Seth Godin’s Akimbo: The Complex of Complexes

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 various industrial complexes surrounding our lives and why we need to be aware of them.

An industrial complex gets organized when capitalists realize that they can make money doing something and have the levers to keep up with the money-making activities. Within the industrial complex, the capitalists make money by selling to their customers. The complex also spawns other mechanisms that create demands for the capitalists’ goods or services. The market feeds into the output, and output creates demand that feeds back into the complex.

Various industrial complexes surround our societies, and those complexes influence many aspects of our lives. Some examples include the military-industrial complex, the education industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, and the TV industrial complex, to name a few. Many businesses thrive within these complexes because they have found ways and leverages to participate in the complex profitable.

Organizations within the complex also compete with each other for business and resources. As one company gets ahead, other companies try to beat the competition. This racing-like competition creates a ratchet that turns the cycle in one direction.

A critical aspect of the industrial complex to understand is the market. The market is a need-sensing device. The market understands that time comes with an opportunity cost, and the market will rush to serve people’s short-term needs.

Over time, all complexes evolve with the profit-making cycle continuing. The TV industrial complex began by solving our problem of what do we put on TV. But now, it is solving how the advertisers could get a more significant return on the money they are spending.

The industrial complex model also needs a surplus of compliant workers to staff the factories. If there are enough obedient workers available, the factory can move the ratchet forward by making goods or services cheaper. Our education system (or industrial complex) was created primarily to produce as many compliant workers as possible. The system is not so much about encouraging creativity, insight, and connection but encouraging us to be part of an industrial complex.

We have a chance to contribute if we want to but without being part of a complex. People are discovering ways to improve our societies without everything comes down to money-making. One approach is to create software that can change the rules. The industrialist is all about marginal cost, raw materials, and supply chains. The software can change a bunch of those rules because software can be free and accessible. Once we start interacting with people in that way that is not harvesting their attention and turning it into money, we stand a chance to produce something without an industrial complex.

What we need to realize is that our culture does not belong to the industrial complex. While the industrial complex has proven to be helpful, it will require some ongoing boundaries. The purpose of having the industrial complex is to build the culture. Culture does not exist to make capitalists happy; instead, capitalism exists to make our culture work.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Lazy Capitalism

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 standard measurement used by capitalism and how it impacts our culture.

Capitalism is the simple idea of finding a market with a need, selling something for less than it is worth to the person in that market, and repeating the process. Throughout the last couple of hundreds of years, capitalism has been the primary force that changes the world in many ways.

Capitalism also works like a ratchet. It is a ratchet because people in the market will always try to seek solutions with a better value. A key metric in capitalism is the return on investment. The desire for seeking a better return usually goes in one direction, so it is like a ratchet that can only turn one direction.

Capitalism can also be said to be lazy. It is easy to be lazy when the participants in the market think about winning at capitalism with just one measurement. It is the return against the investment. If we put money into this venture, how much can we get back from the investment?

When we have just one measurement to track when practicing capitalism, it can lead to some problems. It is human nature where if there is just one number to pay attention to, people will develop ways to make that number go up. In many situations, just making one number go up can push people to do things that diminish other factors that also matter in our lives.

Because we do not live in such a simple world anymore, everything we do have side effects somewhere. The ratchet of constantly improving the return can pressure us to ignore everything that does not directly contribute to the return.

Unfortunately, no single solution can solve all problems, and there is no one perfect model. There are only a messy series of choices we have to make if we will be in the business of changing the market, changing the culture, or changing people’s lives.

The alternative is to figure out what is the smallest viable audience that we can serve or influence. What do they care about so I can adapt it to come up with the metrics for that audience? Knowing what the metrics are, how will we scale our creation to make the change we want to make and in a way that we are proud of?

As we can see, whatever practical solution we develop will involve a series of messy and complicated decisions with no one having the right answer. However, this is a beautiful opportunity to make the change we seek to make in the world and do it in a way that makes a difference.

We are not lazy capitalists – we are humans. That means one thing we can do is thinking hard about how we can become agents of change. We can become an agent of change by building something and figuring out how to make something better.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Advertising Built the World

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 trends in advertising and how they differ before and now. Understanding how advertising has evolved can help us understand how marketing and our culture have shifted over time.

Advertising is not marketing, but advertising has been a significant element of many organizations’ marketing efforts. Advertising has played an undeniable role in shaping the Western culture for the last 150 years. Four key features describe the advertising’s impact on culture up to now.

The first element is the advertising’s target. The brands’ advertising has been generally targeted at a segment of the population. For example, suppose we wanted to sell laundry detergent. In that case, we will likely advertise it in the afternoon on soap operas because it is typically women who decide which soap to buy.

The second element is being measured. For a long time, advertisers pretended to measure their ads, but precise measurements have been difficult to pin down. Without a reliable feedback loop, measuring the effectiveness of TV and radio ads has been unprecise. It was more fun and more lucrative to not measure precisely, but people had a hunch that measurement mattered.

The third element was frequency. While many traditional marketers do not prefer frequent advertising, experience tells us that that frequency works. Writing the same ad more than once pays off as it scales.

The fourth element was the blurb. For a long time, advertisers have figured out that the closer they could get to looking like an endorsement, the better the ad would work. The goal is to blend the products into things that we naturally do daily.

After the Internet came along, we have seen a significant transformation in how organizations advertise. The advances in connectivity and technologies have made companies like Google and Facebook the powerhouses in the field of advertising. Google has been making money by organizing and creating an inventory of the world’s information. Facebook took similar tactics and making a tremendous profit by organizing and creating an inventory of the world’s people.

With the Internet’s help, the advertisers can now be very targeted, do fine-grain measurements, serve ads frequently, and make the blurbs even more pervasive. Traditional TV and radio are the media for macro-advertising. The Internet came into the advertising space and became the medium for micro-advertising.

With the Internet, we now get chased by numerous targeted ads from all sorts of sources at a mind-numbing frequency and customized messages/blurbs. Those ads follow us everywhere we go because our presence on the Internet is closely tracked at every juncture. Now there is an infinite number of voices chasing a finite number of advertisers.

Most of all, the most debilitating element to our culture is the blurb. There were minimal blurbs in network TV days, but now it is much harder to separate the pretending ad messages from the genuine blurbs. As people who are interested in making positive changes to our culture, it is crucial to understand how advertising has changed. The understanding can help us deliver our change messages more effectively.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Helmet Insights

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 his observations on helmet-wearing in sports and the behavior’s implications on shaping our culture.

We play sports for many reasons, but one reason that frequently jumps out is that we use a sport to make a statement. We often use a sport to highlight who we are and how we want to be seen by others.

While self-image is a big reason for playing a sport, we also want our peers to accept that self-image in the same sport. The sport of hockey initially rejected the notion of helmet-wearing because it did not fit with the brave-and-tough image portraited by the sport. Even with a league mandate, helmet-wearing behavior did not become the norm for a long time.

Life is also a team sport, and each of us is on a team. For an area of life we choose to play a part, we care about how we come across and from whom we want acceptance. Social pressure has a lot to do with how we make choices. Those choices we make often lead to culture-building in some fashion.

While our individual choices and behaviors can impact our culture, some government mandates can also significantly impact the overall societal culture.

Some government mandates go a long way towards normalizing certain behaviors. Those behaviors probably will not become a norm if we leave it to the individual adult citizen to make their own choices. The seatbelt, drunk-driving, and texting-while-driving are a few examples of normalized behaviors for the greater good.

Why would we need such normalized behavior mandates from the government? It turns out that, while people want to fit in, we are also lazy. Many of those normalized behaviors can lead to a greater good and do not come easily from individual efforts.

But once the pattern is in place, compliance can often go up in many folds. When we establish a standard, and when the easiest path is to follow the norm, more people will follow the standard. The normalized, rational behaviors are critically important, and they rarely come from the grassroots effort of individuals.

The insight from helmet-wearing is that we can change the system if we can find ways to influence the culture. While each of us has free will, we still like to conform to and be accepted by the group we affiliate with. When we can instill the presumption of people like us do things like this, that is the opportunity we have as we try to change the culture to normalize behaviors that will benefit us.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: The Right Size Project

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 ideas behind big projects, changing the world, resilience, and perfectionism.

We transform the world, big or small, by doing things or projects. Our career is nothing but a series of projects. When we dedicate our effort to one project, we cannot work on something else simultaneously. Not able to work on something else is the opportunity cost of what we choose to do.

The size of a project is a choice. The complexity of a project is another choice. The decisions we make about projects are all choices, and these choices have an opportunity cost. The best way to make an impact is not to spread our resources too thin to accomplish anything.

When we try to do too many things simultaneously, we will not be doing much of anything. If we pick the right project and allocate the right resources to it, we are more likely to accomplish our goal.

How do we determine what the right size for a project is? It depends on who we are seeking to change, to reach, or to serve. Suppose we can identify the smallest, viable audience for a project. In that case, we have much better odds at succeeding in helping our audience. Helping the smallest viable audience is a much better approach than trying to reaching the mass and hoping someone will respond to our desire to make the change.

The size of a project also depends on our predictions because every project is a bet on how we perceive the future will turn out. We predict that our project will work, but the world will be the same when it is finished. The world, however, as we know, does not standstill. The longer it takes to bring our project to the world, the more likely the world does not need the product or the project the way we thought it did.

To counter the on-going changing world, we will need to build resilience in everything we do. One way to build resilience is to take on right-sized projects. Right-sized projects do not spread our resources too thin. We can take on several smaller but right-sized projects instead of one giant project. When we bet on several smaller projects, rather than one large one, we have opportunities to pivot when the world changes quicker than we could finish the projects.

Along with the project size and resilience, we also need to be aware of perfectionism. Perfectionism does not mean excellence or quality. Perfectionism is polishing something where people do not care about the polish. Perfectionism is trying to consider every single possible objection and addressing it.

We erroneously believe that we never get a second chance to make a first impression. We erroneously believe that if what we ship is not perfect, we will be shamed forever. We ignore the simple reality that whatever we ship will not be perfect when it comes time to change the world.

What we can do is engage the market early and often. Figure out what is essential and get the crucial areas correct. We then ship our work and learn from the feedback. We also adjust and evolve our approach by bringing resilience to the fore. We will choose not to hide behind perfectionism.

Some people may view the concepts of right-size, resilience, and quality work as constraints. We should view them as the boundaries that help define our projects. Carefully choose the number of projects as we need options to be resilient. On the other hand, do not commit to too many options because we also need concentration and focus on getting through the dip. And most of all, strive for high-quality work and excellence but do not be a perfectionist.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Marginal Cost

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 idea behind marginal cost and why it matters in our culture today.

Physical goods cost money to produce, and they have marginal costs. The marginal cost is the cost of making the last unit from the assembly line or manufacturing process. Many goods have low marginal costs once the assembly line can churn out those goods at scale. Like buildings and houses, some goods have high marginal costs because it is still difficult to produce them at scale.

We need to aware of the marginal cost because it affects how a provider makes their products and services available to us. The marginal cost concept also can affect an industry because technologies have fundamentally changed many industries. The decline in physical bookstores and book printing access on-demand is just two apparent patterns of change currently being experienced by the book industry.

Technologies can impact the marginal cost differently for a different audience, even in the same industry. Take the book industry as an example again. While the printed book’s marginal cost from the printing press may be low, the marginal cost for books printed-on-demand is still much higher than the one from the printing press. While books can go out-of-print with the printing press process, the same books will always be available for the print-on-demand route. Advance in technologies has given us more choices.

Things get interesting when we talk about books available in digital format. For digital books, the marginal cost approaches zero. This phenomenon has interesting implications for both the producer and consumer of the book. The same approaching-zero marginal costs scenarios are playing out for many products and services that may be available to use via digital format.

But what is even more interesting is when the marginal cost goes negative. When the marginal cost goes negative, each additional unit sold generates even more value for the producer. There are many examples of negative marginal costs in our digital world today.

The network effect has made negative marginal costs possible for many digital services. When something is benefiting from the network effect, it becomes more valuable as more people use it. The social network is one prime example of a network effect.

When a producer has goods or services that benefit from the network effect, they want to get more people involved with the goods or service. Those producers need the right people in the circle, or its product or service will not work. And they will create all sorts of incentives for people to join and not to leave.

When we are involved with a product or service defined by network effect, we should not be naïve to think that someone is doing us a favor by producing those products and services. We are doing them a favor by being in the circle because that is their business model’s essence.

This ultimately means that we are not the customers any more for those business models where the network effect is the foundation. We have become the product.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Modern Monetary Theory

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 basics behind the Modern Monetary Theory and challenges us to think about its implications and how we will build our economy moving forward.

Currency is the essential element that enables an economy. Ancient emperors would pay the soldiers with minted currency. The soldiers would exchange the currency for food and other essentials with the merchants. The merchants would be interested in exchanging goods for the currency because they can pay the government’s taxes with the currency.

This simple interaction illustrates an important point that money/currency is a story at the end of the day. We believe that currency can help us fulfill our obligations (e.g., paying taxes) and use the rest to purchase things from others. A money system works because people believe that this coin is worth expending effort to get more of.

Capitalism creates a market sensing mechanism. Capitalism helps us identify what people want so that we can offer the necessary goods and services to those customers. Such market sensing mechanisms help solve problems that otherwise would be overlooked or ignored.

Before we can answer how much the government should intervene in the capitalist market, we should agree on the function of the government. One way to think about perhaps is that the government is working together with people to create an environment where people are healthy, intelligent, and confident.

First, healthy workers are significantly more productive. Second, if we train people from an early age to be skilled and ready to do the work, we will end up with a more productive workforce. A more productive Workforce creates more value, and that value benefits everybody in the system.

The third reason is that confidence in the system can strengthen the economy. The economy is vital because the participants are confident about where the economy and the currency are going. The people believe the money is worth of effort to collect and willing to acquire more of it.

But an economy can run into many obstacles, and one such obstacle is inflation. Inflation can creep into an economy when people have lost confidence. When hyperinflation kicks in, it is tough to change the story.

The modern monetary theory argues is that spending money to pay for things like health care and education is appropriate because it does not automatically lead to inflation. When we apply monetary resources to equity-balancing and gap-filling measures, we can move our people to be more innovative and healthier. When we create these cycles of smart and healthy, we end up with a productive population. Finally, a more smart and healthy workforce leads to more confidence in the economy and society.

We have made much progress in humanity’s development by improving the living standard for many people on the planet. Simultaneously, we still have a long way to go in trying to raise everyone’s standard of living. Capitalism has had success in solving some of our problems, but it is also clear that the market alone has not solved them.

We all must understand the impact and implications of modern monetary theory because it will rewire our society as we go forward. We must figure out how we build an economy that creates a future we are proud of.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: The Pursuit of Perfection

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 pursuit of perfection vs. meeting spec and what we should keep in mind when we ship creative work.

Sometimes we look down on meeting the spec and be good enough. However, if we do a good job defining the specification, meeting specs, and being good enough can be a good thing. When we define the spec correctly and meet it, quality comes with doing the work.

Achieving quality is not the same as the pursuit of perfection. Perfection can be quite costly, and not many people are willing to pay for absolute or near perfection. However, most people are willing to pay for good-enough if meeting spec means helping them get what they are after. Good enough, when done right, is something to be proud of.

These days, bringing our creative work to the world is our job. If our work does not ship, the effort does not count. Also, we do not want to ship just for the sake of sending something and check off the box. We want to set spec appropriately and then “merely” shipping the work.

Merely shipping means doing it without the usual commentary, drama, and perfectionism. Hour after hour and day after day, we consistently ship the work in the hope of making things better. Seth calls this continual process and approaches the “practice.”

By adopting the practice, we believe that the only way to make things better is to make things. We learn what the customer wants and learn how to engage with the market to make them better.

However, we are not shooting for perfection — we are shooting to meet the spec. We want to meet a spec that is good enough for our customers. We do not say whether our spec is good enough because our customer will. We also ship when we must because, by shipping our work, we put ourselves in front and engage with the person we make the thing for. If what we ship turns out to be not good enough for our audience, we are doing shoddy work, and we must make it better.

Creative means we are doing something that might not work. Doing creative work means doing something where perfect is unknown. Good, creative work also means we will be doing something human, something generous, and something that might make things better.

Doing creative work as a professional means we do it even when we do not feel like it. Perfectionism is about us, our belief, our perception of what we’re doing, and it is also a place to hide. On the other hand, remarkable work is not about us but about the person we are making it for.

Being a pro also means we must figure out how to show up for the people we seek to serve and ignore everyone else. This act of being specific is about making a very specific promise about what our thing does do. Thus we must be able to find our smallest viable audience and bring them the smallest viable breakthrough they can leverage.

In summary, we need to develop a practice of shipping regularly for the people we seek to serve. We must never accept shoddy work because it does not make any sense to make something not as good as it should be. More often, we will likely be making things that are not as good as they could be because we do not have unlimited time and resources.

So yes, we need a point of view for our work. We need to make assertions, and we need to lead. We need to be able to say, “Here, I made this. No, it is not perfect, but maybe it met spec. And maybe my spec is exactly what you needed.”