January 26, 2010

Art and Plumbing: The Indispensable Interview with Seth Godin

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It’s no secret I’m a big fan of author and change agent Seth Godin. I’ve been reading his books since my years in West Africa (2002-2006), and he continues to produce excellent work almost every day on his great blog.

I had the chance to speak to Seth’s “Alternative MBA” group last year, and when the invitation came, I rearranged my schedule and dropped everything to fly to New York. (Never pass up a major opportunity for personal growth.)

Today, Seth’s new book, Linchpin: Are you Indispensible?, launches out into the world. Instead of doing the usual media interviews, Seth decided to promote the book exclusively through the blogosphere. Together with his sidekick Ishita, he recruited a bunch of big-name bloggers – and then me – to publish a group of exclusive interviews today.

You can read the other interviews here, you can buy the book here, and if you’d like to ask Seth a question yourself, you can do so in the comments section of this post.

Let’s get started.

  • Linchpin begins with the statement, “This time it’s personal.” This seems to be a departure for you. Among other things, you’re writing about love, binge drinking, urinals, and art. What led to this book?

I’m pretty sure I’m not writing about binge drinking. What I am writing about is the ability of each of us, without authority or permission, to do work that matters, to have an impact and to create a place for ourselves in a society that’s brainwashed us into doing something that’s an easily replaced commodity.

A big part of that is acting like an artist. Being personal, making change, communicating a vision.

I wrote this book for every single person who’s frustrated with the status quo and wants to do more and better work.

  • “The system is a mess.” Which system? How does our art change that?

The system of factories churning out stuff we can no longer afford to buy, or to store in our houses overstuffed with junk. The system that turns out college grads who are eager to follow instructions, not blaze a path. The system that depends on spam or churn to grow a product or a brand. And the system that treats employees like disposable cogs in a giant machine.

You know what changes this? Humanity. Connection. Caring. Doing work that’s not easy to replicate. That’s what an artist does.

  • According to Linchpin, how do I become an artist? (What if I don’t know what I’m really good at?)

You do art when you make change that matters, and do it via a connection with an individual. A great waitress or conductor or politician can make art. So can David, who cleans the tables at Dean and Deluca. Art isn’t the job, it’s the attitude you bring to the job and work you do when you’re there.

  • Are we all really geniuses? If so, what do we do to stop choosing stability over genius?

Well, if a genius is someone who solves a problem in a new and original way, then sure, you’re a genius. And the first step to making that choice is to know it’s available.

  • I liked the example of Thomas Hawk putting so much of his work in the Creative Commons. I know that you publish most of your writing for free, too, but what do you do when you run into issues of plagiarism or people otherwise directly stealing from you?

I ask them to stop, or to give readers a link so they can see where it comes from. Of course, if they’re selling it, that’s a different kind of theft, and I ask them them to stop, because then not only am I being ripped off, but so is the buyer.

  • “Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” and “Art is a gift that changes the recipient.” — Would you say that if someone has a talent they keep to themselves, never sharing it with anyone, that they aren’t really making art?

That’s exactly right. According to my definition, doing private stuff doesn’t count… unless, and perhaps, you’re changing yourself.

  • Can you tell us more about emotional labor?

Physical labor is digging a ditch. You don’t do it cause it’s fun, you do it because it’s your job. I don’t care if you’re in the mood for it.

Emotional labor is smiling or engaging with someone or bringing insight to your job. Sometimes you do it for fun, but you always do it because it’s your job. I don’t care if you’re in the mood for it.

  • “The second person to install a urinal wasn’t an artist, he was a plumber.” Aren’t most of us, in some fashion, plumbers building off each other’s work?

    [A personal example: I read your books while I was in Africa. Now I'm getting ready for my own book launch. Editing the manuscript in December, I could see some artistry and some plumbing, building on the influence of you and other thought leaders. Am I an artist or a plumber?]

I think we surely build on each other. BUT, plumbers don’t really. They don’t strive for a better toilet install, or one that changes the recipient. They strive for a cheap, fast version of the standard and then they move on. Artists take it farther than that, much farther. That’s our assignment.

***

Wrap-Up

I wish Seth well with the launch of Linchpin. It’s a book that deserves wide attention — I received a free review copy, but I also paid full price for an additional copy that’s being sent out from Amazon today.

My work is better because of Seth’s influence and your readership. I’m grateful for both.

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Comment on this article

43 Responses to “Art and Plumbing: The Indispensable Interview with Seth Godin”

  1. I was chatting about this book with a friend/client who raised a interesting question that I’ll pass on here:

    What about all the people/companies who make a ton of money being totally un-artistic, boring and un-innovative? Should they change (and risk being less profitable) to do more meaningful work?

    Should we mail copies of the book to friends and family working for highly profitable companies which are part of the “mess”?

  2. Man, Seth can keep on writing such stuff with such speed. He’s the perfect marketer in my eyes. He gives so much more to the customer with his blog and free ebooks before he asks for a sale. He’s the perfect example we should all follow.

  3. I really enjoy reading Seth Godin’s blog posts, they are always so full of insight, personal experience and food for thought, it’s amazing that he’s posting almost every day. Can’t wait to read Linchpin!

  4. Thanks guys. It’s 4am here (Seth Godin Day on the internet starts early), so I’m going back to bed for a couple of hours. I’ll post the rest of your comments shortly, and then perhaps the master himself will drop in.

  5. Yeah Chris, I’m up early on the Seth Jam, too – posted two YouTube videos of my audio interview about Linchpin. And thanks again for the great interview with YOU earlier this week!

  6. Ahh, absolutely brilliant. Two of my favourite people on one page. Blog bliss.

  7. Hey Chris

    Yes the day does start early, and I’m so glad I woke up at this silly hour like you because I get to read this interview which is the perfect start to my day.

    I’ve recently installed the fab Seth Godin app on my new iPhone and love his incredible ability to write such power so succinctly in his blog – something I aspire to do more regularly.

    So excited you got to interview him and I will be buying the book – I owe Seth that after all the wonderful free thought leadership he gives to us every day

    Natalie

  8. I agree with the sentiments expressed but my old question is “Why now?” meaning what is special and different about now that prompts these ideas?

    have they not been equally true since the Industrial Revolution?

    Or even earlier?

  9. “Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” – Amen to that. Nice interview, Chris. Seth’s words get me all fired up.

  10. Great interview! Seth has had a huge influence on my life through his books and I can honestly say Linchpin is his strongest work yet. It’s such a powerful call to action in that way only Seth can deliver. Everyone should read it 5 times. (I’m on reading #2)

    Thanks to you Chris as well for being your linchpin self and bringing all of us such great content.

  11. Fabulous Interview Chris!

    This line by Seth says it all. “What I am writing about is the ability of each of us, without authority or permission, to do work that matters, to have an impact and to create a place for ourselves in a society that’s brainwashed us into doing something that’s an easily replaced commodity.”

    Because we are being mass trained, we can be mass replaced. That’s what’s happened. Our economy has been shipped overseas. Why not create a new economy based on individuality, then it can’t be shipped elsewhere.

    Everything is possible if we start listening to ourselves.

    Thx. Giulietta

  12. I have to agree with Gordie. It’s not just the quality of his writing, but his quantity too. As a fan of his other books, I’m definitely going to grab Linchpin.

  13. “Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” This is the most inclusive definition of art. Thank you, Seth for summing up that ” art is a gift that changes the recipient.” And thank you, Chris for spreading the word. I can’t wait until my copy of “Linchpin” arrives.
    I”m sure “Linchpin” will be on the reading list for the upcoming “Inspired Livelihoood” workshop I’m hosting in Sedona with Barbara Winter and Alice Barry.

  14. Seth has been an inspiration to me since the Purple Cow days…he is a true linchpin of thought leaders. I can’t wait to get the book (although I’ve read this interview and a number of detailed reviews, I want all the juice for myself…and then I’ll pass on the book to someone else because that gift may change someone…)

    I just found you yesterday, Chris, and am so impressed with who you are “being;” I am limiting my blog-reading so I can write myself, but I will continue reading you (Seth, too)

    Thank you!!

  15. Very inspiring! Very inspiring, indeed. Seems like we all can head in this direction with the choices we make every day. Eventually, we will all become artists.

  16. January 26, 2010

    Dallon Christensen

    My biggest question for Seth is how can we as parents start this process early with our children? Children are so impressionable and are so intent on pleasing their parents. I want them to be creative and to not always follow the crowd, but society can be a powerful force.

  17. I grew up a classical musician and went to school the first time for music composition. I started to hate it because it was too alienating and I’d rather make art for people. Then I discovered business. At first it was just my job. Now I see the business I started as a big piece of interactive performance art. Whenever I try to explain this, my friends and family stare at me like I am nuts.

    Instead of seeing isolated artists as not artists, I say they aren’t very good. If your art is about a message and you can’t get it across, then you’re bad at communicating. It makes sense someone with a marketing background would put this together. Let’s be existential about it. This time my art is for the people and making the world a better place.

    My question for Seth is how do you consistently improve on making your art more instantly recognizable as different with the right balance? Low differentiation makes you an also-ran; high differentiation scares off profitable relationships.

  18. Seth & Chris — Thanks for the interview. Can artristry be done on a part-time basis? Can you be a plumber by day and an artist on nights and weekends? Is the goal always to be a full-time artist or can a person be a long-term part-time artist and still live a life of meaning? Thanks!

  19. Hey Seth, it seems like you’re addressing something in this book that I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I’m grateful. Our society has confused greatness with being defined mostly by what we do rather than how we do it. I like to ask people if a bathroom attendant can be great. Can he be greater than a basketball player? Can he be greater than a doctor? Greatness is more in the what, than in the how. Thanks for being great!

  20. Wow! Thank you for bringing this interview to me – though I know Seth Godin and have read some of his books, I didn’t know about the new book. I liked how he is doing the interviews and having people vote for the favorite ones – I’ll read a few more and cast mine :-)

    Reading his answers, I know why he picked you Chris among other “big names” to do the interview. It’s this: “I wrote this book for every single person who’s frustrated with the status quo and wants to do more and better work.” I believe this is what AONC is all about as well.

    Congratulations & have a great day!

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  22. I like these ideas. If we were a country that valued artistry and craftsmanship over cheap and easy access to stuff, would we have suffered as much with the financial meltdown as we did? I’d like to think that a shift in cultural values would protect us from the volatility of the financial markets. And yet, other countries that do place a higher value on artistry and craftsmanship suffered as well. Can these ideas change economic realities – or just cultural values?

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  24. January 26, 2010

    Ceil De Young

    Linchpin is so in keeping with my philosophy -things I have written. Absolute gold.I can not wait to read more.
    Ceil

  25. I think we have to be careful with labels because I don’t think plumbers & artists are mutually exclusive. The plumbers I know have rethought water purification both for space travel and contaminated wells/water sources in underdeveloped countries. Tradesmen are the fixers of the world and bring a lot of imagination and problem solving to very practical problems including broken urinals.

    I did enjoy what Godin had to say about Humanity. Connection. Caring.

  26. Thank you!
    Inspired by this post I would say that the artists are those that create
    art of living!

  27. I can definitely say that Seth Godin has made a huge impact on my life. I’ve found his work so inspirational my wife and I own both the audio and the hard copy of nearly every book Seth has written.

    I will definitely be buying your book Seth! Rock on!

    (Chris, I will definitely be buying your book when it comes out as well!)

  28. Some great questions here! Thanks for reading, guys.

    Al: why now? Because until recently, the factory worked. Until recently, you could make $400k as a middle manager at a big corporation and feel safe.

    Dallon: teaching this to your kids takes guts. Because the other parents and the schools will look at you funny. My take on it is this: homeschool your kids, but send them to the building during the day to keep em busy. In other words, afternoons and weekends are for challenging, learning and pushing.

    and Lou–of course you can do this part time. Most artists are artists first, getting paid for it second. In fact, just about everyone I know who is making a difference and doing work that matters didn’t get a JOB doing that, at least not at first. And the Net makes that easier than ever, right?

  29. I admittedly don’t know too much about Seth and his writing (YET). This book sounds very interesting and I will be picking up a copy.

    As I was reading this interview, the first thing I thought of was the recent economic downturn, in which so many people lost their “secure” jobs. Seth talks about creating something meaningful without authority or permission and carving out a place for ourselves in the world. I didn’t get laid off, but seeing so many people who did, I have become motivated to take control of my life and take my “job security” into my own hands. It seems like this is one of the theme’s of Seth’s book. Forget the economic downturn; this is the most exciting time in history to take control of our lives and create.

    Thanks for the interview, Chris!

  30. January 26, 2010

    James Nicholls

    Gotta disagree with his definition of “art” here. I know exactly what he means, but he’s treading on dodgy ground by taking an existing word an radically changing its definition. Inventing something is a creative process, but it’s not necessarily art. Richard Branson is an entrepreneur, and a brilliant one at that, but nobody would classify him as an artist. Seth should find a different word for the mindset he is trying to instill, which is essentially individualism by the sounds of it.

  31. No problem with disagreeing; Seth is cool with dialogue. But actually, I would definitely say that Branson and other entrepreneurs are artists. And not that I would compare myself with Seth or Sir Richard, but I put myself in the artist club too even though I don’t paint on canvases. That’s part of what Linchpin is about.

  32. I agree with Mary, that we have to be careful about labels. In that vein, and in response to Lou Mindar — if the artistry is in the “how” not the what, then plumbers, tradespeople, lawyers, accountants, sales clerks — anyone can be an artist. In fact, I think the question is how could an artist be “part-time”? If I express my art through pottery, and bodywork, and shovelling my driveway…isn’t that full-time.

    Thanks, Chris and Seth for a thought-provoking and inspiring discussion.

  33. Wow. All I can think of is this:

    1 How can I guy manage to blog super-insightful posts so frequently

    2 and still manage to write a book

    3 and in one go reveal that he has dozens and dozens of interviews by the biggest bloggers)…

    The world is certainly better because of Seth.

  34. WOW! I have been struggling with how I will view myself in my niche without being view as a replica or a copycat. Now I have a visual difference via the artist of the toilet and the installer. Chris, you and Seth have such a way with words that as you say even though you don’t paint on a canvas the words themselves are pure art. I have to put this on the list as the next book to buy. Now I’m off to figure out how I can be this insightful. Thanks…

  35. great interview! i discovered Seth through the blog of Karl Fisch (who writes about technology in Education) and i’ve been a fan ever since…

    i really resonate with the questions raised by Aaron (clarifinancial), Lou Mindar, and Ami (40daystochange) because i’ve worked with some amazing performance artists that have great messages in their work but it’s hard to get funding and an audience, which makes me wonder if it’s because artists have a hard time with business/marketing or if it’s because this country doesn’t always value art unless it rakes in $$.

    i know i’ve been conflicted with being a full-time artist because it’s hard to pay the rent if no one is buying your art; conversely, i’ve been making great relationships through my blog and LOVE giving my creations as gifts, so i know i’m not exactly creating in a vacuum ;)

    i can see i will have to get a copy of this new book!! i hope Seth covers these questions in the comments section =-)

  36. I like it.

    I recently gave a talk on entrepreneurship where I noted that an artist friend (gilbertgallery.org) was making a change that mattered by her ability to combine creativity, good timing and execution.

    Nice interview, Chris.

  37. Thanks for the heads up I will have to check the book out.

  38. Dallon: did you know that the institution of public education as we know it today was designed to train children to be factory workers? They learn to concentrate only on the task in front of you, no matter how boring and repetitive it is, without chatting with neighbors or getting distracted by what is outside of the window, not to mention getting permission to use the toilet, and moving at the sound of a bell.

    While homeschooling is not possible for everyone, it’s difficult to just do it on the weekends when your children are spending 8 hours a day learning lessons like confusion, class position, and emotional and intellectual dependency. I pulled these lessons from John T. Gatto’s essay, ‘The 7-Lesson Teacher.’ Any parent who is concerned about their child’s education should read his books, as well as those of John Holt, who invented homeschooling. And I might also recommend my own humble blog, Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher. Good luck!

  39. As an absolute nonconformist since the early 50′s, my heart just leaps with the thoughts in this new wonderful book. Every word I read or hear from Seth about this book just resonates so deeply within my soul.

    Gosh, I just want to hug him, you and everyone who is spreading the word. I wonder if a book could be more needed now than Linchpin? I really “get” the urgency of the message. God bless Seth for bringing it forward!

    Oh & @Christina, I’m a huge Gatto fan as well & we’ve found traveling the world as a family on a tiny budget is a great way to learn & live!

    Seth- What’s your best advice for raising a free artist from birth?

  40. I’m in such agreement about this, and now must jump over to Amazon to pick up my copy of the book because I want to support what Seth’s premise. I’d really love to figure out how to pay the rent while being the fully authentic artist I want to be. That’s the challenge I never seem to master. Does Seth have any words of wisdom about that?

  41. Two questions:
    1. I’d really love to figure out how to pay the rent while being the fully authentic artist I want to be. That’s the challenge I never seem to master. Does Seth have any words of wisdom about that?

    The lizard brain loves this question, because it gives you an excuse to knuckle under and give up. If you want to fight it, first lower your overhead. Move in with your parents. Sell your car. Ride a bike. Eat macaroni and cheese.

    Second, understand that suffering doesn’t have to be part of the deal, but being smart does. Don’t try to make a living as a poet. Art isn’t about suffering, art is about shipping and getting it done. If the thing that turns you on can’t support you, get turned on by something else. I’m talking about connections and humanity and making a difference, not about oil painting. The tactics aren’t important, what matters are the results.

    and…

  42. 2. Seth- What’s your best advice for raising a free artist from birth?

    Teach your children. Well. Reward them for a C if the C was earned with good intent and high curiousity. Ask them hard questions all afternoon and at dinner. Turn off TV. Teach dangerous science tricks. Inquire at all times.

    Kids need to learn two things:
    1. solve interesting problems
    and
    2. lead

    that’s it!

  43. To Seth and everyone else –

    Thanks so much! I’m closing the comments now so that Mr. Linchpin can respond to the 50 other features about him today, or maybe even get some sleep.