What Would Seth Godin Do?

In this post, immediate-past president Steven Roll, explains why he believes Seth Godin may have the answer to journalists affected by the recent turmoil in the B2B publishing industry.

B2B media consultant and blogger Paul Conley ended 2008 by making three predictions about what business journalists would face in the years ahead. In a blog post, Conley said:

1. The B2B publishing industry — which is now dominated by giant print companies and smaller Web-only companies — is about to collapse.

2. When the dust settles, B2B journalism will still be here — but many of the companies that make up the industry will be gone.

3. The dominant business models of both the past and present will fail.

When he ticked off these items at the 2008 ASBPE Editorial Excellence Conference in Kansas City, I thought he was being a bit dour, but the past two years have proven Conley’s vision to be prophetic.

For many journalists in the B2B industry all of this upheaval has meant the loss of a job or diminishing career prospects. The job market is filled with journalists who worked their way up a publication’s masthead, only to find a pink slip awaiting them when their employer’s business model imploded.

Amidst such profound changes, it might make sense to throw out the rule book that brought journalists to this place.

Many journalists would probably be better off creating their own map for how to advance their career or simply earn a living. Unfortunately, no one can create a map for you. But if you focus on the following actions and outcomes, the new market is likely to reward you:

  • Be remarkable,
  • Be generous,
  • Create art,
  • Make judgment calls, and
  • Connect people to ideas.

That’s the main thesis behind marketing guru and uber-blogger Seth Godin’s latest book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? As Godin sees it, part of the reason that is that journalists are suffering so much is that they must follow rigid rules that make them expendable. He says:

journalistic labor has become commoditized. Most journalists share the same skill sets and the same approaches to stories, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories.

Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation.

The way to break out of this cycle, Godin says, is to build a platform where your individual talents are likely to succeed. Creating a platform requires laying the groundwork for your unique talent or ideas to be accepted and yield tangible results. On a practical level, this might mean learning how to produce Internet videos or creating and managing a blog.

But doing these specific tasks isn’t the hardest part. Nor is convincing your boss that these new initiatives are a good idea.

By far the biggest obstacle is overcoming the inner-voice that often advises against trying new things. Godin calls this the “lizard brain.” Your lizard brain is “working overtime to get you to shut up, sit down, and do your (day) job. It will invent stories, illnesses, emergencies, and distractions in order to keep the genius bottled up.”

Steven Pressfield wrote the classic book The War of Art, which is entirely devoted to how to overcome what Godin calls the “lizard brain” and what Pressfield calls “the resistance.”

The linchpin, Godin says, feels the fear, acknowledges it, then proceeds to produce the art that distinguishes them from the rest and makes them indispensable.

While Godin admits that he can’t tell you how to do this, he adds “What I can tell you is that in today’s economy, doing it is a prerequisite for success.”

As we head into 2011, how do you plan to make yourself indispensable?

2 thoughts on “What Would Seth Godin Do?

  1. Agreed. I think Network World’s “ABCs of IT” videos are a good example of what you and Seth are talking about — using editors’ unique talent and ideas to to yield tangible results. They’re very different from most B2B content. They use humor and puppets, which sounds a little frivolous, but they get ideas across, and they’re engaging. (One “tangible result” of this is that the “B is for Botnet” video won a Gold award in the Digital Azbees.)

    To me, this idea of content sameness vs. originality also goes back to what Sharon Machlis said in her blog post:

    Look at what communication/information issues most need an upgrade in your newsroom and then seek out technology that might help you solve it. That often ends up more useful within the enterprise than discovering slick technology and trying to figure out how to use it.

    It’s all about telling the story the best way you can. Looking at industry best practices can be useful, but looking only at what our competitors are doing, and doing things on their terms, or just trying to get material out there faster/cheaper can backfire.

    In other words, it’s the content, stupid!

  2. Appreciate the mention 🙂 And I couldn’t agree more about trying to non-commoditize yourself. What do you do that’s special, unique — to start off with, at least in your own newsroom? Do you have technical skills — programming, video editing, Web design? Are you the best specialist at a certain social media site that brings attention back to your content and that of your colleagues? Do you have a deep technical understanding and great sources in an important beat area, so you are constantly finding interesting angles and issues that your audience isn’t finding easily in 6 other places?

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