Seth Godin Akimbo: Show Your Work

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the importance of showing our work for building creditability and trust.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Many people have misinterpreted his philosophical thinking and believed that being ridiculed is a symptom that they have found the truth.

The heart drug Nesiritide was thought to be effective against heart failure due to, in large part, the advertising muscle of Johnson and Johnson. In 2005, Dr. Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein published research indicating that the drug was no more effective than a placebo. As a result of his work, Johnson and Johnson had taken it off the market within a year. By showing his work, Dr. Sackner-Bernstein probably saved many lives and wasted resources on an ineffective drug.

Hewlett Packard used to have a corporate culture of respect, of treating workers fairly, and of showing your work. The HP way included the principle that every night you should leave your work open on your bench for others to see. HP believed that keeping our work a secret is not a sign of confidence. It could be a sign of having something to hide.

Showing our work is valuable because, as they learned at HP, if you can walk around at the end of the shift and look at what the engineers are putting on their desks, you can make it better. The idea that we can make things better because we can see what someone has done is critical to generating forward motion.

The Searl Effect Generator is an example where the inventor asked to be accepted but refused to show his work. Good science requires replication. Only replication can lead to further understanding. The cold fusion reaction was an experiment that sparked great interest. After the researchers showed their work, other researchers discovered that no one really could replicate the original experiment.

If we want others to accept our work as something factual, we need to show our work. Our work needs to be replicated by different people and possess some predictive value. The predictive value can some only if our work is replicable.

Human beings want to believe. We want to believe there are stories we can tell to explain our complicated and sometimes random world. The phrase “I’ll know it when I see it” is not sufficient. The placebo can do that. What we want is to be able to say, “I know it when I understand it.”

We need to help others understand the mechanics of our big idea and the insight behind our engineering. We can only do it by showing our work. When we show our work, other people might challenge our work, and perhaps make it even better.

When we show our work, we are drawing a clear line between entertainment and science/engineering. Our science/engineering work needs to hold up under scrutiny and help others understand it before it can become worthy of being adopted.