Seth Godin’s new book The Song of Significance releases today. It’s a manifesto about how organizations of any size can be more effective by asking “What do humans need? How can we create significance?” Seth sent me an advance copy which I read in one sitting. It’s an important book for right now.

The most common question I get about AI during the Q&A at my talks and via email is people wondering how AI will change work. While nobody knows exactly how things will play out, there is no doubt that many industries and jobs will be significantly impacted. Seth’s new book shows us a way to consider the kinds of work we do and how we can organize to create value by focusing on people, not just technology.

All of us have a simple choice of how we value our teams. We can treat people as a disposable commodity that can be replaced by AI in a race to the bottom. Or we can build an organization that “enrolls, empowers, and trusts everyone to deliver their best work, no matter where they are.”

A theme that appears throughout The Song of Significance is that people want to do work that matters. Leaders of organizations create value when they build a culture where people make a difference.

These ideas are illustrated with fascinating stories from organizations like Sleepy’s Mattresses, Aravind Eye Care Systems in India, Rising Tide Car Wash, Interface Carpet Tiles, and many more. Seth Godin fans will be pleased to read new and interesting stories written as only Seth can.

Frederick Taylor or Honeybees?

trust quadrants.001Throughout the book, Seth talks about the ways that many huge corporations work. He also threads the work of honeybees throughout the book.

I loved when both of these references appeared as a way to compare and contrast ways to organize people.

Companies like Ford and GE in the past, as well as Amazon and McDonald’s today manage people by measuring tiny details of how people work using ideas first articulated by Frederick Taylor in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management.

How long, in seconds, does it take to make a Big Mac? Can you pick products faster in the Amazon warehouse? Why did you go to the bathroom three times today?

Honeybees, by contrast, work together, without a leader, to figure things out. For example, when a new queen is about to be born, the existing queen and as many as half of the bees in the hive, the most experienced, will swarm and leave. All is coordinated through cooperation and no bee is in charge.

This four-quadrant graphic from the book describes different ways to organize. McDonald’s is in the top left. Work you can outsource to lower cost countries or to AI is at the bottom left. Bottom right is important for culture and community, it’s human. Significant work that creates human value is in the top right, work that is impossible to industrialize or assign to AI.

Are you a manager or a leader?

In one of my favorite quotes, Seth says: “Culture beats strategy every time.”

He says management is the practice of using power and authority. Managers seek to avoid defects and they work to improve productivity. They measure to standards, so they do their best work when they figure out how to remove subpar performers and eliminate roadblocks that slow down production.

This is average, at scale.

Leadership is the art of creating something significant. Leaders, on the other hand, seek something better. Something previously undefined, inbuilt, or untapped. They are looking for Mozart, not Muzak.

This is an important book. It’s stayed with me in the month since I read it. It’s a quick read with many small chapters so you can pick it up during a few minutes of downtime.

Significance is a choice. It’s not about what we make, it’s about how we choose to make it. 

David Meerman Scott speaking live

(function(d, s, id) {
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); = id;
js.src = “//”;
fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));