Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Believe in Above Average (and Below)

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 how two groups, the professionals and art creators, view their work and what we need to keep in mind as we do our creative work.

Many professionals, such as surgeons and therapists in this example, believe that they are better than average when compared to their peers. Scott Alexander broke it down into Alexander’s principle of professional exceptionalism, and it is interesting to analyze the rationales behind this belief held by most of the professionals.

It is human nature to think that our victories belong to us, but our failures belong to nature. When those professionals are doing something as extraordinary as changing someone’s mind or cutting someone open and then healing them, it is easy to pay attention to how their intervention made a difference. In the times that our response did not make a difference, we remind ourselves that we are not gods, and we are just doing our best.

All these rationales of professionals thinking highly of themselves may have something to do with these professions are professions because the people are accredited, and the trade was hard to get in. And those things mean that the professionals are scarce, so we deem those professionals valuable. All these rationales also add up to a significant effect of cognitive dissonance.

But for the artistic creators like many of us, our mindset may be quite different. Many of us struggle with a mentality of self-doubt for several reasons. One reason is that, since most of our work deals with the reality that there is far more supply than demand, most of the direct feedback we get is rejection. We get rejected by the middlemen and by the end-users because both groups have many choices available to them.

The second reason is that since the work we do involves widely available tools, the group of people who believe that they can do the work we do or even better is large. It is easy for others to say that the work we are busy making are things that anyone could make.

The number three reason has to do with the transient nature of our fan base. The fan of an artistic work churns continuously. People’s tastes change over time.

The number four reason speaks to the tendency that negative criticism is more natural to spread than positive feedback. As a result, most public criticism of our work is negative when we work as an artistic creator.

The number five reason has to do with the idea of novelty. It is not easy to keep coming up with a string of novel ideas all the time. Because we work in originality, our existing customers are often hesitant to return because someone else likely can offer more novelty than we can.

Finally, the number six and the biggest reason is the lack of benefit of the doubt. When we, the artists, are busy creating the art or the changes we seek to make, we tell ourselves that we need to go big or go bust. Many creators end up chasing that once in a lifetime moment, but those moments are scarce. What we end up with is a world where almost nobody who creates gets the benefit of the doubt. Most of all, we do not get the benefit of the doubt from ourselves. As a result

To be the “chosen one” of creators is indeed rare. The rest of us who are seeking to bring original work to an audience cannot count on to be the chosen few. While there are very few who get the attention and the winds-in-the-sail, for everybody else, we must struggle to bring out our best work.

However, the struggle is worth the journey. What is essential is that we figure out how to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt as we create. If we cannot find a way to trust ourselves for doing this work, it is going to be very difficult to push beyond mediocrity, and onto the extreme edges.

For us to do the work that matters for people who care, we must think we can raise the average. Only then will we be able to muster the necessary courage and resolve to ship our work and do it consistently.