Seth Godin Tells SAPPHIRE NOW Attendees Innovation is Critical…and It’s Okay to Fail

I spent this past week in Orlando, Florida, attending SAP’s annual SAPPHIRE NOW conference.

Seth Godin at SAPPHIRE NOW

As I walked through the massive one million square foot show floor of the Orange County Convention Center, it’s easy to think of SAPPHIRE NOW as a technology event for customers.

But on Tuesday, the opening day of the conference took on a strong marketing flavor when marketing thought-leader, visionary and best-selling author Seth Godin took to the SAPPHIRE stage.

Godin is no stranger to technology. In 1995, he started a web company called Yoyodyne. In the space of a few short years, he made it the internet’s number one creator of direct mail and promotions. Yahoo acquired his company in 1998.

Since then, Godin has become a prolific author and marketing “change agent.” His blog and best-selling books have re-defined the traditional rules of marketing and customer engagement, and I was anxious to hear him in person.

What I admire about Seth Godin is that his ideas are like “marketing caffeine.” After listening to him, you come away more alert and attuned to the new realities of trying to reach and engage customers.

“Marketing Has Become Average”

Godin told the SAPPHIRE audience that “Marketing has become aimed at the masses, and therefore has become average.” His message was simple, but urgent: innovation is more critical than ever before.

But innovation is not easy. We fear the unknown. We resist change. It is human nature to be drawn to what is known and comfortable to us.

Godin challenged that, noting “there is a lot of risk in playing it safe.”

Innovation is a passion of Godin’s and one of his famous quotes is “this may not work.” He talked at great length about how important it is to have a lack of fear throughout the innovation process. He was quite candid in noting that as an entrepreneur he started about a dozen companies…and most of them failed!

It’s Okay to Fail

Godin’s message about getting out of our personal comfort zones and trying new things really resonated with me. As marketers and leaders, we know that innovation and creativity occur when people feel free to think differently and take chances.

We’ve all had managers and mentors in our careers who have helped push our careers forward by giving us more opportunities and responsibilities. Where would you be if that manager or mentor had not given you the chance to succeed or fail?

If Seth Godin can be candid and comfortable with failing in the pursuit of a worthy goal, so can we.

Godin urged the audience to “do something people haven’t done before.”  He observed that “the main thing that we bring to our work is grit, the hubris of failing.  You have to care enough to fail.”

Godin embraces change and innovation with a very pragmatic view. In his books, his blog and his talks, he always prefaces a new idea or project with a simple caveat: “this might not work.” Instead of being paralyzed by that notion, he simply plows forward.

As marketers and leaders, we should adopt Godin’s mindset to push through the walls we create to avoid change, risk and the unknown.

I exited the auditorium and walked through the SAPPHIRE NOW conference floor, thinking about what Seth Godin had just shared with us.

Yes, his career has been marked by a substantial number of failures and setbacks. But the reason he is so successful today is that he has learned from every single mistake. He’s the ultimate “work in progress.”

As I observed conference attendees immersed in various technology demonstrations and discussions, it occurred to me: the concept of marketing innovation that Seth Godin preached is no different than software.

Your mistakes and setbacks are like software bugs. The real innovators are the ones who figure out what’s wrong and then come up with new code, patches and fixes to improve it.

What are the things you have done to eliminate the “bugs” that prevented you from being more innovative and productive?

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