Godin On Making Meatballs

Chances are, you’re in the meatball business.

Chances are, you’re in the meatball business. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: This is not a food-service publication. But still, based on a definition from Seth Godin in his Meatball Sundae, you may: “a commodity, a branded item of little differentiation and decent quality.” He points out that we need meatballs. But he cautions: “You can’t grow with meatballs because they’re ubiquitous.” American meatballs. German meatballs. Japanese meatballs. Korean meatballs. Soon they’ll be bringing Italian meatballs back to the U.S. market. And disturbing YouTube videos notwithstanding (e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdClBnzFL5M), Chinese meatballs.
Godin’s book is ostensibly about marketing. The meatball sundae of his title is how he describes the intersection of common commodities and the New Marketing. He has nothing against meatballs, but he thinks that the disconnection between those marketers who have gotten all juiced by having attended a seminar on the New Marketing and so apply it to meatballs are pretty much not doing more than applying whipped cream and a maraschino cherry onto the bowl full of meatballs.

But there’s importance to his observations that go far beyond the marketing department, all the way to those who are responsible for designing, engineering, and producing products, as well as managing those functions. As in: “In a world of choice, compromised solutions rarely triumph.” How often have you been in a meeting where everyone agreed to “give,” even though you knew that the agreement would lead to suboptimal results?

Or the long-held notion that “creating average stuff for average people is the way to defeat the competition.” That may have been the case once upon a time, but average stuff nowadays may not even cover the cost of materials. Following that approach is a way to defeat yourself.

After all, he points out, “Comparative advantage means that a company organized to do nothing but produce from plans—and to do it in a low-wage, high-skills location—will always outperform a vertically integrated marketer.” And aren’t those companies that are producing things from plans generally the ones that are making average stuff—meatballs?

And as the automotive mania for outsourcing continues unabated (with the shrinking value of the dollar, you’d imagine that there would be significantly more in-sourcing), Godin counsels, “It is clear to me that there are only two paths. One path is to take every repetitive, by-the-book task in your organization and outsource it or mechanize it. The other path is to take every repetitive, by-the-book task in your organization and give the people who do that task the freedom, the incentive, and yes, the imperative to do something that cannot be outsourced.

“Either what you’re doing is repetitive, in which case you ought to outsource it, or it’s homemade, insightful, and filled with initiative and judgment, in which case you can charge for it.” [emphasis added] Isn’t that the point—creating products that you can charge a premium for rather than commodities?

“Trust comes from repeatedly delivering insight and truth,” he writes. I trust Seth Godin.—GSV