Seth Godin (On Thinking Big) compares a roomful of credit card execs with a roomful of CPAs. He concludes:

The difference i think, was that a long time ago, the people in the second room had made a decision about what they deserved, or what they were capable of, or what they were going to stick with. And it was a bad decision.

Wow. What strikes me are the sweeping assumptions that Seth makes here. I enjoy Seth’s writing and I’ve said before that he seems to have a very individualistic worldview: so he ascribes the different outcomes in these people’s lives to an individual decision. He also appears to see the guys in the first room as the more successful, a view which Tim at the Nub eloquently questions:

According to Seth, the advantage the credit card execs had over the CPAs was better food and handouts. But these are things we can see with our eyes – what about the things we can’t see like stress levels, family situations, personal life satisfaction? Who is to say the CPA’s weren’t a happier bunch of souls than the credit card execs?

Seth’s “it’s up to you” perspective is interesting and familiar; what I feel it lacks is a sense of context and taken too far could leave us all feeling rather lonely and isolated. I wouldn’t argue with Seth’s conclusion

In a world where the past matters a lot less than it ever did before, where it’s easier than it ever was to hit the reset button, it’s sad to see someone choosing to be stuck

but I think it’s a big assumption to say the highly paid execs aren’t stuck and the CPAs are.

7 thoughts on “Context

  1. Peter Caputa

    I thought the same thing. He doesn’t have comments enabled, though, and it wasn’t a big enough deal ‘for me’ to post it to my weblog. Like you, I got his point.

    The assumption definitely threw me back, though.

    Not sure whether he made the assumption and new it was a biased one, or didn’t think it was biased, or just didn’t realized the assumption?

    I imagine he’ll be responding.

    I’ve made this same assumption before. That people that choose ‘my definition of a simpler career’, are shooting their sites low. I realized I was evaluating it based on my own lens, instead of theirs, though. But, I definitely made the mistake before.

    Despite our Sethaholism, I guess we should realize that Seth is only human too. He can make mistakes also.

    Or maybe there is another explanation altogether?

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks for your comment, Peter (and congrats on a good blog by the way, esp the NASWIT idea). I agree with you about Comments too, the comments sections makes my site more porous and means I get to see my ideas tested and reflected on. Even the ever-present Spam menace won’t stop me taking ’em.

  3. James

    I found Seth’s comment to be very telling. On the most superficial level, it did not really make sense. And on a deeper level, the values it expressed struck me as bizarre.

    (1) Why it didn’t make sense — He had left a speaking engagement before a bunch of highly paid credit card execs (note how he pats himself on the back there; he’s sought after by SUCH important people!). And he passes this conference for CPAs. Their SNACKS were not up to par. Did he stop in and sample the snacks? Did he flip through a pamphlet and find it boring? Maybe that’s because he’s NOT AN ACCOUNTANT — believe it or not, the literature of highly technical fields is not always interesting or intelligible to those of us who aren’t trained in that field. Seth is someone who wrote a whole book about Purple Cows — I bet anything above the high school algebra level would seem boring to him. I wish Seth would be honest — did he have any reason to believe the people in that room were dissatisfied with the snacks, the pamphlets, or their lives? Or could he just not resist giving voice to his feeling, after the rush of being around such cool credit card execs, that the CPAs people were a bunch of losers?

    (2) And the bizarre values — what kind of twisted worldview does Seth have, if he thinks CPAs are losers? Where I come from, that is a prestigious, highly compensated job. Maybe I’m not new economy enough. Earth to Seth — without accountants, these businesses who bring you in to talk about purple cows wouldn’t exist.

    I think what his comment reveals, is Seth’s jock-sniffing mentality — his uncritical, adolescent admiration of jobs he conceives as “powerful” and “important.” CPAs — they just do numbers — they’re boring. They don’t have the swagger, the perks and prestige of “high leverage” credit card execs. The CPAs must be failures, then — they must be brooding over that wrong turn they made, years ago, that brought them to their present, lamentable state. But hey, Seth the cheerleader is here to trot out a purple cow and make them feel better! They don’t have to STAY losers!

    I wonder if someone like Seth Godin, late at night, ever laments how shallow his career is. Not only are his ideas dumb, but as this post proves, his values are so sadly skewed that they have little if any correspondence with reality. I bet those CPAs are every bit as happy, on average, as the “high powered credit card execs.” I bet they would be baffled to learn that some writer of chirpy, new-economy puff-pieces thought they were “stuck.”

  4. James

    Oh, yeah — in my fit of pique, I forgot to plug my own book. I wrote a book on the very concept Seth is celebrating — “thinking big.” It’s called “The Rules of Ruthlessness,” available on Amazon. I urge my readers to never settle for less than what they want in life. But I would never malign honest, highly trained professionals as “stuck” or victims of a wrong turn in life.

  5. Johnnie Moore

    James: Thanks for your comment. Clearly very heartfelt; and no one likes a good rant more than me. I share your concern that there’s some danger in defining success too narrowly and I certainly don’t equate high earnings with high merit or happiness.

    Equally, if Seth read too much into what he saw at the hotel, I wouldn’t call that a capital offence. I know I spend my life making assumptions based on limited evidence; I would hope that people wouldn’t build a profile of my entire personality based on this human failing.

    Also, I dispute your suggestion that Seth has an “adolescent admiration” for powerful and important jobs. In his latest book, in fact, he takes a couple of good cracks at overpaid executives. In many ways he champions the role of the little guy trying to make stuff happen.

  6. Joshua Allen


    You say “I wonder if someone like Seth Godin … ever laments”. Probably not. The key to happiness is in convincing yourself that you are fabulous; better off than others. Self-deception can go a very long way. If the CPAs go home happy that they are not in Seth Godin’s shoes, all the better. Everyone is happy.


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