Seth Godin, Lean Thinker

Posted on September 6, 2013 | in Error-Proofing, Lean Tools, Problem Solving, Quality, Safety | by
Seth Godin

If you bookmark or subscribe to just one blog for the rest of your life, Seth Godin’s blog had better be it.

I concede that I am one of the world’s biggest fans of Seth Godin’s work.

For those of you who don’t know, Seth is more than just a marketing and entrepreneurship blogger and author of popular business books like Purple Cow – he is a crazy brilliant problem solver with brutally honest insights (like this one about the education system).

But sometimes his blog posts go above and beyond my typical high expectations. More than just insightful, he comes up with solutions that are forehead-slappingly obvious that we as society should have thought about earlier.

Here are excerpts and commentary on three recent blog posts of his that cover quality and error-proofing. Seth is, indeed, a Lean thinker.


Recently I posed the question “What is quality?” with the intention of finding a suitable definition. I ended with quality being:

the rate by which customer expectations are met, where customer expectations are “what the customer wants, the quantity the customer wants, when the customer wants it, where the customer wants it, and in what condition the customer wants it.”

Using Kodak and Polaroid as examples of mistaken quality, Seth said:

It turns out that what people actually wanted was the ability to take and share billions of photos at vanishingly small cost. The ‘quality’ that most of the customer base wanted was cheap and easy, not museum quality.

This confusion happens all the time. Quality is not an absolute measure. It doesn’t mean ‘deluxeness’ or ‘perfection’. It means keeping the promise the customer wants you to make.


Here’s a way to look at scuffs and “warts”:

There are two ways to make your shoes scuff-proof:

1. You can invest in a chemical process that involves an impermeable shine and be on high alert to avoid anything that might be damaging to that shine


2. You can wear well-worn, authentic shoes that are already scuffed

When we know and understand you and your brand, warts and all, it’s really unlikely that a new scuff is going to change our opinion of who you are and what you do.


Finally, his blog post that came out yesterday afternoon about error-proofing usage of cell phones in cars (and other states of motion):

There’s a technical solution, one that might work. The are two solutions I can think of actually, both cheap and fast and effective.

The first is to require the phone to automatically alert every person you’re texting or emailing at the moment you use your phone while moving. As we’ve seen, knowingly interacting with someone who is driving is a crime in many locales, and yes, you should go to jail for it. We need to change the cultural imperative, and we can’t do that with laws alone and we can’t do that with movies. Technology, though, can fix what it broke.

The second solution is even simpler: when a phone is moving, don’t permit it to accomplish certain tasks.

People won’t die as a result.


Please read these blog posts – and all of his other work – in their entirety. Trust me, it will be worth it.

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5 Responses to “Seth Godin, Lean Thinker”

  1. Mark Graban says:

    I think disabling a moving phone is a dumb countermeasure that creates too many other problems. What about a passenger in a car, taxi, or train?

    • Chad Walters says:

      Mark –

      You aren’t the only one who shares that sentiment. Straight up as is, yes, it’s an unworkable countermeasure for exactly those reasons. However, it’s the direct link between problem elements and the solution that is key. Are there ways to account for trains/taxis/passengers in a final solution? Most likely.

      Consideration of all affected stakeholders is key to finding a solution that works for (just about) everyone, and I’m sure those kinds of questions would be asked. I think some solution of this type is workable, though.

  2. Chad,

    It occurs to me that it won’t be too long before we use an app on our mobile phones (cell?) to unlock our cars

    When that happens, maybe Mark’s objections won’t be so strong

    (and I will be able to find my keys by ringing them)

    I enjoyed the post


  3. Charley Matera says:

    Hmm With all due respect, I think Seth Grodin has quality all wrong. What he describes as quality is really the value proposition on which purchases (consumer or business) are made. Quality on the other hand, is a measure of whether the product or service does what it is supposed to do for an implied, understood or agreed on amount of time, regardless of customer satisfaction.

    The who?, what?, when?, where? of Seth’s notion of quality suggests to me it’s been a long time since he refreshed on marketing basics. BTW, I am not an engineer or a marketeer and my work is not centered around either quality or value proposition but includes both.

    What do you say Seth? 🙂

    Charley Matera
    “…using Conversation by Design to get Real Results…”

    • Chad Walters says:

      Charley –

      Seth’s definition of quality is also my definition of quality. Meeting customer expectations, which entails the who-what-when-where-how elements, is quality to me.

      This is where marketing and quality intersect. I am both a marketer and engineer by degree.

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