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Being an Artist, Connecting and Making a Difference

An Interview with Seth Godin, author of the LINCHPIN, Are You Indispensable?


Posted on 06 Apr 10

A couple of months ago, I recommended The Dip by bestselling author, entrepreneur, marketer, and blogger Seth Godin to you all. I heard from several of you who loved the book, including Ron Pitcher of the Pitcher Insurance Agency based in Illinois, who not only recommended that I read Seth’s latest book, LINCHPIN, Are You Indispensable, but also connected with me with the author.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Seth about his book. In LINCHPIN, Seth says that we are all artists and have the ability to make a difference and stand for something. What stops us from doing so are years of being programmed to do things a certain way, taking instructions without question-- from our years in school to the culture that was fostered in corporate America. But this isn’t working anymore; the system is broken. Average is over. And if we can find passion in what we do, “bring our whole self to work,” if we can begin to see things differently, including the way we give, the way we make a living, we will begin to make a difference…in the lives of others as well as are own. He talks about “training ourselves to matter,” to become a linchpin, a person who brings humanity, connection, and art to her/his organization. Seth defines linchpins as “the essential building blocks of tomorrow’s high-value organizations. They don’t bring capital or expensive machinery, nor do they blindly follow instructions and merely contribute labor. Linchpins are indispensable, the driving force of our future.” Throughout the book, Seth gives examples of linchpins, from the waiter at Dean and Deluca in New York, to Paul who works for ConEd, and Richard Branson before he began Virgin, to musician Moby.

Annie George (AG): Let’s first talk about your definition of an artist.

Seth Godin (SG): “In looking at what an artist is, let’s first look at the role of the insurance agent/broker, and then we’ll put it into context in terms of what it means to be an artist. The typical insurance firm spends a great deal of time thinking about compliance, risk management, pricing, actuarial tables, and writing policies that fit standards. Insurance brokers and agents are the “middlemen” between that very clinical, cut-and-dry view of the world and consumers. So it’s very easy to get hung up on doing things by the book, on pursuing tried-and-true techniques to sell what I would describe as average insurance policies. The typical broker is focused on the mass market, which is average, and the policies sold to them are relatively indistinguishable from one to another. So if you do this for a living and you are happy with what you’re getting, then continue doing what you’re doing.

“But if you’re not happy, if you haven’t been growing, if there is pressure from those doing direct marketing or television ads, or there is price pressure, or you’re finding that it’s harder than ever to build an audience for your products, I would argue that the reason is that you are boring. You’re doing what everyone else is doing and you’re simply saying, ‘Here I am.’ No wonder people are comparing price because that is all you’re offering for comparison. I define an artist not as a system or an organization, but as an individual who wants to connect with people and change them for the better…You can do that with a play, a painting, a sculpture, or you can also do it after someone’s house burned down, or after someone had a new baby. You can do it when you interact with a person in your daily life. The question is: In building your practice, in staffing your firm and interacting with prospects and clients, will you choose to do things in an artistic way or by the book? If you make that choice and act as an artist, you will grow.”

AG: How do you create a culture within an organization that encourages individual artists?

SG: “It starts by being willing to make mistakes and by being human. To give you an example, a multi-million-dollar insurance broker in the Pacific Northwest specializing in B2B sales ripped out the automated phone system from his large office. It costs him more than $1 million a year to do this. Now when you call his firm, a human being answers after one ring and you will never get voicemail or speak to a machine because there aren’t any.

“Think about this…it took real guts to do this. It took guts to say ‘I’m going to spend extra money to make my firm human.’ But the end result is that it’s something worth talking about. If I’m on the golf course, I am not going to talk about your insurance agency because it’s boring. But if I’m on the golf course and I am with an insurance agent who I can call any time of the day, 12 times a day, and get a human being who recognizes my voice and who knows who I am, that is a bonus. What you have to realize is that this has nothing to do with the person who is ultimately carrying my insurance, but has everything to do with the transaction, with the person with whom I am actually doing business, and that’s key. The typical consumer doesn’t care whether he/she is insured with Allstate or Nationwide…they are all the same. The consumer cares about who you are and your role in the community, and how you are dealing with him/her as a human being.”

AG: You write about the Internet as a gift system, and how it provides an opportunity for people to further connect and give. How do you see the Internet as a platform to affect more people, more lives, and to foster the art of giving?

SG: “It’s very important to see the difference between a gift and a favor. Most of the insurance brokers I’ve known think in terms of favors. They sponsor the Little League team in order to get more clients; they speak at the Chamber of Commerce to get more clients. These are favors. Favors are fine but favors feel like transactions and provide one more reason people are not eager to answer the doorbell. Gifts are things that you give with no expectation of repayment. A gift is very different… it says ‘here take this and goodbye.’ The act of giving someone a gift in which there is no ulterior motive changes who you are, changes how you do your work.

“If you look at the Internet as a favor-making vehicle, you will probably get some benefit out of it, but not a lot. People are on the lookout for what they will owe you. On the other hand, if you approach the Internet as the greatest gift-giving machine of all time, then you’re going to become a servant to a large number of people who want to hear from you. A guy I know who sells insurance in Canada built an entire website all about the truth in insurance: His policies, other people’s policies, what things really cost, including the ten questions you should ask to get a better deal. He gave everything away. People questioned his motive for doing this. The answer is simple: He did it because it was the right thing to do. He did it because someone was going to do it and it might as well have been him. He did it because it didn’t cost very much. It’s not like he’s a magician with a secret. What happened as a result of this? Because he wasn’t looking to get anything in return, he ended up getting a lot. If you’re going to buy insurance from someone, are you going to buy it from the person who told you the truth about everything or the person who’s not being generous?

“Once you decide that you want to use the Internet to be generous, for example, filming a local concert and posting it on-line without your logo, that’s a gift. And if you start giving generous gifts in your spare time, if your staff starts giving generous gifts, what you discover is that some of the time, that attitude will repay. Even if it doesn’t pay forward, that attitude will make your day better and you won’t end up selling less insurance but more.”

AG: Those of us who go after our dream tend to leave everything we were programmed to do behind. That’s very scary. We have responsibilities; we are set in our ways. So many of us don’t take the leap. We end up being stuck or not caring. I think that probably rings true for many of us in our industry as with others. How does one change the way he/she works, make that shift in shaking things up?

SG: “I am generalizing here, but most people who are in insurance did not set out when they were eight years old to become a broker or a customer service representative. Many times it’s a job that people back into because it’s predictable, it’s safe, and a good way to support the family. It feels like a way to become an asset to the community while not necessarily taking huge risks. Now along comes this guy [Seth] and says the world has changed. And it has. And the reason it has is because it used to be that if you were the only insurance broker in town I had to buy insurance from you. But with the advent of the Internet you can buy it from anyone. Before GEICO and the others began to make it easier for me to find them, if you were the only one in town I had to buy from you. Now I don’t have to. The core asset of your company was once the scarcity of competition.

“The stark reality is that perhaps you didn’t set out to have a job that didn’t thrill you all day long or that didn’t challenge your expectations, but the world has turned around and now you have no choice. What I write about in LINCHPIN is that two things have happened at the same time. One is the Internet, which made everything easily accessible. Now the only thing people are going to go out of their way to buy is stuff that changes them and makes them feel a certain way…something that’s an experience. Your job, therefore, if you want to grow, is to start doing work that thrills you, to start making connections with people that scare you. You don’t have to like this, but if you don’t do it you will fail. What I am trying to do is make you more afraid of failing than you are of standing out. That fear of standing out is what my friend Steven Pressfield calls the ‘resistance’ and what I call the lizard brain. This is the voice in the back of your head that says, ‘If I do something like that I’m going to get in trouble. I will get in trouble from the home office, I will get in trouble from the community.’ You need to figure out how to let go of this and get it to quiet down… because if you don’t start doing things differently, you will become invisible. And if you become invisible you will fail.”

AG: An insurance industry consultant I interviewed spoke about relationship selling… about connecting with people, about looking at existing and new clients in the same way. He says selling insurance is not important…it’s about making connections.

SG: “I think that’s absolutely right and I’d like to go beyond that. If you call me and say let’s meet, I won’t meet with you. Why would I? We don’t know each other. I don’t need insurance; you are just calling because you should call four people every day to meet with them. Yet this is not what we’re talking about here. What we’re saying is that you are the unofficial mayor of your community, what you do for a living is make connections, you introduce people to one another, you help their businesses run better. You are the president of the temple or the deacon of the church and in your spare time you sell insurance, not the other way around. Because you are the pillar of the community, the president of the school board, the person who introduces two competitors to each other to figure out a way that they can both make more money, the person who offers the Cub Scout troop space in his/her office because there is plenty of room, the person who is spending eight to 10 hours a day making the schools and the organizations in the community better…do you really think you will have any trouble selling insurance? It’s an interesting side effect… that is the bonus.

“The Grateful Dead were on the road 200 days a year giving concerts that they allowed people to tape for free. Their full-time job was to connect those who followed them, to lead them, to give them free music. Their sideline, their part-time job, was to sell souvenirs and albums. And for 15 consecutive years the Dead were the number-one live act in America. The reason: They never said ‘How do we make money’…they concentrated on connecting people, playing for people they like, and they made money this way.”

AG: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

SG: “Goldfish don’t notice the water. They’ve been in the water their whole lives. It’s only when the water becomes toxic or changes when goldfish get into trouble. I have spoken to the million-dollar roundtable with people in your industry. Ten years from now it’s not going to be like it is now. The way you did business ten years ago is over. And if you continue to operate in the same way, it’s going to be really uncomfortable, so the sooner you embrace the fact that you have the opportunity to do work that matters, the quicker you will do better and have more fun.”

ABOUT SETH GODIN

A bestselling author of ten books, Seth speaks around the country on marketing and new media. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages, and his e-books are among the most popular ever published. His New York Times bestseller LINCHPINN hit the top ten on Amazon the first day it was released. Seth is also the most influential blogger in the world and is consistently one of the 25 most widely read bloggers in the English language. He is also the founder and CEO of Squidoo.com, a popular publishing and community platform.

To begin your journey into awakening the artist in you, begin with getting a copy of LINCHPIN at amazon.com. As Seth writes, “You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious…”


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