Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seth Godin: the new Andy Rooney?

I have mixed feelings about Seth Godin. On the one hand, he's clearly a very smart, funny, creative guy with lots of good ideas about media, technology, marketing and social systems. On the other (and he has this in common with many pundits), he often says either: a) obvious things in a fun/smart way that kind of imply he thought of them first, or; b) things that don't make much sense, but are vague and slippery enough that they fit into a kind of overall belief-system-fugue.

What really crimps my scrunchie about Seth, though, is is refusal to have comments on his blog. Yes... one of the leading proponents of social marketing and transparency... no comments. Even if he doesn't want to respond at all, his audience might like to have a discussion based on his often thoughtful and entertaining insights. But we can't. At least, not on his blog. It's just, well... for me, it's a giant turn-off to anything else he does.

Which predisposed me to watch this next video with more than a grain of salt. I try not to prejudge. Really, I do. And it's a funny and entertaining video, as usual. Seth is a really, really good presenter. But his main point -- some things are broken, and there are some main reasons why -- falls into that "a" category (above) for me. OK... things are broken. Sometimes for similar reasons. Your point?

By the end, the video reminded me of Andy Rooney's schtick on "60 Minutes," where he takes a common issue, product or service and delves into a whiny, mini-rant about how it's not what it should be. In my family, whenever somebody starts doing this -- complaining about something trivial or really trying hard to find something bad in a good or neutral thing -- we whine, in a bad Andy Rooney imitation, "You ever notice how paperclips are all bent? And not just once! They bend around, and around, and around again. That's not a 'clip.' It's more of a 'paper spiral.' Why don't they call it what it looks like?" And so on. My record for complaining about paper clips in the Andy Rooney style is about 30 minutes.

Yes, Andy (and Seth). There are some stupid things out there. There are some broken things. Seth, at one point, bemoans the fact that the guy who makes a stupid sign isn't the one who's empowered to fix the thing that the sign warns of. His point being (I think) that if we were more concentrated on overall goals, rather than on our own specific jobs, fewer things would be broken.

I don't buy it. If that were the case, MORE things would be broken. Yes, Web stations in many airports are borked. Yes, some warning signs for devices make it sound like, gee... maybe, rather than a stern warning, we should have safer devices. Yes, the legal waivers we have to sign are sometimes ridiculous. But you know what? 99 times out of 100, when I go into a public restroom in a major chain store (or even a small BP in the middle of Kentucky), it's clean and there's plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and soap. 999 times out of 1,000, my wait-person brings me the food I asked for, cooked within a reasonble degree of how I like it. My mailman brings me my mail. My dog remembers to pee outside. My eggs don't break between the store and my fridge. The drinking fountain at work provides decent, cold water. Traffic lights do their job.

Are there things that need improving? Sure. But some things are broken because, really, we're all just very busy, distracted, conflicted and (sometimes) careless. And sometimes things are broken because the universe tends towards chaos, gravity pulls things down hard, and everything on earth is oxidizing.

I'd like Seth to spend more time on smart, savvy marketing stuff. The paperclips are bendy, Seth. Yes. We get that.

Oh... and turn your blog comments on. If Cory and Co. over at BoingBoing and Kos can handle it, so can you.

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