Monday, February 21, 2011


When I was younger, if there was significant disagreement between two book reviewers, either one or both had to be wrong. There was no room for opinion. These days though, I find it fascinating to look at Amazon reviews and see five star gushes on the one hand, and one star death sentences on the other. How can the same book look so different to different people? It's, as I say, fascinating. And so when I offer opinions on two things -- an author, and a podcaster -- know that others may take the opposite view.

First, Seth Godin. I don't get him, or the fuss. About a year ago I read his "The Dip". I cannot fathom why anyone would see it as anything more than the following statement:
When the going gets tough you should push through; except when you shouldn't.
And now I've just finished reading "Linchpin". Ostensibly about what makes people indispensable, it looked like a useful addition to my list of readings about how to build a world class team. But to be honest, I have no idea what it was about. At least I could give a single sentence review of "The Dip". But "Linchpin" is just ... I mean, it's full of ... it's kinda like .... Shrug. Honest to god, it conveyed pretty much zero meaning to me.

And then there's Merlin Mann. Known primarily for his 43folders website, here I'm talking only about his "Back To Work" podcast. I just forced myself to listen to the entire first episode. To begin with it was actually to hear what he had to say. I tapped my fingers impatiently, waiting for the core content to begin: a minute or two, or five. Ten. Half an hour. By the time I got to 45 minutes I was just hanging on in disbelief to confirm that there never was any substantial content. And there wasn't -- not a thing. If BBC Radio 4's "In Our Time" is a laser, then "Back To Work" is a blob of cold porridge in an old sock. No, it makes no sense to me either.

Now I don't know Merlin or Seth. But the vibe I picked up (it's all I picked up) from the "Linchpin" is that Godin is a very nice man. And I have no reason to believe that Mann is any different. So I have nothing against either of them. But they either both are full of hot air, or they are speaking a language I don't yet understand. For the sake of humanity and civility, I'm going to conclude the latter. But anyone else had the same experience?


  1. I think there is a large amount of 'when the student is ready, the teacher appears' to all of this. I find Seth Goldin superficially obvious in the extreme. I know quite a few people who repeat/share/ live by everything he writes as if it should have been carved in stone.

    I remember reading zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance, in awe, when I was 17. Tried again last year and it did nothing for me. But at the time, all the ideas were fresh and new, to me.

    Merlin Mann I find good ambient noise in the car. I find him useful as a signpost to deeper stuff, usually I get references to other things I haven't heard about when I read or listen to him. He might be a crazy signpost that points in every direction t once, but I occasionally find diamonds while scuba diving in his porridge filled sock.

    There have been a few IOT I've found superficial and boring - the one on logic, the one on randomness. Topics I know something about. I suspect it's a similar thing here with you & Goldin & Mann

  2. I agree, and I've experienced that effect. But the danger with "when the student is ready" is that it can make us hesitant to distinguish between genuine deep-but-abstruse content (e.g. Wittgenstein's Tractatus) on the one hand, and simple snake oil on the other. Sometimes obscure words really are just "a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".