Seth Godin

An Artistic Approach

Seth Godin’s advice for making a contribution that counts

by Kate Pavao, December 2012

This month, marketing expert Seth Godin is doing something a little different. He is releasing V is for Vulnerable, an illustrated alphabet book with the hope that the picture book format will make it easier for business leaders to look at some provocative ideas. With playful pictures and simple text, the book encourages grown-up readers to take risks, make connections and remix rather than replicate.

“We all have a memory of our mom reading us a kids’ book,” he tells Profit. “In that moment, warm and safe, the book sounds different. So I decided to play with the format to see if I could put my ideas in the world in a different way to get under people’s skin.”

Here, he tells Profit readers how to get attention in a crowded marketplace, build a community — and make a different kind of New Year’s resolution.

Seth Godin Bookcover

Profit: Why is “V is for Vulnerable” on the cover?

Godin: I put it on the cover because I thought it was the cornerstone of this alphabet book. Vulnerability is the hardest thing to embrace. So, since I am not pulling any punches, I thought I would lead with my right hook. Only when you put your real self and your real work on display, and expose yourself to feedback, can you say that you’re making art.

Profit: How are you defining “art”?

Godin: Art is the work of a human being doing something that hasn’t been done before, and might not work. Art is doing something with generosity, where the intent is to connect with another person. There is no manual. There is no instruction book. If you are merely copying what came before, you can never call it art.

If you make something personal and brave and don’t share it, that’s a nice hobby, but it’s not art. And the reason it’s not art is that there’s no risk, there’s no connection, there’s no vulnerability. Art unshipped is not art. Art is not a selfish act; it’s a gift that causes change. And the more you know about the person you’re making that gift for, the more likely it is that it will be well received.

Profit: Why should business leaders be thinking about making art right now?

Godin: The only place left to grow is through connection, not through a fancier plant or a more efficient workforce. You must connect to people who want to contribute, who want to purchase, who want to talk about what you do. No one wants to connect to something that’s boring. If you’re the one selling something that’s cheap, we can find someone selling it cheaper than you tomorrow. If you’re the one who does things on the edge that are interesting, that are art, we cherish you, we pay attention to you and we talk about you.

Profit: At the Oracle OpenWorld Customer Experience Summit, you talked about a world of noise that the market has learned tune out? How can an artist be heard?

Godin: Noise is caused by mass, the banal, the average. What someone does something remarkable or extraordinary, the light shines through the crowd and there isn’t so much noise. When Christo wrapped New York City’s Central Park in orange fabric, he didn’t have to run ads in The New York Times announcing he was doing that.

Profit: Since it’s almost New Year’s, can you tell us what resolution business leaders should make this year?

Godin: I think resolutions are overrated, but inventory is underrated. Think about yourself a year ago and how trusted, respected and connected you were compared to today. Did you move in the right direction? And if you take an inventory of where you are today, it might make it easier to be mindful of where you are year from now. It’s so easy to yearn for a perfect future, but I think it’s way more effective to be aware of how you grew.