The Art of Life: A Review of Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception
The Icarus Deception is yet another inspirational, informative, and dazzling Seth Godin manifesto and self-help book. As in many of his previous books, Godin delights with insights on how to succeed in business (“…our success turns not on being the low-price leader but on being the high-trust leader.”), while self-actualizing and maximizing your potential and happiness in all areas of life.
The essence of Godin’s multi-layered thesis is that life is an art form and everyone is an artist. “Art is not a gene or a specific talent,” says Godin. “Art is an attitude.” We’re not all painters or musicians or graphic designers, but we should all use our tools and skills to be artists. By that, Godin means we should strive to be the best we can be at what we do and who we are: “Your work is your art (and vice versa).”
Whether we tend bar, fix cars, build houses, or run a day care center—no matter what we do—we should do it better and care more about it, and others, than anyone else. When we do, we benefit both ourselves and those who experience our artistic work, because people crave connections with people who care. “We embrace the humanity in those around us, particularly as the rest of the world appears to become less human and more cold. Who will you miss? That is who you are listening to.”
These aren’t new ideas, necessarily. Godin’s influences and references run far and wide—from Zen, sociology, psychology, and philosophy; from Plato (the implied Platonic ideal) to Jobs (the meshing of art and technology), and Emerson (self-reliance and Transcendentalism) to Pirsig (the motorcycle we maintain is ourselves).
Yet, Godin’s metonymic intellect strides from one synthetic adage and observation to another with the grace and fluidity of a racehorse. His style is both muscular and light, alternating from an almost pugnacious tone that challenges and dares the reader to a sweet and encouraging grandfatherly voice that loves his family—his tribe—and wants only the best for them. I always feel like I’m on a rollercoaster reading his books: they’re a fun, crazy, fast, exhilarating, and not a little bit daunting ride.
As we know, Icarus flew too high and died, but what many don’t know about the story—because of the deception forwarded and publicized by the industrial, corporate, conformity machine that repressed the rest of the story—is that if he had flown too low, he’d have crashed into the ocean and drowned. So the allegorical moral to the story is that we should, indeed, fly as high as we possibly can, just short of flaming out.
So how does one achieve greatness while minimizing the risks of utter failure? By creating art. Always be creating. And always be creating relationships through your art. “Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another.” True quality is customer/client/friend/acquaintance aware, driven, and accomplished because “people want your humanity, not your discounts.” If you make cabinets, make cabinets people will be amazed by. If you treat patients, treat every patient as you would your own child. If you clean carpets, clean them as if your own baby will be crawling on them. “When we treat the people around us with dignity, we create an entirely different platform for the words we utter and the plans we make.”
Clearly at the heart of Godin’s books is his enormous heart. One of today’s greatest shining lights, he inspires, he instructs, he pats you on the back—saying, “You can do it!”—and kicks you in the ass—saying, “What are you waiting for?”
Ultimately, Godin professes tough love for all and antipathy for those grounded in apathy. “We embrace the humanity in those around us, particularly as the rest of the world appears to become less human and more cold. Who will you miss? That is who you are listening to.”