Rarely ever do I buy a book at full price, let alone a first-run copy. And pre-ordering is simply out of the question.
Except, of course, when we’re talking about Seth Godin.
I’m not much for conventional wisdom. Certainly not in the fields of film and advertising (where I spend my day job).
But Godin is a different story. His counterintuitive ideas have inspired me to tackle some of my most fulfilling projects—including the JourneyCraft blog.
So when I heard he’s Kickstarted a book about the perils and process of making art, I gave my inner tightwad a holiday and pre-ordered immediately.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The Icarus Deception, Godin’s 14th book, is a deceptively simple book. The medium green volume, with its clean type and plenty of inviting white space, promises to be a quick read. But the depth of the ideas inside will force you to slow your pace.
Rather than relying on a series of points or other linear organization, its argument is arranged as a series of paragraph- or page-length musings on a variety of topics, including the history of art-making in modern era, counterintuitive principles for artistic process, and a vision for the future of production.
As a storyteller, I read Godin’s term “art” to mean my art: storytelling.
In reality, Godin’s definition encompasses everything from an entrepreneur’s product or a corporate service, to more traditional offerings like paintings, film and dance. An artist, he says “is someone who who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo” (9).
“Art,” Godin declares simply, “is what it is to be human” (1).
But with all the initial warm fuzzies aside, Godin gets down to business. As usual, he doesn’t pull punches.
He argues boldly that, for the better part of two centuries, industrialized culture taught us to sit down, shut up and wait to be picked by a “system.” That system will dictate whether and how our art reaches the people it’s designed to touch.
Godin cites examples such as WWII vets of the 1950s, who vied for jobs in factories and (later) urged their children to get degrees vetted by the “system” in order to be “picked” for jobs that required specialized skills in conformity. “The industrialist,” he says, “needs you to dream about security and the benefits of compliance” (27).
But that industrial culture is now dying.
Godin calls our fast-evolving era the “Connection Economy.” In this new landscape, the product that moves currency will not be widgets, machines or microchips. It will be personal and interpersonal connectivity.
In other words, those who will control the future are those who forge bonds with others, using words, artistry, music, and products fueled by personal passion.
The only authority in this new world is the producer—and the audience s/he builds.
Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission, authority, and safety that come from a publisher or a talk-show host or even a blogger who says, “I pick you.”
Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you—that Prince Charming has chosen another house in his search for Cinderella—then you can actually get to work.
Godin argues that only when we actually get down to work, to the business of making and sharing our art, do we actually have the chance to connect. “How much responsibility are you willing to take,” he writes, “before it’s given to you?”
This is the price and the promise of the new era.
Back in September, I made the decision to begin “picking myself” to make and share my art. I started taking this blog more seriously, and I launched Rise Of The Tiger, a serial novel with original artwork that is (so far as I know!) unique for its type.
Reading The Icarus Deception confirmed my experiences thus far with implementing my plan to make-share-repeat. But the ideas really hit home around page 50, where Godin applies his logic to one of the most powerful and talent-repressive systems in the world: Broadway and Hollywood.
Having labored for a number of years to be “picked” by the Hollywood system, only to be increasingly angered by the time I wasted “waiting” when I could be “creating,” I found myself rooted to my chair, electrified by Godin’s insights.
He shares the true story of Sarah, a dancer on Broadway. Her “joy is in the dance,” he writes. “It is in the moment. Her joy is in creating flow.” Yet instead of spending her time perfecting and sharing this art, Sarah spends years seeking out auditions, standing in line for “just the right” casting calls, dealing with heartbreak after heartbreak, and being as he calls it “hassled and disrespected” (50).
Most people I know in the industry would just shrug and say, “well that’s what she’s got to do to ‘make it.’”
Godin dares to call their bluff.
Sarah (and the aforementioned industry professionals) put up with this system for one reason, and one reason only: “All so [they] can be in front of the right audience” (50).
But, Godin goes on to ask, “Which audience is the right one?”
While Sarah spends her life seeking to please the critics (and land that one-in-a-million chance to dance on “just the right stage”) what happens to her passion for the art? And if she finds pure joy dancing on other stages—in churches, in back-alley theaters, in prisons? Is her performance any “less” than the one seen before all the world? (51-52)
It would be quite possible for Sarah to spend her whole life chasing industrialized Broadway’s approval, only to miss out on her own.
What happens if, instead, Sarah decides to “choose herself” and dance in the venues of her choice?
“Two things happen,” Godin writes. “She unlocks her ability to make an impact, removing all excuses between her current place and the art she wants to make. And,” he adds, “she exposes herself, because now it’s her decision to perform, not the casting directors.”
Which artist would you rather be?
The story of Sarah rocked my creative world. I recognized again my own tendency to adopt the excuse that I have not yet been “picked” and thus somehow have a pass to slack off. I reinvigorated my determination to produce and share my work abundantly—with or without the approval of any system.
While this point most impacted me, Godin introduces a number of other radically liberating concepts. Here’s a sampling to whet your appetite:
If you’re looking for a “get-successful-quick” or “art-without-the-pain” manual, The Icarus Deception isn’t for you.
But if you long to produce and share your art; to connect with the perfect (but not necessarily the largest) audience; to accrue your currency in the economy of tomorrow, Godin’s newest book will give you plenty to think about.
What about you? Have you read The Icarus Deception, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts here!