GODIN HAS A KNACK for getting a jump on sea changes — the man had e-mail in 1976. And while marketing departments across the world strain to think outside the box, Seth Godin invents new boxes.

During the mid-1990s, marketing experienced an honest-to-goodness paradigm shift. Prescient marketers began questioning the effectiveness of producing increasingly louder ads to communicate with the average American, who was already being bombarded with 3,000 advertising messages per day. Simultaneously, American consumers started leveling their deadliest weapon — neglect — against interruptive marketing tactics, like the sales call that imposes on the family dinner. “And then, on top of that, you add the Internet,” Godin remembers, “and there were a whole bunch of different forces coming together at once. The fact that there are 500 radio stations and 500 TV stations and a billion websites means that I can’t just buy a Super Bowl ad and hope to reach a lot of people.”

Yoyodyne reached a lot of people. Godin and his 70 employees received more e-mail messages per day than any other business on the planet. Driven by the ideas in Permission Marketing, the book that launched Godin’s career, Yoyodyne’s success was evidence of a company’s need to persuade customers to “raise their hands,” to go out of their way to learn about new products and services. Among many other direct-marketing strategies, Yoyodyne provided the likes of AOL, MSN, and CompuServe with interactive games for potential customers. These games offered education about new products and rewarded users with sweepstakes prizes and other incentives. In 1990, Guts, developed by Yoyodyne for Prodigy, quickly became the most popular game on the Internet. Godin, in turn, became a sensation, speaking to everyone from Wal-Mart and Disney to Yale and NYU.

Since then, Godin has written a spate of increasingly popular books, founded a music label, and, with the help of a doctor friend, published an innovative idea for a kidney transplant procedure in a medical journal. Regardless of the particular hat worn on his trademark shaved head, Godin first and foremost considers himself an agent of change. “There are a lot of people who try to make a living trying to sell consulting or trying to sell a product,” he says. “And the only thing that I sell is change. That’s all you can buy from me. I have succeeded if, at the end of a talk or at the end of reading something I’ve written, something in your life changes for the better.”