Seth Godin on how to get your boss to back a risky idea

People in corporate settings have been trained to take credit and deflect blame, Godin says—and they’ve got it backward

Seth Godin

Seth Godin. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

For nearly two decades, Seth Godin has argued companies need to change how they relate to consumers. A serial entrepreneur, member of the direct marketing hall of fame, and author of bestselling books such as Tribes, Godin contends we now live in a “connection economy” where building trust and affinity with consumers is crucial to success.

“I think a revolution occurred during our lifetime—one that’s as big as Henry Ford’s industrial revolution,” he said in a phone interview in advance of his appearance at CEO Global Network’s Speaker Series in Toronto on June 18. This new reality requires a change in marketing tactics, where modern companies must have a consumers’ consent to interact with them, rather than simply broadcasting at them. (It’s the difference between offering a social media feed or newsletter and shouting at them with a television commercial). Godin says business people rarely disagree with the argument, but simply say they’re powerless to act upon it. “They generally say ‘My boss won’t let me. Or my board won’t let me. Or my shareholders won’t let me,’” he says. “They want a Plan B that won’t cause discomfort.”

To get higher ups to embrace risky ideas, Godin suggests a simple approach: Push for an idea. If it fails, take the blame. If it succeeds, give the credit to the boss. “What people in the traditional economy have been trained to do is not go out on limbs, not give other people credit and make sure someone else always get the blame,” says Godin. “What I’m arguing is all three are wrong.”

It may seem like a poor career choice to always accept blame and take no credit, but Godin says it actually leads to further opportunities. “When people are busy giving away credit, the people who receive the credit know where it came from, so they come back for more,” he says. “That’s how you become known as the person who does interesting projects. And the alternative is to be the person that no one notices—and that’s the first person who gets laid off.”

Furthermore, the modern economy allows far more room to correct errors on the fly. “If Canadian Tire puts the wrong display on the end of all their aisles at Christmas, they might miss their quarterly numbers,” says Godin. “But if you’re going to send 50,000 emails, you can send them 1,000 at a time and figure out what works. That doesn’t cost you anything at all.”