Visit to Seth Godin’s Alternative MBA Program


I returned to Portland late last night after a great visit to the great New York City.

I’ve needed to go to New York for a few months now – I wanted to meet my book editor and a few other people, but I kept putting it off. Since I travel so much internationally, I try to keep my domestic trips to a minimum.

However, when I received an invitation a couple of weeks ago to visit with Seth Godin and his remarkable Alternative MBA students, I knew it was time to break out the calendar and book a ticket.

The lesson is, when you get an opportunity like this, don’t hesitate. Do whatever you need to do to get wherever you need to be.

First, a Few Notes on Business School

If you don’t know the history of Seth’s audacious idea, here’s the original post. The short version is that most MBA programs are all about life avoidance and racking up debt before the students race back to the cubicles that they came from.

Graduate programs in the social sciences, like the one I did, are slightly different – there aren’t any cubicles to go back to, because everyone competes for the same limited jobs after they graduate.

I don’t have any regrets about my education, but that’s also because I paid for it myself and didn’t have any expectations about career assistance. If either of those variables were different, then I might feel differently.

To counter the $50,000 tuition and two years of life avoidance that most business schools require, Seth has condensed the two years into six months and a bill of $0 for a few, carefully-selected applicants. Every day the group meets from 9am-2pm, and the agenda focuses mostly on the projects each student is working on. Once in a while they let a smart guest lecturer come in and talk, and once in a while they let someone else like me come in and talk.

What I Appreciate About Seth Godin

I’ve been reading Seth’s books since at least 2004, when I had a copy of Free Prize Inside! shipped to West Africa. There are a lot of things I could say about Seth, but what I appreciate most is his courage to continue challenging authority and providing a voice for excellence. A lot of my writing, especially about overcoming the norms of mediocrity and striving to be remarkable, is heavily influenced by Seth.

At his current stature in the world of business and blogging, Seth could still write good books and posts without challenging the status quo, but that would be the easy way out. Instead, he keeps speaking the truth no matter what the opposition thinks – see entries on textbooks, online advertising, telemarketers, and teakettles – just to name a few.

About 25% of the AONC readership has come from Seth’s two mentions of my work on his site, so I know that many of you feel the same way I do about him.

The Visit

I headed up to Hastings (about 40 minutes from Manhattan) from Grand Central Station and caught up with the group. In addition to the master himself, the group included the following great people:

Ishita Gupta (@ishitagupta)
Clay Hebert (@clayhebert)
Al Pittampalli (@pittampalli)
Susan Lewis (@susanvlewis)
Alex Krupp (@alexkrupp)
Rebecca Goldstein (@beccany)
Jon Dale (@jdale)

My philosophy in these kinds of meetings is to prepare as much as possible, but also make sure that everyone is comfortable with the agenda before proceeding to talk. I’m not the best speaker in the world, so when I get an opportunity like this, I take the process seriously, think a lot in advance about what the most important message is, and try to keep the focus on helpfulness as much as possible.

Here are a few things I talked about with the group:

  • How you know when you’ve found something you’re really good at (hint: it involves waking up at night with ideas)
  • When to leave the best job in the world (hint: right before you get tired of it)
  • A comparison of my M.A. thesis (read by three people) and the World Domination manifesto (read by 100k people in the first six months)
  • The joys and responsibilities of running your own monopoly (stemming from my belief that there is no competition)
  • Why you need friends and enemies in building a community (see this post and this one for more background)
  • The choice between abundance and scarcity, and the choice between hope and fear (if you’ve read AONC for a while, you probably know which side I’m on)

After my talk, Seth led the group in a 40-minute discussion about my upcoming book – you know, the one I’m supposed to be writing. He even designed a mock cover and printed it out while we were talking! What a cool guy.


Afterwards, Seth had to go to a TV interview, so the students and I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant down the street, where we talked some more about their plans to take over the world and revolutionize various industries.

It was as inspiring as you’d expect, and I left the group feeling even more grateful than usual. Thanks, Seth and SAMBA students, for putting up with me. You’re so kind. I remain dedicated to helping out with your great projects any way I can.

Other NYC Events

It was such a busy three days that I think I’ll write up the rest of the NYC trip and include it in Sunday’s site update. Among other things, Jonathan Fields and I had a group meetup on Tuesday night that rocked my world and gave me a new perspective about what this is all about. It was overwhelming in a good way. Thanks in advance to the huge group who came out – and I’ll say more about it on Sunday.

Coming Soon

I’m back in Portland, and looking forward to the Escape from Cubicle Nation workshop with Pam Slim tomorrow. If you’re local in PDX, sign up here and use discount code “Chris” to get $30 off. (I don’t get paid for it; I just love Pam and know she can help a lot of corporate prisoners.)

Then, at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, I return to my second home to leave for the biggest trip of the year. South America! Saudi Arabia! (If they give me a visa, that is.) Malaysia! And more.

Of course I’ll be writing from the road, like always. The journey is far from over, and after this week I’m more inspired than ever to keep going.

Thank you.


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  • Seth Godin says:

    thanks for being there and for making the trip.

    you’re a rock star, Chris

  • Joy says:

    Thank you for this entry. Hearing about Seth Godin’s program has encouraged me to integrate alternative info sources with real experiences in my own life. I just started a business, and it’s amazing how much unconventional information is freely available. For someone who was previously into formal education (I have a MA, some other certifications, blah blah blah), this is a real breakthrough, and I am grateful for it.

  • Johnn says:

    Chris, I’d like to hear more about:

    The joys and responsibilities of running your own monopoly (stemming from my belief that there is no competition)

    Do you have any links to past posts that discuss this?

  • Mike Turitzin says:

    Wow, it sounds like life is good for you right now! Congratulations on all your success so far. I look forward to more on the topics you discussed in your talk.

  • Chris says:


    You’re so fast! Thanks again; it was an honor.


    I wrote about that topic here:×5/unconventional-business-ideas

  • Johnn says:

    Thanks for the link, Chris.

  • Cynthia says:

    I have been secretly in love with Seth for months now. His socks just sealed the deal!

  • Bob says:

    Awesome, looking forward to hearing more about your book and SG’s MBA program. Maybe the experience will spawn off into your 2nd book….haha, maybe I’m rushing things.

  • Powered by Tofu says:

    Easy now! I like your message of considering “unconventional” career paths, but I don’t agree with:

    “most MBA programs are all about life avoidance and racking up debt before the students race back to the cubicles that they came from.”

    I would instead argue that getting your MBA is like anything else in life: you get out of it what you put into it! I worked on my MBA part-time for 2 1/2 years while working a full-time job in marketing (not in a cubicle, either). I would say that about 1/2 of my classmates were there for the “piece of paper”, in order to get a raise or promotion, but even those people were not “cubicle drones” or avoiding life.

    That’s what makes the world such a beautiful place, people enjoy different things and are interested in different career paths. πŸ˜‰

  • Nathan Hangen says:

    Very cool Chris…inspiring.

  • Martin Lindeskog says:

    Chris Guillebeau,

    Cindy King recommended me to check out your site. It is fascinating to follow you on your journey. I will listen to Jonathan Fields’ interview with you on my weekend walk. I am interested to learn more about your unconventional products and I how I could become an evangelist and share them with my readers. I want to join your new affiliate program.

    I am glad to hear that you had a jolly good time at Seth Godin’s SAMBA school. I got very inspired to create a Squidoo page after I listened to a fascinating podcast interview with a guy who had several hundred lenses.

    All the Best,

    Martin Lindeskog – American in spirit.
    Gothenburg, Sweden.

  • Wayne says:

    As one who spent a decade self educating before going back to study formally, I think it is great to see the real leaders of this era producing new educational content, venues, and formats. Seth’s unconventional MBA program sounds fascinating, as does Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity University. And thanks for your work too Chris!


  • Ryan says:

    I was sold after seeing the socks and tie. Awesome.

  • Ozzybeef says:

    Cool post – you lucky dog getting to hangout with Seth.

    Would love to hear the story of how you met, or how he got interested in your work.

    Also, no mention of the twitter interaction. Pretty lame! I had a great question too and I wanted it resolved!



  • Nate says:

    You know what would be awesome… if someone happened to take a video of your talk and Seth’s discussion afterward. Anyway, that’s great and I’m sure that Seth’s students learned a lot from you, very cool stuff!

  • Chris says:


    When I asked people on Twitter to say hi to everyone yesterday, I received 40+ responses in the first few minutes. I’m sorry that I couldn’t relay your specific question, but the group looked at the list of comments as we talked.

  • Melissa says:

    I agree with Cynthia, I love both of your socks – it makes the photo!

    It’s so exciting to hear about the world that has opened up for you since you began this blog. It give us all hope for ourselves.

    Congratulations! You truly deserve it. (although that book is never going to get written!) πŸ˜‰

  • Etsuko says:


    I enjoyed reading this post as usual. Thank you for letting us know about THE purpose of going to NY! You give us hope. Seth Godin is so smart to have chosen you to speak for his students!


  • Robbie Mackay says:

    Awesome πŸ™‚

    You just reminded me, I have one of those ‘Best jobs in the world’ at the moment – as a web developer for Greenpeace – great people and great fun for a great cause… and its a 1 yr contract so at the end of the year I can evaluate whether I’m sick of it yet and where to next!

  • Glenn Edley says:

    Excellent post and congratulations. It would have been a fantastice learning session for everyone.

    Why aren’t you wearing shoes? I get the feeling the office is like a home with that pic of you and Seth.

  • Shannon says:

    Geeking out over this post! A picture of Seth hangs in my office (Seth, if you’re reading, I work at SHS) along w/a quote and I love everything he does. This like a big, giant collision of awesome.

    I’ve got some new people to go follow now on Twitter…

  • Alan Colmenares says:

    You mentioned that you’re going to South America soon. Where are you going? I hope you make it down here to Colombia (you’ll love it). It’d be great to meet you. You inspired me to start my own blog site about working within the technology industry in Latin America. It’s not live yet, but stuff I’ve read on your site has really helped. Thanks!

  • Jon Dale says:


    Thanks for coming by and sharing your story. It was great meeting you.


  • Kangai says:

    Good morning from Kenya, Chris.

    This is an amazing post! I’m so glad that you got to meet up with Seth- he’s a brilliant marketer and an even more brilliant person (I should know- I spent 3.5 months as his intern last year).

    And thanks for still rocking the universe with what you’re doing. Your 279-day manifesto is changing the way I do things and how I market myself.

    Next time you’re in Kenya, don’t forget to holla!


  • Kendra says:

    I am a Malaysian, if you ever need local views on Malaysia, whats good and to see – email me. Enjoy your trip!

  • Parag Shah says:

    Hi Thanks for this post. I read Seth Godin’s follow up post on the SAMBA program sometime back and then I read your post today.

    I really like this form of education. I am hoping to do something similar for Software, someday πŸ™‚

  • Karen says:

    Wow! Sounds like an incredible, inspiring cross country trip! I love Seth too… heard about you and him around the same time, and it was like such explosion of remarkableness, I could barley take it. πŸ™‚ And I’ve decided ‘remarkable’ is my new favorite word. What an ideal to strive towards… Bravo, guys. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip!

  • Henri says:

    I’d like elaboration on this:

    “How you know when you’ve found something you’re really good at (hint: it involves waking up at night with ideas)”

    Good stuff,


  • Dolores says:

    Chris, As I see you’re planning to travel to South America. If you include Argentina in your agenda and want to know people there, let me now. I’m living in Spain but my family live there and they will be glad to invite you. They live in a small town in the argentinian pampas, we have a farm there. If you are interested let me now, and I give e-mail, phone numbers and whatever you might need. Thank you for sharing your experiences, I’m on the way to become my own boss and it helps me a lot.
    Take care

  • Sharon Hearty says:

    Chris, what a fab opportunity. Good honest hard work pays off and when it does you should be proud.

  • Jean Philippe says:

    Thanks Chris for this cool post! Seth is the Oprah of marketers πŸ™‚ (and I mean it as a compliment for those raising an highbrow)

  • Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says:

    Sounds like a really cool experience. I was considering applying for Seth’s program, but my pregnant wife frowned upon the idea. πŸ™‚ She is due at the end of July.

    Seth has been an inspiration to me for the past three years. He has encouraged me to think of my ideas in always a bigger and grander scale. I still listen to my a fear a little too often, but because of Seth I’m practicing facing my fears and taking my blog to the next level.

  • Richard Harbridge says:

    One of those things that probably gets said often but individuals like yourself and Seth are what inspire me on a regular basis. The world is much better for having such extraordinary ‘sharing, hoping, and optimistic’ people like you guys in it.

    It’s very noble and selfless that you guys try and make the world better for everyone. I really mean that, and I hope it doesn’t sound too contrived.

    All the best,

  • Mark Essel says:

    Great experience for all involved, glad you made the trip to NY (my neck of the woods).

    Glad to see superheroes like yourselves collaborating and sharing visions.

    May all your plans surpass your expectations.

  • Robin Mayfield says:

    Great article, Chris. Would love to hear that talk sometime. Let us know if you’re in the UK any time soon – I’m sure we could get together a group of people interested in hearing it!
    Or if you have a recording… πŸ™‚

  • Francisco J. Noguera says:

    Echoing Alan, please let us know if Colombia is in your South America plans this time around! You are doing amazing work and I thank you for your generosity in sharing your thoughts with this growing community.



  • James Fowlkes says:

    Wow, Chris! You are big-time now. I can’t believe you got to meet the man himself, Seth Godin. I have been devouring his books. I agree, they are really great. Congrats on getting to spend time with him.

  • Ping says:

    Great post! I’ve just started reading your blog recently. Very inspiring!
    I was very excited to see that you’re heading to Malaysia soon. In fact, I am heading that way next week!
    Keep up the great posts!

  • Laura Cococcia says:

    Hey Chris – I learned of Godin’s MBA program a short while ago through one of his blog posts. Very cool that you were able to meet with the folks there and thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • wm says:

    welcome to Malaysia Chris!
    (they should give you the visa) cause i would. πŸ™‚

  • Bridget says:

    Hi Chris – I’m in Seattle and wish to attend Pam’s event that will be here July 10th however your coupon code doesn’t currently work for Seattle. How can we change that?


  • Alex Damien says:

    Hey there Chris! I’ve been a fan of yours since the beginning of the year, but just now dared to comment! I hadn’t heard of Seth Godin (Yes, I kind of live under a rock) but thanks for talking about him! Also, I love all of your ideas about courage and defying authority. You’ve been a great inspiration. The thing I love most about your writing is that you come through as so honest, I can relate to you because you talk like a real person, about your successes, failures, ideals and doubts. I’ll keep cheering you from my tiny side of the internet, and I’m working on my Unconventional Writing submission! I’ll send it soon and hope you’ll like it.

  • Allan says:

    Chris, thanks for coming by and visiting Seth and the SAMBA crew. I’m sorry I missed you that day – big fan of your work. It was an amazing experience and I’m grateful to Seth for his generosity. Cheers!

  • Gail Doby says:

    Loved the email about Seth’s SAMBA. I also enjoyed your talking points…very interesting and intriguing.

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