Speaking to a Parsons auditorium full of self-defined “creatives,” marketing guru Seth Godin began with a rendition of the alphabet song and ended with a call to action: “I have no doubt the people in this room are going to succeed. The question is: Are you going to matter?”
It’s the kind of question Godin poses on his blog, in his 17 bestselling books and throughout his many public talks: catchy, inspiring and vague enough to apply to anyone involved in a creative endeavor.
In between, he laid out four self-described “bullet points” (there were no slides with bullet points to be seen) for getting it done, even when you answer to a boss or a client who has different interests.
You will never get anywhere if you’re not reminding yourself each day what it is you’re trying to do. And to do it on purpose, it helps to have a purpose that’s deeper than being aesthetically superior. “The stuff we’re paying you for is the difficult emotional labor of looking people in the eye and telling them the truth, in a way that makes them change,” Godin said. “What’s important is did it make a change happen?”
If someone else is in charge, you have no choice but to “lead up.” That starts with making sure the story you tell about your work is one that has benefits for the people who have to approve it.
Godin’s central premise is that if you do the work, the recognition will come. “In the bottom-up world we live in now, people who take responsibility are often given responsibility,” he said. “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges any more.”
If your boss allows you to take on a project, and it goes well, let her take the credit—because she’ll want more, and when she does she’ll come to you. Take the blame when things go wrong and explain what you learned, and those in charge will get more comfortable with the idea that failure is a part of the creative process.
To those four bullet points, Godin added a fifth: “If they don’t get it, go somewhere that does.” Because while you should try your best to convince your bosses and clients, not everyone is convincible, and “you don’t get tomorrow over again.”