"No wonder we don’t want to speak up or stand up or do anything much that matters. We’ve persuaded ourselves that good feelings aren’t even close to outweighing bad ones."
I have been a big fan and follower of Seth Godin for years. Several of his books sit proudly in my library, and I receive his daily blogs. So when I heard that he’d written a new book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn), I was keen to read it.
Now this is nothing like any of his prior books. For a start it is like a magazine in size; full colour throughout, with pictures to illustrate his points, and the fonts vary in style and size throughout the book. Each point is different in size from one sentence to a full page, I guess a bit like his blogs.
The book is almost like a scrapbook, which is a fitting comment as Godin seems to want to have a scrap; he wants to provoke the reader into action. He’s fed up. He’s disillusioned with the way we are living our lives and he wants to jolt us into changing so we are both willing and able to take our turn.
His comments are pithy and thought-provoking, making it hard to pick the best one-liners to use as quotes in this summary, as there are many.
The Big Idea
Be on the hook. Take your turn.
"The need to be recognized as the winner destroys your ability to take your turn, because taking your turn requires you to be willing to not win."
All the visuals somewhat assault your senses, and it was hard to decide whether to read the text or focus on the photos, or quotes he uses throughout.
He is forcing the reader to make a choice – how appropriate – given his main thrust in the book is how we all have choices, but we seem to have reneged on the opportunity. Instead, we flit from one activity to the next, seeking instant gratification, and shying away from any potential risk, because that might lead to failure.
He draws on psychological research, like the “marshmallow experiment” carried out on children, where children were tested to see if they could wait for gratification (a.k.a. two marshmallows). Today he questions why the children would wait because we live in a society where promises are broken. Trust is gone.
You get the sense that it is the inability to take risks and only moving forward on a sure thing that irritates him the most. As an entrepreneur, I am sure, this is foreign to him.
He’s impatient with our cultures’ impatience, and how, for example, “we don’t go to a movie unless the coming attraction tells us exactly what to expect.” We need to be sure we will like what we see, and with the Internet, we can instantly find out, removing that opportunity to take a chance, to take a risk.
In a fast-moving world, silence is no longer valued, he points out, giving the example of that quiet time when “a father and son could walk down the beach side by side,” just sharing the moment. Instead it has been “replaced by the cheap thrill of ‘what happens next.’”
Much of the book is focused on what holds us back from ‘taking our turn’. Although he does get into what we need to do, much of which is letting go of our fear of failure.
Fear of failure
"If you are not willing to imagine failure, you’re unable to be free."
Our culture reinforces the fear of failure daily. Yet, as he observes, “failure is almost never as bad as we fear it will be, but it’s our fear that we feel, not the failure.”
Our fear of failure transfers effortlessly into fear of freedom. All of which brings us back to the fact that we do have choices. So often he says we drag out the excuse that ‘I had no choice,’ which he observes is just an attempt to get off the hook. Basically we are claiming that it’s not our fault. He argues that we actually have more choices than we realize, and “the freedom is ours. Always.”
Godin is frequently asked when is the right time to make a major life decision. His response, “It’s never the right time.” “People can come up with lots of reasons to give up their freedom in exchange for the illusion of safety.”
We have choices – we can be a giver or a taker
"Every interaction, every moment when it’s your turn, is an opportunity. It’s also a choice about whether to build or to take."
We live in a transactional society, but Godin believes that every interaction should not be similar to the way we deal with an ATM, where we “push the buttons and money comes out.”
He shares an analogy of making an omelet and how when we compromise on our ingredients, we can negatively change the outcome. “If your goal is to be remarkable, please understand that the easiest way to do that is to compromise less, not more. Mediocrity feels safe and easy until it’s neither.”
He encourages us to be on the hook. “Being on the hook is a privilege. It means the people around us are trusting us to contribute, counting on us to deliver. It’s not something to be avoided.” Yet, as he points out, many of us do.
Using the Monty Python skit of how Michael Palin asks to go to the argument room, but by mistake he enters the abuse room, he questions why in life many of us choose to go to such “rooms where people make us feel badly.” Why go there? he asks.
He closes the book by commenting that the values of bravery and generosity which are, he believes, very much part of taking your turn, are just another way of talking about love.
He realizes “the act of loving a person, an idea, a quest – it’s the same duality as the experience of taking your turn.” Because it may not work, but doing more for others beyond yourself, speaks to the fact that deep down many of us want to be part of something larger than ourselves. Or so he hopes.
At the end he asks us to share this book with others; to spread the message. As a boomer, entrepreneur, leader – I get it, and much of the book was like preaching to the converted. That being said, his one-liners are thought-provoking, making you pause to reflect on why stuff happens, or more to his point, doesn’t.
All of which leads me to believe that the book is aimed at younger generations, who he wants to encourage to take a risk, to choose to get involved and to make a difference. In other words, to take their turn. And I for one, hope it works.