The Wisdom of Seth Godin and Our Industry


Our president in 2015, Juan Zighelboim of the TexOPs factory in El Salvador, was a follower of the marketing guru and TED speaker Seth Godin. He told us to get Seth to speak at our 2015 Annual Conference. Seth only gives 28 speeches a year. His audiences average 4,000. We had 230 people. We closed the deal.

He walked out and talked for a solid hour. I recorded his talk and transcribed it. It does not begin tp approach the power of his personal delivery. He was talking to US, 230 of US, in our industry about our network. I have photos of a quiet room, everyone's jaws hanging open, their eyes awe-struck except for an occasional nod down to write a note. 

Our theme that year was based on the Yogi Berra saying, "when you come to a fork in the road……take it". As you will read below, Seth showed us the way to go and his words apply today as well.

Seth Godin, AAPN Annual Conference, Miami, May 4, 2015

You people don’t realize how lucky you are. What an extraordinary group of people. Mike (Todaro, AAPN), thank you for all the leadership of bringing everyone here.

Yes there is a fork in the road, we have to be really clear where the fork is so we can see it.

That’s what you do for a living, find little things and try to figure out how to amplify them, make them bigger and better. My job today is to make you realize you can look at things differently and it can really be expensive if you get it wrong

In 91-92 I had access to the internet. The guys at Yahoo saw what was coming. I saw what I wanted to see, in context with what I already knew how to do. I thought in terms of what I was already good at. When change comes along, our instinct is to say how does it help us do what we already do instead of seeing it as a fork in the road.

Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was born and raised in a mud hut and yet 20 years later was shot into Space.

Henry Ford had few people at the top, lots of interchangeable people and lots of interchangeable parts at the bottom. He used black paint because it dried 4 hours faster and made the car cheaper. Mass production at the Ford Rouge Facility.

The entire model we grew up with is based on industrialization (not capitalism which is based on taking risks) which means refining the supply chain. The core question is when did they industrialize YOUR job. At what point in the supply chain did your job get pushed to be a replaceable cog in the system that doesn't want you to be different?

The bane of our existence is the RFP because it says you’re all the same, who wants to be cheapest? We have played that game for a very long time. Mass production became super efficient leading to mass distribution to mass merchandising which fed mass advertising. The magazine was invented to run ads, same with TV.

Fisher Price does not make toys for kids, they make toys for Walmart.

The number of headaches is not increasing but the number of pain reliever ads is. Their job is to figure out how to get more than their fair share of the market. The 4 letter word MORE leads to more average products for more average people. If you make something everyone wants to buy you can mass market it. I solved my headache problem 25 years ago by buying a generic pain reliever. So they are trying to solve a problem I don’t have.

If you are trying to solve a supply chain problem to somebody who doesn’t have one, they are not listening to you.

If you’re busy saying to the market that your hotel room is same as all others, why are you surprised when they say show me the cheapest one?

We have branded ourselves to death. And so you are entitled to think that the fork in the road may well lead to a dead end.

In 1972, the music industry was perfect, it had records you bought in stores. To see it work any differently then was impossible. Except today it is all free and it is everywhere.

If you think about every industry that had been changed by revolution, it was by the impossible. Perfect things go away and are replaced by something that was impossible. All of the things in your industry that you think are perfect are ready for our own revolution. It is not about the machine in your factory, it is about your information and the internet eats information for breakfast. It creates things that are impossible. Google maps are impossible. Not talking to travel agents is impossible.

The race to the bottom is not one you want to win.

You need to treat people differently. In 1896, 23% of the US population attended The World's Fair in NY over a 5 week period. Cracker Jack’s were launched there. Those days are over.

The old bell curve had 93% of it inside the bars. Not today, its melting. More people are outside the normal than inside. The weird ones are looking for things, they are listening, those in the middle are buying average. Seek out the weird, people who have chosen to care. Start at the edges. The web is full of billion dollar sites who found the weird ones.

We were taught from the start to be anchovies, to stand in line and most important, this phrase – “you are not as good as you think you are”. What is replacing this? The Connection Economy. It is not based on how efficient your machine is but who trusts you, who is connected to you, who cares about what you are going to do next.

If you look at a subway map, the most valuable stations are the ones where most of the tracks cross. The most valuable places online are where the connections are made. For example, no one person is smart enough to make a computer mouse. You need plastic, metal, wire, software, hardware, a supply chain, understanding of the process. All of us can make a mouse but not one of us.

THAT IS THE MAGIC OF THIS ORGANIZATION (AAPN): …that what you sell (about AAPN) is the chain; the information; the trust; the network. THAT is what is being sold here. Not that you are 3% cheaper than someone who has the same machine as you.

The Connection Economy is based on four things:

  • Coordination – you are here, it is Monday. You were not here 2 weeks ago and will not be here 2 weeks from now. The value is made from getting you all here and coordinating this meeting.
  • Trust – even the new members here trust those who have been coming here for years. Trust creates value.
  • Permission – this is the privilege, not the right, the privilege to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to those who want to receive them and who will miss you when you are gone.
  • Exchange of ideas – all of us are smarter than one of us. If I have an apple and you have an apple and we exchange them, we each have one apple. But if I have an idea and you have an idea and we exchange them, we each get two ideas, and trust will be built.

How many of you are doing these 4 things instead of the same industrial stuff? These 4 things are what the market values now. This is built on two surprises.

  • Generosity – no-one wants to connect with someone who is selfish, who takes and doesn’t give.
  • Art – this is what humans do that is real, that might not work, that connect to us

Metcalf’s Law says the power of a network goes up with the square of the power of the people in the network. This AAPN network, this supply chain, is the power that drives you. The value of what you create is not what you do but that, because of your network, your supply chain, it is going to get done right. These certainties are all about connections, not about industrialization. What you are selling all along the way, all the way up to the retailer, IS THE CHAIN. And what we know about chains is that it is always the weak link that needs the attention. In your market, when you are the only one sufficiently integrated into the supply chain, price becomes secondary or tertiary.

Steven Jobs did not design stuff or write code. He had the grit to say no, to walk away. That’s how we go forward in the new economy. By telling a story, a true story. The cost of mistakes keeps going down because the internet give you alternatives and information. Today, you innovate by adjusting. The internet is not based on scarcity (as old retail was) but on unlimited choices, each with info.

Sue and Mike, you are clearly a tribe in this roo”. Tribes are everywhere. And to build a great tribe you have to do these things:

  • Connect the chain
  • Build a culture inside and outside of the tribe
  • Challenge it to go to the next level
  • Be clear how you describe it
  • Communicate to the tribe
  • Commit to where it is going

Each of you in this tribe has the chance to do that if you choose to because doing so is cheaper than ever.

Agriculture was invented only 10,000 years ago. 200 years ago, jobs were invented. Unemployment in Europe in 1600 was zero because there were no jobs.

We’re going back to there being no jobs, they are being replaced by art. Jackson Pollack was an artist. His brother Charles was a painter, a copiest. Your fork in the road is to chose art (here, I made this) or to chose industry (answer this RFP).

When we do our best work, what we are doing is making change and change has a sister called tension. You can not make change without tension. Tension is what we must seek out. It is a part of art, that it might not work, that we might get blamed. You want to be told what to do, you want a list, a checklist, a map. But if you had one, you’d be a plumber, not an artist

Competence is no longer scarce. If I can write down the specs of what I want from you then I can find someone cheaper than you to do it. Superman is only interesting because of kryptonite, because he might not make it.

We’re back to the internet, we have this commoditization problem, so the internet shows up and says if you want to raise your hand, raise your hand, if you want to sing, sing, if you want to give away your secrets, give away your secrets because it turns out the people who give away their secrets, the people who share the most, the people who introduce each other, the people who join groups like this one (AAPN) come out ahead because there are no industry secrets.

Innovation is scary. Innovation is a boss who says go ahead and innovate but failure is not an option. All innovation is failing over and over again. The guy who invented the ship also invented the ship wreck.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press, 93% of Europe was illiterate and the rest needed reading glasses that had been invented yet.

There is a really big difference between being ready and being prepared. You can never be ready because it would mean it is guaranteed, there is deniability, it is industrialized. So you are told don’t do that, you will get into trouble, you’ll lose your job, don’t fly to close to the sun, that is what the voice says.

Every 3 years there used to be a conference of physicists (shows a photo). This photo is of 29 of them meeting in 1927. You see Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and others. Of these 29, 17 of them won the Nobel Prize, almost all of them after this photo was taken. You didn’t get invited to the conference because they won the Nobel Prize, you won the Nobel Prize because you got invited to the conference.

Sue and Mike and everybody in AAPN who is here, this is not a meeting. This is a conference. To all of you here, someone to the left or right of you is going the change everything. Meetings are where you meet with 10 people in a big company and wait for someone to take responsibility because all the meeting is for is waiting for someone to say OK, I’ll do it.

We each have to figure out how to deal with the fact that fear may be the opposite of creativity. In fact, creativity is the antidote to fear. When we find ourselves getting stuck, we get out of it by an innovative and generous way.

Here I made this is at the heart of what is going to transform this industry like every other one.

There is no doubt that every one in this room will be successful, you already are successful. The question is will you care enough to matter, that what it means to matter to this community, to matter to the supply chain, to matter to the people you are selling to, that you are hiring, that to the industry you are transforming, that is our platform, that is our privilege. To say it very clearly, there are people around you, people in the market place, employees, who are begging you to lead them. I hope you will.