I’m taking a mentor’s advice and giving myself a D on life.
Last Friday, he told me a story about a teacher who, on the first day of class, told the students that he was giving them all an A. All they had to do was to write a paper on how they would work to earn the A that semester. By doing so, he believed the students would be freed of worrying about the grade and focus on the actual learning.
But my mentor rebutted that and said I should give myself a D. “A D never killed anybody,” he said. “Expect that people are going to laugh at you. Expect that you’re going to fail. And, once you give yourself a D, you can create your art.”
The mentor was Seth Godin. Seth is one of few people to whom I believe the term “guru” applies. He’s been educating me about marketing, branding and the business of being engaged since I found his blog in 2007, when I started working on overseeing my company’s events for senior marketing executives. He’s written some of the most well-regarded books on marketing, and I have come to enjoy his voice as a daily part of my life.
He shared the above story during the launch of his new book, Linchpin. I haven’t read the book yet. I bought it on Friday when I went to hear him speak. In hearing him sharing the story of why he created this book, I knew that the message would be something many of you would find value in.
Below are the five main concepts I walked away thinking about.
He welcomed us by telling us that the people in the room (between 800 and 1,000 people) were probably the people who least need to read the book. So his hope was that we’d take what we learned, put it in our own words and share it with 10 people. What a great message. This goes back to what I wrote last week in The Narrative, in that he asked me to make him a part of my story. (Please leave a comment here if you read and enjoy this. That way, we’ll know whether or not 10 people were impacted through what Seth shared.)
I’m a genius.
“A genius solves a problem in a way that no one had ever solved it before. When you were four, you solved the finger-painting problem in a way no one else had. You are all geniuses.”
Seth said Henry Ford is the man of the century. T-Models were painted black not because black was a favorite color, but because black paint dries the fastest. Multiply that by assembly line proportions, and you can easily see the genius in that black paint.
Near the end of his talk, Seth asked everyone who was a genius to stand up. Every one of us did. He said, “I’m glad you did that. If you didn’t stand up, that would have been really awkward.” Sometimes, you just need to hear something from someone you admire to believe and embrace it. Yeah, YOU. You’re a genius. Own it and create like you believe it.
Industrial Age < The Age of Art
Seth shared a couple of hilarious photo slideshows with us. One was from “one of the world’s largest collections of photos of lunchladies.” He talked a bit more about assembly lines, how our school system was created to make everyone blend in instead of stand out, and then about the ever-maligned lunchlady. In his view, we’re quickly moving out of a time in our country’s culture when you do your time in school, work for Firm XYZ, punch a clock for 45 years and turn in your keys at the end for the cheap gold watch.
The dot.com boom and bust followed by the market implosion in late 2008 led several people to question their lives and careers and their place in the whole scheme of things. Many of those people reached out to Seth in letters and emails, and their outreach had an overall tone of “This isn’t how it was supposed to happen. I worked so hard, and for what?”
These emotional frequencies are what vibrated with Seth and are in large part what led him to write Linchpin. The subtitle of the book is “Are You Indispensable?” He wants people to feel as though they’re needed. We are moving away from punching a timeclock and towards working around the clock because we’re creating something of value.
Seth gave a shout-out to Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful 2009 TED Talk on Nurturing Creativity. I suggest you either watch the video or read the transcript to hear from someone who is creating this Age of Art.
“The most generous person wins.”
This was my single favorite takeaway. My friends and family and boss all give of themselves constantly and it really makes me look at them differently. My boss in particular is always that person who will go to the ends of the earth to make sure our clients feel as though they are the only client we have.
Seth’s example of lethal generosity comes from a London coffee shop, Prufrock Coffee. The owner gives out a Dis-Loyalty Card to customers, encouraging them to get stamps at eight other local coffee shops. If his customer visits all eight competitors and comes back, he gives them the gift of a free coffee. This is brilliant for a few reasons.
1) Prufrock Coffee is losing money every time a buyer chooses competitive coffee over theirs. But they must be generating at least some good will in the process, as he’s putting some of the businesses in his niche on the radar for other people.
2) He is rewarding loyal clients. To have them drink at eight other places and STILL come back for his coffee shows that they are engaged and that they LOVE coffee.
3) How incredibly confident must the folks at Prufrock be for them to shove their clients into the arms of the enemy and know that they’ll be back? You have to admit, that’s both ballsy and awesome.
This concept of “lethal generosity” has been coming up for me quite a bit since I first came across it in Shel Israel’s book Twitterville. You can read about his definition of it here. I will be revisiting that topic here soon.
There were many other points I wish you could have been there to hear and experience with me. I hope you’ll check out reviews from people who have actually read Linchpin, or go ahead and buy it yourself. If nothing else, you should subscribe to Seth’s Blog, as he embodies generosity by giving away free content every single day.
There’s one last point I want to share, and this is the most important one.
DO THE WORK
Just do the work. If you write, sit down (as I am now at 3 a.m.) and write. If you’re a plumber, get down on your knees and plumb the ___ out of something. Don’t let anything stop you. Go for the D, fall on your face a few times and do the work.
Thank you to Jon Thomas of Presentation Advisors. Jon gave away three tickets to join him and his wife at the book launch, so I couldn’t have had this amazing experience without him.
Thank you to Clay Hebert of Daily Sense. Clay spent six months working with and learning from Seth in 2009 and personally introduced me to Seth after his talk.
I learned one of Seth’s favorite ethnic restaurants is the awesome SriPraPhai in Queens. The conversation lasted all of a minute, but I will never forget that. Thank you both.
EDIT: The book is now for sale. You can buy on Amazon here, Barnes & Noble here or support your local bookstore and ask them to order it for you and other interested folks.
Every time I read your blog I am inspired. Thank you for putting these words and ideas out there. Your generosity of spirit and energy never ceases to amaze me. <3
I quite like having you be the first comment on all my posts. Sets up a nice little vibe for everyone else. xxoo
I’ve *gasp* never heard of Seth Godin until very recently, but from your words alone, this book is at the top of my first paycheck wishlist.
And please check out his blog. He has a permanent home in my blogroll and has since I started this site. His insights are invaluable.
Great post. I’m a huge fan of Seth and agree that he is a true guru. I’m only a few chapters in, but the book certainly has me thinking about work, society and much more.
Looking forward to another post after you finish reading it.
Thanks, Brady. Please let me know, or post a comment back here, if you wind up writing your own review!
Of all of the grades I’ve earned in my generally-stellar academic career, I think I’m the most proud of my D.
In college, I chose to take a high-level intro biology class that was required for the pre-med track (i.e. designed to weed out the weak), and, um, I’m not a doctor.
My D is amazing because, before the final exam, my grade average was in the high teens. I kicked some serious ass on that exam, enough to haul up my entire semester’s grade by some fiftyish points. I absorbed an entire semester’s worth of material in about 20 hours; I learned that in the clutch, I can focus my way to a win.
My D is more amazing because I survived it. It didn’t kill me. My mother didn’t stop loving me. No one called me stupid. It didn’t make me feel stupid. It wasn’t the end of the world. I still graduated cum laude. I acknowledged utter failure as a viable option, and I didn’t fail. I’m extremely grateful for it, and extremely stronger for it.
Isn’t it funny how much the work means? I was so proud of the D I got in Astronomy sophomore year. (Yeah. Astronomy.) And the A I got in my ballet course junior year meant SO much to me because the teacher was so hard on us, and it had been years since I danced on a regular basis. I guess some of us just really relish that challenge.
You nailed it.
Thanks for being there!
Thank you for continuing to give and share, Seth! It was an incredible opportunity to learn, and I really enjoyed it.
First off I just noticed a teeny tiny smiley face on your page. I won’t say where I will let your other readers find it on a day they need to see it.
I feel like you are posting these blogs just for me to help keep me on task. The nice thing about this post is that is has universality. Its not just Social Media and how to work it and brand yourself its how to get whatever your plan is in motion. I may have to print this out.
I’m so glad this had such an impact. Always amazes me.
Thank you for being generous and sharing what you learned. It took me an hour to read this post because I went and watched the Elizabeth Gilbert talk and sat in amazement for awhile. Then came back and wondered some more.
I am getting a book (from someone generous) and can’t wait to read and share.
Glad you are doing your work.
I’m so pleased that you discovered the TED video through me. I think it’s many people’s favorite TED talk. (Mine is Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. Here: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html)
I’m so excited someone generous :) is sending along the book. Do let me know what you think of it once you’ve got through it. Thanks for your comment, Tim. Like seeing your face here!
Wow Em, that must have been some seminar. I can tell by the post that you were inspired. There was a frenetic energy to it all, and I mean that in a good way.
I was fascinated when he spoke of education and it’s desire to homogenize (which would explain why I hated school for the most part) the personalities of students. I wish i could have seen the clip.
I dissent on the whole letter grade thing. I hated getting an “F” on a test. It’s been said that failure is an occurrence, not a person.
Doing the work had to be my favorite part. So many people only talk about their aspirations, oblivious to the fact that they can do SOMETHING albeit small to reach their goals at any given moment. My buddy calls me up and asks me when is a good time to get together and jam, my answer is “now!”
I’ve already brainwashed myself with success literature so I will pass on the book for now, I hope to put some of these paradigms to good use in my life.
Thanx 4 sharing the info.
I’m a huge proponent of “Doing the Work”(Prince wrote a song with a similar theme entitled “The Work”
Thanks for reading, big bro!! Did you watch the video? If you have time to watch — this is my favorite one on education and creativity http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html)
Also — congrats on starting the blog!! Looks good. When you comment here, you should list the URL of your blog in the URL field so the people who read me can read you too! Love you.
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I imagine that you will be in a lincpins meetup the 14th of june, aren’t you ?