BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

The ABCs of early Godin ...

As regular readers of this space will recognize, I've read (and reviewed) a lot of books by Seth Godin … I think I'm up to 10 at this point. Some of these have been new-ish, and some of these have been embarrassingly dated, some I've raved about and some have been just OK. This one is in the middle somewhere, I think. First of all, I wonder if there was intentional irony involved with giving Small Is the New Big: and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas its title … as at over 300 pages, it's certainly one of Godin's bigger books. This does suffer from one aspect of its vintage – the link for looking up the dates of the initial publication of the component pieces has gone bad in the absorption of Squidoo into HubPages … and I couldn't find the info on the latter site. The reason I went digging for that is that I was wanting to toss around dates here, but couldn't, but the publication date was 2006.

This is a factor in discussing the book, as it is a collection of “eight years of {Godin's} very best blog posts, magazine columns, and e-books” … 184 pieces, judging from the subtitle. Obviously, things written 8 years prior to 2006 pushes the envelope for being pertinent to current realities (going back as much as 16 years ago) … and that info is not included here – just referred to on a site which seems to no longer have the info. Now, if this was chronologically arranged, one could get a sense of the age of the materials, but it's not … nor is it “curated” into thematic blocks … no, the book is organized alphabetically by title, creating quite a heterogeneous arrangement of topics!

Of course, this leads me to the observation that this is a VERY difficult book to generate a coherent review of … it is, after all, the print equivalent of reading his blog from 1998-2006, in an order which allows for no “theme”, other than those which are endemic to Godin's subject matter, and no way to specifically filter for what's a “vintage” statement or what might be being used “ironically” (for example, in 2014 stories of movie rental chains tend towards reading like the latter, even if they were penned sufficiently long ago that they are actually the former).

My first thought in reflecting back on Small Is The New Big was that it could make a very nice introduction to Seth Godin for folks who were unfamiliar with his writings. However, I'm hesitant to promote it in that frame, as the unpredictable age of individual pieces would, for somebody not familiar with Godin, possibly lead to a rejection of his perceptions due to the “old news” aspect which does creep in here every now and again (as one would expect simply from it being a book released 8 years ago, let alone being a collection of materials from 8 years prior to that). Fortunately, much of what's in here is “evergreen”, and reflects key elements of Godin's on-going marketing message, but it's certainly not “new” or “fresh” like his The Icarus Deception or other recent releases.

Of course, Godin being Godin, there are lots of choice bits in here … and I marked a few to share with you. In the “Fifty States, Flamethrowers, and Sticky Traditions” piece, he throws a light on something I'd not considered previously (illustrating how the “status quo” often gets established somewhat randomly):
More than a hundred years ago, Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to get rid of his enemies in the German government. He noticed that they were all over sixty-five years old. So he decreed that this was the official retirement age, and it still is.
Pretty amazing, yes? In the same section he talks about how other “bad ideas stick around forever”. Speaking of bad ideas, he delves deeper into this in the “Pigeons, Superstitious” piece, which starts with how pigeons will connect what they were doing when food first arrived in a particular situation, and keep doing that thing (head bobbing, etc.), and ends up looking at religious (and other) fundamentalists:
These people are characterized, I believe, by two traits. First, they live according to a large body of superstitions. Second, they believe that they are right and everybody else is wrong. They believe that they have found the one and only turth, and they can't abide changing old rules in light of new data. Fundamentalists decide whether they can accept a new piece of information based on how it will affect their prior belief system, not based on whether it is actually true.

When I meet someone who's willing to disregard an obvious truth just because it conflicts with his worldview, I wonder about his judgment. I wonder what other truths he's willing to ignore in order to preserve his superstitions. When such a person is in charge, I do more than worry. I think that we're obligated to start pointing out superstitions at work, in politics – anywhere we find them. Superstitions are the final vestiges of prescientific humankind, and they make the workplace (and the world) a scary one.
Now, some of these are less “heavy” … like the “Polka button” that he reports being next to an escalator in a Milwaukee conference facility … push the button and hear polka music during your ride! He points out various bits and pieces, like: “1. Humans tend to work on a problem until they get a good-enough solutions, not a solution that's right. 2. The marketplace often rewards solutions that are cheaper and good enough, instead of investing in the solution that promises to lead to the right answer.” … I wonder how old this one is, as it sort of goes counter to the “ship now” philosophy where the “minimal viable product” is pushed out before finding the “right” final version.

In the section “Trust and Respect, Courage and Leadership”, Godin complains about how respect for the consumer has suffered of late:
Somewhere along the way, marketers stopped acting like real people. We substituted a new set of ethics, one built around “buyer beware” and the letter of the law. Marketers, in order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, decided to see what they could get away with instead of what they could deliver.

The magic kicks in when marketers are smart enough and brave enough to combine trust with respect. When a marketer doesn't frisk you on the way out of a retail establishment, or trusts you to make intelligent decisions, you remember it. The number of companies that keep their promises and respect their customers' intelligence, alas, is quite tiny.
Interestingly, Godin appears to have come out with a “new” version of this – a book which collects a similar batch of writings from 2006-2012 (where he must have been a lot more prolific – it runs twice the length of this volume!), Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck? (which I've not picked up as yet).

Small Is the New Big is still in print, with the on-line big boys still having it at a standard discount, so it might well still be out in your neighborhood brick-and-mortar book vendor. Of course, having been out as long as it has, copies have worked their way down through the used channels, and you can get a “very good” copy for as little as 1¢ (plus $3.99 shipping, of course), which is how I came by my copy. If you like Seth Godin, you'll like this book, but it's not likely to be providing any massive “aha!” moments … it will be a pleasant read, however, with fascinating bits all through.

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Tags: book review

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