Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety | The Tim Ferriss Show (#476)

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Key Takeaways

  • The term “hack” originated from Hackney, an inner borough of London, where horses were raised
    • Being a hack is about providing customers with what they want at a reasonable price
  • Quality is defined as “meets spec” (how something should be done, made, etc.) and is not the same as perfectionism or luxury
  • Magic is created when unexpected moments happen, and tension is relieved
    • Someone performing a coin trick (colloquial understanding of magic) creates a tension of disbelief & acceptance simultaneously
  • People hide behind the word “quality” to avoid taking risks and postpone action
  • Traditional business media lionizes those who run public companies and make billions of dollars rather than those who make a difference in the lives of a few
    • Joni Mitchell made a record called Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter to challenge her old audience, find her smallest viable audience and make the music she wanted for them
  • Writer’s block is a misnomer and is actually a fear of bad writing
    • To overcome writer’s block, write anything, and eventually, good writing will slip through
  • Nike’s slogan “Just Do It” was inspired by murderer Gary Gilmore’s final words
    • Replacing the word “just” with “merely” can help to take responsibility for one’s work
  • Talent does not matter, instead finding one’s smallest viable audience and exploring what it means to make magic in the small
  • Our actions determine our feelings more often than our feelings determine our actions
  • Not all attitudes and abilities are innate talents; some are learned
    • Asking follow-up questions and leaving an extra beat when speaking can help you become a better listener
  • Reassurance-seeking is short-term help
    • Reassurance feels great, but then you never stop needing it— it becomes a coping mechanism for anxiety
  • “One reason that a lot of people are bad at teaching is that they don’t think about pedagogy. All they know is they know something and if they could just recite all the things they know, someone else will know it too, and that’s not how learning works.”Seth Godin
    • Create useful chunks of tension where someone can feel the tension, get through the tension, absorb it, and then be ready for more
  • To learn to juggle, focus on throwing rather than catching
    • “Getting better at throwing is what we have to do to build resilience, and it’s what we have to do to live in a world that’s changing ever faster. If we try to anchor on outcomes and control results, we’re in the catching business, and then we’re really in bad trouble.” Seth Godin

Intro

What’s the Etymology of the Word “Hack”

  • The term “hack” originated from Hackney, an inner borough of London, where horses were raised
  • Being a hack is about providing customers with what they want at a reasonable price
  • There is a distinction between being a hack and doing something magical
  • Some people may not like their work described as “hack work”
  • There is nothing wrong with being a hack

The Myth of Quality

  • Quality is defined as “meets spec” (how something should be done, made, etc.) and is not the same as perfectionism or luxury
  • A Toyota is a better quality car than a Rolls Royce because it more reliably does what it’s supposed to do
  • Luxury goods can still be considered high quality
  • Quality does not necessarily mean that something will last longer
  • Quality also refers to the “magic of magic,” which is the feeling that something changes in the audience when they experience something

What Is Magic, and What Does It Take To Make It?

  • Magic is created when unexpected moments happen, and tension is relieved
    • Someone performing a coin trick (colloquial understanding of magic) creates a tension of disbelief & acceptance simultaneously
  • “Once we know how the trick is done, it’s simply a trick. The magic evaporates and in the case of great writing, great customer service, great theater, the first time you experience it, the unexpected moment when lights turn on for you, I want to call that magic.”Seth Godin
  • Magic is created when genres are mixed together by someone who understands them—it can happen in a variety of settings, such as a restaurant dinner or a business meeting

Why Is Hiding Behind Words Like “Quality” or “Perfection” as a Means of Postponing Action to Avoid Risk a Cop-Out

  • People hide behind the word “quality” to avoid taking risks and postpone action
  • Traditional business media lionizes those who run public companies and make billions of dollars rather than those who make a difference in the lives of a few
  • The smallest viable audience is more attainable than ever before
    • It is not always necessary to reach a large audience to be successful

What Isaac Asimov and Gary Gilmore Can Teach Us About Writer’s Block

  • Writer’s block is a misnomer and is actually a fear of bad writing
    • To overcome writer’s block, write anything, and eventually, good writing will slip through
  • Isaac Asimov’s technique of typing for six hours a day can help to overcome writer’s block
    • He believed that output was far better than deeply nuanced writing
  • Nike’s slogan “Just Do It” was inspired by murderer Gary Gilmore’s final words
    • The phrase was adapted to “Just Do It” for a 1988 T.V. ad
    • The slogan has become an iconic phrase for Nike
    • Replacing the word “just” with “merely” can help to take responsibility for one’s work
  • Talent does not matter, instead finding one’s smallest viable audience and exploring what it means to make magic in the small

“Process Saves Us From the Poverty of Our Intentions.” -Elizabeth King

  • Elizabeth King is a sculptor—of figurative sculptures with stop-frame animation. She is also a dear friend of Seth’s
  • The quote from Elizabeth King encourages people to make a decision to engage in a practice and stick to it
    • Making a decision to engage in practice can lighten the cognitive load and make it easier to stick to it
  • “We decide we’re a blogger, and bloggers blog every day, and that decision lightens the cognitive load so much because there’s no time, no reason to negotiate with ourselves because we already had the meeting. We already decided. Now the question is not should we go or not. The question is should we go left or right, but we’re going.”Seth Godin

On the Selfishness of Authenticity

  • Authenticity can lead to self-absorbed inconsistency
    • Therefore, consistency is more important than authenticity
  • Our actions determine our feelings more often than our feelings determine our actions
  • Authenticity is essential for self-expression
  • Authenticity can lead to meaningful connections with others

If Attitudes Are Skills, How Do We Sharpen Them?

  • Not all attitudes and abilities are innate talents; some are learned
    • We can learn to become better people
    • Honesty, diligence, and persistence are qualities that can be developed
    • We are not stuck with who we are and can become who we want to be
  • Attitudes can be turned into skills, and skills are learnable
    • “We are going to be rewarded not simply because we can beat someone on a test, but because our whole posture is based on the possibility of better, and the possibility of if your goal is to win, to win.”Seth Godin
  • How to become a better listener and how to be more charismatic
    • Asking follow-up questions and leaving an extra beat when speaking can help you become a better listener
    • In the beginning, you will be faking it, but then just like falling asleep, you will be doing it
    • “Becoming a better listener and that extra beat, training yourself to utilize that extra beat is absolutely a practice.”Tim Ferriss
    • Let the silence do the work (Cal Fussman)
  • Other skills Seth thinks are essential for entrepreneurs or creatives
    • Patience is necessary when confronting the things we’re afraid of and getting better at something
    • Impatience is critical when it comes to facing our fears and selfishness

On anxiety and the futility of reassurance

  • Anxiety and worrying can be caused by organic and trauma-related illnesses, so Seth is hesitant to dive too deep because he is not a medical professional
  • For Seth, anxiety is a form of experiencing failure in advance
    • Worrying and anxiety are what we feel when we imagine things might go wrong, and that’s not helping anything
  • Relying too heavily on reassurance from others can be detrimental to your work and happiness
    • Reassurance-seeking is short-term help
    • Reassurance feels great, but then you never stop needing it— it becomes a coping mechanism for anxiety
  • People end up building intimacy with the person providing reassurance, but it is not helping them do better work
  • Just do the work and, be generous with it, improve your skills—it’s better than worrying

Ineffective Teachers and Effective Learners

  • “One reason that a lot of people are bad at teaching is because they don’t think about pedagogy. All they know is they know something and if they could just recite all the things they know, someone else will know it too, and that’s not how learning works. “Seth Godin
  • Cramming too much information into a small space is not an effective way to learn
  • Learning works best when there is a sense of tension and challenge
  • Create useful chunks of tension where someone can feel the tension, get through the tension, absorb it, and then be ready for more
  • Don’t steal the revelation—if you know a lot and are trying to teach someone who doesn’t give them a chance to come up with a solution or a decision by themselves
  • Having an emotion-free conversation about decisions can help increase safety and learning enrollment

Examples of How the Power of Positive Constraints Has Had an Impact on Seth

  • Positive constraints can be incredibly helpful for creators, teachers, and other professionals
    • Constraints used to frustrate Seth a lot, and now they are the core of his useful working life
    • Constraints about how he chooses his projects, what he eats, how many people work with him, what media he will be in, etc. They’re all arbitrary
  • altMBA—Seth Godin’s online workshop
    • Seth built it in two weeks in the desert of Utah 
    • He made constraints about the dropout rate, the tools they would use, what it would cost 
    • Constraints should be set up before brainstorming ideas
    • The cost of going back and starting over is small compared to making up constraints after an idea has been created
  • The importance of setting constraints when starting a business or creative endeavor
    • Consider the resources available, who the customers should be, and what the desired outcome is when setting constraints
    • Refrain from reversing the answers to the questions based on the original idea
  • How can entrepreneurs or freelancers apply constraints when their plans are already in motion?
    • Sunk costs can be a major obstacle to progress and should be ignored
    • “Sunk costs are the unspoken minefield of mistake in which we rationalize why we have to justify the thing we already have. We invent new meanings for the word momentum well beyond Isaac Newton. We imagine that we have to stick with what we did. So much of the time, learning to ignore sunk costs is the single most useful thing I can point out to people.”Seth Godin
  • How R.E.M. used constraints to create one of the best-selling albums of the decade
    • Taking a break from touring and switching instruments can help create something new
    • Momentum, trust, and assets can be used to explore new edges. For R.E.M, “…those fresh eyes and those new boundaries enabled them to explore new edges, and it’s at the edges where the tension lies.”Seth Godin

A Nugget From the Practice: Seek Joy. But How Does One Do This?

  • The Practice is Seth’s 20th book
  • Working to enjoy what you do is more important than doing what you enjoy
  • Cavemen worked only three hours a day and spent the rest of their time being present and alive with their family
  • People often forget to seek joy in their work and focus on achieving status or emotional engagement

The Difference Between Doing Fulfilling Work and Simply Training for the Outcome

  • The risks of outcome-driven decision-making and the potential benefits of working without attachment to the outcome
  • Outcome-driven decision-making is the default in Western culture
  • The phrase “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?” is useless
  • Doing work without attachment to the outcome can be beneficial

Learning to Juggle—Resilience and Living in a Changing World

  • To learn to juggle, focus on throwing rather than catching
    • Catching is still essential for successful juggling
    • Building resilience requires getting better at throwing
  • The way Seth taught people how to juggle is simple:
    • He gives them one ball, and they spend 30 minutes throwing the ball and letting it hit the ground without catching
    • Then they add the second ball
    • Throw, throw, drop, drop. No catching (very counterintuitive)
    • If you do that for 40 minutes total, you’re going to be really good at throwing
    • If you get really good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself
  • “Getting better at throwing is what we have to do to build resilience, and it’s what we have to do to live in a world that’s changing ever faster. If we try to anchor on outcomes and control results, we’re in the catching business, and then we’re really in bad trouble.”Seth Godin
    • Divorcing from the outcome is key to success

How Tim Ferriss Learned to Swim in His 30s Using a Counterintuitive Approach

  • Learning a skill counterintuitively can be more effective than traditional methods
  • Terry Laughlin’s approach to swimming focused on getting into a fuselage position and not on kicking or staying on top of the water
    • He corrected the base assumptions of swimming—swim on top of the water and kick
    • If you’re tired when you’re learning how to swim, you’re doing it wrong
  • Terry’s approach was so different from any other attempt that Tim had made through books, videos, coaching, etc., but it worked

In What Ways Is Cultivating Creativity Similar to Learning How to Juggle?

  • “If you want to learn how to juggle, you have to drop an enormous amount of balls. If you want to learn how to swim, you have to sort of drown. If you want to learn how to be creative, you have to show me an enormous number of bad ideas.”Seth Godin
  • To become more creative, one must be willing to produce a lot of bad ideas
  • Part one:
    • Pick the smallest region, domain
    • Start listing your bad ideas
    • Keep listing your bad ideas
    • Prove that your bad ideas are not fatal
  • Part two:
    • Good taste is necessary to be creative, which requires domain knowledge and an understanding of the genre
    • What is good taste? You know what your audience wants 10 minutes before they do
    • Shipping regularly + good taste = creativity
  • How does Seth separate genre from generic
    • Genre is a way of categorizing works of art, and it helps to give context to creative work
    • “Genre means what am I expecting when I encounter your work.”Seth Godin
    • Creative works can be inspired by existing works, but they must still be distinct to be seen as creative
    • Creative works don’t always fit neatly into existing genres

How Joni Mitchell Took Risks With Her Music and Explored New Sounds to Challenge Her Audience and Herself

  • Joni Mitchell was in danger of becoming a hack due to her audience’s expectations of her
    • She made a record called Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter to challenge her old audience, find her smallest viable audience and make the music she wanted for them
    • Her goal was to explore and make better music, not to sell more records
    • Not all of her fans appreciated her new music
  • What would you do even if you knew you would fail?
    • Tim Ferriss discusses the idea of pursuing goals even if you know you will fail and how this can lead to success in the long run
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Notes By Dario

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