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Seth Godin says 'ruckus'

by Meg Grogan on 25 January 2013

“We live in revolutionary times and we have forgotten how to see.”

That’s how bestselling author Seth Godin opened his Penguin Live event, and a stirring evening it was too. Vaguely familiar with his books and blog, I was relatively new to the Godin doctrine, but eager to listen to a man renowned for turning conventional wisdom on its head.

Godin’s latest book, The Icarus Deception, reminds us of the myth about the boy who flew too close to the sun, and latches onto the detail we seem to have forgotten – that Icarus was also told not to fly too low to the sea, for fear that the salt water would ruin his wings. Godin draws a parallel with the industrial era in which the norm has become to conform, stay low, and never soar too high – a norm which is turning us rusty with brine.

“The old rules: Play it safe. Stay in your comfort zone. Find an institution, a job, a set of rules to stick to. Keep your head down. Don’t fly too close to the sun. The new truth: it’s better to be sorry than safe. You need to fly higher than ever.”

At the event, and more deeply in his book, Godin asks: “Why are we afraid of our own risk? We built the internet so we could dance, dance with opportunity, fear and connection” –  i.e., not so we could watch cat videos. So how do we learn to see clearly again? By trying, failing, apologizing later, and trying again.

Godin calls out for not taking risks. At Penguin Live, he certainly knew his audience. “I am sure you think you are the exception,” he confided, “that you’re doing it differently, and that your company is doing it differently.” Of course, the truth is, we aren’t. Social media types – myself included – pride ourselves on doing things differently, on being disruptive and unexpected. But in reality we aren’t pushing enough boundaries. We shouldn’t just be outside the box, we should be soaring above it. The solution Godin presents is to tap into our NEED [1] to create art and make a creative contribution to society: an idea, a way of seeing, making, and expressing something in a way that has never been done before.

Lofty goals for anyone in this age – but loftier still for low-fliers in huge institutions who are tied to their jobs and don’t feel creative in any way. This brings us to the most basic point of Godin’s remarks, and coincidentally his closing remark [2]: that in order to see better and thus create art we need to “go make ruckus! [3]

“Connect. Make Art. Fall. Repeat.”

What Godin taught me in two hours and is still teaching me through reading his book is that the ruckus is the most important part. I would define ruckus as that individual flavour that each of us brings to what we see and do. We are all creating art by being ourselves – by being unique and embracing our differences. The challenge in this era is to connect, create and collaborate with other individuals without subsuming our own spark.

What can an agency like 1000heads and our clients learn from such high-falutin’ stuff? How do we fly higher, make a ruckus cause revolution? That’s something we’re still working on. But at heart there is a simple dictum that is important to remember in an industry that can be a little too pleased with itself: don’t be smug, don’t be safe. Don’t be embarrassed to aim for art.

Image Source: http://www.ericrosenbergdesign.com/ - if anyone can guess why this is the best possible image for this post – tweet me and I will send you a cookie!


[1] NEED is in caps here because let’s face it – without art, we’re going to lose our souls – well, ok, society will at least suffer greatly.

[2] In case you are wondering if I only listened to the opening and closing remarks of Seth Godin’s talk – you’re wrong. I just don’t want to ruin all the amazing anecdotes that can be found in his book – so go read it!

[3] Isn’t ruckus a great word!

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