Seth Godin’s Icarus Deception

Seth Godin named his book, “The Icarus Deception”, after the myth about Icarus who was told not to fly too high because his wax wings would melt and he would perish (which is what happened).  Icarus was also told not to fly too low because the waves could ruin the lift in his wings (and this part of the story is often not told). Of course, the metaphor has to do with pride. Seth’s main point is that flying too low is equally damaging; he says, “…flying too low, daring too little, and blowing our best chance ever to matter.”



Seth devotes his attention to his concept of an artist, someone who creates art – a fresh, insightful, and meaningful contribution. Throughout the book he uses his coined terms: “indispensable linchpin”; “tribe”; and “the lizard” (the part of our brain that tells us to play it safe); an artist strives to be a linchpin, connects to his tribe, and avoids being weighed down by the lizard. This book is focused on defining artists and common barriers they encounter. As he argues everyone should strive to become a linchpin in his previous book, he argues everyone should strive to be an artist in this book.

Artists see the world around them and find ways to make a contribution. Creating art requires a commitment to learn and develop skills.Seth says:

Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and your soul.

Artists make connections by building relationships with the people around them and choose their audience. With social media and the internet, there are few barriers to reach the audience of their choice. Seth says, “Your puzzle is to find an idea or a product or an interaction that touches the right person, in the right way, at precisely the right moment.”

Seth suggests that we have moved from an industrial economy to a connection economy, which requires workers to adapt to rapid changes in technology and social interaction. He says, “The connection economy had made competence not particularly valuable and has replaced it with an insatiable desire for things that are new, real, and important.” Another distinction he makes between the two economies is: participants in the industrial economy play a finite game – one winner, one loser, while in a connection economy participants play in an infinite game, where players perpetually buttress their opponents to make a better move. He says, “The goal is to keep playing, not to win.”

Some may argue that not every individual is suited to make art; perhaps they are not intelligent or socially capable of creating something new. There are some circumstance where this might be true, however, I think we all try to get people we care about to express their ideas. I think it is almost human nature. It is natural to feel satisfaction when a child’s mind is churning to solve a problem.

Seth’s overarching conclusion is that we need to express our humanity by: making “gifts” that are unreciprocated, connecting to those around us, and being creative and insightful. Many functional tasks, remnants from the industrial economy, are being replaced by computers and other tools. We need to find ways to leverage these tools to really add something of value, something that only humans can do. And this is what Seth is suggesting in becoming an artist; he is not advocating being elitist, but rather being human.

Finally, Icarus is a boy. Therefore, Seth’s translation relates to an early career professional who is trying to make an impression.  It is crucial he or she sets realistic, yet challenging objectives.  Achievements accomplished during this early career stage will impact the rest of a professional’s career, and sometimes there is no going back – especially when there are financial and family obligations later in life.

Seth Godin. The Icarus Deception, Penguin (New York, 2012).

Original Image © Depositphoto/ronjoe #29846017

Latest Comments

  1. bfrischmann says:

    Interesting metaphor for setting appropriate career goals.

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