A discussion Godin’s thought leadership gems from his brilliant book, The Icarus Deception, started off with an in-depth look at just how the thinker defines art in business. Unlike most ground-breaking works of creative labor, Godin’s work requires us to pause to really saturate the idea he’s trying to get across. For one, Godin draws on the Greek myth of Icarus to spin an original interpretation on a classic tale about reaching new heights and stepping out of boundaries, however fatally, while at the same time encouraging us to be artists. So the underlying question many of you will have is: what do the two have to do with each other. A lot, actually. Here’s what Godin is getting at… The core message in his work is the deception in the Icarus tale. The deception is how we’re taught to believe the myth is about staying in your place, when really it’s about reaching new heights. It’s about breaking with convention and trying something new, something daring, even if that attempt fails. That call to action carries over to us in present day. For Godin, that call to action is for us to rise as artists. Godin also gets into tactics vs. art. He impresses the difference between having a strategy, and actually doing the work to achieve those goals (the work of an artist). As he phrases it, having a notebook full of ideas is useless – the question is what are you doing to connect those ideas to others? That notebook isn’t art. Your scribbled thoughts formed in a way that reach others, however, is art. What you actually do with that notebook is the act of an artist; it is Icarus flying high. Essentially it comes down to commitment, to doing the work everyday that it takes to really fulfill your artistic purpose. From there, Godin jumps to what he considers a new kind of business scarcity – and that’s emotional labor. Of course, it’s something that art demands of us and what the artist must be willing to offer. Think of any successful startup that rose from nothing and you’ve got yourself an example of emotional labor. Think of any historical figure, a mover and shaker whose words still stir us, and you’ve got another example of emotional labor. Emotional laborers are noise makers; they’re disruptive change agents. If you doubt the value of disruptive change agents, just pick up Harvard Business Review’s most recent special issue that’s dedicated entirely to this one personality type. The word “disruption” might is frightening to business owners that haven’t quite caught onto the new model of business, the new economy discussed in part 1 of this two part series. The word still carries a negative and chaotic connotation, but as Godin reminds us, “Revolution brings chaos…that’s what makes them revolutionary,” (11). We can recognize that this level of breakthrough freedom to explore business in a new way is still very scarce – but it’s catching on and it’s necessary. It’s necessary because art isn’t really art “until a connection is made.” This means taking that notebook and publishing into a book isn’t art – but taking that published work and finding a way to reach people through your ideas and inspiration, is considered art. A connection isn’t about the act of engagement; it’s about how much they think of you or your ideas, how much they’ve used them, once you walk away. This drive to share, to dream, is what Godin says defines a culture that initiates change on a mass level though their emotional labor (43-44). Godin calls it the “n” factor, the element in a society where a population aspires and dreams. It’s that vision of “the achieving society” that translates into actionable change. In a nut shell, it’s a society that’s a breeding ground for artists and change agents. (21) What is an artist if not a catalyst for change? Whether it’s shifting the way we do business, raising the benchmark on design, or creating new thought models, an artist’s calling is interpretation, creation, and then connection. As a marketer and business thought leader, your day-in and day-out goal is to also find pockets great and small for the same purposeful thinking…and then act on it in way that echoes your impression.
Genius thought-leader and marketing guru, Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception is a work of art. It just so happens that the book itself talks about art – namely, the art of business. The entire work is a bow to the Greek myth of Icarus, the boy with wings built by his craftsman father who flew a little too close to the sun. However, much like Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, Godin offers a unique new perspective to this classic tale. For marketers, he offers a golden lesson, one that calls upon us to be artists and take risks – but really what he’s saying is a whole lot more powerful than just that. Godin starts off by introducing, to those still thinking in primitive 20th century terms, a brief breakdown of the old rules vs. the new rules. Last century’s rules (and really the reason why most people are so quickly fossilized in this economy) have to do with embracing a cookie-cutter career path that encourages climbing the ladder (which, in my opinion, is little more than lateral thinking rather than thinking as an ecosystem). The new rules are about creating connections; it’s about being an artist. For Godin, our new economy rewards those who accept the new business model. It’s an economy that rewards artists (think Steve Jobs whose art was essentially design), and punishes compliance (think of every single business that no longer matters anymore). The chapters impress upon us, repeatedly, that art is about attitude. If you had to give someone an equation for art, you’d say it’s: vision + guts. That vision means you’re an original thinker because “…an artist is someone who does something for the first time, something human, something that [connects]” (63). Godin also makes it a point to relate that as an artist, we don’t necessarily need to be perfect in our craft, writing that “you have no idea what you’re doing. If you did, you’d be an expert, not an artist.” There’s something very organic about that differentiation. Opinion: An expert is, if we think about it for a minute, someone who sticks to the book. An expert is a regurgitator – and not an original thinker. Getting to the part where you start to become an original thinker isn’t as hard as it might seem. For one, you don’t need to be born with a ‘genius gene’. Godin believes our minds can be trained to think originally, and really all his books are a piece of the puzzle to get you there. In The Icarus Deception, he gives us three concrete steps to understanding art: Learn to see: Godin uses a key word…labels. And he tells us to get rid of them. Opinion: labels are what other people say things are, i.e. This is that, that is this. They’re barriers to creative thought and pure inspired thought. So step one is to ditch the labels. Learn to Make: This step is about creation, about taking what you see and reflecting it back to the world. Opinion: It’s not about cloning a copy of someone else’s idea. Rather, it’s about interpreting your world and then mirroring it back out. What you get, then, are two reflections of the same thing. Two ways to see the same thing. With more artists, you have more versions of a thing. This, at least in my opinion, is how art interacts with art and how deeper thought networks are cultivated. Creating a Blank Slate: The emphasis here in on creating something original, because “art must be done for the first time, not repeated,” (144). Opinion: Art that copies isn’t art, it’s an imitation. In business, you need to look at how your business philosophy, your approach, your service, and your brand take on this lesson. Is it an imitation or are your brand, your message, and your approach a form of art? How do you take what you see in the world and throw it back out with your personal signature on it?