Book Review: We Are All Weird by Seth Godin

"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love." – Dr. Seuss

"We Are All Weird" is the latest book from the author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. Godin doesn't need a thought-provoking cover to sell his books; over the years he has produced ground-breaking work that accurately defines changes in consumer and business behavior. Don't avoid this book because of the strange bearded man on the cover and don't be scared off because of its title. There's good stuff in here.

Are you weird? Chances are if you read this short and quirky book, you'll realize that now more than ever, we all are. Godin's interpretation of weird is more of a metaphor for the ways we are drawn to particular interests and the growing variety of choices that make up today's marketplace.

Not long ago, a single blockbuster movie would play at your local theatre for several weeks and 90 percent of music sold nationally came from sales of Top 40 singles. Our societal systems pushed people to adhere to "normal" and "popular." Normal also meant mass marketing, manufacturing and education with the emphasis of everyone fitting in. This mindset also worked well with large manufacturing businesses that generated greater profits because one-size-fits-all meant tremendous efficiencies and economies of scale.

Godin explains this era with the analogy of a bell curve. Through the 1950s-70s, the majority of American consumers made up the fat, middle, and "normal" part of the curve. This also meant fewer "weird" people on the far ends of the curve. There were still weird people back then, but their market power remained small and somewhat insignificant.

Godin describes himself in the 1960s as a short, overweight 13-year-old. When he went to buy a suit, there was only one store town that carried suits and his choices were limited to "ugly, uglier, and one that didn't fit."

A funny thing happened along the way: the concept of choice. Godin traces the real rise of consumer choice to the digital revolution, which provides us now with a competitive atmosphere based on multiple, consumer choices. These choices also push us toward tribes or groups of specialized interests.

Godin's prophecy may seem like a counter-culture reaction to corporate greed, but the Internet has accelerated the process to the point where we can find and relate more easily to our community of like-minded people than broader based movements. These stratified groups also form customized consumer products and services that present great opportunities for business owners that can identify niches.

The best example of this phenomenon taking place locally is the proliferation of micro-brewed beer. What started off as two microbrewery restaurants in Traverse City has grown into its own market sector of breweries, brew-pubs, and tap rooms serving dozens of hand-crafted beer. How much choice is too much? Right now when asking beer geeks around town how many brewpubs Traverse City can support, the answer is usually: "Who cares?" If Godin or anyone else wants to deem the increasing choice for local beer "weird," than many of us seem to be good with it.

For those uninitiated with Seth Godin's work, the book might seem a little, well, weird. The book's rambling structure is worth the read because over the years, Godin is consistently spot-on with figuring out the next wave of consumer trends.

Chris Wendel serves the Grand Traverse Region as a Business Consultant and Lender with Northern Initiatives, a private, nonprofit community development corporation that provides rural entrepreneurs with access to capital, information and markets.