Seth Godin’s Akimbo: The Magnification of Small Differences

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 artificial scarcity that our culture has put into creating a perceived value for many things.

Everywhere we look in our modern world, we see the magnification of small differences. These small differences are often some arbitrary standards our society has put into place to create scarcity for something. By successfully creating scarcity for an item, it is easier to justify the value of that item.

Those small differences appear in many places. For example, a few points of difference on test scores might determine whether someone goes to a name-brand college while another equally talented and hard-working student does not get to go. In the world of sports, just a small difference in performance might determine whether some student-athlete gets to go to the professional league. In contrast, another student-athlete does not get drafted by any team.

These small differences also get magnified by our culture. The small differences get magnified via a selection process to demonstrate the scarcity of something and why it deserves a high value. For many physical goods or materials, the supply is not infinite, so scarcity is understandable. We usually place a high value on a physical item that is rare and also useful.

At the same time, our culture also tries to impose high scarcity on things that may not have such constraints. Each year we determine that a limited number of high-school students can be into the university system. We determine that a limited number of student doctors can be certified to become practicing physicians. We place an artificial selection process over these opportunities, and we create a barrier of entry.

By creating a barrier of entry for those opportunities, we are simply making sure that there is scarcity so that people will value it. However, there is a problem with the magnification of small differences, and the problem is we waste human capital or human potential. We waste human capital or potential because the right people might not be matched with the right opportunities. Very often, someone who may be good enough to produce good work in some field may never get a chance to get the training and the nurturing she needs to excel in a field.

Right now, we are on a cultural path that is torn between building more choke points and embracing the long tail. Many of the choke points are artificial, while the long tails downplay scarcity and the perceived value. There is no one obvious answer, but we ought to find more ways to amplify human potential.

How do we find more people who can figure out how to make a living doing something that benefits our community while we strip away all the artificial barriers that keep a barrier of entry in place? We can do that if we figure out how to make the long tail attractive enough to get the right people to embrace it.