The Creative Process

The Creative Process

Seth Godin

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 26, 2010

This post will launch a new series we’re calling “The Creative Process.” Don’t worry, Writing Wednesday fans, it will not replace WW. We’re going to run “Creative Process” in a different space on the new site as soon as we get it up. The plan is to ask all kinds of interesting people “how they work.” What is their process? How do they get ideas–and what do they do with them once they’ve got ’em? We’ll be grilling writers and artists, military people, entrepreneurs, maybe even an Afghan tribal chief or two.

Seth Godins Linchpin (indispensable) comes out today.

Seth Godin's Linchpin ("indispensable") comes out today.

#1 out of the box is Seth Godin. We’re even jumping a day early to coincide with the launch of Seth’s terrific new book, Linchpin. (Full disclosure: I’m doing a joint book signing with Seth Feb. 8 at the Borders on Columbus Circle in New York City.) Linchpin comes out today. It will kick you in the butt–in the best way. It certainly kicked me.

Who is Seth Godin? He’s an author and marketing whiz (the guru of “permission marketing”) and cutting-edge thinker. If you haven’t read Tribes or The Dip or Purple Cow, please do. I’m reading All Marketers Are Liars right now and finding something I can use on almost every page. As writers and artists, we may make the decision NOT to brand ourselves or market ourselves or get into any of that razzmatazz (I wrestle with these choices myself), but we owe it to ourselves and our work, I think, to at least know what this stuff is all about.

Marketing, Seth says, is the most powerful force in the world for making change. He doesn’t mean just products; his insights are critical for understanding politics (see Sarah Palin), warfare (see al-Qaeda) and where all your money went (see Goldman Sachs.) I hope someday to do a really long, in-depth interview with Seth because I think he’s onto something that the rest of us better educate ourselves in, not just as competitors in the marketplace but as citizens of the U.S. and the world. For now though, here’s our mini-interview with Seth Godin on the Creative Process:

SP: When it comes to generating ideas, what’s your process? Solitary? Collaborative?  Is it fun, is it grueling? How, exactly, do you work?

SG: I’ve come to realize that I’m unusual. For me, it happens all the time. It spills out of me. Most of the ideas are horrible, useless and distracting. When I have a specific problem to solve, I use a more focused process. I’ll often buy a new notebook, different from the ones I’ve used before. Special pens. Then I’ll try to be somewhere with distractions (yes, with distractions) so that out of the corner of my ‘eye’ I can invent.

Seth defeating Resistance with new notepad and special pen

Seth defeating Resistance with new notepad and special pen

I’ve found that the next level up is the focused meeting. I’ll bring together energetic, smart people and outline the problem. The act of talking about it, showing off, demonstrating the options… it generates even more energy, which I return and they return and there’s a whiteboard and what-ifs and excited voices and the next thing you know, the problem retreats, head held in shame, defeated.

SP: Do you experience Resistance (meaning self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc.?) In what form does Resistance present itself?

SG: Until you wrote about it in The War of Art, I didn’t know what to call it. For me, the resistance disguises itself as important, even urgent work that could and should be put aside. The resistance most often looks like checking my email. Email is the perfect distraction for me, because it’s fresh, new and bite-sized. When I turn off email, even for an hour, my productivity triples.

Oh, sorry, I’m back. I just stopped writing this to… check my email.

SP: How do you overcome Resistance? Do you have a specific technique or metaphor that you employ to fortify, encourage or inspire yourself?

SG: People who know me talk about my self-discipline. I haven’t had dairy in ten years, no particular reason, I just stopped. The same thing kicked in for me once I figured out what the resistance was doing to me. If the work is important enough, I stare down the resistance and destroy it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m only skilled at that in short bursts. The longer haul stuff, the multi-month efforts, the idea of building a company with 100 or 1000 people… those things fall aside and the resistance triumphs.

SP: Once you have an idea, what’s your process for taking it to a finished form? How do you decide whether an idea is worth pursuing? Is there a series of steps that take you from “germ” to “finished product?”

SG: There are a lot of germs in my world. Too many, certainly. I usually have thirty to fifty projects in the very early stages.

When I was a book packager, there was a database of 500.

As someone who has had ADD his whole life, I saw my business struggle for years. The problem with flitting around too much is that you never get through the Dip, you start a lot and don’t finish much. I realized that if I intended to make a living at this, I needed the discipline to ship, to push it out the door, to close sales, make things happen and be professional about it.

So the deal is that I can noodle with stuff all I want… until it hits a certain level of construction or commitment. And then I have to choose–kill it or ship it. And once I choose, it is an irrevocable choice. So those meetings are dramatic, even when I’m the only one in them.

SP: What do you do when you hit plateaus? How do you keep advancing? Is there one example of plateauing that you can share–and how you grew through it?

A marketing guru with his own action figue

A marketing guru with his own action figure

SG: I hit plateaus all the time. I’ve been really fortunate, had things work out and there’s a real temptation to protect your gains, cut your potential losses and coast.

Fortunately for me, the voice of the resistance is almost always drowned out by the voice of the other guy… not sure he has a name yet. That’s the guy in search of intellectual thrills, ego rides and most of all, the joy of watching people grow. I’ve been hooked on that for forty (!) years and I don’t see it going away any time soon.

SP: Bonus question: Seth, a lot of your work is inspiring people to lead, to follow their emotional hearts, to be heretics and to make their unique presence felt as artists and innovators. In your view, where does the artist/innovator/entrepreneur fit into society? What is her role in the greater scheme of things?

SG: We’re the heretics, the agents of change and the court jesters. Without us, it turns into 1984 or Windows 7. Not good.

As our society gets more complex and our people get more complacent, the role of the jester is more vital than ever before. Please stop sitting around. We need you to make a ruckus.

Posted in The Creative Process

21 Responses to “Seth Godin”

  1. January 26, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I’m in a deadend job, I really need to take some advice and get some small business going! =) I need to find a niche small company of some sort.

  2. January 26, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I am really looking forward to reading Seth’s new book. Thanks for the great post and a new name for procrastination! (Which may or may not be what i’m doing right now :)
    Time to write.

    J

  3. January 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    This is great… really great. I read the War of Art just before opening Linchpin and saw a lot of parallels. Appreciate what you and Godin both have to see about the Resistance and how to beat it.

  4. January 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    @source – Pick a direction and start moving now. Assess, adjust, continue. Start failing your way towards success.

  5. January 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I am learning a lot from this short article. I conduct time management workshop but I also find myself procrastinating a lot of times.

    I am procrastinating now. When I saw the email of Seth today, I read it and checked the link that led to this page. Why, I like Seth’s ideas more than what I intend to do this morning.

    But I am now done procrastinating. I must go back to my work.

    Thank you for this post.

    Jef Menguin

  6. Dom
    January 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Godin is a master at defeating his own niggling resistance, a fear of being exposed. He has opportunistically written another self-help, bootstrapper, during a recession of epic proportion, that will no doubt earn him a lot of money. Good for him. Learn by his example more than his book.

  7. January 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Dom. Does it matter if you substitute a buzz word for the real word, like ‘resistance’ instead of ‘procrastination’, or ‘artist’ instead of ‘innovator’ or ‘ship’ instead of ‘finish’ if the end result is people feeling inspired and getting off their butts and getting stuff done they might not have otherwise, and the by product is someone getting rich for invigorating them?
    I don’t mind, especially if the buzz words add a new twist to an old issue that’s so familiar it’s become invisible.

  8. January 27, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    the resistance disguises itself as important, even urgent work that could and should be put aside

    great googlymooglies. now I have to go do that.

    thanks a lot.

  9. January 27, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I read “The War of Art” years ago. I’ve given away a number of copies over the years. I read Seth’s Blog almost every day. It’s great to see the two come together.
    I nicknamed the force that keeps me moving in the right direction (the opposite force of resistance) my ‘angel.’ It’s useful shorthand for me. If it works for you steal it.
    I’ll be leaning on my ‘angel’ a lot in the next month or so when I write and post 32 songs to my website. (Not to mention my muse as well).

  10. January 28, 2010 at 8:01 am

    I love an interview where there is actual substance – not just fat and fluff.

    Looking forward to reading “The War or Art”.

    Great job!

  11. January 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Very interesting. I’ve been in traditional publishing for 20 years, but the handwriting is on the wall. Especially after watching the tweets and blogs from the recent Digital Book World conference. Artists have to think like marketing people, which is hard, especially as authors are typed as INFJ by Myers-Briggs and the exact opposite ESTP is promoter. But I think finding a niche and being the best at it is key. The niche has to be the artist’s passion. As a former Special Forces A-Team leader and instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center, my niche is special operations, both fiction and non-fiction. The resistance is believing I can overcome my own doubts about my abilities outside of my comfort zone. As I preach in Warrior Writer: a little change brings discomfort– a lot of change brings fear. I have to practice what I preach and face my fears.

  12. February 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    It is good to read that someone so successful has learned to overcome ADD by allowing distractions. I have just recently learned how to allow distractions without taking over my ability to accomplish work. I am looking forward to reading his new book.

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