Unleashing the Ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth GodinAuthor: Seth Godin
Publisher: Hyperion (2001)
Number of Pages: 240
How long it took me to read: 4 weeks, 4 days
Where I bought this book: Downloaded it from Godin’s site.
ISBN: 0-7868-8717-6

Like a Moth to a Flame

I celebrated UBR’s first birthday with cheesecake and sushi and champagne (in that order), while watching ‘Press Pause Play’ on my laptop. It was an impulse buy from the documentary section, meant to balance off the three chick flicks I already started downloading. In the movie, Seth Godin talks about how he was inspired to write Unleashing the Ideavirus after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point (he was asked to write a blurb for the back of it). It took Godin around 10 days to write this book. 10 days. 10.

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Favorite Five

Whittling 9 down to 5…I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “What’s an ideavirus? It’s a big idea that runs amok across the target audience. It’s a fashionable idea that propagates through a section of the population, teaching and changing and influencing everyone it touches. And in our rapidly/instantly changing world, the art and science of building, launching and profiting from ideaviruses is the next frontier.” (p.14)

4. “If you’ve got an existing product or service and you’re hoping to build a virus around it, your job will be more difficult. The ideas behind the lightning fast success stories have all worked because the ideadvirus concept was baked in from the start. That’s one of the reasons more established companies are having so much trouble competing in the new economy—they’re restricted because of the standards and systems they built in years ago.” (p.65)

3. “Most online merchants, being risk averse copycats afraid to innovate, are guaranteeing that there will be no ideavirus created around their business. By paying millions to AOL and Yahoo! for ‘traffic,’ they’re investing in exactly the wrong sort of buzz. The alternative—focusing on people who can promote your site, affiliate programs, unique promotions and building wow, zing and magic into the site—is just too much work for most sites.” (p.29)

2. “In [G]reek mythology, they tell the story of the Medusa. The Medusa was part of the race of Gorgons—begins with a horrible curse. Anyone who looked in their eyes immediately and permanently turned to stone. There are plenty of marketers who wish that their ads or their product had the power of the Medusa: that every person who saw it would be immediately transfixed, rooted to the spot, and converted into a customer for life. (Of course, they don’t want their customers to die a horrible death and be turned into stone, but I couldn’t find a Greek myth in which an evil goddess turned you into a frequent shopper of Kate Spade purses, getting a second mortgage just to pay for them.)” (p.58)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “One of the talents of the [late] great Steve Jobs is that he [knew] how to design Medusa-like products. While every Macintosh model has had flaws (some more than others), most of them have has a sexiness and a design sensibility that has turned many consumers into instant converts. Macintosh owners upgrade far more often than most computer users for precisely this reason.” (p.98)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: proselytizing (verb)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): convert to another faith or religion
Synonyms: proselytise
Origins: 1670’s; proselyte + -ize
As in: “Note that they didn’t start by walking up to a stranger and proselytizing about their religion. Instead, they used a gradual technique to sell their idea effectively and turn it into a virus.” (p.62)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“So, I’m starting off by reading the original manifesto (forgive me Seth, but I just can’t bring myself to start off a book with a PowerPoint slide show).”

“When I read that ‘[a]n idea that just sits there is worthless,’ it kind of stung. I mean, sometimes ideas are like chunks of fine meat—they have to stew, they have to simmer, they have to sweat in the stickiness of their own juices before they’re ready. Otherwise, you just get a lot of people tweeting about the frozen dinners they ate last night.

“I think it’s dangerous to label ideas as worthless unless they’re viral. That sort of thinking creates a very callous world. The journey gets us to our destination, not the quickest shortcut or the stolen ticket. We’ll all get to where we’re going, there’s no reason to push.

“Then again, until an idea spreads, no one except the crazy little people in your head will know about it, putting the question of value right back on the table. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m feeling a lot of pressure to make things viral and I’m not quite sure who I’m supposed to ‘infect’ first. I feel like I’m tripping right out of the gate.”

“Given that the book was written in 2000, there’s the argument that it’s no longer completely relevant. I mean, are the chances just as high today that you can become the next ‘accidental revolutionary’ by posting an essay online for free like Eric Raymond, or has the virtual field of cash cows reorganized itself since then?”

“Yes, perhaps 10 years ago, I was in regular telephone contact with 10 or 20 or 30 people. And yes, today, I do have the ability to get connected with the friends of my friends and even some of their other friends, but what does ‘connected’ mean in today’s terms? Seeing that Grant has an issue with a story in the Economist or that Sally is looking forward to an upcoming church fundraiser is all well and good, but at most that gives me a glimpse into how they spend their time, not how we’re growing closer over it.

“I don’t think we’re more connected than ever before. Well, ok, from a professional standpoint, yes, technology has enabled us to choose with whom to collaborate based on desired skill sets and common objectives; at least that’s true for those of us who have access to that type of technology, know how to use it and aren’t nauseated by the idea of integrating it into every aspect of our lives (because that’s what ends up happening). But from a personal perspective, I’ll argue that it’s given us permission to cower behind screens and annoying little keyboards instead of to look people in the goddamn eyes. MeetUp and LinkedIn are just email-generating machines unless you actively fight your way through the anonymity and show up to a mixer wearing a smile. I just think that technology has made copping out too easy.”

“One of the strategies that Godin believes will create and support an ideavirus is persistence. At one point, he instructs the reader to ‘[m]ake as many supporting manifestos available as possible, in whatever forms necessary, to turn consumers from skeptics into converts.’ (p.63)

“I think that strategy might have backfired on him with this reader (that would be me). I read his manifesto in Fast Company before starting the book, and I think it ruined the book for me. Spoiler alert: the manifesto is a point-by-point summary of the book, even citing the same examples as the ones you’ll find in the book. Who would benefit from reading the manifesto before the book? Someone with really short-term memory.

“Sorry, Seth. Originality trumps persistence in my world. Then again, you’re getting free publicity from me, so maybe you’ve won after all.”

“So, even though I haven’t made up my mind yet about whether I like the book, it’s manage to creep into a handful of conversations already, and I have a feeling it’s starting to augment the way I’m approaching some of my projects. I don’t know what it is about Seth, but he’s reaching me with his message. So, I figure it’d be a good idea to get to know a little more about him.

“After a bit of Googling, I came across Seth’s TED talk on ‘the tribes we lead’ and clicked play. The first thing that struck me was that it seemed familiar, almost like I’d seen it before (a good sign, since I don’t have much time to watch TED talks and only click on the ones that really resonate). Some of the things he said really screamed out at me, so I thought I’d list a few of his quotes here (make what you will of their significance):

“They know what they do for a living.”

“…what we do is we try to change everything.”

“The way we make change is not by money or power to sever a system, but by leading.”

“It turns out that it’s tribes—not money, not factories—that can chance our world, that can change politics, that can align large numbers of people. Not cause you forced them to do something against their will, but because they wanted to connect.”

“You just need a few people who look at the rules, realize they make no sense, and realize how much they want to be connected.”

“We’re just waiting for someone to lead us.”

“Who exactly are you upsetting? Cause if you’re not upsetting someone, you’re not changing the status quo.”

“Who are you connecting? Cause for a lot of people, that’s what they’re in it for.”

“What are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it…is where change comes.”

“We’re waiting for you to show us where to go next.”


  1. I absolutely adore Godin’s work. His book Linchpin totally transformed the way I think of my day job and career as a whole.

    I have heard from other readers that going back to his older works is difficult since the ideas he writes about are so immediate, but his newest stuff has been very impactful to me.

  2. Mariateresa Bombardieri says:

    I like the idea of The Medusa becoming predator transforming people into clients …

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