Linchpin – A Review

by Stephen Mills on January 28, 2010

Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? is a really, really good book.  It’s hard for me to imagine anyone not getting something of value from its pages, unless you are retired and spend all your time relaxing and having fun.  If you have a job and/or are trying to create, this book is for you.

The book is a passionate plea and argument to individuals to become indispensable linchpins in whatever it is they do.  Unlike some of Seth’s other writing, Linchpin is not a book about marketing, but a true self-improvement book and applicable to people in all organizations and typical jobs as well as artists and entrepreneurs.

“This is a personal manifesto, a plea from me to you.  Right now, I’m not focused on the external, on the tactics organizations use to make great products or spread important ideas.  This book is different.  It’s about choice and it’s about your life.  This choice doesn’t require you to quit your job, though it challenges you to rethink how you do your job.

The system we grew up with is a mess.  It’s falling apart at the seams and a lot of people I care about are in pain because the things we thought would work don’t.  Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back.  They have become victims, pawns in a senseless system that uses them up and undervalues them.

It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map.

My goal is to persuade you that there is an opportunity available to you, a chance to significantly change your life for the better.  Not by doing something that is easy or that you’ve been trained to do, but by understanding how the rules of our world have fundamentally changed and by taking advantage of this moment to become something the world believes is indispensable.”

–Seth Godin, from the Introduction

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, is full of insights that I think are very valuable.  This is a well written and thoughtful book that deserves wide readership.  Judging by it’s sales on Amazon, that is not going to be a problem.  It’s an engaging book written in a style that is not typical of his other books.

Godin does not provide you with a script to follow, although you do get a lot of suggestions.  It’s the very nature of what he is arguing that makes it impossible to provide a script:

“Here’s the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it.  If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.  Don’t you hate that?  I love that there is no map.”

I suggest you read the Amazon reviews (about 90% of the reviewers are rating it 5 stars).  Here are the chapters that make up the book and a brief summary of their content.  After I completed the summaries below, I almost took them out.  They seem so inadequate at indicating the insights contained within the text.  For most of those you’ll have to read the book, but I’ll share some of them with you in future articles.

  • The New World of Work – Outsourcing and automation make most information workers replaceable cogs in a vast machine, just like factory workers in the industrial age.  The white collar job is a myth, it’s just factory work of a different sort.  Godin introduces the idea that this new world now includes a third team in addition to management and labor; the linchpins.
  • Thinking About Your Choice – You can choose to buy into the fear of the corporate system or you can choose to map out your own course, regardless of what your boss thinks.  The boss really wants someone who is an artist and who changes everything, regardless of what he says.  You can choose to be remarkable, be generous, create art, make judgment calls, and connect people and ideas.  You can choose to become a linchpin.
  • Indoctrination: How We Got Here – Our schools and our cultures are not teaching us the right skills.  “We’ve bought into a model that taught us to embrace the system, to spend for pleasure, and to separate ourselves from our work.”  Godin provides a list of things we are teaching our kids and then asks “Which of these attributes are the keys to being indispensible?” and “Are we building the sort of people our society needs?”.
  • Becoming the Linchpin – Being good isn’t good enough anymore.  Meeting specs, following a manual, or doing something that can be measured can usually be outsourced or automated less expensively.  This is the same argument made by others such as Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  “The linchpin is someone who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen.”
  • Is It Possible to Do Hard Work in a Cubicle? – Smiling, connecting with humans, taking initiative, being creative, being surprising, and changing people we interact with for the better is what Godin calls “emotional labor”.  He says we do it for free all our lives and then when we show up for work we expect to be told what to do and get paid for it.  Bring your gift of being human to work.
  • The Resistance – This chapter, the longest in the book, begins with a drawing of three overlapping circles.  They are labeled “Could have”, “Should have”, and “Would have”.  Where they all three overlap in the center is “Didn’t”.   I love that drawing.   Godin talks about your reptilian brain and your amygdala and how your resistance to being indispensable is biological.  Until you recognize your resistance and deal with it you will be frustrated by it.  Your resistance works hard to make sure you won’t do anything remarkable or become indispensable.
  • The Powerful Culture of Gifts – “The culture of gifts has a long history on this planet, and understanding how it brings people together is a critical step in becoming indispensable.”  There is a lot in this chapter about truly giving your gifts without the expectation or even possibility of reciprocity.  It is excellent work.  Godin gave his gift well.
  • There Is No Map – This is why there are so few linchpins and why they are so valuable.  If it was easy it wouldn’t be valuable.  Waiting for instructions is easy.  Figuring out for yourself what to do next is hard and it is what allows you to create indispensable value.  Godin even goes Zen and talks about letting go of attachments to outcomes.
  • Making the Choice – You either fit in or you stand out.  You either defend the status quo or you challenge it.  You either make a difference or you disappear into the sea of cogs.  The essence of being a linchpin is a choice you make.  Most people will not make the hard choice to overcome the anxiety associated with being an indispensable leader and connector.  What about you?
  • The Culture of Connection – “Your personality and attitude are more important than the actual work product you create, because indispensable work is work that is connected to others.”  This is a very short chapter about the power of social intelligence.
  • The Seven Abilities of the Linchpin – This almost sounds like a summary chapter of the book, but it is not.  It is a tiny chapter describing seven characteristics of a Linchpin.  I found it a rather odd chapter.
  • When It Doesn’t Work – Your ideas don’t always work.  Godin makes some suggestions including the possibility that you simply won’t get paid for them.  But at least in a connected (Internet) world it is easy to share your ideas and art with the public.  He ends this chapter with two more sets of circles.  “Dignity”, “Generosity”, and “Humanity” yielding  “Indispensable”.  “Conformity”, “Obedience”, and “Compliance” yielding “Surrender”.
  • Summary – The last section of this last chapter is called “The Last Word”.  There is a lot of wisdom in this little section.  “We can’t profitably get more average.  We can’t get more homogenized, more obedient, or cheaper.  We can’t get faster either.  It is our desire to be treated like individuals that will end this cycle.  Our passion for contribution and possibility, the passion we’ve drowned out in school and the corporate world – that’s the only way out.”  If you can overcome your resistance and take your humanity to your work, you can become a linchpin.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeenat{Positive Provocations} January 29, 2010 at 5:04 am

Hey Stephen,
Really enjoyed this review. Seth really has a way with words…
And since this book is about self improvement..it is certainly of my interest…
Will try and get it off amazon.
Thanks for this awesome review!
Much Love,
Z~

Reply

Hugh DeBurgh - The Passionate Warrior January 29, 2010 at 7:40 am

Hi Stephen -

SOLD! I will be downloading this book to my Kindle today (I hope they have a Kindle version!)

I love Seth’s work. He is always trying o take the complexity of today’s chaotic world of change and help it make sense to the rest of us. That’s what you are doing here as well. And what I try to do at my site.

Great summary! And thank you :-)

All the best,

Hugh

Reply

James Schipper January 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Seth is someone I fear I have not paid close enough attention to for some time. I have seen the reviews of the book all over the internet this week, but this was the most thorough I have seen. What he says simply makes sense.
.-= James Schipper´s last blog ..Crush It! Work Your Face Off with Gary Vaynerchuk =-.

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Mark Dowdell January 31, 2010 at 9:59 am

I’m so excited about this book. I finished Tribes a few weeks ago and loved it. Every second of it was a high octane punch to the status quo’s face. I can’t wait to see what else this guy has to offer.
.-= Mark Dowdell´s last blog ..Global Warming Back and Forth =-.

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Miche - Serenity Hacker January 31, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Hi Stephen, thanks for the great review. Honestly, this book might not have come across my radar for a while otherwise. Now, I’ve ordered it! :) -Miche
.-= Miche – Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..Making Big Changes: Energy and Resistance =-.

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Justin Wright February 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for the great review of the book! I happened to stumble across a video a few days ago of Seth doing an interview about this book. Then I came across his guest post on Zen Habits and felt like it was a sign. Hoping to grab a copy of this book soon and check it out.
.-= Justin Wright´s last blog ..My Life Without A Smartphone =-.

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Brent Trotter June 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Very nice summary Stephen.

Can’t wait to read the book.

Reply

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