the key to success. The good news is the new approach should make you not only more successful but happier and wealthier at the same time. Bring it on!

In the last few weeks, I’ve reflected on my life and current work. There is no doubt that when I’ve put in that extra effort at work or home it’s typically yielded noticeably better outcomes, and been warmly acknowledged by the recipients, which has given back to me a sense of fulfillment far in excess of that extra effort. In the same few weeks, by actively pursuing ways to go above and beyond I’ve significantly elevated my value in what becomes a marvelous positive feedback loop – do something unexpected and great, be acknowledged, feel great, create and give more art. This concept is not new, but the imperative for action is arguably stronger than ever.

The table of contents is brilliantly presented as an executive summary with sentences describing the key ideas under each chapter title. Godin proposes that between management and workers (the cogs in the machine) there is room for a new class of indispensable workers – the linchpins. Like Ayn Rand’s heroes but more forgiving in the sense that linchpins work with the world as it is, rather than running off to form their own utopia. The book is peppered with Seth’s trademark pithy one-liners, clever observations, arguments and definitions (for example “Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient“), and fabulous quotes such as this one from artist Hugh MacLeod: “The web has made kicking ass easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howls in protest.” Best of all are the hand-drawn charts. and Venn diagrams like the one at left from page 101.

If you’re inspired to try to become a linchpin (and most of the readers will be), there are a few tips and guidelines but importantly no map to enlightenment. Everyone’s destination and path will be different and ever-changing. The resistance to this life of art and gift giving will be driven by the lizard brain, the primitive bits called the amygdala that “apparently takes over whenever you are angry, afraid, aroused, hungry or in search of revenge”. One key tactic is to remember that artists ship. If you procrastinate and never publish your work, you can’t succeed. With that in mind, I better stop here and press the button.

Seth, thank you for this little gem of a book – you are a constant source of wisdom and inspiration.

Dear readers, good luck out there. May you all choose wisely.