THE SONG OF SIGNIFICANCE: A New Manifesto for Teams. Seth Godin. (2023, Kindle Edition)
Seth Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur and renown speaker on marketing, leadership and change, among other topics. His newest book, The Song of Significance, is a manifesto on why the industrial-style of work is not working in the current day context. In his view, what built companies in the past century is not what companies need today. Instead of cheap labor to do semiautomated tasks, organizations now seek two apparently scarce resources: creativity and humanity. He maintains that in today’s context, “real value” is created by personal interactions, innovation, creative solutions, resilience, and the power of speed⎯which can only come from change, from humanity, and from the rare form of connection that comes with significance.
In Godin’s words, “Significant organisations are team-centric. Their goal is to make a change happen, and to do that with and for a group of people who care about making an impact.” His thesis is that people want to do meaningful and purposeful work, and that leaders create value when they build a culture where people can make a difference. Throughout the book, Godin seamlessly weaves together anecdotes and real-world examples illustrating the power of collaboration and the impact of effective teamwork. Interestingly, he also draws a parallel to the work of honey bees in the journey of a bee hive (which explains the honey bee that is pictured on the book cover)—a story that is left for the reader to discover.
The Song of Significance is a short book with a unique format that consists of 144 provocative and sequentially numbered stanzas. In the early sections of the book, Godin delves into the many challenges that impede progress and growth in organizations that adhere to outdated industrial frameworks. Then, in the mid-to-latter sections, he presents his manifesto for creating ‘work that works’—that is, a new kind of workplace that places human needs and significance at the forefront—including the opportunities and traps that may be encountered along the way.
In his manifesto, Godin describes the work of leaders (as opposed to industrial managers) as that of helping people become significant by creating the conditions for a powerful, resilient way forward. Accordingly, he outlines 15 ‘commitments of significance’ that underlie a culture and workplace environment that works, along with 17 ‘transcendent foundational principles’ that enable leaders to create a ‘Significant Organization’ that attracts, amplifies, and challenges people who want to make a difference. In brief, these principles include:
Important organizations make change happen: Change is the essence of the work.
Humans are not a resource: They are the point.
Management is not the same as leadership: Leadership is voluntary. Without voluntary enrollment, it’s not leadership, it’s only management.
Enrollment is more powerful than coercion: Creating an intentional culture that focuses on finding, empowering, and amplifying enrolled individuals is the work of a skilled leader.
Culture can amplify enrollment: Culture requires clarity, commitment, and daily persistence.
Seek out useful impostors: Embrace the generous and honest impostor [i.e., those who are intent on being useful amidst uncertainty] instead of pushing them away.
Leaders create the conditions for culture: Culture is more powerful than strategy or tactics.
Page 19 [a metaphor] opens the door: Significant work is often done by teams of people, none of whom could produce something similar on their own.
It’s the work, not the worker: Criticizing the work with useful, skilled feedback makes the work better.
Embrace uncertainty: The resilient, professional solution is to be open to the possibilities that uncertainty brings.
Withhold definition: As we work to invent a desired future, it’s inevitable that everything will not go according to plan.
Seek out the benefit of the doubt: If you want to lead, you’ll need to be trusted. One way to do that is to make promises openly and consistently—and then keep them.
Avoid false proxies: Anything easy to measure is rarely important.
Rigorous standards: Enrollment in the journey includes voluntarily agreeing to the standards that matter.
Scale is not the point: Bigger isn’t the goal, better is.
Hiring is not dating: Instead of hiring based on the performance of interview skills, consider paying people to do a project. The best way to see how someone works is to work with them.
Find positive uses of tension: Significance creates change, and change is a dance with tension.
Godin makes it clear that this book is not intended to be a step-by-step manual or playbook. Rather, beyond its value as a thought-provoking read for self-reflection, the book offers guidance to those who aspire to create a more purposeful, collaborative and meaningful work culture and environment.
Read it… share it with your team… discuss it… and then work together to find a way forward!