Remarkable Retail

Is Work Working? A Remarkable Conversation with Seth Godin

Episode Summary

Renowned author, entrepreneur, and leadership teacher, Seth Godin returns to the podcast to discuss his incredibly timely and urgent new book:The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams.

Episode Notes

Renowned author, entrepreneur, and leadership teacher, Seth Godin returns to the podcast to discuss his incredibly timely and urgent new book:The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams

In a wide-ranging interview Seth challenges us to re-think the nature of work, asking are we going to engage in a race to the bottom, or a race to the top where the work we do is rich with meaning and purpose? In unpacking Seth's most personal work yet, we go deep on some big, important questions including: Why do bosses care where we work, why do we get so attached to false proxies, and what should meetings actually be for? Ultimately, we explore what leaders must do to re-imagine work for an entirely new era.

But as is our custom, we start with the week in retail news, including the tsunami of earning's releases which continues to highlight increasingly challenging conditions, particularly among big ticket players (RH, Best Buy, and Lowes) and brands trapped in the unremarkable middle (Gap and Kohl's). Yet we see that remarkable retailers often defy gravity, as strong results from Anthropologie and Dick's Sporting Goods demonstrate. We also dip into Five Below's plans to open 400 new stores, before challenging Target's decision to pull Pride merchandise.

We also announce that we will be taking the Remarkable Retail podcast on the road to the Lead Innovation Summit, where BMO Managing Director Simeon Siegel will be joining on stage to discuss what's new and what's next for DTC. If you want to join us, take advantage of our special discount code....RRxTheLeadSummit 

About Seth Godin

Seth Godin is the author of 21 international bestsellers that have changed the way people think about work. His books have been translated into 38 languages. Godin writes one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world, and two of his TED talks are among the most popular of all time. He is the founder of the altMBA, the social media pioneer Squidoo, and Yoyodyne, one of the first internet companies. Find out more at


About Us

Steve Dennis is an advisor, keynote speaker and author on strategic growth and business innovation. You can learn more about Steve on his       website.    The expanded and revised edition of his bestselling book  Remarkable Retail: How To Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption is now available at  Amazon or just about anywhere else books are sold. Steve regularly shares his insights in his role as a      Forbes senior contributor and on       Twitter and       LinkedIn. You can also check out his speaker "sizzle" reel      here.

Michael LeBlanc  is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice.   He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience, and has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career.  Michael is the producer and host of a network of leading podcasts including Canada’s top retail industry podcast,       The Voice of Retail, plus  Global eCommerce Leaders podcast, and The Food Professor  with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois.    You can learn more about Michael   here  or on     LinkedIn. 

Be sure and check out Michael's latest venture for fun and influencer riches - Last Request Barbecue,  his YouTube BBQ cooking channel!

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:05

Welcome to Remarkable Retail podcast, Season 6, Episode 20. Presented by MarketDial. I'm Michael LeBlanc.

Steve Dennis  00:11

And I'm Steve Dennis.

Michael LeBlanc  00:13

A very special episode for the people today back on the podcast with his latest book, launching today, which he described as one of his most significant works in a long list of significant books, Seth Godin talking about the Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams.

Steve Dennis  00:29

Yeah, it's great to have Seth back. I think this may be, people hear us talk about this, in the interview, I think this may be Seth's fifth time on the podcast if we include his appearance on my book launch stuff. So, it's great to have Seth back. This is a really interesting book and I'm not even sure now where it, it's his 20th book, his 20th book or something like that. I've sort of lost count, but as longtime listeners will know, Seth and I have been friends for over 40 years, which is crazy. So, it's been so much fun to just see all the success he's had and also, I think, just kind of the evolution of, of what he's focused on this as a much more sort of personal big picture kind of book as opposed to say, a marketing book or branding book, per se.

Michael LeBlanc  01:21

Yeah, it is and it's a great interview. So as which would surprise no one, because Seth is a, so to speak, in the trade, great interview, but we'll get to that in a few minutes. Now, let's talk about the Lead for a bit. The Lead Innovation conference, happening July 12th, 13th. We, you and I will be together with 2000 of our closest friends. 140 speakers. We'll be on the main stage kicking it off along with our very good friend and friend of the pod Simeon Siegel, I'll be interviewing you two fellas about your latest deep thoughts on the future of direct-to-consumer business models.

Steve Dennis  01:57

Yeah, I think I'm really looking forward to this. It's, this should be a ton of fun, kind of taking the podcast live on stage with a really interesting topic and again, longtime listeners will know that Simeon has joined us a couple of times. He's, he's always super interesting, super provocative. Those episodes are always really popular, yeah. So yeah, this should be a ton of fun, and very interesting and it's my first time at the Lead Innovation Summit. So, I'm looking forward to that as well.

Michael LeBlanc  02:26

Yeah, it's, excitement building, definitely looking forward to it and for the listeners who might like to join us in July, check out the show notes for links for retailers and brands and a discount code for vendors and suppliers. Get yourself a nice discount. All right, well, let's move on to news of the week. So last week, we were talking about earnings, they had just a giant tsunami of earnings this week. So we could be the earning show, basically, or, you know, 'Investors R' Us', but how do we top line this, I guess we should we should touch on a few key notes of key retailers, but how do you, how do you top line this for the folks and then maybe take us through a couple of retailers that you think are important to look at because of the bigger story or bigger picture that they start to illustrate for us?

Steve Dennis  03:13

Yeah, it was, it was a big week, I was going through the list, and I was like, oh, you know, this could be like a three hour episode, if we were to talk about all the earnings, so. So, we're not going to do that, as you said, I think really the general impression is, is pretty consistent with what we talked about last week, which is that broadly speaking, spending is continuing to slow. The consumer is generally, you know, to the extent they're spending on products versus services, which is you know, something we talked about last week that there's a lot of this shift to, to services, to the extent they're spending on products they're tending to spend on essentials, value, we're seeing this trading down behavior. 

Steve Dennis  03:57

One of things I think it was interesting, though, you know, last week, we talked about apparel spending, and department stores and so forth, and how overall, the spending is down and we'll talk about an example in a second, but what was interesting was several apparel retailers actually did quite well and they really called attention to how kind of more upscale or dressier kind of apparel was doing well. So for example, Urban Outfitters, the Urban Outfitters brand itself had a weak quarter, but anthropology and free people between a more upscale, more focused had really strong sales performance free people is up 17% anthropology was up 13% People can check out our interview with anthropology president, a new, if you're interested in that.

Michael LeBlanc  04:50

What was your philosophy, 'Edit to'- 

Steve Dennis  04:52

Edit to amplify. 

Michael LeBlanc  04:53

Edit to amplify, I love that, I love that philosophy.

Steve Dennis  04:55

Yeah, yeah which is a-. Abercrombie & Fitch, also really strong comp. So really the, the comments were around, you know, people are going out more relative to last year, people are traveling more, relative to last year, more back to office than last year and all of this is tending to drive spending on dressier, nicer kind of apparel. Now when you talk more about moderate priced apparel that continues to be very poor. Gap, for example, did cut their losses but overall, their sales were down about 6%. The Gap brand and Old Navy were essentially flat, but, but Banana Republic and Athletica were both down about 10%. So, still continue to be a lot of struggles at the Gap. And they weren't super optimistic about the rest of the year.

Michael LeBlanc  05:47

I had to comment on some of the language that they used, and I was reading through the results that they were talking about Athletica product, acceptance challenges, like, was this written by chat GPD or something like talks like that, like, people don't like this stuff for selling, so we're gonna try different stuff. How about that?

Steve Dennis  06:05

Yeah, it's that, I think we call that avoidant language in the psychological field. The other one. Speaking of hiding the ball or whatever, was, was Kohl's. Now, you and I were talking off mic. The stock actually went up on this news because Kohl's managed to eke out a very small profit, which was almost entirely driven by cost reduction. Their actual performance, I would say, continues to be objectively terrible. Sales were down and I went back, because I got this kind of time, apparently, and looked at Kohl's performance over a five-year timeframe and I think we did this sometime last year, because when Michelle Gass was still there, she was really hyping the success of all their strategic initiatives. You know, we're rolling out Sephora, and those stores are doing great. We're doing Amazon pickup; those stores are doing great. We've got these new brand partnerships; those brands are doing great and yet the sales continue to be terrible. 

Michael LeBlanc  07:08

Well, and they've got some new, some new folks at the lead, a former colleague of mine, Dave Alice is President and CEO, basically. So, they got some new people and taken over from Michelle Gass. You know, those changes won't have any kind of short-term impact. I guess if we're, you and I are having a conversation about them in a couple of quarters, we more see the efficacy of the new team, I suppose because it takes a while for those decisions to wash through, so. 

Steve Dennis  07:08

So just a couple of quick facts. So, if you look at 2018, quarter, one sales, they were 4.2 billion. If you look at this past quarter sales 3.6 billion, so not even adjusting for inflation, they've lost over $600 million in revenue over five years and while they did eke out the small profit, as we mentioned, that profit is half of what they made, again, not adjusted for inflation five years ago, so I call this the Kohl's running to stand still strategy, they've invested a ton, shout out to a great U2 song by the way, but they've invested all this effort and all they have done is continue to, to lose revenue, lose relevance. So, we'll see whether, because they're clearly caught up in a poor cycle for moderate apparel, but their relative performance continues to be bad, and I don't think anybody believes they can cost-cut their way to being remarkable.

Steve Dennis  08:33

Yes, we shall see.

Michael LeBlanc  08:35

Wish them the best. 

Steve Dennis  08:36

Yeah. I hope they'll figure it out and, and you, we'll see how I think Macy's will be out next week and we'll see the relative performance there because they're the most comparable, but then just cycling quickly back to, again, this is something we've talked about multiple times here, that just in general big-ticket businesses tending not to do well. So the home category is consumer electronics, we had RH report this week, and that are very, very weak quarter, which is disappointing because I always talk about RH as being a remarkable brand and I think they're doing a lot of interesting things, but they clearly have too much inventory have had to take a bunch of markdowns, but just in general look caught up in the in the cycle of big ticket items, naturally as well.

Michael LeBlanc  09:21

I mean, they’re as good as retailer as, as they are and we think they are, they're not you know, they can't avoid gravity basically is the way I kind of look at it.

Steve Dennis  09:29

But then when you get to other kinds of big ticket like Best Buy, for example, another weak quarter comp store sales down 10%, earnings down, they did say that they expected this cycle of, you know, not only just kind of the weakness in big ticket more broadly, but also, as we've talked about the pull forward of demand, and that phenomenon they believe will start to reverse towards the end of the year, now presumably they've got lots of data and models and perhaps some consumer research to help inform that. So, they kind of said like this, we're starting to see the beginning of the end of this, this downside. Well, then lastly, really quickly, Lowe's, we saw Home Depot report last week, Lowe's basically the same story comp store sales down about 4%. Their earnings were, were kind of flat I mean, a lot of companies are managing, you know, as we look at their earnings, we've got this phenomenon of cost cutting, you know, layoffs and things that are rippling through, we also have that generally speaking, freight costs are lower this year, relative to last year, so they're getting a little bit of positive spin in earnings. Kind of, I won't say one time, but it's kind of a short-lived phenomenon in that comparison.

Steve Dennis  09:29

No they can't I mean, a lot of people were going out and I think he kind of walked into this but as much as I love Gary Friedman in terms of being a bold leader, he sometimes gets a little bit whiny and he takes shots at other people and that kind of came back to him because he was very critical over the last year that you know if you take a lot of markdowns, you're a terrible retailer and then you know they took all these markdowns and he basically said we had to and which you know I think is objectively true, but yeah, it didn't from a messaging standpoint, it wasn't optimal, but we also had William Sonoma call out weakness in their high end furniture business. 

Michael LeBlanc  11:19

Last episode, we were talking about a couple of things, sporting goods and footwear. Let's, let’s talk about Dick's because they, they seem to be, I don't know, if they're going against the trend. They're a great retailer and they've posted some strong results. What do you think about the news coming out of Dick's Sporting Goods?

Steve Dennis  11:33

Yeah, again, you know, this is a little bit of the expectations game, their performance is a little weaker than Wall Street was expecting, but Dick's has been on a real tear for two, three years now. So the cost per sales were positive relative, solid relative to most other people and that they were, they were positive. They're continuing to roll out new formats. So, they have this more kind of deluxe format called House of Sport, that they apparently are getting great results on or they're rolling that out. They're also rolling out outlet stores. So, part of this kind of hybrid portfolio strategy we've talked about, and they called out strength in footwear. 

Steve Dennis  12:11

And yes, last week, we were talking about Footlocker's challenges and some of this is caught up in Nikes reconfiguring of their distribution network, which frankly, we'll probably talk to, talk with Simeon about on stage.

Michael LeBlanc  12:25

Adidas missteps with the whole-

Steve Dennis  12:27

Adidas missteps and Hoka had good results and On Running, as we talked about last week, had good results. So, there's a lot of turbulence, I guess you could say, in the sports footwear market. Dick's clearly appears to be taking share right now. Footlocker appears to be leaking share, but, but overall, even though the kind of sporting goods COVID bump has waned a bit, it definitely appears that, that Dick's is gaining relative market share, which is, which is fantastic for them.

Michael LeBlanc  12:58

Let's talk about a different end of the spectrum and in the value retailers Five Below announcing they're gonna open 400 new US stores now they're heading to like 3000, 3000 plus stores. 

Steve Dennis  13:09


Michael LeBlanc  13:10

Are they going to be at the point where a new Five Below just opened up in a local Five Below, I mean, that's a lot of stores.

Steve Dennis  13:15

Yes, I expect a Five Below to open up in my backyard any day now. 

Michael LeBlanc  13:19


Steve Dennis  13:20

No, there, it's just a retailer that, I wouldn't say they, they've come out of nowhere, but they've really come on very strongly in the last several years, apparently, once again, fans, physical retail, still not dead. Yeah, they are strong performance. They keep opening stores, definitely one of the most successful retailers to, to emerge and I think this is another example of both the general shift to value.

Michael LeBlanc  13:45


Steve Dennis  13:45

But it's also I think, a another example it is kind of like this 'edit to amplify' sort of strategy of, you know, really honing in on a particular set of customers and purchase occasions, and doing it in a very distinctive way and I think, you know, what we're seeing generally over the last several years is these sort of retailers are able to steal share away from the little, what I call the little bit of everything, kind of retailers like a Kohl's, like a Macy's, like a JC Penney, so yeah, great, great story. Maybe we'll get their, their CEO, CEO on the podcast next season.

Michael LeBlanc  14:21

Let's wrap with a more troublesome story. I don't know what to make of this exactly. Target's pulling some LGBTQ merchandise from the stores, I see some performative bullshit from social media people go into stores and you know, I guess you know if you're sitting in their chairs, recent events in the beverage category point to caution but is that the exactly the end result that whatever these people are looking to do, is to force people to second guess to compromise like what do you make of all this and you know, I don't think Targets in an easy place but I think they got to make a decision on this but it's complicated, right?

Steve Dennis  14:56

Well, I do appreciate from, from Target's point of view. If there are significant perceived dangers to their store associates, they have to act and unfortunately, we have, you know, what amounts to terrorist action on the part of some very organized people that are, you know, phenomenally ignorant and hateful, just going after companies for you know, these supposedly woke positions. I mean, it's, it's ridiculous and offensive and I think broadly speaking, I mean personally and as a society we can't tolerate you know what amounts to blackmail and, and you know very, you know on the scheme of things obviously small, small terrorist actions but I think it's, it's quite clear that people like Matt Walsh I'll just call him out is, is behind a lot of this and there's, there's money and so they're picking, spotting on social media and see what Matt Walsh has said about it is very clear what he's trying to do and, you know, the guy probably, in some way or another, gonna end up in jail if he's not careful.

Steve Dennis  16:01

So, but I think it's a really difficult issue. I think as just basic human beings, we should push back against this sort of hateful action. I think it is really challenging for, for companies to know specifically what to do, but the other question is, well, you know, our company's not supposed to. I mean, it's very clear not to get into a rant really about it, though I probably already crossed the line. I mean, a lot of what-

Michael LeBlanc  16:27

It's hard not to.

Steve Dennis  16:28

Yeah. Well, a lot of what is said on, on social media is just factually incorrect and you can tell whether it's bots or whatever, that is very intentional, you know, people are like, oh, you know, I'm going to shop at Walmart because they sell American flags, like as if Target doesn't sell American flags, and also by the way, Walmart sells pride merchandise. So it's not even just factually correct, but you know, they clearly have an agenda and I think my question is, are we going to, you know, as companies as leaders, are we going to allow these small terroristic type forces and, you know, ironically, these are often, you know, fueled by people like Elon Musk, who supposedly are free speech, what is it called free speech absolutist to dictate what sort of products companies can carry, you know, if you think, you know, they shouldn't carry Pepsi, because it's got sugar, I mean, the you know, pick, pick your issue, right, I get it very different people can disagree, or agree on, on what sort of products should be carried, but you know, if you're going after people based on, on hate and trying to basically terrorize companies into not carrying products. I mean, we've got to push back on that I think ab-, absolutely, because I think not only is it terrible in this particular instance, but if this were to escalate, it would be very bad, I think for lots of people.

Michael LeBlanc  17:48

All right. Well, that's a wrap on this episode. Now, just before at least the news part of this episode, and just before we get to our excellent interview with friend of the pod and your personal friend, Seth Godin, let's hear from our presenting sponsor.

Michael LeBlanc  18:02

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Steve Dennis  18:35

All right. Well, Seth Godin, welcome back to the Remarkable Retail podcast, we're gonna have to get you one of those. Those five timer jackets like they have on Saturday Night Live, I think. I think this might be your fifth time. Does that sound about right to you?

Seth Godin  18:47

It's always amazing that you have me back. So, thanks for giving me another chance to get it right.

Steve Dennis  18:51

All right, well, we're gonna keep doing this until we get it right, but it's great to have you back. Now, there's always plenty to talk about, but the particular thing we're talking about is your new book, The Song of Significance, which actually is going to come out the day that we're releasing this episode. So that's very nice timing but tell us about this book. What was the motivation, how did you come about this idea amongst all the other books you've written?

Seth Godin  18:54

There's so many different ways into it, but as often we should probably start with Amazon. Half of all the warehouse injuries in the entire country happened at Amazon last year. In 2021 an internal memo at Amazon said that in some cities, they have had so much turnover, that they believe they have run out of people in the entire city who are willing to come work for them. What I learned from watching Amazon's race to the bottom combined with watching brutal billionaires, subjecting their employees to ridiculous public humiliation, combined with AI and outsourcing is there's a fork in the road and sometimes when you see a fork in the road, you should take it and one side of the fork is are we going to race to the bottom and maximize convenience and low price at all costs or are we gonna race to the top and bring humanity back to work and I felt this time in particular, like it was personal and I basically was lucky enough that my editor, let me rant, and it has resonated with the people who've read it so far, they moved it up six months, which they never do, because it's timely, and it's urgent.

Steve Dennis  20:40

I think one of the statements you make right at the beginning is that work isn't working and what do you mean by that? And I think that resonates with a lot of people. But what in particular do you mean?

Seth Godin  20:50

Well, so here's the first question is the purpose of culture to enable capitalism or is the purpose of capitalism to enable us to have the lives we want to live and when industrialism and department stores and everything else came hand in hand, with mass media, we create an enormous amount of productivity and wealth and people say, yeah, it's worth it. It's worth it for me to go to the factory every day because of what I can do for my family, but in the last 10 or 15 years, as so many organizations have struggled to become ever more hyper efficient to honor Milton Friedman's edict to make more money for the CEO, they haven't created a place where people feel like people, I think what it means to say 'work isn't working' is it's working for the boss, it might be working for some shareholders, but it's not working for the people who are sacrificing 90,000 hours of their life and we can do better than that.

Michael LeBlanc  21:50

What, what strikes me as, as interesting is, I'm in the same situation that Steve is, that you are I you know, I don't in some ways, have a dog in the fight or dog in the hunt around working in offices because I haven't worked in an office in a long time. So it's interesting that it catches your attention because there is a bit, there's a lot of energy around the dialogue of where and how people work right now, did that also get you thinking about that, because there's what we call the work from home or work anywhere hybrid work, and it seems to be sticking and there's a big push and pull and, you know, between threatening employees to come back versus cajoling them versus enticing them to come back to this all kind of swirl around your thinking around, at least the corporate work. 

Seth Godin  22:32

Well, what a profound shift in the environment of the industrialized world to in a four-week period of time, without the economy missing much of a beat. Suddenly, millions and millions and millions and millions of people aren't getting their dry cleaning done, have established an office that isn't where their offices. Well, it was inevitable once we had zoom and the internet, but the real interesting question is why do bosses care so much and I think the reason they care is similar to the reason that open hiring has had such a difficult time getting adopted. 

Seth Godin  23:09

So, I'll talk about open hiring first. If you've ever had Ben and Jerry's ice cream, you may have had the brownie flavor, they make all of the brownies for Ben and Jerry's brownie ice cream, four miles from my house at the Greyston Bakery, which was founded by a Buddhist monk named Bernie Glassman and one of the things that they do is they have a clipboard at the front desk, and anyone who wants you can put their name on the clipboard and when a job opens up, the next person on the list gets hired. Doesn't matter if you were previously incarcerated, doesn't matter if you've had a drug problem, doesn't matter if you've never had a job, the next person gets hired this is called open hiring and it is an extraordinarily important way to build resilience and redemption into our communities. 

Seth Godin  23:59

But not that many companies have adopted it, even though they work very hard to share the technique the Body Shop did. The Body Shop was having a lot of trouble filling jobs and a lot of trouble with turnover. They adopted open hiring, and they discovered turnover went down 60% and productivity on all of their measures went up 15%. This is in the retail environment and yet, even in the face of that most organizations don't do it because the boss wants to think that they have some sort of special instinct about who would be good at this job and the boss also finds peace of mind in surveilling their employees, making sure quote, they're really working, calling Zoom meetings to make sure that people who are remote or in their chairs, paying attention.

Michael LeBlanc  24:50

Turn your camera on. 

Seth Godin  24:52

And all of those things are false proxies. They're false proxies for what actually makes a difference, now that we are getting so much smarter at what creates value, we're finding it's painful, but urgent that we get rid of the false proxies. 

Steve Dennis  25:09

But, I think it's a really interesting point, but there, there seems to me like there's a lot of things where the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of taking a particular set of actions, yet people still don't do it and so I'm wondering, would you agree, I think you would agree with that, right, it's not a matter of the data supporting a particular set of actions. 

Seth Godin  25:31


Steve Dennis  25:31

It's a matter of people's mindset, and their fear, or their need for, you know, this illusion of control, and so forth. How would you suggest get, and I know you go into this in the book, but can you give our audience a little bit of a sense of how you would suggest making this change towards providing or creating more significance in the work that teams and their organizations do?

Seth Godin  25:54

Because you're a Steve, I can tell you just how audacious I am seeking to be here. Most people who hear about this say, oh, sure, let's create things that make people feel significant at work. They're just lying to themselves, because making people feel significant at work is not the same as making people actually significant at work and you can't, the same way, when the internet came along, there were a lot of skeuomorph, there was a lot of 'this is just like the real world except click on the picture of a book as opposed to touch the book'. That's not what you could do, if you wanted to do what was best for the internet. That it's not just the real world, but with a mouse, it's different. Email is not just a postal letter, but faster. 

Seth Godin  26:43

The postindustrial workforce is not just like the industrial workforce, except with better snacks and a feeling of significance. It's different, because what we now know is that mediocre work and any work that can be written down in a spec can either be done by an AI, or outsourced really cheap, you don't need to go out of your way to pay people to do that work the way you used to. So, what's left, what's left is this human work of making a change happen. You can't just say, well, I'm going to let a little bit of light into this place, because it's still a dank basement. What you have to do is say, we're going to create value for people by raising our standards, and making a change, a change for the customer, a change in the side effects, a change for the employees, a significant change because when a change happens, we find meaning in that work. 

Seth Godin  27:41

And people will, yes, pay $80 for an $8 t-shirt if it comes with meaning. The retailers who are trying to out Amazon, Amazon are just going to keep failing and it was interesting, David Risher, who used who was one of the architects of Amazon, left there to do some stuff, and now he's back as the CEO of Uber and he just ordered, and I use that word carefully. He just ordered all employees back to headquarters at least three days a week, he came up with this nonsense about magic can happen when you have a whiteboard in front of people, but what he's really saying is, he's too lazy, and too scared to reimagine a different sort of work, a distributed sort of work, the work that powers automatic, the work that creates movements, that work doesn't require people to go to the office, it simply requires people to find meaning.

Michael LeBlanc  28:35

Let's, let's unpack a couple of things I hear a lot when speaking to retail, other CEOs, they talk about productivity, being fantastic from work from home or work from wherever or hybrid. What they worry about is the, a couple things. One is, and I'd love to get your thoughts on this. One is that the younger employees don't have mentors or mentorship and attachment to the culture and the second is just, you know what you were just saying, and I think there's no demonstrable proof that it happens, this water cooler talk doesn't happen, the inspiration in the parking lot kind of stuff where we're not generating new ideas, innovation is hard, or can't happen to take on both of those one at a time, the whole thing that there is a deficit of your young person sitting at home. Maybe you're just sitting at home alone and a little concrete box, not that fun. You're not meeting people; a lot of people meet their partners and workplaces. How do we square this circle and get the best of both worlds?

Seth Godin  29:33

Oh, I remember visiting our erstwhile colleague Steve in Chicago and walking the halls of Sears and noting just how many people were in the hall having substantial conversations, honest interactions with each other, mentoring and teaching. Oh, no, that was a different building. The fact this is just because there's cubicles doesn't mean that there are interactions happening when I was at Yahoo. The back room where I was, was a cube farm with more than 1000 people on one floor and there was none of that because you have to do it on purpose and it's easier to do it on purpose online. That, you know, no matter how hard Elon Musk has tried for the last six months, he just can't kill Twitter, people just are having trouble leaving. Why is that the whole place is online and yet, people get hooked, they get hooked on their circle, they get hooked on the interactions, they get hooked on what they can say and what they can hear. And if you do it on purpose, you can do it online and I just think it's so dramatically overrated. This sort of random bumping into people at the water cooler, the water cooler is not that busy of a place.

Steve Dennis  30:48

I guess I'm curious. I mean, it's hard to separate exactly what you said in the book versus things I've heard you say over the years, or you've, you've written about in your blog, taking on kind of meeting culture and meetings in general, do you have any, any thoughts on, on what meetings should be for how to make the best of them and how they really kind of contribute to this, this malaise that we're seeing in a lot of corporate cultures.

Seth Godin  31:16

And this is a great topic for this particular podcast, because what do retailers actually make because they don't make the stuff they sell, generally, what they make is decisions. Meetings are often misnamed, a meeting, a real meeting, is a conversation in which lots of people who are in it, more than 80%. So, if there's two people, that means both are talking and listening, moving toward a decision. This is different than a mandatory group lecture, in which one person who was too lazy to write a good memo or edit a good five-minute video calls everyone together, so they can share their thoughts out loud as they think of them and this is very common, and it's done as an exercise in status and in taking attendance. It's an artifact similar to going to fourth grade fractions class, but that doesn't help us make better decisions and we have lots of ways to have actual meetings, but first, the person who's calling the meeting has to be willing to have one, as opposed to just be taking attendance.

Michael LeBlanc  32:27

Seth, have you familiar with the concept of holacracy, I had the opportunity to interview I can't say he was the CEO, but because he described his role differently from FREITAG, which is a great company that makes bags out of recycled truck tarps in Europe, but then he described the holacracy is this is this closer to the pan about how you envision the workplace being successful?

Seth Godin  32:50

Tony Shea, what a tragic story, RIP. He was the loudest proponent of it in the US. I think it's extraordinarily difficult to do it at all and certainly to retrofit into an existing organization. I think it could be argued that Zappos left billions of dollars in value on the table, as they tried to shift into that. What I learned from building the carbon almanac with 300 other people, all volunteers, including me, is it is possible to relentlessly raise standards, it is possible to be unbelievably productive. Especially if you spend very little time talking about the process of the process, that when you show people the board, they can play the board game, but if you're going to have to spend half your time arguing about the rules is really challenging. So are there holacracies in the world, for sure, but I don't think it matches with the power dynamic that customers require of you. You made me a promise, I expect you to keep it and exceed it.

Steve Dennis  34:01

You know, a lot of times when I read your, your stuff, I'm certainly very inspired, but I'm also I guess, colored, by my time either working at or working for very large corporations. In many cases, these are publicly traded companies and I'm just wondering your thoughts on how hard it is to get started on some of these things. When you're part of a much bigger organization, particularly if you're at the top of that organization, and you perceive any way that you have to kowtow to quarterly earnings and expectations of you know, driving top line sales, ever increasing productivity, those sort of things which tend to be much more short term oriented and it feels to me like some of the things you're suggesting here. While you can make some small starts, to really make a big change might take quite a lot of effort over quite a long period of time.

Seth Godin  35:00

This is almost precisely what they said at Western Union when they had the chance to buy AT&T. It's also what Toyota said, when the electric car showed up and everything in between that you are absolutely correct in everything that you said, but, and your competition, perhaps more adroit, perhaps differently funded is going to do it. So, then what are you going to do?

Steve Dennis  35:25


Seth Godin  35:26

And the what we have seen from Sears and Macy's and Lord & Taylor and all the others is, you can do what the stock market wants tomorrow, but you might not be here next year to tell us about it or you can take a deep breath and realize that if what we make is decisions, and a different approach to making decisions, and then implementing them is going to satisfy a new marketplace faster, better, more profitably, either you're going to do it or somebody else is. So, I'm not asking anybody who runs an organization to settle for less. What I'm saying is, humans are not a resource. Humans are the point and shifting fundamentally away from Peter Drucker to a different set of expectations and interactions is happening right here right now and if you want the kind of people who have a choice about where to work, this is the only way you're going to be able to dance with them.

Steve Dennis  36:31

Yeah, I think it's something I'm working on, as you and I have talked about in my new book, is that I think there's a fundamental misperception of a lot of companies about what the riskiest thing is, right. Like the, the, it's really the opposite of what they often think that, that is riskiest, right, it's the failure to make these bold changes or to get started now, as opposed to when they get forced into reactivity. That is really, really the most risky decision.

Seth Godin  36:57

Also, if this is a fine time, first of all, can't wait to read the new book, but this is a fine time to invoke Schumpeter, which is, it's okay. If companies go out of business, and are replaced by the next thing when the airlines were whining, during COVID for a bailout, you know what, we shouldn't let them go out of business because the planes weren't going to go away, and the airports weren't going to go away and we could have re factored how they were organized and kept flying and if you are really stuck, because you made the mistake of selling ownership in your company to short term thinking people who are under informed then maybe you should go work somewhere else and do something important instead.

Michael LeBlanc  37:36

Seth, this is a fantastic discussion. I mean, it's a lot to get your arms around and I'm thinking of our listeners who are somewhere in an organization, perhaps in a leadership role, what are the kinds of one, two or three steps that you talk about in the book, and that you have, think yourself to get started on this journey to really rethink and, you know, become the brownie supplier type company, you know, to just change from what you do today. I mean, if we took it all the way back to the beginning, Amazon's purposeful, very purposeful, they like turnover, it's in their policy. So, go all the way to where you think we should be and what are the kind of couple practical steps you can begin with?

Seth Godin  38:16

There's one practical step that has to be before any of them and it's a simple sentence and Menard Koestler put it on the title of his book, let's get real, or let's not play. What Jeff Bezos did in the first three years of Amazon is extraordinary. He made a clear statement to every employee, every investor, every senior leader, let's get real, or let's not play, we're going to have a different way we do meetings, we're gonna have a different way we track growth, we're gonna have a different way.

Seth Godin  38:49

This is what we are building here, a thing, a better thing, a new thing, a different thing, having the conversation about what would it be like, if we made a commitment to each other, I promise to pay attention in your meeting, if you promise not to call a meeting that could be replaced by a memo, let's get real, or let's not play, we can go down the list of the kinds of interactions. Let's agree that we will relentlessly criticize the work and raise our standards and we will never criticize the worker. Let's embrace the fact that turnover is a good thing if it means that the people here are enrolled in where we are going, not simply here because they can't find a better job. There's, in the book, I outline about 15 of these and I also asked 150 different questions throughout the book. Let's talk about it, because pretending that we're going to get to the other side of this and go back to normal is extraordinarily naïve. This is the new normal, and this is as stable as the world is ever going to be again.

Michael LeBlanc  39:56

And last question from my side and I'll pass the mic back to Steve to wrap up, but you've written a lot of books, you write constantly. How do you, how do you get excited, are you excited about this book more than the others or is that like asking people about, which is their favorite kid, like, how do you, how do you think of that when your latest book comes out?

Seth Godin  40:16

Steve has heard me say it before that I'm done with publishing and-

Steve Dennis  40:21

I was gonna bring that up, the number of times you've told me that this is my last book, I'm never writing another one again, then l like I got a new book coming out next week.

Seth Godin  40:30

It's a silly thing to do because you can spread an idea, certain kinds of idea to more people faster in other ways, but this one is personal. This is the one that has moved me to tears while I was writing it and even sometimes when I talk about it on the podcast, this is the one that I feel like, I have been getting ready to write for a long time, I don't wake up in the morning, saying to myself, I need to write a book. Now, I used to, that's what I do for a living. I don't anymore. Now it's a sacrifice, but when I brought this book to my editor, and Nikki said, we need to move this up, that this is urgent. I felt something inside of me that I hadn't felt in a long time. This is something I need to say, and I feel very different about this one.

Steve Dennis  41:22

Well, that's probably a good place to end it. I'm not sure what I could really add to that, but I would, or you were nice enough to share an early version of the book with me, I really loved it and I would very much encourage people to go check it out and I think I didn't know there were 150 questions, but I thought, or I found so many of those questions to be really, really provocative and really challenging and if you want an inspiring read, but also something that really causes you to question, how we got here what we're doing, I think this is the book for you. So thanks, Seth, again for joining us. We'll send you your five-timer jacket in the mail shortly. I'm sure you'll wear it proudly in future appearances. Thanks so much, Seth.

Seth Godin  42:04

Thanks, Michael. Thank you, Steve. Always a pleasure.

Michael LeBlanc  42:06

If you liked what you heard, please follow us on Apple, Spotify, your favorite podcast platform so you can catch up with all our great interviews, including Judith McKenna, President International, Walmart. New episodes of season six, presented by our friends at MarketDial will show up each and every Tuesday and be sure to tell your friends and colleagues in the retail industry all about us.

Steve Dennis  42:26

And I'm Steve Dennis, author of the bestselling book, ‘Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption’. You can learn more about me, my consulting and keynote speaking at

Michael LeBlanc  42:40

And I'm Michael LeBlanc, consumer retail growth consultant, keynote speaker and producer and host of a series of retail trade podcasts including this one. You can learn even more about me on LinkedIn. You can catch up with me on stage at Store conference in Toronto, May 31 and you can see both of us at the Lead Innovation Summit in July, live on stage in New York with our friend of the pod Simeon Siegel from BMO. 

Until then, safe travels everyone.


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