Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Status Roles and Money

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 status roles and why they matter.

Status roles are everywhere, and people define them differently and in many ways. However, one thing is for sure when describing the status role. The fact is there is a hierarchy. People interpret status and give some level of respect to others that are around them.

In our working world, there are plenty of people who have status because of their jobs. However, status is not always reflected in how much someone is being paid. Someone with a status role in one field may not always have a status role in other areas. It is part of human nature to have a status hierarchy that we have been shuffling around and dealing with for a long time.

Another way to think about the status role is who gets to eat lunch first or who has the privilege of deciding who gets to eat lunch first. Things start to get interesting when industrial capitalism shows up in the last 200 years. Then, more and more people decide to trade status for money and vice versa.

There are many things that money can buy, and we equate those things with indicators for status. The expensive cars, the high-priced clothing, and many expensive items but have low utility are just some examples of status representation. In many species, status goes to the creature that is the strongest. As human beings, we have found all sorts of ways to put our perceived status on display.

Interesting things can happen when someone has a perceived status role but does not get the expected favored treatment in return. One of the things going on in our culture right now is a reshuffling of the status hierarchy. A status role that used to be granted to someone who has a natural-born trait is being replaced by something else. Along the way, we have created many status roles based on what people do that did not exist in our culture before.

As status hierarchies get shifted around, it starts to leave stretch marks on the culture. We need to think hard about many of the assumptions we have made about status roles. For example, do we want to assume that rich people are also brilliant at doing something else? Do we want to assume that somebody who matches the current cultural definition of beauty is also somebody we want to extend the benefit of the doubt in other areas?

It is up to us to decide whether someone’s status in one area is directly applicable to other things they do. The high-status role creates celebrities. There were very few celebrities 200 years ago, but now we mint them like Bitcoin every day.

The question we might want to ask is what kind of culture do we want to see built? What status roles would support building such a culture? Should we create status roles that do not always equate to financial compensation? If we want to live in a world where doing good work was the point, we might want to consider having status roles that are not the shortcut to making a lot of money.