How do you give something away

In theory this newsletter’s per diem is one little-but-worthy idea. Hard to pick just one idea when you’re on a “Godin-bender”, because he says things like: “if you think people are paying you for your secrets, you’re crazy”.

Seth Godin always fascinates. But sometimes he catches fire with creative brilliance.

And then he gives it all away. Every last piece.

That’s as true as ever over the past month or so, between his blog, his podcast, and his podcast guest appearances. Let me cite a few examples:

  • If you’re working on a book or want to, as a couple of my clients are, you can’t miss Seth Godin’s appearance on The Business of Authority podcast, where he talks about how and why to write a book, and how to take it to market. [0] I’ve followed Seth Godin for 20 years and he’s never been so candid on book publishing.
  • If you produce software products, take in his own podcast episode, “Why is software so bad?“, where he argues that software has traded in craftsmanship (citing 80’s Apple software) for being networked – Internet-connected, portable, mobile, etc. [1] (I would add integrable..)
  • And if you have any interest in SEO and/or content marketing as it relates to your business, you should not miss the post he wrote yesterday, The Google tax. Basically, if you are in any lucrative industry, you will have to compete directly with a Google-owned business sooner or later, and pay Google for the privilege of doing so. So hedge your SEO bets.

This last article references Aaron Wall’s comprehensive and incisive takedown of Google’s brazen transition from disruptor and innovator to monopolistic behemoth [2].  

Seth Godin compresses Aaron Wall’s (very impressive) article into a Bonzai tree of a tiny blog post and leaves us with this thought: that more so than any other single entity, public or private, Google is essentially taxing western-style capitalism itself to death – via monopolization.

In other words, Google’s new business model is to smash disruption.

So there’s that.

What to do?

Give so much away that you change things for your people

I wanted to decrypt the message from Seth Godin’s Business of Authority podcast appearance:

If you think people are paying you for your secrets, you’re crazy.

Once thing I have noticed: sometimes SaaS can learn from services and sometimes vice-versa.

Not in this case.

When I rent software by the month, I am paying for the founder’s secrets, whether they are comprised of patents, closed source software, proprietary data sets, or just plain old insight gained from professional experience. The founder’s secrets are baked into the product. Paying for them, not crazy.

To Seth Godin’s aforementioned point in “Why is software so bad?”, the quality of the design, build, and delivery matters too. Maybe even more than the secrets.

That’s certainly the case with (a) consultative services and (b) content.

Of course, some consultants guard their secrets, their processes, their documents, their research, their best practices.

Their approach is to transact: you give me cash, I’ll give you the secrets.

Or worse, you give me the cash, I’ll give you my labor, in units of time. Believe me, it’s possible to sell off valuable expertise and skills in such a way – I’ve been guilty of that myself.

But how to get beyond that?

Here’s where Seth’s advice to give away your secrets comes in. 

In my experience, though, giving away your secrets (your expertise) is hard work.

Not because of latent miserliness, but because it’s not easy to package information usefully. You can’t just brain dump, it doesn’t work like that.

Aaron Wall is a genius and his aforementioned 4,000-word article on Google’s abuse of its search products is brilliant. Compressing that into a 300-word blog post as Seth Godin did is a masterclass in how to package ideas usefully.

So here’s an exercise: pick one of the most valuable things you know about your work, no matter how trivial it seems. Something that’s made life easier for yourself or for your clients. 

You have now something to give could be worth giving. 

The next question becomes, how to give it away? Does it go into code? Does it go into UI design or copy.. a training manual?

Or – and here’s the hard work – is it good enough to write, talk, or speak about? 

That’s a good place to leave it – a content marketing question.

My best,



[0] Read the bit from the transcript:

Thomas Piketty has benefited from this. His book, Capital, is the most unread book published that year. We know this for a fact. If we multiply the number of people who purchased it times the percentage in the Kindle that was indicated that they read, it had more unread pages than any other book of the year but-

Yeah but it’s true and after reading 10 pages you knew everything you needed to know to talk about the book and so the book served its purpose. The book was not a ripoff. You got your $30.00’s worth which is after reading 10 pages you knew enough to be able to talk with some confidence about the inequity in our society and recommend that people who disagreed with you read the whole book.”

[1] It’s a simplification of a complex landscape (there are 80,000 SaaS products in the US alone). But not an over-simplification because his point is worthy: it’s possible to make remarkable software, so why not?

[2] Rand Fishkin has also written convincingly about this same trend The Aaron Wall article is a gem for its historical breadth, though. If you ever wanted to understand the larger business significance of SEO as an industry, let this article be your entry point.