Monday, June 25, 2007

Book review: "Small is the New Big" by Seth Godin

The first question is, why would anyone by a book that is actually a compilation of blog posts? Blog posts that are still available for free online for anyone who wants to read them. To answer that, a little background is in order.

Seth Godin is one of the new marketing gurus of the internet age, and runs an extremely popular blog (aptly titled Seth's Blog), as well as being the author is several books that extol the virtues of permission marketing and innovation. But pigeon-holing Godin as a marketer doesn't really tell the whole story. Godin is part marketer, part guru, part motivational speaker, part pundit, part critic... basically he has a strong belief in his own opinions, loves to share them, and enough people find enough of them to be insightful that an entire Seth Godin cottage industry has sprung up around them.

Since a colleague of mine pointed me to his blog awhile back, I read pretty much everything he posts. What I find most interesting is that I only find value in maybe half of what he says. Another 25% is what I would consider to be "motivational speaker crap". And the other 25% I simply disagree with. But holy cow, there's just so much of it, that even a 50% hit rate produces a lot of quality content. His book is the same way (not surprisingly, since it is from his blog originally). So why did I buy "Small is the New Big"? Basically, it was my way of supporting Seth's blog. It provided me a simple way of reading his archived blog entries in handy book form (for example, I could take it along to the pool during my kid's swim class), but mostly I just felt Godin had earned it.

Fortunately for Godin, I bought it online, because if I had picked the book up and turned it over and read, "you're smarter than they think" in big text at the top of the back cover I probably would not have been able to face the cashier at Barnes and Noble. Outside of Stuart Smalley, that's the kind of motivational speaker crap for which I have a very small tolerance. But here's the thing: I think Godin expects exactly this kind of reaction. In his introduction to the book, he says:

I guarantee you'll find some [blog entries] that don't work for you. But I'm certain that you're smart enough to recognize the stuff you've always wanted to do buried deep inside one of these riffs. And I'm betting that once you're inspired you'll actually make something happen.
Why is Godin convinced that I'm smart enough (and doggone it, people like me)? Apparently because I was smart enough to buy his book. But more importantly, Godin knows that his hit rate isn't 100%. He's fine with that. He's fine with being all over the map. But I'm also guessing that the parts that I like are not the same parts that another person would like. It's about taste, not about being right and wrong. He also hits on another point, and to his credit he's self-aware enough to recognize it - many of his posts say what people already know, but there's value in being reminded of it. Reading the book, I repeatedly had the reaction, "Yeah, that's true, I knew that... I wonder how I can apply that?"

The best thing about Godin is he makes you think. He has a knack for speaking in just enough generality that most of what he says feels applicable to your job, while not being so general that it's not useful. Even he act of disagreeing with him (like my disagreement with most of his riff on website design) is useful because disagreement requires thought. And he's engaging enough that even disagreement feels friendly and personable. I get the feel that I could have lunch with him and we could argue the entire time... and yet we'd both leave the meal having enjoyed ourselves with no hard feelings.

I recommend the book. You won't like all of it, but I bet by the time you finish it you'll feel it was time well spent.

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