Seth Godin's Approach to Speaking With the Flatiron School

Seth Godin came and talked to the Flatiron School today. This is what I observed:

1. Seth’s Remarks were Catered to the Flatiron School

His opening remarks declared every Flatiron student as being at the right place at the right time. Just like his dad who earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1957, corporations are picking us straight off from campus. The question Seth posed is not whether we will be successful, but whether we will matter.

2. Seth Answered Questions in One of Two Manners

a. He unpacked meandering concerns

When a teaching assistant asked how to know how to apply themselves (i.e. what does it mean to “matter”) while they’re waiting for the next big idea, Seth Godin broke down the concern into several parts. First, he asserted the context in which the concern takes place: anyone can start an online business in 15 minutes, but that’s not what it means to matter. Most technical ideas are not anything that Flatiron students couldn’t figure out. For instance, once Twitter became big, dozens of Twitter clones came out because the technical part of making it was easy. To matter means breaking from convention, experiencing fear, and taking the critques of naysayers – who arrive at the pre-party of any “next big thing.”

Then, he addressed the lingering concern of waiting for the next big idea: it’s bullshit. If you are waiting, then you are hiding. What really matters isn’t the idea itself – Altavista existed years before Google did as a search engine. Google was not the first company to place text ads next to searches. What made Google unique was their perspective, philosophy, and energy. That’s what people bought into, and that’s the platform through which Google changed its users.

b. He pivoted the question’s intent to deliver his value to his audience

A Flatiron student asked how, given Seth’s advice that we should use fear as an indicator that we should keep pushing, if there were strategies for changing people who lacked confidence in themselves as opposed to people who’ve had some experience of success and therefore have the foundation for overcoming their fears. Seth related a story about his mentor Zig Zigar who corrected Seth on his public-speaking habit of launching his full energy at re-engaging a sleeping audience member. Zig said that he focused on the two hundred other audience members who came to the event for the right reason and who would benefit from his talk.

“Shun the non-believers,” Seth said. A Google spokesperson said more than 8 years ago that one day, everyone would use Google, so the later people found out about it – the better – because then the product would be so much better. Rather than focusing on the people who don’t want to listen to you, Seth said first convert all the people who are listening, then worry about the others afterwards. Seth managed to avoid answering the question directly – while legitimately providing his own answer – that focusing on changing people who won’t listen is a terrible use of resources. Rather, sell to people who want to be sold to.

3. Seth synthesizes his philosophy through every response

Seth embodies his philosophy in his talks. He draws from common everyday stories, and has an aim for them – to puncture our illusions about how the world works and the status of our own safety. It is not safe to conform because the conformers will not be picked for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Conformers are not “best in the world,” and they won’t “matter.” To matter, you face fear everyday so that you do not become a success story that does the same thing till old age.

For Seth Godin, this means writing a blog post every morning that may fail, going to an intimate talk with no notes, and taking a hiatus from writing books to building projects – a task outside his comfort zone. Every piece of advice Seth issues is derived from real-life insight from implementing his own suggestions in frightful situations. Seth matters to others because he takes on the task of facing the resistance, inviting it to tea, and bringing back a nugget of wisdom to guide others who dare to take a trail-blazing path.

Thanks Seth for the great talk. It was relevant and full of empathy.