community, culture

An open letter to Seth Godin

Dear Seth,

I just finished reading your new book Tribes. Normally when I read a book that relates to the Dark Matter Matters subjects (and Tribes talks about leadership and community and all kinds of good stuff), I write a review and post it here. I’m not going to do that this time. I think the reviews on Amazon pretty well cover it, so I’ll just point people there.

tribecalledsethSeth, I have something a bit more personal I’d like to discuss with you. If I may be so bold.

I’ve read most of your books over the years, liars, and purple cows, and dips and whatnot, and I’ve got to tell you, I think you are one smart dude. I’ve learned a lot from you.

I thought the alternative MBA program you just finished was a stroke of genius. I was totally jealous– that would have been a great way to spend six months.

But, honestly, I always get this weird, hollow feeling after reading a book of yours. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I finished this one.

OK, let me just spit it out. I think your books can be kind of superficial and tend to preach to the choir a lot.

There. I said it. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be a hater.

You even call out haters in this book. Said that you shouldn’t let people like that get you down. So please don’t get down, like I said, I really respect your work, it’s just I think you might be limiting your audience. You could be bigger.

So in the hope that I’m being a heretic (in the way you talk about in the book), rather than a hater, I’d humbly suggest some constructive ideas.

Seth, I’d like you to write a book that will do more than rally the tribe that thinks like you. I think you have a book in you that will educate those that don’t think like you. They need your help.

Are you familiar with the work of Roger Martin from the University of Toronto? Dr. Martin showed a slide at a conference once that has always stuck in my mind. I hope he doesn’t mind that I included it below.


This slide really changed the way I think about things. Basically, what Dr. Martin said is that business-minded people measure success in terms of reliability (heavy reliance on data and replicable outcomes) and creative-minded people measure success in terms of validity (i.e. did we do the “right thing”, what great thing could we do?).

And according to Dr. Martin, the world is pretty polarized– most people are in the left hump or they are in the right hump. But there is this small group of people in the middle who have it figured out… they can translate into both the language of reliability and the language of validity. I personally am desperately trying to make my way from the right nearer to the middle. Which is part of the point of this blog– figuring out how to measure the “dark matter” of brand, culture, and community. So we can get some of them left-humpers in our camp.

After reading some other reviews of your books on Amazon, I’m pretty sure most of the one-star reviews you get are from people who speak the language of reliability. They view your books as shallow… a bunch of disjointed stories with little data backing them up.

But you get great reviews from the people who speak the language of validity. They read your work and they say, “preach it, brother and preach it loud!”

I know in Tribes you say “who isn’t in your movement matters almost as much as who is,” but I think if you really tried to reach across the void, you could write a book that appealed to both audiences. Expand the tribe a bit.

Anyway, I’m sorry again if I am being a hater. But if you wrote your next book not for the people who love what you say, but for the people who hate what you say, I think it would be awesome. I hope you are having a good day. You seem like a pretty cool guy.


Chris Grams

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


8 thoughts on “An open letter to Seth Godin

  1. Grams,

    You absolutely put your finger on it. I too read Seth’s blog and his books, have learned all kinds of good stuff, participated in the Tribes process, etc. But, yep, I’m bothered by that same weird hollow feeling.

    Your advice to Seth is spot on. Reaching across the void needs to be his next challenge.

    Hope life is treating you well!


    Posted by Shaun Connolly | July 23, 2009, 11:57 pm
  2. Thanks for taking the time.

    I guess a lot of it comes from where you draw the line. If you read the reviews on Amazon (I try not to) you’ll find a significant number of people are the haters, the ones who don’t get it, the ones who really need to hear what I have to say but don’t want to hear it.

    The challenge isn’t to preach to the choir. The challenge is to give the choir ideas they can use to spread the word. Some people do that by cajoling peers into reading my books, or even better, they do it by rehashing and personalizing my riffs into their own.

    That’s all you can hope for from a book, I think. If books were as powerful as good medicine, there’d be no ugly powerpoint slides, right?

    Posted by Seth Godin | July 24, 2009, 6:32 am
  3. Chris, I’m one of the choir too, have read all of Seth’s books apart from Tribes (it’s in the queue).

    When “The Dip” came out – I went to see Seth talk in the Bay Area. As you would expect the auditorium was full of “Choir” – who else would you expect ?

    Seth did one really smart thing – he basically let you buy one book and get four free to give to colleagues who might benefit; which is what I did. The message in the Dip was highly relevant to the challenges my employer at the time (Sun Microsystems) faced :

    I think Seth’s books contain a lot of common sense and he delivers it well; more people should benefit – though I don’t think viral-book gifting is scalable !

    – Rich

    Posted by Rich Sharples | July 24, 2009, 7:52 am
  4. Chris – I’m a big fan of both Seth’s and Roger Martin’s work, so this topic is a great one for me. I think there’s something magical in what Seth does, and for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on it. But here’s why I love Seth’s work so much: he sees the best in people, and really forces us to demand the best of ourselves.

    So, in that regard, I don’t think his work is fluff. It’s low on the “how to” scale, but there are plenty of those books flying around for us all to read.


    PS – love what you are doing with the blog – keep it up!

    Posted by steve cunningham | August 10, 2009, 11:31 pm
  5. Chris – My view of Mr. Godin’s work has always been that he’s one with a brilliant marketing mind who specializes in speaking to those who never took a marketing 101 course and for those who want a nugget or two of thought provoking review. It always seems as though he’s traveling down the same road as he’s laying new pavement and painting bright yellow lines. He’s like the Michael Porter for the rest of us.

    As for the haters, some people need to hate. There is nothing all that controversial in what Seth Godin as far as I can tell, but when someone becomes successful there are always those who do there best to knock him off the perch.

    I for one get a similar feeling as you after reading Seth’s books. I want more meat; it seems superficial and I feel empty. But then, we are students of marketing deeply embedded in the art and science, I think Seth’s books are Pop marketing with bits and pieces of very useful insight to marketing pros.

    While this may sound elitist, I really don’t mean it to because I’m not a marketing genius (God knows!), just a guy who worked in the field and is now back to taking pictures and writing for a living.

    Posted by Bruce DeBoer | August 11, 2009, 12:25 pm
  6. I agree with Steve Cunningham, there is something magical in what Seth does.

    I think that ‘hollow’ feeling some people talk about simply comes from their lack of desire and lack of decision-making.

    Seth’s books are rich full of information – I LOVE his books (I love Tribes), and the fact that they are more about the theory (according to the average person anyway) because Seth teaches in a very different way – his words are INSPIRING, and that in itself encourages me to DO something with his work and ideas.

    The fact that he makes you think on such a profound level is already value-adding.

    Seth has single-handedly helped me to alter my thinking.

    Plus, the ‘do’ part of things lose their value when it’s given to you. People love to tell you what to do. But when to to ‘DO’ part comes from within – and from your own learning, it’s real.

    Posted by Renee | March 12, 2011, 8:40 pm


  1. Pingback: Karsten Wade (quaid) 's status on Friday, 24-Jul-09 01:45:22 UTC - - July 23, 2009

  2. Pingback: Coming soon…three new design thinking books for your bookshelf « Dark Matter Matters - August 31, 2009

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

%d bloggers like this: