Seth Godin on Why He Keeps Blogging and Creating Books

Seth Godin appeared on the Design Matters podcast and got a little more personal than usual about his work and life before he became THE Seth Godin. I recommend listening to the whole thing, but I transcribed a few gems for my own notes:

On why he still blogs daily (and has since at least 2002):

"By frequently and generously showing up, in front of people who wanted to hear from me, I would earn their trust. And, if I earned their trust, it would be easier for me to solve their problems.
Some people go online and measure their return on equity or their return on effort. I’m trying to maximize trust. I think we have a trust shortage. If I have more trust, I am going to be able to make more of a difference.
I’m not looking to be better known. I don’t promote stuff. I don’t show up on Facebook. I don’t work to have any followers on Twitter, because I don’t tweet. This isn’t about that. This is about: among the people who want to find me, can I show up in a way that’s trustworthy and can I do it in a way that will help other people get the joke? Because I’d rather live in a world where more people trust more people." 

On why he still makes books from his blog posts:

"Here’s a collectible that turns the insubstantial into substantial. That turns the temporary into the permanent. It gives you something you can point other people to, which furthers my mission of trust and change, which creates more impact. And, it’s really fun."

Home Screens as Therapy

I have nothing against technology. I do have a problem with using technology as a crutch to keep you from being creative. I have a big problem with my natural, sometimes destructive, tendency to consume a lot of information.

Batching time to consume helps, but sometimes it's more effective to put a real barrier between you and consumption.

The President and CEO of David Allen Company, Mike Williams, has a unique way of dealing with this. He designs his iPhone home screen to create a "micro pause" and ask himself, "Why am I here?"

I first saw one of his screenshots two years ago on the MacSparky blog:

He explains his reasoning:

"My home screen is intentionally very simple. I do this to minimize distractions. The distractions are all tucked several screen swipes away. It is a simple reminder to me to keep things simple. The act of intentionally finding an app helps me become conscious to what I am doing and why. I also turn off 98% of all the alerts."

Apparently he has stuck with his philosophy, because he recently posted a new screenshot to Twitter:

I love this idea. So, as a part of my focus this year on being more mindful with my time, I've done the same with my home screen. I've added a photo that personally means something relaxing and joyful as well (something we could all use a dose of several times a day):

I'm not alone. Jay Miller sent me his, which is beautiful on another level:

This kind of thing represents the best of what the GTD community does these days (and Mike in particular). I may disagree on some of the details of implementation (like the treatment of the calendar), but the general ideas behind GTD and their ties to cognitive studies as well as mindfulness philosophy are always exciting to me. 

I recommend this episode of the GTD podcast to get back on board with the most important aspects of the practice: GTD and the Organized Mind.

Schedule Your Thinking

Tom Kelley and David Kelley in Harvard Business Review:

“Schedule daily 'white space' in your calendar, where your only task is to think or take a walk and daydream. When you try to generate ideas, shoot for 100 instead of 10. Defer your own judgment and you’ll be surprised at how many ideas you have—and like—by the end of the week.”

It sounds silly to schedule time for daydreaming, thinking or taking a walk, but if you don't schedule it, it won't happen.

I know that if I schedule a few hours in a meeting room at the library, I can usually write a few posts and even plan a project or two. If I don't schedule it, none of that happens. I will respond to email, clean, get groceries - literally anything but create something worthwhile. 

There's always something or someone pulling at my time, with perfectly good reasons. But, if I want to accomplish anything, I need to put an obstacle (and some distance) between myself and that obligation.

As for the second part, generating ideas, it works. James Altucher popularized the notion of coming up with 10 ideas a day - 20 if your struggling with 10 (just come up with lots of bad ideas and stop being a perfectionist about it). It's now a part of my morning ritual, which is also scheduled.

Where the Herd Is

Dave Winer (co-creator of podcasting and the father of blogging):

"I'm feeling very Fuck You about controlling motherfuckers. Twitter can't help its users communicate. Facebook breaks the web by not letting writers link to other websites from their posts. Google tries to force everyone to switch to HTTPS no matter what the cost. I don't have to do any of this, and neither do you. So when people tell you to fuck off tell them to fuck off right back!"

It may feel like fighting a battle that's already over, but going around the increasingly strict rules of Google, Twitter and Facebook is liberating.

It's also healthy.

When you write or photograph or create for any reason on any medium in your own way, it's healthy. It creates a more enjoyable life.

Don't let someone else's constraints dictate your art. Following the herd is the opposite of art and it's never been clearer where the herd is.

No Worries

Via Jack Hollingsworth:

"Amateurs worry about equipment. Professionals worry about time. Masters worry about light." -  Anonymous

I disagree. Every photographer should consider their time, equipment and lighting. No photographer needs to worry about it.

Also, why wouldn't the amateur also consider time and light? There's still a lot of assumptions, made by those who write about photography, that need busting.

Focus on Done

Personal blogs are fertile ground for posts about what a person is going to do. This bores the reader and provides the blogger with the self licensing to not do what they said they were going to do.

If you announce it before you do it, your brain thinks you've accomplished something. This explains why changing your social media icon for a cause is a thing, when action for a cause tends not to be a thing.

I have a challenging year ahead of me. I'd like to take you on that journey from cubicle monkey to independent creator. But, I don't want to promise myself or you anything I "will be doing." I hold myself accountable by what I've done.

Two and a half weeks into the year, I've done the following:

  • Decided to take this journey (this is a bigger step when you've tried and failed as often as I have).
  • Compiled the last 400 posts to my blog for at least one new book. Editing will take while, but this has been my primary focus for January. I find releasing or completing a new project every month to be an intoxicating notion I can't get out of my head. 
  • Had dinner with Shawn Blanc. I want to see more of my "target readers" in person. These are the people I envision reading the post I'm about to publish. I don't want to necessarily "pick their brains" for new ideas. That's a waste of their time and they have their own blogs for that. I want to get an impression of what I do that works for them. To me, their views are more important than anything analytics or surveys can tell me. In fact, Shawn disagreed with what many of you expressed in the last survey and that's the best thing I took away from meeting with him. That, and, he's a nice guy (unlike many I've met in this business). I can buy and recommend his products with complete trust.
  • Signed up for two gatherings later in the year among like-minded people.
  • Woke up every morning an hour early to write more and meditate.
  • Met with my doctor and discussed the latest advances in anxiety and IBS research. These afflictions have held me back personally and in business for 30 years. There are no cures for IBS and the emerging treatments have been ineffective for me. Anxiety, on the other hand, is something I've learned to live with. I may write more about this if I have the time, but, for now, I consider any progress in this area a milestone towards living a better, more useful life. I came away with two new leads for treatment.
  • Gave the Twitter app on my phone a back seat. I've given up on consuming most forms of social media, but Twitter remains a place where the smartest people I know say the smartest things (with proper use of filtering and lists). However, those same people usually have blogs/newsletters/podcasts I can subscribe to. I don't need Twitter to be front and center anymore. It goes in a folder for now, and in the trash in due time. Baby steps.
  • Decided on what will be the first physical product offered on this site. I'd go into more detail, but this is all that is done with this project.

Please let me know you've done. Keep the "what I'm doing" to a minimum and see what forces its way out through action.

Shawn Blanc, Shawn's assistant Isaac, John Vorhees and I trying to navigate an unusual winter thunderstorm in Chicago to get to what really what we'd risk pneumonia for...the food.

Shawn Blanc, Shawn's assistant Isaac, John Vorhees and I trying to navigate an unusual winter thunderstorm in Chicago to get to what really what we'd risk pneumonia for...the food.

My Rules for Publishing (2017 Edition)

Back in 2015, I wrote a post called My Rules for Publishing, which was got pretty popular (in the circles I hang out in at least). I figured it was time for an update. My updates are in red.

  1. The blog is the most perfect publishing format ever made for reaching the greatest number of people. The blog is the hub. It's the house where you put your ideas. It may be shared (or re-packaged) in many places, but the blog is home. The best way to come up with great ideas is to come up with a lot of ideas. The blog is the testing ground for ideas.
  2. It’s never too late to start a high quality blog. There’s very few of them.
  3. Email is even better than blogging for attracting keeping high quality readers and keeping them.
  4. The best email publications have a product or service attached with a point of view that gives them direction.
  5. The death of Google Reader made email a must for any blogger.
  6. Blogging helps determine what to create when you’re not blogging.
  7. Publishing is less about money now and more about creating connection that will help you determine your next gig or idea.
  8. The number of readers is never as important as the quality of readers.
  9. Smart advertisers know about the importance of quality readers. In lieu of smart advertisers, be your own advertiser.
  10. Being your own advertiser is always preferable.
  11. Books are about clarifying your message. They are not about money or reaching new readers.
  12. Write what you know. Better yet, write what you know and explain how you know it. The point of view creates the story.
  13. More posts are better than less. A mix of post types and lengths keep the readers’ interest. Not everyone reads the same, but in general my readers prefer short posts. For personal sites, there are no rules about post length or type, because there are no rules at all. For professional/commerce sites, long posts with original content tend to resonate more and get shared more.
  14. Get to the point.
  15. There’s nothing wrong with link blogging. In fact, if you’re being honest, every blog post is a linked post at heart. People respond to honesty.
  16. Keep adding to this list.
  17. Most online courses are poorly edited books for at least ten times the price. A few are helpful enough to warrant the investment. Create one of those few courses, but only if your audience responds to that kind of learning better than books.
  18. Own the experience. Never use products or services that take away your control of your audience's experience.
  19. Physical products are a great, long-term way to get a message across due to their scarcity when compared to digital products. But they are unforgiving and financially risky in the short term.
  20. Always start small.
  21. Let your audience determine your products and services. Listen.
  22. Video is where audiences will be made/found at large scale for the near future. But it always starts with words. A blog post becomes a podcast becomes a video. Figure out what your audience prefers. Figure out what you prefer. Do them all if you want.
  23. "Different is better than better." - Sally Hogshead. This is how the smallest creator defeats the largest corporations at their own game.
  24. More good can come from one dedicated reader/listener/viewer than 100,000 skimmers. Don't hold back. Don't censor yourself to please the masses.
  25. Don't even start thinking about project management until you've got a handle on time management. It's how anything gets done.
  26. "Document. Don't Create." - Gary Vaynerchuk. Creating content out of thin air is what gets you in trouble. Your blog posts, podcasts and video are best when they're a byproduct of your creations.
  27. Connect. There's nothing more important in publishing than connecting with people. It will improve your career, your health...your life. This is the best investment you'll ever make.

Finding Deeper Meaning in Photography

Another question I’m frequently asked is about how to find deeper meaning in photography, specifically in a hobbyist’s body of work, which usually consist mostly of snapshots and a few attempts at "big projects."

First, I think it’s great we’re even asking that question. Most hobbies gloss over such introspection and chalk it all up to “a fun way to pass the time.”

Second, never consider snapshots a waste of time. In fact, they’re the king of all photographs.

Third, the deeper meaning lies in the appreciation of the moment when you’re photographing, not your past body of work. Worries about a body of work are for professionals. Being a professional is about a life spent working for the wants and needs of the market, not of one’s self.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a professional photographer, but it's an entirely different approach to art and to life. We keep blurring the lines and expecting hobbyists to act and buy like professionals.  That’s destructive to mental health and bank accounts.

Just like the folks at Field Notes keep saying, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” We’re photographing for now, not later.

Whatever inhibits the appreciation of the moment must be abandoned, even if that means downgrading your gear or leaving your camera at home. Only use what helps you enjoy the present, because that’s all we’ve got.

The Biggest Regret of My Career

Last week, I attempted to explain why it’s not always a great idea to put your work out there in any old form towards the goal of “being noticed.” Of course, this was written from my usual pro-hobbyist bias, as the great majority of my readers are hobbyist photographers or writers.

This week, I’ll explain why this advice breaks down a bit (but not entirely) for professionals.

The greatest regret I have in my career is that what has appeared in my blog or in my books is the tip of an enormous iceberg of professional writing the public will never see. I write, edit and/or publish the equivalent of a small book every week to an intranet only visible to the employees of a large corporation.

I take no less pride in the work. It has my name on it and reputation matters. But, since it never sees the public, it does not add to my “body of work” and that’s what really hurts. It’s like it never happened.

If you let your audience in on how you create what you create, you will build a bigger, better audience. Audience matters more than anything to your career. With a large enough audience, you can dictate the terms of your career entirely. With no audience, you hold no leverage. Most of us fall somewhere in the vast middle. Where you fall usually depends on your body of work and how much you've shown.

I still believe a portfolio or gallery link is an awful way, even for a professional, to build that audience. But, putting your work out there is essential to building an audience. Putting your work out there in new creative ways, using narratives, is a better way to go about doing it.


Surprise us.