Hey everybody! How's it going? Welcome to another episode of Chase Jarvis Live. I'm Chase Jarvis, your host, your guy. You're on Creative Live, specifically the 30 Days of Genius series here. In this series, I talk to top creatives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders, unpack their brains and help you live your career dreams and all kinds of important stuff in your life from these thought leaders. If you're new to the series, check it out at CreativeLive.com/30, the number three zero, days of genius. All you gotta do is click that blue button, and then you get an interview from one of these thought leaders in your inbox every day for 30 days. Incredibly inspirational, incredibly actionable advice from these folks. Gosh, my guest today, you will know him as soon as I start to talk about him. He is the author of 18 books. 18 New York Times bestselling books, by the way. Gosh, I've been following this guy for, I think, maybe, 10, 12 years. Dangerously long time. He's been a huge inspiratio...
n to me. His current project is the altMBA, which he will talk about. It's a school he built from the ground up. My guest today is none other than, Seth Godin. Welcome, Seth. Thank you so much.
Thanks for having me. (theme music) (audience applause)
They love you!
Again, thank you so much for being here, Seth. Again, welcome.
Chase, great to see you.
I came to New York to be with you, and it was well worth the trip. We've already been visiting off-camera a little bit. As I said in my intro, I've been paying attention to what you've been doing for more than a decade. You've been hugely inspirational to me and millions and bazillions of others. What is your secret?
That there is no secret. That's the best part. When we think about things that are impossible, that's what revolutions do, is they enable the impossible. They destroy things that are perfect. The record industry was perfect. The travel agency business was perfect. The stock photography industry was perfect. And then something impossible comes along and we can look at that and say, well there's no hope. Or we can say, How interesting. What an opportunity, to fail, to explore, to figure out what happens next. And we can persist as we go. There's no secret. There's no mountain that you need to climb where someone's gonna whisper in your ear and tell you the right answer.
The secret truth.
The answer is there is no right answer.
That's beautiful. And I do feel like the time, I guess, is it every time is now? Or is now actually special?
You know, there's this perception thing we've got. Are you happy? Well, if somebody who grew up in Bareilly, India was in your shoes you could bet they'd be delirious with the tools. If someone who lived under the last king of France saw the resources that even the poorest among us have access to, they'd be delirious. Happiness is a point of view. Now is a point of view. You can say, I need to wait til all my ducks in a row, but the thing I say to people is well, when you get that duck, what are you gonna do with it? And we have our ducks. They might not all be in a perfect row, but the best way to be where you wanna be a year from now and 10 years from now is to do something today that you'll be glad you did.
That's powerful, Madison. I love something that you said in a talk. I don't remember the talk, so forgive me. You'd probably know but it's not important. The point that's important is, you said, "The person who invented the ship "also invented the shipwreck."
There you go.
You know our audience well. The people who are paying attention to this show, to me personally, to Creative Live, is people who are aspiring to be more creative and entrepreneur in their lives. Sometimes it's in career, sometimes it's in hobby, but they know they want to sort of tap into the thing that's been a little bit elusive for them, or for the people who are on that path are trying to hone those skills. But there's two schools of people. Some who are just trying to start, go from zero to one, and then there's a bunch of people who are started. They're on the path, and want to sort of go to the next level. I know that for me and I've corresponded with our audience for years, and in some cases, maybe as much as a decade, and there is fear about the next step. So, for the person who invented the ship, they also invented the shipwreck, what would you tell me, because I'm always interested in being enlightened by you, Sir, but more importantly, the audience at home. What's the advice on playing through that fear on the next step?
You call this series 30 Days of Genius and at some level, you're trying to flatter me, but that's not really what genius means. And Liz Gilbert has talked about this. Genius is an ancient term for the voice in our head that is capable of doing something for the first time. It's capable of being generous. It's capable of being original. And our job is to let the genius out. You aren't a genius. We are all carrying genius. So let's call it 30 Days of Genius because every single person watching this also has genius. Now, the challenge with letting the genius out is it might not work. And that expression, "It might not work," is super hard to say out loud. I say it out loud all the time, because the fear cannot be defeated. The fear will not go away. The fear is hardwired into us for good reason.
Literally DNA. Survival.
And the thing is, we're just mistaken. Because you had a reason to be afraid during the Spanish Inquisition. And you have a reason to be afraid if a baseball bat's flying into the stands. So your amygdala's activated. Your lizard brain goes into defensive mode. But if you have to give a presentation at work or speak to your kid's third grade class. You're afraid why? What's gonna happen exactly? Nothing. So, we have all this false fear. Now, you can paralyze yourself trying to make it go away. You can read everything and study everything and be sure you're right, but that's exhausting. The other thing you can do is you can dance with it. And if you dance with the fear and say, oh, it's a compass. It's giving me a hint. Then I'm on to something. And I'm doing something that might not work. So here's where the magic of our age kicks in. The cost of being a photographer today, compared to what it cost Ansel Adams to be a photographer. The cost of being a published writer today, cost and time and effort and risk, compared to what it took Ernest Hemmingway to be a writer, there's no comparison. So what we get to do is keep playing. And if you get to keep playing... Imagine, I grew up in Buffalo with the bowling leagues, and one of the drivers of bowling, is you gotta pay by the game. So I only got three games, I gotta be careful with my rows. Well, what would happen if you had unlimited bowling? If you had unlimited bowling, you could practice different shots. You could practice different approaches. Don't worry about it. We're not keeping the score. That's where we live now. Unlimited bowling. (laughs) So we gotta decide. Are we just constantly trying to get it just right down the center, which is boring and isn't gonna get us anywhere, or do we have the guts to say, you know, this might not work. But I'm gonna persistently and consistently and generously bring it forward. That's the first pillar that anyone who thinks of themselves as a creative has to acknowledge. That if you're asking for a guarantee, you're in the wrong line.
There certainly are no guarantees in creativity. It's messy. It's sometimes painful. One of the things that I felt like you just hit the head squarely on, which is the, I also suppose that there's a genius in all of us. I don't know if you're familiar with the work of Michael Mead. The idea that it's really about uncovering that place inside you, or the voice, some people call it intuition. You can call it genius. What are some specific mechanisms for unlocking that? Yes, we've got unlimited bowling. Is your prescription that it's really unlimited bowling? That in order to unlock it, what we have to do is try a lot of things? Or how would you... That's me putting words in your mouth, but you tell me. How should we think about the actual act of tapping into that? Because that's what people want. There's a genius in all of us. Does anyone not want their genius? No one raises their hand. Everybody's like, "I want my genius."
Yeah, those people are lying. I think we can acknowledge that most people are talented. So if you're talented, and you're making banal work, why is that? It's not that you don't know how to do something that's worth noting. It's that you don't want to. Why don't you want to? 'Cause it's afraid. 'Cause you're afraid. 'Cause it might not work. Because you'll be criticized. Because you'll lose followers. So if you look at how most people spend their time online, they spend their time online doing social media grooming to make sure that they're in sync, that they're safe, that they're in the center, and that when we get a one-star review on Amazon for something that we do, we rush to read the one-star review. I've never met an author who said, I read all my one-star reviews, and now I'm a better writer. So I stopped reading my reviews. Five, one, all of them. I stopped reading four years ago. Nothing bad has happened to me by reading zero. It doesn't make my work better for me to hear anonymous people tell me I don't know what I'm doing. But we seek it out.
We do. That's strange.
No, I don't think most people actually want to do that kind of creative work. And I can tell, based on the way they spend their time. So I refuse to give people tips and tactics because that's just one more way to hide. I'm using the same pencil as Steven King. I looked at the, I have a Moleskin. I have my Go Bag set up just like I learned on Life Hacker. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. None of those things
Matter at all. They're just side effects of what someone who figured out how to deal with what Steve Pressfield calls resistance, how to deal with it. And everyone's gonna deal with it differently. I'm more interesting in teaching something else. How to see. If you can see the world as it is, and not the way you want it to be, letting your genius out becomes 1,000 times easier. So for me the expensive lesson was in '92 and '93, I had something you didn't have. No one here had. I had access to the internet. There was no World Wide Web then. It was Archie and Veronica and the pipe to my office cost $400 a month. And I was doing, I was a writer. I had a freelance writer and a book packager, and I saw this thing, and I said, I know! I'll make a book about it. So that's what I did. That was a hammer, this was a nail. That same period of time two guys in California, David and Jerry, saw what I saw and they made a website called Yahoo. And at its peak, it was world 80 billion dollars. So my half would've been worth 40. It cost me 40 billion dollars to be wearing the wrong glasses. But once you learn to see, with fresh eyes, and say wait, wait, wait, here's this new platform, I can overwhelm in with generosity. I'm not gonna work about the business problem. Gonna worry about touching people. Well, the next thing you know, you have five million Instagram followers. And the people who are waiting for a guarantee, waiting for Instagram for Dummies to come out, waiting for the tips and the tactics, once again, left in the dust complaining, because they didn't want to get on the ship, 'cause there might be a shipwreck. So I think if you find yourself taking notes instead of being present, for example, you're hiding. No one takes notes on a date. They're present. So don't take notes during a Creative Live course because that's not what's being taught. You can go back and watch it again. What's being taught is, can you feel it here? Can you reconnect to what that genius feels like? That's available. When I was coming up in the book business, the first year, I got 800 rejection letters in a row.
800. I sold my first book the first day, and then I got 800 rejections which meant that every day, three or four letters, with a stamp, came to my house that said, we don't like you, we don't trust you, we don't think you have very much talent, we don't wanna give you any money, go away. They didn't say any of those things but that's what I thought they said.
(laughs) That's what you read, right?
If there had been an Internet, I would've just said, fine, and published it to the world. No one could stop me. Well, now we live in this world, where you don't need to be picked. And you said one thing in your very kind intro that I've written all these New York Times bestsellers. I haven't written a New York Times bestseller in a while because the New York Times bestseller list is a scam and I refuse to participate in it. So I'd rather write a book that people wanna read as opposed to write something that pleases certain people, that gets certain things done, that makes the New York Times decide it should be on some list. 'Cause I don't wanna be picked by them. So I'm saying out loud, don't pick me, you're a scam. And that frees me up to do what I want to do, what I need to do. Not get hung up on seeing the world the way it used to be.
That was a rant. But I got plenty of rants.
But that's literally why I'm so happy to be sitting down with you, because your rant, how your rants differ from others, is they have a kernel of wisdom that is a mile wide and a thousand miles deep. I was actually sort of reliving as you were talking about early Internet days. My particular experience, which I like to think is very similar to the experience that a lot of people who self-identify as creative or entrepreneurial, which is there is a constant cycle, was a conversation in my head. If I do this, and I put it out, what will happen? And there's a million scenarios that go through your head and what I found out from myself was that that conversation was incredibly toxic.
And what I'm hoping to get through with this interview and others, is that what you need to do is, the conversation, we have this weird part of our brain that tells us that this a helpful conversation. That this is what thinking is.
And the reality is it's toxic as hell. And we need to stay away from it. Is your answer that narrative that false story that we tell ourselves, is it just making, is it doing? What is the answer? I'm extracting that from what you just said about get on the boat, instead of taking notes, be present. Instead of judging, publish. Am I oversimplifying the message?
So, I moved the New York City in '86, '87. And soon after I got here, there was this cracking in my ears. And if I did this certain thing with my job, I would hear this crackling. And so I went to the Ear Nose and Throat specialist and I said, this is what I'm doing. He said, take this sinus medicine and it made me fall asleep, so I stopped taking it, and two weeks later, I went back and said it's really bothering me, every time I go like this, I hear this crackling. And the guy said, "Don't go like that." And I can make the crackling come back now. I just did it. So I stopped going like that, and the crackling went away. The thing is, we go to that place so that we can hide, and I think there's a different question we can ask. Not what will happen. The key question is what is it for. This meeting I'm going to, what is it for? This photo I'm taking, what is it for? This thing I'm putting in the world, what is it for? And if we can say, well, it might not work, but if it does work, will I be glad I did it? And if it doesn't work, do I have enough in the bank, in air quotes, to keep doing this. 'Cause if we can acknowledge what it's for, we can focus on why we're doing anything. And that framing of saying what I do is connect people, elevate people, give 'em a smile, get picked by a gal or make a living, whatever it is. Am I a professional, who is doing this in a way that the work matches what the work is for. So if you tell me that you wanna be a world famous architect and then you show me your plans, and I say, well these are fine plans for a single-family house in Cleveland, but show me another architect who has followed the path you're trying to follow this work you're doing that you say is for X, is actually for Y. So get yourself in alignment. And the sooner we can understand what it's for and decide that what it's for is important enough that we're willing to fail along the way, we can stop having that toxic conversation any time that we wanna stop the crackling in our ears.
(laughs) I love that your prescriptions are so simple.
But hard, hard to do.
I know, that's my point is, for those folks that are out there, you're listening to a genius drop knowledge in a way that I don't want you to feel intimidated, but the reality, this is the thing that I've learned from reading Seth, is that there is all kinds of vitality and possibility in what you say. The ability to stop moving your jaw like that so that you stop the crackling, I think the best word for me was alignment, is really, I learned, for me, it was a choice. And there's a lot of narratives that I came to believe about myself and the art that I wanted to make versus what I was actually making, that the narrative was a false narrative, and as soon as I allowed myself through some painful self discovery, like why are you doing this? What is it that you wanna do with your art? That it was almost overnight that I felt sort of set free. And the way Bernay Brown, someone I adore, she keeps a list, she goes like this, I keep a list, it's about this long. I keep it in my wallet. And on this list is the people that I truly care what they think of me. And if you're not on this list, or you haven't been in the arena as someone who has put themselves out there over and over and over again, I don't care what you have to say.
And it's really hard to live that life. So someone comes and says, hey, I got a million Twitter followers. And my response is, but how many of them have an opinion that matters. Are you actually doing it to get famous? Why? And a lot of people you've crossed paths with, who I've crossed paths with, are on this path to just get more famous. And if you probe and say, but what is it for? Is it, can you eat more fancy restaurant dinners? Will it get an even better table than you have now? What, why? If we didn't have a number, if the number was just hidden from the universe, you couldn't make the number go up, but just 'cause you can see the number? Is this something that we need to go up? So I wanna shift gears and go a little bit further, which is the truth is,
I love truth.
That most of people who are watching this, and you and I, in many of the things that we endeavor to do, we're just not that good at it, and it's a mistake to fool yourself into thinking you're as good at songwriting as Bob Dylan and you're as good at rapping as Macklemore, and you're as good. So, I get e-mails all the time. Please, don't send me e-mails. I get too much e-mail. But I get e-mails from people who say, I can't make a thing of this. Look at this work I do, it's awesome. Why can't I, why aren't I more popular? Well, number one, we haven't understood what it's for, and why you wanna be more popular, and number two, because you're not that good, and you could be good, but you haven't put in the 10,000 hours or the 1,000 hours or the blood and the sweat and the tears to actually be good at it. So if you go back to my blog post from 10 years ago, more than half of them are way below average. It took a long time to blog like me, right? But a lot of people blog six times and they say, why don't I have a million followers? And so what I'm getting at here is we are living in the most crowded creative universe in history. There aren't three TV networks. There's a billion. There aren't 10 record labels. There's a billion. So you're not entitled to any attention. You're not entitled to any leverage. But, if you dig ever deeper, in the stuff that truly matters, you may earn some attention.
Do you decide what matters, or do you leave it up to the people at home to decide what matters for them?
Oh yeah, I'm not in charge of what's remarkable. I'm not in charge of what's important. I'm not in charge of what matters. For sure. I have no say in this.
But you've talked to so many people. And what are common things that people say that matter to them? Like, if there's a survey course as a part of your altMBA, and you're standing up there teaching and you're saying, "Here's some of the things, "that I hear that matter." You've certainly heard a lot of this.
Well, what are things that matter? And these can be, you can throw them out there and we can debunk them, or you can see these things actually do matter. I just wanna hear it from you. What matters?
I think the simplest answer is, would they miss you if you were gone? I don't know who they are. And I don't know what gone means, but those people that you're seeking to have an impact on, will they miss you if you didn't show up tomorrow? Would they miss you if this new product this new project didn't come into the world? Or do you have to just do that whole hustle dance, look at me, look at me, jump up and down, offer a limited time, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, to game it, 'til they'll actually transact with you? That work doesn't feel like it matters to me. That feels like you're just trying to make a living.
Which is okay. Everyone needs to make a living. You probably should have a job. But if you wanna have this vocation, as MS Gilbert says, if you wanna have this arc to your work, then it surely helps to be missed if you were gone. So that's the definition for me of permission marketing. If that e-mail you were gonna send to 10,000 people tomorrow, if it didn't go out, how many of the 10,000 people would say, where's the e-mail? And if the answer is none, then you don't have permission. You're just being tolerated. So I would like to think that if I didn't blog tomorrow, more than 10 people would send me an e-mail saying, where's your blog, right?
Did you get hit by a bus? What happened?
Exactly! That if you stopped creating the courses that you're creating, I'm guessing some people would show up and say, hey, Chase, where is it? That's what it means to matter. To be missed when you are gone.
Very tight definition. So, let's talk, you were saying, and I wanna shift gears and explore, pull on this thread a little bit more, one of the ways that you would be missed when you are gone is that you stand out, because there's a landscape and I see it, it feels relatively homogenous, there's a lot of beige out there, and then on the horizon, there's this purple thing.
And my eyes, or one's eyes, or the marketplace, however you wanna, I don't know, whoever one is, or they, or marketplace, but the marketplace looks at you and you look different that every thing else, then there is some attention that's thrown on you, is that enough, or do you need, like...
Yeah, my take on it's a little different.
My take on it is--
For those of you who don't know, I'm referencing a book of his called the Purple Cow.
Sorry, keep going.
No, it's good. My take on it is that it's really easy to be the guy who wears a plaid suit to a funeral. It's really easy to do that thing that people notice. That's not remarkable, the way I use the phrase. Remarkable means someone thinks it's worth making a remark about. And if someone remarks about the thing, the word spreads, not 'cause you spamming the world, but because people are talking to each other. The challenge, if we're gonna be creative is, what do we want them to say? If we want them to say, what a jerk, he's wearing plaid to a funeral, go ahead, wear plaid to a funeral. But if we want them to say, you need to see this, it will transform you. If we want them to say, can you believe how generous that act was? If we want them to say, this is the new, fresh thing, then go build that. So too often, people say, well, we just made this cool commercial for our ketchup. It's for Purple Cow. No, actually it's not. It's just a commercial. People are not gonna talk about it because it elevates them in their standing. They're gonna talk about it because it's like watching one-armed paper hanger. It's a thing, but it's not something we would miss. It's a side show. So the challenge that we have to make art that will last, and I use the word art very carefully here, is we have to be serious enough about the process, that we're proud of what we make, and we did in a way, the kind of person we care about, like Bernay's list, tells someone else.
That's a straight extrapolation of the idea virus. Another one of your (laughs) 18 books, which is--
The Idea Virus which is free online, so share it, said, "Ideas that spread, win." Now, like any disease in epidemiology, they follow, they follow a vector. They don't affect everyone. No one has ever been affected by a disease across the whole planet. So you figure out which vector you want. Napster didn't really spread in nursing homes. Napster spread on college campuses for a reason. You needed high-speed Internet access, and you had to be interested in music, plus you had to have a lot of friends.
And a lack of money, probably.
Right? So none of those things were true in nursing homes, they were true on the college campus. So we architect what we build to build sharing into it. I like to say the following rhetorical question, the first person who had a fax machine, what did he do with it?
Right! Can't use a fax machine if you can't share.
So, how can you build art that doesn't work unless you share it? So the most recent book I did, I published myself. Why? Because--
What To Do When It's Your Turn. And the idea of Your Turn is I will refuse to sell you one copy. If you buy one, I send you two. If you buy three, I send you five. If you buy 96, I send you 120. Why? Because I wrote it so you would share it, so that the people around you would be on the same pages. Turns out, if you give someone a book, it feels totally different than if they go to a bookstore and choose to buy it. The gift of a book is a magical thing that changes the conversation. That part of the remarkability I'm trying to build into my work is it works better if your colleagues know the phrase Purple Cow. It works better if they can hold you accountable because you've all understood the same concepts.
So, lets talk about architecture of things. You've referenced it. Architecting arcs, architecting the sharing part of it, for folks at home who are thinking about their next project or, is it wrong to architect something that doesn't involve sharing because is that how, is it the best way to sort of make it? Or are there two different sides to the same coin, which is the other side where you're private, and you're polishing nd you're honing it. Or is there another side when you're publishing, sharing, and architecting and deciding what you want it to be like to encounter you and your brand.
That's a great question. So, my thesis, stolen from Michael Schrag, is that anything worth doing is worth doing because you've changed someone else. That if we don't make a change happen, what did we do? So that change could be lots of things. If you're talking about brands, Harley-Davidson is a multi-million dollar brand. Why? Because they changed disrespected outsiders into revered insiders. And for the people who have had that transformation happen to them, Harley-Davidson expresses that's the change. Apple computer, we could replace everything Apple makes with something else, except that Apple changes people into people who have good taste about digital goods. That's their arc. That's the change they make. They keep trying to escalate what it means to have good taste. So this change is sometimes amplified if your idea spreads. Sometimes amplified if you create the dynamic of the fax machine, the Purple Cow. But you don't have to do it that way. Let's say you're a playwright and your goal is to change the people who come to your play into people who are able to think more deeply, say, about gay rights. So The Laramie Project succeeded because if you went to that play you were transformed, changed, by words and someone reading them. That was all it was, but it worked, made a change happen. Now the byproduct is, you and I have heard of the play, the word spread. But the word spread isn't the point. That's just a tactic that amplifies the point. The point is, can you make a change happen?
So, is work that's made without change or that from which change is not a result, is that failed work?
Well, I don't know how to use, really what you're talking about when you say work. So Starbucks, Howard Schultz--
Talk about independent artists.
Talk about independent artists instead, okay. If you are going to make a merely pleasant song and you're going to define success as I made some royalties from this, I would say you're making a living, but I'm not ready to say you're making art. For it to be art, it has to be, it might not work. It might not work by my definition means it didn't change anyone. That yes, we need to play some music in the elevator and maybe someone will give you a royalty check to play it in the Musak machine, but you didn't change anything, so don't call yourself an artist in that moment. You are a piano playing. That's different than being an artist. So Jackson Pollock had a brother, and his brother's name was Charles. And Charles Pollock painted just like Thomas Hart Benton. Thomas Hart Benton, super important artist of the 1920s was both of their teachers. So, Charles was a painter. He just copied Thomas Hart Benton. Jackson Pollock was an artist, because he changed us. That's my distinction.
So intention, what role does intention play?
Right, because if you don't have an intention then you can't fail. I'm saying you better have the intention, you better be able to say, at least to yourself, this is the change I'm trying to make. And if it happens, then you can declare victory. And if it doesn't happen, you can declare not victory, but either way, you can go make the next thing.
Okay, let's take it out of the very theoretical and talk about something very tactical or tangible, rather and that's you. So, I think the folks out there are very familiar with your work. There's always a curiosity about the man or woman behind the work, and tell us a little bit about what you're reading right now, what's inspiring you, realizing that we're all different and inspiration will come from a lot of places, but I just have a stinking hutch that the world wants to know. What are you listening to, what are you reading, how are you spending your time right now? You know, I've had 15 crises over the last 20 years where I get stuck and think I can't do another one of those, I need to go this way or that way and over time, partly through meditation, just partly from getting older, I'm willing to sit with it way longer than I used to be able to. It used to be if it was more than six hours, six hours was my max. God, I wanted a next thing, because I'm gonna fail. Now I can sit with it and look and breathe and say, you know what? Diving into the obvious next thing is probably a form of hiding. So I'm in one of those stages. I'm really thinking hard about education. I wrote a 35,000 word book that's free on the Internet called Stop Stealing Dreams a few years ago about how our education systems, which gave us so much, is now fundamentally and completely broken. And that parents have forgotten to ask the question, what is it for? What is school for? This class, what is it for? Why are we teaching this thing at all? This standardized test, what is it for? This sticker on the back of my car that says I'm paying $250,000 for my student to go to a famous college, why? What are we trying to produce here? So that was a rant that lead to the smaller ramblings lead to some of the courses I'm building but for me, the most, if I look at a photo, and I look deeply, and I'm changed by it, that's a miracle. But the most direct tactical form of change, we call education. We say, will you enroll in this process, and the word enrollment, we could talk about it for an hour, this word enrollment of, are you volunteering to let me change you in a way that you are destined to be changed is so different than walking up to a stranger on the street and saying, "Let's do calculus!" Stranger says, well, I didn't sign up for that. And then, when we say, will you change, can we change? Change to what? Change in which direction? And for me, I think the highest leverage thing is to change people into people who believe they have a genius. And to people who believe that they are able to change other people into people who can see the world as it is and who want to and know how to cause these changes to happen, to influence others to make the change happen going forward.
That's heavy, in the right way. Education is something obviously deeply passionate. To me, they're the basis or foundation of every day life. I've said on hundreds of stages, if not more, than if our parents had one job, we will have five, and the next generation will have five at the same time. And so we-re living in an era where the existing infrastructure and education specifically higher education, we're really not all that focused on K through 12, I think we can talk about the foundations of schooling, we'll talk about that in a second, but I look around and I see people fundamentally unprepared for the world that we live in, and scrambling to sort of find, not just meaning, but the ability to plug into the world, and it'd be like, the equivalent would be like hiring someone to come work at your business and not giving them any training, and just throwing them out into the world, which is largely what we're asking the world to do when we don't provide an educational infrastructure. So I looked to Creative Live and said, well what are the good things about education? And I said, well, you got people who know what they're talking about, you got people who wanna learn, there's a communication between those two entities, and there's also this other one which is, the students can communicate with other students. That's was what's working. I think learning isn't broken. Education is broken. So what about learning can we lift and drop into a scale of a model, and how can we take the people that are at one end of that pipe, and provide massive access, transparency, access, and how can you, at the other end of that pipe, not just someone who knows something about that, but the best people in the world. So that's the foundation of Creative Live. What about the educational system pisses you off, and what is, what are we at Creative Live and what are you at altMBA doing well?
Okay, so, my two sons went through public school, so I saw it first hand.
I'm a public school kid too.
I love public school. Public school is a key part of our culture. But what's broken about it is it was invented by industrialists, for industrialists. You can read the history. It's fascinating. I won't go into too much detail. But basically, if you want compliant factory workers, it helps if you start with a six-year-old and teach them to sit in a dark room, sitting still, taking notes for eight hours, do that for 12 years, and by the time you get your hands on them, they will follow instructions. But we don't need that anymore.
We need the opposite of that.
The standardized test was invented because there was an emergency in the 1920s and the guy that invented it, disowned it, and there was such a backlash on them losing the tool. He lost his job as President of a university for daring to say that standardized tests were stupid. The thing he invented. That this command and control model of saying, I'm at the front of the room, you must obey me, this model that says school is for lectures is stupid. Sal Khan has perfectly pointed out we should do lectures at night, we should watch the best person in the world teach the class, and do homework during the day when someone can engage with us. Makes so much more sense. So there's all these challenges, but for me, if you talk to someone, my friend Peter was in the Peace Corps in 1969, 1975, something like that. He can still tell you everything that happened. And I said, but Peter, the year before, remember that course you took at that-- He has no recollection, because the Peace Corps, he did something, and a lecture was something he'd done to him. So the altMBA that I built, we have no lectures whatsoever, there are no videos, there is no secret content. Zero. That's a discipline we have. It is not open to large numbers of people. It's only for 200 people at a time. It doesn't happen asyncronously at your convenience. It happens in-sync with all these people around the world in-sync, in a slack room, in a workshop setting, and it's all about projects. 14 projects in 28 days. So because I don't need a lot of people, I can be picky, I can be expensive. I can have people apply. I can have coaches, we can have stuff. All of it is architected to do only one thing. To use every tool and lever I've got to get people thirsty enough to go find the 10,000 lectures that are already online. I don't need to give them another one. And so we don't have a content problem. We don't have a scarcity of smart people talking at us, what we have is hearing problem. We're choosing not to listen because we're afraid. Those people that you're talking about who are stressed, they're stressed because they're fighting hard to get back to the old days. When will we go back to normal? When can we go back to this time when I would get picked, someone will tell me what to do, and it will be steady. And so, too many millennials are trapped now because the only jobs that are like that are baristas and I love baristas, but that's not a career, and don't do that just because it feels like what you got trained for. Instead, take a deep breath, realize that day is gone, and figure out how you can look forward to the insecurity and uncertainty of this might not work.
I think it's fascinating that everything comes back to this It Might Not Work, and there's the ability, and you also mentioned meditation, there's so many things that I wanna do. I'm trying to put a pin on three things right now. Meditation, something, it's a practice that I've talked very publicly about. Game changer for me, because it made me be okay with uncertainty and sort of being in the moment, like oh, this is what fear feels like, as opposed to trying to respond to it, I'm gonna keep myself out of this fear state so that I can do XYZ. It's like, okay, and then you realize all of a sudden that like, okay, that's it? Really? Okay, now I can get back to work. But instead of going down the meditation path, I wanna keep harboring in on this education thing. I also stand on stages all over the world and talk about the factory and the farm. Two things that the educational system was based on. The farm being, the reason we have summers off, literally so they can go pick the crops. That's not how people learn. You don't stop learning well in the summer. It's very much a baby-sitting mechanism as well. We gotta go, the school is, and then go work in the fields. The factory part is fascinating to me. As you said, the raw material goes in one end and then every one moves through the system, regardless of ability or interest or many other things, at the same rate, theoretically or being forced into the same things.
And if it's defective, we reprocess it.
We have an error in the system, put it back, so you're continuing to move this thing. And then at the end, the goal of a factory is to make items.
And the more efficient a factory is, if it lacks efficiency then it's basically broken because it then falls out of the definition of what a factory is, and we have this situation before us where we're asking our culture to be innovative. The word innovation and creativity thrown out so willy-nilly, and yet we don't actually have a system that's one fraction as innovative as required to produce the goods that we're asking for.
Well, we do have a system, but the parents refuse to use it. And the system is--
You're going right where I wanna go.
The system is parents need to say to their kids straight A isn't the point. Interesting is the point. Parents need to say to their kids, what project are you leading? They need to say to their kids, what problem have you solved that's never been solved before, that until you do that, you're not allowed to do your homework. It's parents who mean well who don't have the guts to say to their kid, do what you're passionate about as long as you're good at it. I don't care about getting into a famous college because all the data is really clear. Famous colleges are overrated and deliver very little other than high school with more binge drinking and we have this other alternative, but parents are gonna have to lead this before schools get the message.
So, it's, this is, I think, very curious to me that I always put the onus on the student, and you in this conversation, you have put the onus on the parent. Maybe it's because we're thinking of a different time in education. I'm thinking about continuing, because I pretty much look at the current system of K- and say, whoa, someone else can try and address that one. That's the deal because there is the culture.
Right, if you're 30 it's too late for your parents to help you, right? By the time you're 30, it's on you.
For sure. So, just for the sake of this conversation and the sake of our audience, let's assume that it's not K through 12, or that you're not 14, and if you are, kudos to you for reaching out and looking for alternative ways to learn. Let's just say you are an adult, a young adult, or an older adult and you're looking for some kind of continuous and I think that's a good place for us to restart that conversation because take the onus off of the parents and now put it on the individual. So you had great crystal clear advice, parents, this is how you have to think about it, what is you analogous advice you'd give to the individual?
So, what I say to an individual is, where are you being generous, completely selfless and generous, so that an organization or a person you care about has changed for the better? Can you do that again and again and again? Because once that is what your goal is, the stakes feel different, because now it's not your job. Now, it's your avocation. Now it can even be your hobby. If you can even model that behavior without second-guessing yourself, you can go somewhere. So I strongly urge people to have a blog, a daily blog. You don't even have to put your name on it. If every single day, you blog a point of view, something you see, and assertion, your brain will act differently within two weeks. Because you're gonna be thinking about what you wanna say tomorrow. And after you've done it for six weeks, you're gonna look at what you said six weeks ago. This act of public journaling is risk free. All the rational parts of your brain understand nothing bad can happen to you from doing it. But you'll still find yourself in a rut because you've realized if you do the safe thing, if you do the listicle, you might get some traffic, you might get picked up. That feels like a win. It's not a win, because you haven't changed anyone. You haven't moved the ball forward. So I can't tell you, precisely what narrative will help you undo, in a bootstrapping way, your own narrative, but we know it's possible. The sport of choice for me is skate skiing. I love skate skiing. You may have seen in it the Olympics.
Oh, I'm very familiar with it.
So I took one lesson that totally changed it from me from a guy who was an Olympic
Ski jumper. And Matt said, listen, Seth, the entire sport, the whole thing, is that the person who leans forward the most, wins. And I said, but Matt, what if you lean forward too much?
Connected to those skis.
He said you'll fall on your face. That's it. That's the entire sport. Person who leans forward the most wins, but the person who leans forward too much falls on their face. So if you wanna be good at skate skiing, you have to be prepared to fall on your face. It's the only way to be good at skate skiing, is to be prepared to do that. So when we think about, you've, by showing up here today, you've decided you wanna be seen as a, quote, creative, that you want to have this practice, well it comes with lots of fun treats, and toys and happiness, but there's a cost. And the cost is, It Might Not Work. And if you can't buy into that, you need to find a way to trick yourself to buy into that, because I can't solve your problem by saying, here's a way to do it that will work. I have no idea how to do it and have it work.
You wake up every morning.
Most days. Haven't missed one yet. (laughs)
We're excited that you woke up this morning. How do you face the day? What do you do?
Well... Since 1977, 17 years old, I decided, facing the day didn't feel right, so, instead, I view it as an opportunity. I have not hit the Snooze button once since 1977. The Snooze button is anethema to me. That part of what I've tried to do with my work is create a life where I bound out of bed, eager because I had another chance for unlimited bowling.
That is beautifully put. You bound out of bed now. Do you go to create? Do you go straight, is there some sort of, does unlimited bowling look to you like producing work or--
Well, do I have a practice? Yes. I'm not gonna tell you what it is because it doesn't matter.
I mean, people love to talk about their practice and stuff I'm not superstitious about it. I just think it's a great way to hide, to use my practice. Because it's my practice.
Would you encourage others to have their own practice?
How can you not have a practice? Right? If you go in for surgery, you would like the surgeon, you'd like her to do things exactly the same way every time, wouldn't you?
Yeah, 'cause that means she's practiced.
Exactly. There's this method, it's like, oh wait, I forgot to wash my hands. No, you want--
Where's that scalpel again?
You want her to be a method and it turns out plenty of data, there isn't a method that's demonstrably better than another method. I mean, there is in the surgical theater, but in general, if you're, Bob Dylan does things completely differently from Taylor Swift. Completely! There's nothing in common other than they produce an artifact that means something to people.
And they think of it as a practice because it's theirs. I think the desire to receive prescriptive information is, maybe never been higher than it is right now, because we have the access to information.
And it hurts my ability to reach to a larger audience. That if I wrote this stuff, that there's a big demand for, I would reach way more people. It's not on my list of things to do.
But having a methodology or having a system is.
Well, it's something I need to do to do my work, but I don't think the details of it, like, life hack is a really good way for me to waste half an hour. I love reading about standing, do this and do this, but that's just entertainment. That's not at the core of what we need to do.
All right, let's go back to the altMBA because I think it's a remarkable concept, having been a part of 120 other talented people built Creative Live. I know how hard it is to build education and that what's existing out there, the existing paradigms largely don't work. What was the basis for you wanting to do that?
Well, so, I'm on the record with this rant about education, so I went, did a couple courses with Skillshare. They worked really well, among the most popular they've ever had. Skillshare changed their business model. I switched to Udemy. Those were a huge hit and I felt good about what I made, and then I look at the numbers. 48% of the people finished the course, which happens to be 10 times the standard, and 20 times most courses. But half the people left, even though the thing's only, this course, four hours, right? Where'd they go? What's going on? Well then I realized, what happens is when education gets hard, which is the only time education works, because easy education doesn't work, when education gets hard, most people leave unless there's a significant social pressure, so it's really awkward to drop out of Princeton. You disappointed a whole bunch of people. You're an expert on dropping out. You know how many people you have to disappoint.
Passionate expert at disappointing people.
The cost of dropping out of $19 e-course, $19. And the course of dropping out of a free mook is zero. So I said, what would happen if I broke every rule of massive courses and did the opposite? Could I actually use that freedom to create, to architect a world, where I could transform people? And so we're hundreds of students in, and I can tell you, we have a 98% completion rate, and we have transformed every person. And I have never done a project where that was true. Never, have I put something into the world that changed people the way this changes people, and it's thrilling to me, and, you know, people say, well you're self selecting. Damn straight! So does Harvard. The idea is that if you get enrollment from people who want to go on this journey, you're way more likely to have the journey work. So, what I'm trying to do is say, scaling early isn't the goal. The goal is to be good. The goal is to be worth it. The goal is to be missed if you didn't do it, and that gives you the freedom to take your time and scale slowly, if you scale at all. And if no person every again signs up for the altMBA, I am fine with it, because I didn't build a giant building, I don't have a giant team, I don't have investors. I'm just saying, I made this. It might not work. Wanna try? And if people try it, and it works, I'm thrilled.
That's not dissimilar to the back story for creating Creative Live as well. When looking at the marketplace, if you're gonna have a lot of mediocre teachers who didn't know what they were talking about, they weren't world class performers in their particular discipline. It was very, very intentional to create something that was free, so you could come in and sniff it. You give books away for free all the time. That was the idea behind the freemium model. You engage a lot of people. And many people, if you don't have resources, you can still get in and have all the same experiences for free, you can complete it and get all of the benefit, and we find that people who are low on resources have this incredible success rate with Creative Live. And the flip side of that is we actually made our classes, they were the most expensive of any open platform. They're not behind the pay all, but if you want to own this thing and you choose to pay for it, but it's, the average class is $100, versus some of the other platforms where it's $19.99 or, there's a particular, you mentioned Skillshare, $0.33 a month. (laughing)
But for the person who wants that, it's perfect. It's just a different thing.
For sure. The thing I'm trying to say that, in value, you were talking about self selecting, price point is one way of selecting the people who are willing to lean into the product that you are building. Regardless of the economics of online learning, what do you feel like is the future there? Of continuing education, what's the future there?
So here's what I think is going to happen. There is clearly a higher education bubble. It is clearly going to burst, but it is going to burst slowly, and the way that it's gonna be burst slowly, it's gonna be nibbled to death by people like you and me that around the edges, if we can just train people to become curious and thirsty, the number of other things they can learn is so big, they don't have to pay a quarter of a million dollars for certification because the, like every course there by team teaches is free or about to be free. So, what's the quarter million dollars for? It's for the piece of paper, the proof. So what's going to happen, bit by bit, the way the internet usually does things, is you're gonna be able to create a body of work that lets the employer know you're worth hiring. Now it's not as convenient as the MIT certificate, but it's actually gonna be more powerful. And it's gonna take a while but that's, I think, the future. And so we're gonna see more and more free stuff. We're gonna see more and more expensive stuff. We're gonna see networks built, guilds, like in the Middle Ages, the guild was everything. So if I had more energy, I'd build a guild, and say, here are 5,000 people, we spend three hours a day training, we're all networked with each other, hire one of us or hire all of us and we put our reputation on each one of these 5,000 people. What would that be worth? That would be worth easy $3,000 a month for every one of those people, right? That's a huge industry by itself, but if you actually picked the right 5,000 people, that would be worth more than any diploma.
So I am focused on creative education not just because my background is a, air quote, creative, and I believe in photography, design, entrepreneurship. Yes, all those things are true, but I believe in Creativity, with a capital C, and it underpins a solution to every problem. Global warming, world hunger, water crisis. And we need to think of that as a creative solution to whatever problem there might be. The challenge that I see with the Internet, sorry, with traditional education, is this reliance on paper. And then you talk about the value of the certificate is so great, it's so great. I asked about it, and I didn't know you had this belief walking into this conversation today, that what I love about creativity with the small C, and why I like to apply that, that's what creative live is doing, is because it requires, it's a portfolio system, where you are hired and fired on the basis of your work, people who know you trust you because they, there is a sort of relationship in place, and knowing that I've, again said on stages, knowing that you're in the same camp. I like that, it's refreshing to me. I personally have no doubt that the education of the future, or the hiring of people in the future, it looks less and less like, where'd you go to school, and what piece of paper you had, and more and more, what have you built? Who did you work with? Who did you work for, and what will they say about you?
Yes. But there's a--
I'm waiting for the and.
No, there's not an and. There's a caveat. Most of the people who are teaching right now, who are listening to this thing, would not hire themselves. That if you had to pick someone in the world to do the thing that you do, you'd find someone better than you. So we've changed the stakes, and we have to be really clear about that. It used to be, you went to Rhode Island School of Design, and you got through it, you had this huge head start on people. The head starts are gone. So when you think about, when someone says, I'm a freelancer and my primary asset is my relationship with my client, well if I went and asked your client, which one of the freelancers you've worked with is off the charts with relationship, would they actually pick this person? That when someone says, I'm able to use light and color to create photographs to create an indelible image in people's heads, well, if I talk to the people who've seen it, are you really off the charts? So what I'm saying is, yes, this institution is crumbling, but that puts a huge onus on people to be honest with themselves about the craft. That you're not gonna get away with the craft being what it used to be just because we could find you, and you know, I gave a talk two weeks ago to the people who make all the imprinted items in the country, like pens, and water bottles and things like that. It's a huge industry. There's 50,000, 100,000 people who do this for a living. 90% of them have a big, thick catalog, they all have the same catalog, and the same price list, and they go to them and they say yeah, of these water bottles, which one do you want? That used to be a really important value add because there was no internet. Now there's the internet. Sort By Price. I'll take this water bottle. I'm done. 10% of the people actually engage with you, help you find a thing you never would've thought of, deliver the thing that's off the charts or take in huge, emotional risks as they do their work. The other 90% are sitting there thinking they're in the 10%. They're not. They just have a catalog. So, sometimes people throw things at me when I'm on stage, because my argument is, I didn't wish for the world to change, but it did. Now that the world has changed, don't get frustrated because people are doing exactly what you do, shopping around, sorting by price, buying commodities. Because that's what we do when we're given the choice. So if you want to be treated as a non-commodity, act like a non-commodity. No one is a commodity if they don't wanna be.
That is incredibly poignant advice. Thank you very much. Unfortunately for the folks at home, I need to wrap it up, because I promised to be respectful of your time.
Out of time, okay.
But what I wanna know is, there's certainly something that I forgot to ask you. And you are a great judge of what a great interview looks and feels like, so if I gave you, you're an amazing speaker, if I gave you the stage, what would be a final point that you would share.
Well, I think you teed up so many good topics and it was a privilege to talk to you for an hour. So the first things I gotta say is, don't send me e-mails. Sometimes I don't say that clearly enough. Don't send me e-mails. Second thing I wanna say is this, we have created this platform where people can take their turn and they're responsible for what they do. Not their bosses fault, not their parents fault. They're responsible for what they do. You could be more generous. You could lead people to a place they want to go. You could weave a network that connects the disconnected. You can see people who are disrespected and treat them with respect. You can bring dignity to people who deserve it. All those things are valuable to you. That's my mission, is to help people understand that it's not someone else's job to do those things. It's our job to do those things, and we shouldn't do them tomorrow, we should do them today.
That is maybe the best end of an interview ever. (laughs) Thank you so much for your time. Super grateful. Folks at home, you just got an hour and change with someone who has changed my life. I know that he will change yours the more that you pay attention. Thank you so much for tuning in. And stick around, and we'll have another episode for you soon. Thanks again, Seth. Appreciate it. Go and do. (electronic music)