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Sometimes, Seth Godin is Wrong


It pains me to write that sentence. I love Seth Godin. I’ve read all his books and I once spent a fascinating day at one of his seminars. I have learned tons of things about marketing my business from Seth Godin. But every time he writes about finding a job, I just cringe. Because, as a died-in-the-wool entrepreneur who hasn’t looked for a job in decades, Seth just doesn’t understand job seekers or the job search process. I say this with love – truly I do – but when it comes to job search advice, Seth Godin is clueless.

The latest evidence? His guest post over on What Would Dad Say? where he tells everyone to just stop looking for a job and start their own business. His reasoning is as follows:

There are a few reasons for this. The first is that the act of trying to get a job corrupts you. It pushes you to be average, to fit in and to do what you’re told.

The second is that this act moves the responsibility from you to that guy who didn’t hire you. It’s his fault. As soon as you start spending your day trying to please the guy, you’ve blown it.

The third is that the economy is terrible and the best jobs you’re going to get are lousy.

Wow! So much to disagree with in so few words.

First, the act of looking for a job doesn’t corrupt you or force you to fit in – not unless you conduct a certain kind of job search, where you basically change yourself to try and please others. Not a wise idea. Instead a job search should be like shopping for a new pair of jeans – you’re looking for just the right fit and you know it when you find it.

The second point ties into the first. Seth seems to equate looking for a job with trying to please other people. But it’s only that way if you make it that way. There’s nothing about looking for a job that inherently means you have to sell yourself out.

Third, yes the economy is terrible, but how on earth does that mean that all the vacant jobs are bad jobs? In a bad economy, do all good employers just shut up shop while all bad ones stick around? Of course not! There are fewer jobs overall during a bad economy and you have to be more proactive in your search, but the proportion of good to bad jobs stays about the same. In fact, in the last few weeks I’ve helped several clients who are literally applying for their dream jobs.

As for starting your own business … I have my own business. I love it. I don’t think I would be happy if I had to go back to working for someone else. But I would never advise everyone to do the same – this life isn’t for everyone – and I certainly wouldn’t assume that every job seeker is able to just drop the search for a regular job with a salary and benefits to pursue selling “coffee from a truck at the train station” (one of Seth’s suggestions).

If you have always wanted to have your own business and didn’t take the leap because you wanted a ‘safe’ job, then maybe now is the time to look into that idea again. (There’s definitely no such thing as a safe job anymore!) But there is nothing inherently better about running your own business over working for someone else. One is for some people, one is for other people, and Seth Godin is wrong to suggest that what works for him will work for you. Don’t listen to him. (But if you do decide that you want to start your own business, you really should read his books -that he knows about!)

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About the Author

Louise Fletcher

Louise co-founded Blue Sky in 2002 after a career as an HR executive. Her industry experience includes music, video games, fashion and advertising. She lived and worked in the US for many years, but moved back to her native UK in 2012, where she now lives in the Yorkshire countryside. In addition to her full-time role with Blue Sky, she's a professional artist, so you can imagine why she couldn't answer the 'what do you do with your free time' question! Contact Louise by email.

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17 comments on “Sometimes, Seth Godin is Wrong”

  1. GL HOFFMAN says:

    As usual Louise, you hit it out of the park again. I love the attitude. That is what is great, we can all agree to disagree and take the parts that work for us out of any advice-giver. ‘Cept you and me, of course.
    thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Mary says:

    I’m glad someone said it. While I love Seth Godin as well, and while I think that a great way to look at being out of a job as an opportunity to pursue a dream, I also don’t think it’s the right choice for everyone. More than anything, I was a little taken aback by how simple he made starting a business sound.

    After all, especially now, if you’re going to do start your own business, you need to be pretty sure you’re offering whatever service or product much better than the competition is.

    And how much harder is that to do when you’re arbitrarily picking a business just because you assume that every job out there is ‘lousy’ – and not because it’s something you’re truly passionate about and/or good at.

  3. Louise Fletcher says:

    GL, Thanks for the chance to do this – it was fun!

    Mary, so true. Starting my business was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I certainly couldn’t have devoted any time to it if I also needed to find a steady job.

    If someone really truly is passionate about starting their own gig but still needs income and benefits, I like Gary Vaynerchuck’s approach – he advocates taking a lesser job so that you can save your energy and work nights and weekends on getting a business up and running. Once it’s generating enough revenue, you quit your day job. Hard work? Yes. But starting your own business is very hard work so you might as well get used to it!

  4. Dawn Bugni says:

    Louise –

    While I took an opposing view about Seth’s article on my own blog, I have to agree with what you said here. I followed the “Gary Vaynerchuck” approach to my entrepreneurial bliss. It’s important to understand what we’re doing today doesn’t have to be what we’re doing next week. And we’re not defined by a job title. We’re defined by who we are.

    As GL said, “You hit it out of the park again!”

  5. Jim Flowers says:

    I’ve spent 40 years around entrepreneurs and other risk-taking people. Louise, you are dead-on. Seth is WRONG.

    Being out of work is NOT a good reason to start a business. It’s a great opportunity to re-evaluate your career, or even your whole approach to life. A business start-up may come out of that exercise, of course; but that’s an outcome, not a driver.

    Entrepreneurship is a way of life, not a temporary career digression for the unemployed.

  6. Scott says:

    Great post, Louise. I definitely see where Seth’s energy is coming from as I have been a frustrated job seeker and an entrepreneur. Our professional lives should be filled with passion and positive energy. This for many is hard to find and the act of starting your business will quickly help you figure out your strengths, passions and weaknesses. Many jobs can offer the same. Having a great resume that speaks to your passion will jump off the page!

  7. Clare says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the original post and the subsequent comments and criticisms.

    I didn’t think that Seth Godin’s post was about encouraging everyone to be an entrepreneur, but rather, to urge people to take responsibility for their own employment. Starting a small business is one way of going about this.

    Maybe I misread it completely, but it echoed the sort of thing I used to do as a teenager when I needed some pin money. I could have sat around whinging that I didn’t have a proper job, but I managed to make money out of something. Paper rounds, baby-sitting, strawberry-picking… Surely the ideas Seth Godin mentions are just more grown-up versions of these?

    Actually, come to think of it, my sister got so good at baby-sitting that she then diversified and launched her own “Mrs Mop” cleaning business and made a killing.

    I think the point is that you need a good idea, which fits market opportunities. You don’t need to start out with the mindset of an entrepreneur.

  8. Jamie Varon says:

    While I do agree that not everyone should start their own business, I think Seth’s POV needs to be evaluated based on who he believes his audience to be. For example, he wrote The Dip. which is specific to people who want to be the best in the world, not average.

    Godin speaks to people who he believes want to be remarkable. Who want to stand out. Who want to be the best in the world. In that respect, his advice is right on. People who want to pioneer and stand out and be the best in the world should have their own business. It’s nearly impossible to be pioneering while being anything but the top boss.

    Although the general public seems to love Godin, his writing is tailored to people who are, in no way, looking for average. And, most excellent, above average people I’ve met want their own business eventually.

    Godin doesn’t appeal to this certain type of person that you talk about that is not cut out for owning their own business. That’s just not his audience, even if his message gets through to them from time to time.

  9. Louise says:

    But Jamie, he wrote that as a guest post on a blog aimed at people looking for work. Not on his own blog.

    I think it’s bad advice in that context and also smacks a little of ‘ivory tower’ism.

    I also disagree with the idea that all “excellent people” want their own business. All entrepreneurs want their own business, but excellence comes in many forms and entrepreneurs are not superior to anyone else – just different.

  10. Neva says:

    Seth Godin is SO RIGHT. He couldn’t be more right.

    Ever tried looking for a job without trying to please the recruiters?

    Ever been hired after a frank and genuine discussion about why you left your previous job?

    The job market has become a mess of dysfunctional conventional wisdom and mediocrity.

    Those who are not able to subscribe to Seth’s advice aren’t likely to be following him anyway.

  11. Louise says:

    Thanks for the comment Neva.

    I’m not sure what you mean about recruiters or having to explain why you left your last job – those seems like basic parts of the hiring process to me, and shouldn’t be enough to force you into your own business unless starting a business is what you were meant to do.

    It’s definitely not for everyone.

  12. Barbara Saunders says:

    I agree with those who have written that it’s a question of audience. An article in the Wall Street Journal’s Start Up Journal included the factoid that many successful entrepreneurs, when polled after the fact, said that their primary and driving motivation was specifically “can’t stand working for anyone else.” Not money, not vision, not a great idea. (Those things came in after the initial decision had been made, i.e., once a person hits the wall and says, “Well, I can’t work for anyone else, I better do something or I’ll starve,” then they tend to search out a course that exposes one of those other goals.

    Seth speaks to the kind of person who doesn’t really WANT a job in the best of economies, the kind who (in a perverse way) says, “Yeah! A sucky economy means there is less opportunity course to the path I know in my heart I must take no matter what.”

    I remember thinking when I was 26 – this job thing is going to kill me, literally. I got sick on every job and am finally at the point where I contract only – with a true business in the works.

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