The Reading Room

Review: ‘The Icarus Deception’ By Seth Godin

The Ethical SEO Reading Room is now open. This week, we have been reading the latest tome from everybody’s hero, Seth Godin, motivating Generation X to become Generation Z…

If you are unfulfilled in your work, feel stuck, or need a nudge to do the thing you always wanted to do, then this book is for you. If you are a fan of Seth Godin (like pretty much everyone in digital circles), then this book will only serve to increase your admiration to bursting point.

Godin’s aim is to get us all connecting, purely and authentically. Society needs us all to be genuine versions of ourselves, doing whatever it is we do to the very best of our abilities; not for anyone else, not to make money, but because we care. This, he believes, is ‘making art’. He declares: “I’d like you to become an artist. To make connections that matter.”

Like a secular version of ‘The Artist’s Way’, or a more direct rendering of ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’, Godin motivates us to thrive in the new ‘connection economy’. It’s a guidebook for Generation X to become Generation Z.

Except there’s no real advice here; as he says, “There are no step-by-step instructions because those are easy to find elsewhere”. Instead, we get the infectious, pulse-racing rhetoric Godin is famous for, about changing habits, changing mindsets – and presumably handing in your resignation.

He takes us on a persuasive tour through economic history, examines the power embedded in mythology and story-telling, and uses examples of successful people who have ‘dared to leap’. Along the way, he uses every metaphor ever conceived, taking references from animals, food, travel, love, culture, sport, grit in spinach, untranslatable foreign words.

So what is ‘art’?

…a state of mind, an attitude you apply to all you do (“Anyone who cares, and acts on it, is performing a work of art”)
…difficult, risky, frightening (but it’s also the only option for a sustainable work future)
…not something ‘other people’ do
…always involves a collision with a marketplace, a connection
…always involves moving away from the comfort zone into the unknown
…what it is to be human
…builds bridges between people that generate value
…has no right answer, just an interesting answer

We need to become artists because our future success depends on our ability to make connections, innovate, be bold with ideas, speak up, have a voice, develop a story and make some magic.

No Feel-Good Factor

In some ways, this book is not for the faint-hearted. It is unlikely to make you feel good about yourself – particularly if you have “traded your innate fears, loneliness and humanity” and got a normal job, for which you “accepted a low grade throbbing ennui in exchange for the thrill of daring the gods”.

Sometimes, this can come across as a bit scathing. Judgement is inherent in saying you are either an “industrialist who sees the world as broken or fixed” or an artist “who sees the world as a series of projects to be built and connections to be made”.

Seth seems to navigate this by saying it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a waitress, but that waitresses should work, not for tips, but for the love of doing the job well, “bringing enthusiasm and making connections because this is her passion”. Well, I’ve been a waitress and I’m pretty sure I would’ve found that patronising.

It is unclear whether perhaps there is art with a small ‘a’ and Art with a capital – one being caring about the small steps, the other courageous in the huge leaps. Perhaps there is a difference between ‘doing’ art and ‘making’ art.

What can you learn?

  1. Remove external control, motivation and approval. Do things for yourself.
  2. Find the guts to make important work
  3. Remember that ‘this might work’ is the twin of ‘this might not work’
  4. Don’t get attached to potential outcomes. “We alter what we make to increase the chances that they will occur” – emphasise instead the process and intent.
  5. “Write like you talk. Often”. No one gets Talker’s Block, because we are in the habit of talking. We get Writers Block because we think writing is for other people. It’s not.

Is it any good?

There is an underlying hint of politics within the book that sits uneasily with its Personal Development core, as if it isn’t sure what shelf it should sit on, but it could be seen as the viable antidote to socialism. Don’t like the system? We don’t have to share and dilute everything, we just have to make art.

I would like to see a bit more balance in the carrot:stick ratio. The latter dominates. You should ‘do art’ because otherwise you’re brainwashed, scared, lonely and stuck, succumbing to your ‘lizard brain’. Even if you do make art, life will be hard, risky and scary; you will often feel vulnerable and things will often fail. Personally, a bit more carrot is needed.

I also disagree that the imperative to connect is because “everyone is lonely”. I prefer: ‘Everyone is interesting’.

However, you can’t really criticise this book without exemplifying admonishments contained within it. I could tell you that it could be better written (or better edited); that it’s sometimes clunky and repetitive; that it gets carried away with its own extended metaphors. But Godin would say, as he does in a section called The Typo Trap, that I’ve “abandoned humanity in favour of becoming a spell checker”. Its rawness, its vibrancy, its human-ness, is part of the point it is making.

Ultimately, you should read it because this is a guy who knows more than anyone about connections. How do you know? Because to publish this book, he appealed for funds on Kickstarter. And he got every penny he needed in less than 3 hours.