I’ve read a few of Seth Godin’s books over the years and The Icarus Deception is the one I’ve got the least out of so far. It follows the same pattern as Seth’s other books, loosely related short essays on a topic. It always seems like he collects the blog posts he’s written and turns them into a book.
This isn’t bad, it’s just Seth’s style. It does make it hard to write a review though since it’s random thoughts in book form.
The purpose of the book is to help us to do work that is personal1. Work that means something to us and has the potential to change us, and the world we interact with.
We’re Trapped in Industrial Age Thinking
One of the first points I really liked is Godin’s assertion that we’re stuck in Industrial Age thinking2 when it comes to work. We’ve been seduced by the idea of decent pay and “prizes” in the form of raises, but that’s not how the world works anymore.
I found this idea in a more recently published book as well when Four Thousdand Weeks talked about the change in trading finished goods for money to trading hours for money3. As we moved to hours the benefits of increased productivity started to accrue to owners instead of employees getting extra value for more effort put in.
This now means that jobs expect all your leisure time as well as your work time4. Companies expect you to answer email on the weekends and evenings, but think that you’re a terrible employee if you want to run an errand during the workday. They feel as if any hour you don’t work for them is an hour you stole.
It’s also given a rise to employee shadow work, you provide your own office furniture. You provide the workspace and sometimes even the computer and internet needed to be able to do your job5. A Life Lived Remotely was a good examination of the shadow work that employers expect now, which in generations past would have been unthinkable.
You Need to Provide Something Scarce
One big area that Godin misses the mark for me is that you need to provide something scare to bring value6. I do think that this statement is true, but he glosses over all the barriers that so many people face to hit this ideal.
He seems to feel that the internet is a great leveller and that it means everyone is on equal footing. This is far from the truth, with many families still not having an internet connection. COVID 19 showed this in my community with hundreds of people realizing that they couldn’t participate in education while schools were closed. This is a reasonably affluent area of town as well, but from talking to the staff at the school my kids attend it was a similar story here. Kids had gaming systems online, but no access to a tablet or computer to do work for school on.
While cities did their best to accommodate families, people always fall through the cracks.
Godin cites Judson Laipply who created a film that cost him $0 to film7. This discounts the fact that he had the free time to even investigate this film and produce it. That time costs something, in lost income to many that is needed to feed their family. It glosses over the privilege of Laipply to have access to a camera and the time to use it. Many people don’t have this, or anything resembling it.
Like many authors of productivity/inspiration books, Godin glosses over societal issues that make his ideal “level playing field” little more than a pipe dream.
If you want to take a deeper look at how Scarcity affects lives then take a look at Scarcity. It opened my eyes to the cascade that any scarcity can have on the well-being of people.
You Must Ship
One point I agree on is that you must ship8. I’ve talked to many people that want to have courses, or write a book. One big constant is that they never put the time in to doing the work required to accomplish these goals.
If you want to write, and spend your evenings watching TV instead of doing the work of writing…you just want to have written. You don’t like writing, you want to be an accomplished author. You love a dream not the process of getting to the dream.
This thinking does gloss over the time needed to write. “Free” time like this is often far more limited for women, who have to take on more child care and elder care roles, and people of color. Like I said when I review Time Off, it feels easy for white dudes to recommend stuff when they’re more often free from responsibilities that everyone who’s not a white dude must take on.
Capitalism is Broken
Another strong point that Godin makes is that if a business is too big to fail, then capitalism is broken9. This means that when we bail industries out of the financial consequences of their poor decisions, think 2008 mortgage crisis, we’re saying that the glorified free market doesn’t actually function.
I find this especially ironic as I read The Shock Doctrine which details the many offences of North America, led by the United States, in forcing democracy and capitalism on South America. Over and over the United States engaged in violent overthrow in the name of forcing deregulation and economic policies that benefitted US citizens at the expense of residents of the countries that were being exploited.
During this period bailing out failing businesses in South America was seen as a terrible thing to do, instead US multinational corporations bought the failing businesses under favourable terms given by the local governments and then exploited resources and paid locals poorly.
I see over and over that Canada, the US, and Europe are happy to allow trampling of rights in other countries that they’d never allow in their own borders.
The only conclusion I can come to is not that capitalism needs a bit of a tweak, but that it was built on a broken foundation of oppression and needs to be destroyed and rebuilt…hopefully better.
Should You Read The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin?
If you’re looking for a short read that doesn’t dig into fundamental issues that would oppose the views held, sure this is a book you could read.
You’ll certainly come away with some tips and things to think about, but Godin never goes past superficial pithy sayings to examine what it would mean to truly level the playing field so that everyone has the same opportunity to excel. He simply assumes that the internet makes this the standard currently.