Please enjoy this transcript of another episode of the “Books I’ve Loved” series, in which I invite amazing past guests, close friends, and new faces to share their favorite books—the books that have influenced them, changed them, and transformed them for the better.
First up will be Seth Godin (@thisissethsblog), the author of 19 bestselling books, including Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip, Purple Cow, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See, and What to Do When it’s Your Turn (and it’s Always Your Turn).
Seth was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame in 2013 and has founded several companies, including Yoyodyne and Squidoo. His blog (which you can find by typing “Seth” into Google) is one of the most popular in the world.
Seth is also the founder of the altMBA, an intense four-week online leadership and management workshop.
Esther’s TED talks on maintaining desire and rethinking infidelity have more than 17 million views, and she’s tested and been exposed to everything imaginable in 34 years of running her private therapy practice in New York City.
On her podcast Where Should We Begin?, Esther brings you into her office to listen to real-life couples therapy sessions, and her newest Spotify project, How’s Work?, brings lessons from couples therapy to the corner office.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Seth Godin: Hey, it’s Seth Godin. I’m an author and entrepreneur, a blogger and a teacher. I’ve written 19 bestselling books, packaged 120 others, but the most effective project I’ve created is the altMBA. I’m here to honor Tim and a half a billion, and to talk about a bunch of books that have stuck with me through the years. I want to start and end with particularly profound ones, but each one matters a lot to me, and I think it will resonate with the people who are listening to this. So let’s get going.
The Gift by Lewis Hyde. We gave The Gift to many of the first 1,000 or 2,000 people who took the altMBA. The Gift is a dense, extraordinarily researched book written by a brilliant writer, and it’s not about what you think it’s about. It’s not about reciprocity. It’s not about the hustle. It’s not about giving gifts so you will get things. It’s about the muse, about being a genius. It’s about culture and it’s about society. It’s about the fact that the thing that binds us together isn’t trade, nor is it as Graeber would say, debt.
No, the thing that binds us together is the fact that we are able to create something because we got a gift from who knows where, and that we could turn that thing we created into a connection. We can do it by sharing, and as we share with one another, we open doors for other people. And every once in a while I feel a little bit burnt out and I’ll open up any section of The Gift to read about the shoemaker, to read about Calvin, to read about genius, to read about potlatch, and it will stick with me.
Next on my list is a book written by Tom Peters that most people have not read, it’s called The Pursuit of Wow, from 1994. I met Tom in ’84 right after In Search of Excellence came out; it was just a random connection, but ever since then I have been inspired and amazed by his energy and by his passion. And this book captures so much of it.
You don’t have to read many of the books I’ve written if you just read The Pursuit of Wow. What Tom is talking about in this book — and he’s not afraid to use exclamation points, underlines, bold, and the occasional illustration or photo — is that people who care can make a difference, and that business as usual just isn’t going to cut it anymore. As Tom Peters would say, “Make it excellent! Period.” Thank you, Tom, for showing me that putting energy into the work really can pay dividends.
After that, three books to share that have basic concepts in them that, once you see them, you cannot un-see them. The first one is a book I wish I had written. There aren’t many books I haven’t written that I wish I had written and this is one of them. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. You may have heard about it, but you probably haven’t read the book as closely as you might.
If you care about how ideas spread in our culture and you want to understand issues around scarcity and abundance, about how we pick what we want in an era when the gatekeepers have left the building, well, The Long Tail will help you see it. The idea that the power law curve really is symmetrical. The idea that people who aggregate many, many choices, as so many of the behemoths in social media have done, are building something that’s going to continue to change the culture.
The second one also based on the curve is Crossing the Chasm by Geoff Moore. There are many editions of this book; I like the older editions, but that’s just because I’m a boomer. But Crossing the Chasm helps us understand that it is a myth — an incorrect myth, a false myth — to believe that we can start with an idea for a few people and ride it from early adopter to early majority to late majority to laggard.
That, in fact, there is a chasm. There is a hole. In that hole fell the Apple Newton, which you probably don’t even remember. It turns out the Newton was a success when it first came out. That they sold 100,000 of them in the first month or two, and then it hit the wall, and then it went away. And the reason it went away is it fell into the chasm. And you need to see the chasm, be prepared for the chasm, walk into the chasm knowing that getting to the other side is a lot more difficult than it looks, or you can happily dance with the early adopters.
One thing that’s fascinating about Tim’s career is what a great job he did from the very first book of going from the geeks, the nerds, the early adopters who were hacking their lifestyle all the way across the chasm to a half a billion downloads.
And the third strategy book is called Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. Yes, that Annie Duke — world poker champion — and the first chapter alone will change your life. Thinking in Bets helps us understand what it actually means to make a decision, because decisions and outcomes are different things. And a good decision may very well lead to a lousy outcome — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good decision.
Two more books and then I’ll let you go back to hacking your lifestyle. These books touched me at an emotional level. In my book Your Turn, I tried to capture some of this energy, but the women who wrote these two books can do it far better than I ever could.
The first one is a poem. It’s now in a new format. I published it in its original format. It’s a poem called B and it’s by Sarah Kay — the one and only Sarah Kay, spoken word maestro. You can see her TED Talk. It’s the only TED Talk I’ve ever seen that was interrupted by a standing ovation.
B is a simple poem from a mother to her daughter. And I have to confess, I get choked up every single time I read it. If you’ve got a mother or if you’ve got a daughter, this is a great gift, a great book to share with them. And the last book I’ll talk about is by a woman who has changed my life since the day I met her. Her name is Jacqueline Novogratz. The book is The Blue Sweater. Her next book is coming out early 2020; I hope you’ll look for it.
The Blue Sweater is the true story of how one woman has decided to change philanthropy, capitalism, development, and the way two billion poor people — who just happen to be poor, they don’t deserve to be poor — two billion people who are currently poor engage with markets, engage with the privileged part of the world, and engage with each other.
The Blue Sweater begins with an astonishing story about just how small our world is. When Jacqueline was growing up, I believe it was in Virginia, she used to wear this sweater her uncle had given her. It was a blue sweater that had some mountain ranges needlepointed on it. Well, after being humiliated in high school, she and her mom brought it to the Goodwill box and dumped it in there. Fast forward 10 years later, she is jogging in Rwanda at six o’clock in the morning and she sees a kid across the street in Rwanda.
She chases the kid down the street, which must have been frightening indeed, catches up to him, grabs him by the collar, and looks on the inside of this sweater and there, written in marker, is her name. All the way across the world. This world we live in, it doesn’t have enough dignity. It doesn’t have enough connection that the gifts we share need to be based on abundance.
It’s not “I don’t have it because you have it.” It’s “Now we both have it.” And what Acumen Fund has done is built a different model of how people can engage with one another to make change happen.
So that’s my list of books. Books about strategy, books about inspiration, books about how we live our lives. But one thing that I have learned from a lifetime of being in the book business is that the book business isn’t a business. It’s a passion and an organized hobby. It’s a chance for just 20 bucks to own something that you can keep on your shelf and go back to again and again.
There’s a Proustian reaction I have when I see a book. It’s not the same when it’s on audio or a Kindle, but I don’t care how you consume these ideas. I just hope that you do, and then that you live them and share them. Because seeing the world as it is, and then choosing to make it better, I don’t know what more we could ask for. Thanks for listening to me today. Go make your ruckus!
Esther Perel: Hi, I’m Esther Perel. I’m a psychotherapist, an author, a TED speaker, and a podcast host. If you haven’t read my books Mating In Captivity or The State of Affairs, you may actually recognize my voice from my podcast, Where Should We Begin?, where I bring you into my office to listen in on real life couples therapy sessions, or my newest Spotify project, How’s Work?, which brings lessons from couples therapy to the corner office.
All my work involves helping individuals, couples, co-founders, family members, colleagues, deal with the hidden dimensions, or the hidden forces that underlie relationship dynamics, because I believe that it is the quality of our relationships that determines the quality of our lives, and that cultivating relational intelligence today is a new bottom line and certainly in the workplace. I’m here to honor Tim, who’s been a friend and a most wonderful collaborator, and all his many listeners, and I want to share with you a few books that have shaped the way I think about relational intelligence.
I’ve deliberately chosen books actually that have very little to do with the business world. I come from psychology, I work as a psychologist, but every one of these books is going to give you, or at least has given me, tremendous insight into our life, both at home, at work, and I would say in our society at large.
Because I work with people who are in situations that are highly contentious, groups, individuals, teams, co-founders, the book of Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, has been really a classic. It’s actually a book that doesn’t age, but the reason that book spoke to me is because as a child of two Holocaust survivors, I’ve often lived with this one question, or in fact, that often I think this question has followed me my whole life: what is it that disconnects us from our compassionate nature and leads us to behave violently and exploitatively? But on the other end, what is it that allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature in the most challenging of circumstances? The way that this book highlights the importance of language, the speaking and the listening, the language that soothes and repairs, and the language that creates ruptures that are often beyond repair, I think that this book is a classic for anyone who is thinking relationships.
Fighting for Your Marriage by Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg. On its surface, it’s a book about marriage of course, but you just go one layer deeper and it’s a study of the underlying issues that shape the way that we relate. Both with my couples and my corporate clients, I quite often pull from Markman’s theories to assess what’s really going on behind the manifest. And it’s very simple to capture, is this: underneath many of the relational impasses or conflicts, you’re going to find three major dynamics: a fight about power and control, a fight about care and closeness, and a fight about respect and recognition. So it’s either about power, about trust, or about integrity. I think that those three dimensions pretty much stand at the helm of our relational life. So that book will help many people personally as well as professionally.
Can Love Last?: The Fate of Romance Over Time by Stephen Mitchell. Mitchell’s book was part of the spine of my book Mating In Captivity, because he highlighted an inherent tension that spoke a great deal to me, and it’s the tension in how we try today to reconcile in one relationship, two fundamental sets of human needs: the need for stability, our need for safety, for security, together with the need for change, passion, novelty, and mystery. These two sets of needs that he describes so well that spring from different sources and also pull us in different directions, how we straddle security and adventure, tradition and change, familiarity and novelty, comfort and edge, I think today is a central challenge for couples as well as for companies. It’s a little philosophical book. It really requires sitting, but it’s a gem of a book, and he died an untimely death at 53 and so in many ways I have often found that I was able to give voice to some of these ideas posthumously.
Every one of the books that I’m thinking here are books that really shaped my thinking. They shifted a paradigm for me. I came one way and I finished the book and left another way, and Zygmunt Bauman’s book, Liquid Life, is another one like that. His description of nomadism gave me a whole new path of thinking, because he looks at nomadism as this trade of our liquid life, where we flow through life like a tourist, where we change places and jobs and spouses and values, including our religious and our professional affiliations. What he highlights is how we’ve dismantled the traditional structures and networks that used to give us support, and now we live in a precarious life under conditions of constant uncertainty, where the burdens of the self have never been heavier.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring in my own mentor, Salvador Minuchin, who was the founder of Structural Family Therapy, came from theories of communications and systems thinking, because it is probably the foundation of much of my thinking. You can read Family Healing, you can read Structural Family Therapy, which is the real theoretical basis of it. It will change your whole way of understanding relationships, but I think what it really did for me is I used to come and think about problems from an individualistic point of view, and he gave me a map for thinking about relationships, systemically, tracking the invisible rules that govern the maps of relationships between people. How do we actually go about disrupting dysfunctional relationship patterns, be they couples or families or in organizations, and how do we help people switch them to healthier ones?
This idea that pathology isn’t necessarily inside the person, but created by what happens between the two people, or the idea that in relationships it’s easy to look for a villain and a victim, but it isn’t necessarily so. What I can say is that every one of these books is in my mind when I do the sessions for How’s Work?
It is how I think. It is what leads me to do the interventions that I do. And I hope that you will enjoy these books as much as I do. I thank you for listening and I would like to just ask you a couple of relational intelligence questions. What are some of the stories that you tell yourself that don’t serve you anymore? Give me a time when you changed your mind. What would you say is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received? Would you say that you were raised more for autonomy or for loyalty? Enjoy the readings and enjoy the conversations.
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