Seth Godin Paves the Path of the Artist


How High Will You Fly?

To be a success today, writes prolific marketing thought-leader Seth Godin in his new book, The Icarus Deception, you must be an artist. Everyone in every field, including business, must be an artist, because artists — true artists — are not afraid to stand out, to take chances, to reject conformity and the old way of doing things. “Art is an attitude,” Godin explains. “Seizing new ground, making connections between people or ideas, working without a map — these are works of art, and if you do them, you are an artist, regardless of whether you wear a smock, use a computer, or work with others all day long.” (Godin notes that many painters are not artists, because they simply paint the same things as other painters who came before them. Their work, Godin insists, is not art.)

Being an artist is required because today, Godin writes, your comfort zone — the corner office, the degree from a famous college, the secure job with the big company — is no longer the safety zone. Comfort zone and safety zone used to be one and the same — you did want to earn that degree and get that secure job because it was both comfortable and safe. But here is where the problem rises today, Godin writes: When you’re comfortable, you’re probably not safe. Not in what Godin calls the “connection economy.” In the connection economy, the plushness of your office or the size of your factories mean nothing if you’re not making connections. “If your factory burns down but you have loyal customers, you’ll be fine,” Godin writes. “On the other hand, if you lose your customers, even your factory isn’t going to help you — Detroit is filled with empty factories. The comfort zone used to be found in the mass market. Efficiency of marketing and manufacturing kept you and your company safe.”

But the Internet changed everything, Godin writes. The real safety zone lies in making products for the “weird,” not for the mass market. “It’s now cheaper and more efficient to make edgy, amazing products for the weird edge cases (who are listening and talking and who care) than it is to push yet another average product onto the already overloaded average people in the middle of the curve,” he writes. In other words, it’s safer to market to the edge.

And that is where being an artist becomes important, according to Godin. He put a considerable amount of artistry into the creation of his own book. The Icarus Deception is partly the product of Godin’s fundraising effort on It was the publishing equivalent of a PBS pledge drive on overdrive, complete with premium items tiered by the amount donated.

Assets of the Artist

In a chapter entitled “The Connection Economy Demands That We Create Art,” he explains that in today’s economy, success depends on six “assets”: trust, permission, remarkability, leadership, stories that spread, and humanity (connection, compassion and humility). “These assets aren’t generated by external strategies and MBAs and positioning memos,” writes Godin. “These are the results of internal trauma, of brave decisions and the willingness to live with dignity. They are about standing out, not fitting in, about inventing, not duplicating.” In other words, these six indispensable assets “are the result of successful work by artists.”

Successful leadership today is also the work of the artist, Godin writes. Instead of the controlling boss of the past, the new leader is vulnerable and willing to take us to new, unsafe places. Also, in the past world of limited choice, shelf space was the key asset. As Godin explains, “You could buy your way onto the store shelf, or you could be the only one on the ballot, or you could use a connection to get your resume in front of the hiring guy.” Today consumers have an overabundance of choices, which makes such tactics obsolete. To gain the attention and trust of others, you need to launch “stories that spread,” Godin writes.

In The Icarus Deception, Godin argues that we have been deceived into believing that we shouldn’t try to fly too high. Godin notes that the other side of the story — that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low — is never told. There is a bias against those who reach for the sun, he insists. The Icarus Deception is an assault on that bias, filled with typical Godin humor, imagery and passion.

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