What if Seth Godin was full of crap?

Picture_4 He’s become the JFK of the blogosphere.  Revered.  Quoted.  Beloved.

But what if ones of these days he said something that just didn’t ring true to you. Or that you vehemently disagreed with? Would you publicly say so?   Would you call him out or disagree? 

As I watch us all invent this medium and how it is used to create thought leadership surrounding marketing and branding, I’m struck by how genteel we are.  We rarely argue with one another.  We point to each other and "atta boy" a good post.  And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

As long as our readers know there’s a balance.  As long as they can trust that we’ll tell them when the Emperor’s naked.

And it’s not just Seth.  I think we do it with each other all the time. Haven’t you read another marketer’s post and thought "he/she’s way off base there?"  Did you comment or post your counter-viewpoint?  Or did you just shrug and let it hang?

Seth’s just a great example because he’s become the marketing icon.  He’s down to first name status.  He’s the Bono or Cher of our industry.  But, as smart and insightful as he is, that doesn’t make him infallible. 

And if you say…"well, Seth is never wrong…" does that mean he stays in the safe zone?  No one is always right unless they don’t push beyond the accepted truths, right?

What do you think?  If Seth (or Guy or Kathy Sierra or any respected marketing/branding blogger) posted something today that was based on a faulty assumption or flew in the face of a marketing truth as you know/believe it to be – would you write about it?   

Maybe the better question is — have you ever?

UPDATE:  Mack Collier asks a very interesting and smart question.  If Seth were to launch a generic blog with no tie to him/his name –would it survive?  Thrive?

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50 comments on “What if Seth Godin was full of crap?

  1. Matt Dickman says:

    Drew — You’re way off base here. Just kidding, I had to say that. I have thought the same thing many times. Unfortunately reacting to Seth happens across the net and not on his blog because he doesn’t accept comments (which I think is stupid, there I said it).

    I think, to your point, people who leave comments usually hold off if they disagree with somebody, but not always. I am reminded of the recent Nikon discussion that happened with CK, Mack, Lewis, et. al. That was a very healthy debate that had much more impact than the original post alone.

    I welcome descending positions personally. The more people challenge and mold ideas the more I learn. Those people you mentioned have great ideas, but I have no problem with disagreeing with the ones that suck. They’re not deities, they’re people just like us.

  2. Guy Kawasaki says:

    Drew,

    Roughly 100% of the blogosphere thinks Truemors is a dumb idea poorly executed. Seems to me that no one hesitates to call me out.

    Guy

  3. Cam Beck says:

    I wrote a critical article on Squidoo, and Seth was gracious enough to leave a comment. I think, from a marketing perspective, he is one who really practices what he preaches, and I have tremendous respect for him.

    However, when he delves into politics and religion, I find myself at odds with him from time to time… Wanting to call out the faulty assumptions but unable to do so without turning ChaosScenario into something it isn’t, I just let it slide and take from it the marketing lessons he’s trying to make, which more often than not, are fundamentally sound.

  4. I would send him an enema, hoping his bowels would soon relieve the uneasy pressure.

    Seriously, I wouldn’t get upset though. He’s just another guy with his own meta-model of the world and how it operates.

  5. Mike says:

    It’s hard to call Seth out, because you have to waste a post on your blog to do it, since he doesn’t allow comments.

    I’ve done it…once, and he emailed me graciously and clarified his stance, so I haven’t had to urge to fight with him anymore.

    Mike Smock calls him out all the time on his own blog.

    Again, he’s not an easy one to disagree with, as you’d have to have a blog dedicated to the topic of being an anti-Seth to argue with the 53 posts he does every day.

    Personally, I think he’s more right than wrong about marketing, sales and customer service.

    Unless a blog’s about religion or politics, I shy away from calling a blogger on those topics when they delve into the land of don’t-even-go-there.

    Maybe, Drew, if you’ll say something stupid, we’ll see how you fare πŸ˜‰

  6. Erin Blaskie says:

    Drew – great post (sincerely)!

    I’ve done it before. A few weeks ago I wrote about Tim Ferriss and how his brilliant idea of outsourcing everything to India was costing my fellow virtual assistants their jobs. I appreciate a part of his theory but not necessarily that part πŸ™‚

    I love Seth though (little bit of a professional crush on him!) so I wouldn’t call him out. I’d just sit silently and stew.

    Erin Blaskie
    Business Services, ETC
    http://www.bsetc.ca

  7. Darren says:

    You’re right to a degree. We have a habit of elevating people to Godhood; of putting them on pedestals and calling them β€˜experts’, and then leaving them there – untouched and unassailable. Seth Godin doesn’t make questioning him any easier by disallowing comments on his blogs, but at the same time a lot of what he says is just plain common sense. That what he says is received in such reverential tones simply reinforces his message – that most marketeers/customer service departments behave against their own best interests.

    Having said that, I also think Squidoo is a complete waste of time. A lens may be useful for new websites/products in picking up early links, but beyond that it’s just a techie playground.

  8. Drew,

    I think your post perfectly emphasizes the importance of Trust in spreading ideas. Seth has written some fabulous, thought-provoking books and posts. He’s gained the trust of many of us. As a result, we process (almost) everything he says in a more positive light. This leads to less disagreement on the whole.

    But like some others have said, by disabling comments, Seth stifles feedback (positive or negative). The effort required to counter his thoughts is less than what many of us are used to. In essence, he’s put up a barrier that most of us are unwilling to cross.

    Personally, I think that’s a bad idea on his part. But then again, he’s Seth. He never has a bad idea πŸ™‚

  9. Mike Smock says:

    Hi Drew,

    I’m the Mike Smock referred to above.

    I do call out Seth when I disagree – but I always try to explain why and the logic behind my disagreement. I also post when I’m in agreement. Seth quite often will answer back in the comments. We have an interesting exchange going right now on his most recent posting on “Responsibility”.

    I do have heartburn with all the ass-kissing marketers who try to gain linkage with the Seth’s and the Guy’s and the Tom’s and the Scobles, and Doc’s, etc. Keep it real folks. Thats the best way to get your blog noticed.

  10. seth godin says:

    The JFK thing is just a little scary… could we switch to someone who lived a bit longer?

    I think I get called out fairly often. The good news is that it seems like the calling is getting a lot more civil, which is way more productive than just calling names.

    More interesting: the number of people writing smart stuff about things like this has gone up by 1000 fold in just five years.

  11. When I became a parent for the first time, I learned to read/listen to the experts, be attentive to my own child, and trust my own instincts and keep my own counsel.

    I think the same rule applies to any expert/guru working any particular subject. I’ve learned so much from so many on any number of subjects. But I’m no one’s true believer … I’d be a really bad cult member.

  12. JakeNudge says:

    Just on the Seth-Comments issue, I actually think its a brilliant piece of marketing on Seths behalf. By removing the comments he avoids having to reading though 100’s of ass-kissing comments so if you feel strongly enough about something your pushed towards emailing him. So I emailed him about somthing he said on his blog the other day and he responded within a couple of hours.. how did that make me feel? Great because i got a personal response and it felt like he personally was listening to me (something that would have been unlikley had I made the same comment on a comments section on his blog.

    Maybe I have read too much into Seths reasoning for removing comments, but maybe he really is a marketing genius.

    JakeNudge.

  13. Douglas Karr says:

    I think Seth has one of those keen understandings of the obvious… that truly is a compliment. He’s able to take some very complex issues and pop them into a single question that makes us go ‘doh!’.

    That said, I enjoy Seth because be DOES make us think and ask the questions. I don’t think he has the answers, though. The only thing I’ve seen from Seth is books and Squidoo… and I think he’s good at books. Squidoo was not the answer.

    He’s also an incredible public speaker – very concise, outspoken and very funny. I wouldn’t hesitate in seeing him again given the opportunity.

    Great post!

  14. CK says:

    There has been only one time where I felt I held my voice from debating something I felt strongly about. And it took that one time for me to decide I’d not do that again. Because if I’m gonna work to advance this space we’re going to have disagreements–and ones we feel passionately about.

    I very publicly debated the whole Nikon deal (to which you commented I was giving them free press – ha!), have disagreed with Rubel on his blog and even today called out David Meerman Scott (who I like very much) on my blog for a very poor decision on labeling (a gentleman who apologized, I should mention). I just don’t feel “scared” to express my opinion so long as I present 1) a strong and thoughtful reason as to why (or why not) and 2) work to remain open to having my mind changed. And, as you know, I most like the mushy-happy posts…but it’s day by day and, some days are debates.

    I hope that answers your very good question.

  15. David says:

    I disagree with a post using those overexposed bloggers to mkae the point.

    The point should be why are so many people mindlessly reading blogs that the owners showing tired ideas – many of which were formed in the pre-net era – before the rules of customer engagement started to change.

  16. Jim Kukral says:

    I’ve been blogging since 2001 and I can tell you that “the debate” factor is one of the biggest reasons that blogs have flourished. I can also tell you that “debate baiting” can and does work.

    In my young days of blogging I went after “big names” to get attention. It’s blog marketing rookie tactic 101. Hey, I was young. You know you’ve done it too. πŸ™‚

    But even nowadays I still will call someone out, anyone, if I disagree. Perhaps it has more to do with your nature/personality/passion.

    On the flip side, I love it when readers call me out. It challenges me.

  17. Mack Collier says:

    I’ve had several problems in the past with something Seth has done or posted, and have had no problem calling him out on each instance. And I’ll agree with Guy, he’s gotten roasted pretty good over Truemors, and I don’t like it much either.

    But I think David hit on the main point, if these guys are ‘full of it’, then we need to stop linking to them, and giving them attention. Personally I think Seth is a very smart guy, but there’s no shortage of very smart guys out there. Very rarely do I see something on Seth’s blog that I haven’t heard somewhere else. This, coupled with the facts that Seth doesn’t allow comments, and also seems to purposely not link to bloggers that are ‘mid-sized’, means me less likely to promote his ideas on my own blog.

    Then again, I tend to gravitate toward bloggers that are familiar to me, and again, Seth either links to other A-Listers, or people that have emailed him, that I have never heard of. This makes his content less relevant to me.

  18. Matt,

    I think maybe it was the Nikon discussion that really started this post rumbling in my head. It was so out of the norm for people who usually are in synch. But that’s what made it good reading and good thinking too.

    Sometimes I worry and wonder that we must come across as a kumbaya crowd to new readers.

    Don’t get me wrong…I am not advocating we fight just to fight. But especially among bloggers who know each other — will they disagree in public.

    And..will they take on one of the icons of our industry, if they think they’re off-base.

    Drew

  19. Guy — I think it is interesting that you point to your “product” when you say people have spoken out. Maybe it’s easier to criticize a concrete “thing” rather than the thinking of a person you respect?

    But you made a valid point. You certainly have taken your licks on Truemors.

    Drew

  20. Cam — again to my point in my comment back at Guy — do you think its easier for people to criticize an “icon’s” product like Truemors or Squidoo — rather than their thinking?

    Drew

  21. Mario —

    Remind me to never say anything you’d disagree with!

    Drew

  22. Mike,

    You’re probably right — it is easier to disagree with someone in the comments section of the post itself.

    My question is really about are we in the accidental habit of creating demi-gods? Because they are smart and insightful — have we elevated some bloggers (like Seth, Guy and Kathy) to a status which makes them a diety that we shouldn’t then try to knock down?

    And believe me…I say something stupid every day. You just have to catch me at it!

    Drew

  23. Erin,

    You bring up a element of what inspired this post. It’s one thing to publicly disagree with someone we don’t know or don’t admire. It’s a who different thing to call out someone we do admire or worse yet…have a personal friendship with.

    Doing that with grace is an art form and I think I am left wondering if most people don’t just avoid the situation and fall into silence.

    Drew

  24. Darren,

    Yes — that is my concern. Do we elevate some bloggers to a status where we then feel almost like traitors for taking them back down.

    And the bigger question is — if the answer is yes, what do we do about it? We certainly don’t want to create an environment where the readers can’t trust us to be honest — good or bad.

    Drew

  25. Ryan,

    You’re a great example. Realitively new to marketing blogging and the business. If you thought Seth or CK or Armano or anyone of some stature that you knew and respected were all wet — would you write about it?

    How’s that for putting you on the spot? πŸ™‚

    Drew

  26. Hey Mike,

    I think no matter what we’re writing about, we should back it up with the logic, expertise and thinking that drove us to write it. How else is a reader going to be able to assess for themselves the value of what you wrote?

    I tried to find your blog. Is it the subscription-based armory?

    Drew

  27. Seth,

    JFK was as close to beloved royalty as I could come up with!

    I don’t see much value in someone just taking a shot at you or some of the other high profile bloggers. That just looks petty. And probably is.

    But I do worry that sometimes the worries over “fitting in” and just not wanting to appear argumentative/mean conditions bloggers to stay silent when perhaps they should speak up.

    Especially when the blogger they disagree with has achieved a status of reverance among their peers.

    Drew

  28. Roberta,

    First…I am a little crushed. I had hoped I was going to be your guru. πŸ™‚

    Second — that you don’t worship at the alter of any of the high profile bloggers is one thing. If they wrote something that you believed to be incorrect (in your field of expertise) would you call them out?

    Drew

  29. Jake,

    My issue, as I hope I was clear about, isn’t specificially with Seth. He’s just the best example because of his position in both the rankings and reverance among marketers.

    I understand why he doesn’t have comments — he’d answer them all day and never get anything else done. In that instance…he’s in an unenviable position. He’s created such a huge following that he can’t engage with them in a public way.

    Sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t position.

    Drew

  30. Doug,

    Valid points, thank you.

    My question to all of us is this: Are we creating untouchable dieties out of some of our smart thinking bloggers?

    What is our/your role in that…and does it matter?

    Drew

  31. CK —

    This is really an offshoot of the conversation we first had at dinner in March.

    Do we appear to the outside world as though we’re a self-protective clique?

    And then your Nikon discussion, which was really the first real debate I had witnessed among peers/friends added fuel to what I was thinking.

    An interesting side question to this discussion would be — who would it be harder to publicly disagree with — one of your marketing friends or someone you don’t know but respect?

    All of it is something I believe we need to keep our eye on.

    Drew

  32. David,

    First — I’m not sure how I would have made my point about people shying away from disagreeing with bloggers like Seth, Guy and Kathy without talking about bloggers like Seth, Guy and Kathy.

    Could I ask a question about an elephant but be vague and hint around at what animal I am talking about? Sure. But why?

    Second — I don’t know that I agree with you that absolutely everything pre-citizen marketing should be tossed out.

    I do agree — lots has changed and we as marketers need to be leading the charge. But I also think there are still lessons to be learned from marketing 101.

    It’s very dangerous for us as “discussion leaders” to assume we know where all the participants are in terms of knowledge or exposure to marketing/business ideas.

    I think mixing it up and blending the best of the old and the new is beneficial for everyone. Even us seasoned old dogs need a good reminder now and then.

    Don’t you think?

    Drew

  33. Jim,

    You draw an interesting point. There is debating to make a point and there is debating to just draw readers/comments.

    And you’re probably right — doing a bit of the latter is part of a blogger’s maturation process.

    But…does the pendulum them swing too far the other way? Once a blogger is comfortable in the middle (not unknown but certainly not a one name blogger like Seth) do they/we get complacent?

    Or worse…do we get to the point where our status matters more than raising the issues that are bubbling in our head?

    I have to admit, I debated with myself whether or not to write this post. Did I want to be seen as someone who was taking on the Seths of the world?

    Which of course, is not my intent. But it could be perceived that way.

    So…since you are a self-professed debater — any tips on how to do it to generate a real conversation and to stay in a respectful space?

    Drew

  34. Mack,

    As you know — this post was not specifically about Seth. He serves as the best example of that very small group of bloggers that I think have been exalted to a different status.

    My question is really about the rest of us “regular” bloggers. How do we make sure we speak the truth and we don’t go silent just because the person we disagree with is in a different “social class” if you will.

    As I’ve said to CK — the Nikon debate is one of the best examples of that intent.

    Drew

  35. I think a lot of us who are marketing bloggers are also envelope-pushers. Seth Godin certainly is. And when you deal in the realm of new ideas and new approaches, some will be dynamite. And some will be duds. If we hang our ideas out there and let them be poked, prodded, improved, discarded, then we all win. It takes an ego to take that risk, and some humility to take the consequences. Let’s hope we can all have the right mix of both!

  36. Drew,

    I think the type of person reacting also makes a huge difference. Personally, I’m not always inclined to disagree. I’m not very confrontational. But I have called some people out (tactfully of course) in recent weeks. It just depends how strongly I feel about a certain topic. Is it even worth making a fuss? If so, then I usually try to speak up.

    I think another key element is this: We tend to think about ‘better’ ways, rather than simply disagreeing. In other words, if an idea sucks, we don’t say it sucks. We offer suggestions to improve it.

    This doesn’t come off as being a typical “debate,” so it might seem like we’re always being fluffy and congenial. But in reality, we’re trying to help each other, rather than tear each other down. I think that speaks volumes about the type of people that bloggers are.

    To be fair, though, the ‘big name’ bloggers are big names for a reason. They’re smart. They challenge us to think deeper. They’re passionate and they know how to meet the needs of their audience. This ends up leaving less room for disagreement.

    Finally, we tend to read people’s writing that we align with. If you hate Democrats, you probably don’t read liberal blogs very often. The stress of inciting conflict and debating every issue isn’t worth it. In essence, we often set ourselves up in positions where we won’t have to call people out. It just makes our lives easier.

    Thanks for shining the spotlight my way πŸ™‚

  37. I’ve publicly disagreed with Seth a couple of times on MZM; once he even responded. But infallible? Nope, sorry – not even close!

    I’m comforted by the fact that he seems to genuinely care enough to respond now and then, like up there.

  38. Drew, when I was a young copywriter attending a company function I noticed the big boss man was wearing a horrible sport coat. Very horrible. I pointed out the jacket and remarked to my boss that “Somewhere out there’s a horse who will be very, very cold tonight.”

    Of course, she laughed and then called him over so I could repeat the remark. I was, of course, mortified. But I looked him straight in the eye and repeated the remark.

    He was quiet for a moment and said quietly, “That bad?” I nodded and repeated, “Yes, that bad.”

    I kept my job and he never wore the sport coat again. (And there was joy again in the stables.)

    So, to answer your question? You betcha.

  39. Steve,

    Agreed. But as you and I both know — it’s much “safer” to poke and prod at my ideas, for example, rather than someone like Seth or Guy.

    But I hope we’re all smart enough and respectful enough to push and pull at ideas…with new ideas. Regardless of who started the conversation.

    Drew

  40. Ryan,

    Well said. And you make an excellent point. Often we build off of someone’s idea rather than start anew. So it looks more collaborative than confrontational.

    Which isn’t a bad way to be.

    You sure you don’t want to work in Iowa??

    Drew

  41. Roberta,

    Love the story! And I can totally see you holding your ground and repeating it!

    You saved a man’s reputation and kept a horse warm. Now that’s a good day’s work!

    Drew

  42. Drew, are you link bating? πŸ™‚

    Seriously, I think that there are two aspects to this issue:

    I believe A-listers tend to think carefully about what they write and are genuinely good at what they do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t last too long in an open environment like the web.

    As a result, you need the confidence that when you take them on, you have a leg to stand on. If you blog to give yourself credibility and demonstrate thought leadership, there is an inherent risk in getting shot down in flames in full view of your peers, clients and others.

    Also, I think that the “nice”, non-confrontational culture is particularly strong in the US. I’m in Australia, and I remember when we both participated in the Blogtalk Radio round table discussion on branding, how aware I was of the agreeable nature of the discussion. http://www.mokummarketing.com/blog/2007/03/01/a-discussion-on-branding-on-blogtalk-radio/
    Did you feel that?

    Oh, and to answer your question, I do recall writing about a post from Hugh Mcleod from http://www.gapingvoid.com where I disagreed with him and he did the constructive thing and commented on my post. http://www.mokummarketing.com/blog/2007/03/27/advertising-agencies-are-not-the-real-problem/

  43. David,

    Fortunately, though many days I’m not sure I understand why — I don’t need to link bait. I seem to actually draw the links on merit, believe it or not. I’m as stunned by it as you are! πŸ™‚

    I ask the question because it’s a concern of mine. Do we run the risk of:

    1) Creating icons that become the sacred cows of our time.
    2) Do we feel so strongly about our marketing community that we don’t want to disagree with them because we like them as people and therefore accidentally create a sanitized blogosphere?

    I take no issue with the Seths, Guys and Kathy’s of our world. I think they’ve acheived their status because the create value. But that doesn’t mean they are 100% right. But since most business bloggers hold them in such high esteem…have we created an environment where it is still okay/safe to disagree with them?

    To your point…you’d better be on your best game if you do. So does that mean people shy away from it?

    If so…I think that’s probably bad in the long run.

    You make a very good point about the “niceness” that runs rampant in the US. Maybe when we disagree, we do it so politely it just doesn’t come off as a disagreement?

    So do you think that means we don’t disagree or we just do it in an agreeable fashion?

    Drew

  44. Hi Drew,
    I’m not stunned that you draw links; I admire what you do.

    I actually think that they are two different issues:
    1 – The A-listers as icons
    2 – Not criticising your “friends” in the marketing circle you have online

    I’ve got no evidence of this, but I think that if (and only if) a business blogger felt they had a good argument, they would actually be more comfortable writing a critical piece in response to a Seth or Guy post than they would about a blogger within their “circle”.

    I do think people shy away from writing posts critical of A-listers, but mainly because it is much harder to do.

    If I wrote one, I know I would want to ensure that I had a very sound argument.A well researched piece, as it directly reflects on my own reputation.

    However, when you do find a good argument, you get significant value out of it, because it is not easy to find holes in their arguments and you clearly lift your own credibility.

    The “circle of friends” are a different issue. I don’t think there is enough disagreement, not just that it is couched too much. The issue I see is that these are are people you count as “friends” to some extend.

    People you may even have met in person, people you have some sort of social relationship with. There is a shared goal to build blogs and audiences. They link to you, you link to them. I actually see this as a bigger problem than the “A-list icon”.

    I believe that you are right that our audiences expect debate from us, not niceness. The best ideas are shaped by critique, and you don’t do that by avoiding any hint of confrontation.

  45. Soni says:

    Ahem…perhaps you mean “genteel?”

    Although I am a Gentile, I would hesitate to suggest that all bloggers are, no matter how polite they seem ;-P

  46. Soni,

    Yes…someone else kindly sent me an e-mail about my unfortunate and unintentional typo and I’ve corrected it.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    Drew

  47. Nathan says:

    @Matt: You’re right. Seth doesn’t allow comments but he does allow trackbacks. So if you disagree, you can post about it with a link to his post and it will link to the conversation.

    I think the point made about Guy’s Truemors and Seth’s Squidoo is a good one. Both are concrete and thus easy to criticize. Criticizing an idea, especially of someone who is successful, is quite a bit more difficult unless you yourself are successful.

    For example: If I were to call Guy out for some of his principles mentioned in “Art of the Start”, even if I had a sound argument against it, chances are my argument against it wouldn’t get much support. Why? Because Guy obviously has more success and experience than I do (at least for now πŸ˜‰ ). Does this make me personally not say things? No, but it may for some.

    I think in these cases, too, those who may criticize are going to take a lot more time to put together their ‘case’ for someone like Seth or Guy compared to someone who wasn’t an A-lister. This causing a resistance on it, and with a higher resistance, the less likely it is for that actual case to be made.

    With all that said, I think a smart marketer WOULD speak out against Seth Godin. If their arguments were sound, it would be an easier way to become known (as shown by simply musing publicly at the idea of Seth being incorrect).

  48. David,

    Your assessment is probably dead on. There are only a handful of Seths in any given niche topic area but once a blogger is established, odds are he/she knows many other bloggers in the category.

    Perhaps there is a fear or hesitancy about calling out one’s peers in a collaborative medium. What do you think the solution to that is?

    Drew

  49. Nathan,

    I think you’re right on the money. And I love the “at least for now!”

    Drew

  50. Clyde Smith says:

    Sorry I missed this conversation. Sometimes folks like Seth get a lot more criticism than if they weren’t so darn famous but I know what you mean. Maybe you just travel in an extremely polite group of bloggers.

    Here’s my most recent criticism:
    Note to Seth Godin: Put Search Where People Can Find It
    http://www.prohiphop.com/2007/08/note-to-seth-go.html

    It’s not harsh but I don’t have any real reasons to be harsh with Mr. Godin.

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