Linchpin - Critical summary review - Seth Godin

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Linchpin - critical summary review

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Career & Business and Personal Development

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1591844096

Publisher: Portfolio

Critical summary review

Whether you believe it or not, you are a genius. 

Just think of all the times you found a shortcut when others couldn’t or solved a problem that confounded all members of your family. And do we even need to mention that time you charmed the girl who was out of reach for everyone else or pushed that handsome introvert guy to call you just when you needed that call the most?

And what is a “genius” if not someone who finds a not so obvious solution to a certain problem, one who does something the average people can’t? “That has only happened once or twice,” you say!

“That’s more than enough,” replies marketing guru Seth Godin in the introduction to his 2010 laissez-faire manual to indispensability, “Linchpin.”  After all, no one is a genius all the time: Einstein had trouble finding his house when he walked home from work every day. Even he was only a genius sometimes and about some things.

The tragedy is that society – your school, your boss, your government, your family – is adamant at exorcising the genius part out of your body and mind as if it is some kind of a demon (which is, as we’ll see below, but in an ancient sense). And we’re not exaggerating either!

When the rules of modern societies were defined, about two centuries ago, that was their clear-cut objective, because it trained people into submissiveness, teaching that their job was having their work done, and making them follow instructions.. You know, to become just like everyone else, ordinary, mediocre, average.

In the author’s words, “you weren’t born to be a cog in the giant industrial machine. You were trained to become a cog.” The good news is that you can be trained out of it. And that’s precisely what “Linchpin” is all about!

Why Adam Smith predicted Wikipedia

Adam Smith is widely considered “The Father of Economics,” and his magnum opus, “The Wealth of Nations,” is one of the most cited books in the social sciences published before 1950.

There’s a good reason for that, as the book was the first one to formulate the principles of the free market society and this is, arguably, the most important contribution toward the science of economics ever made.

Interestingly, one of Smith’s most startling and most relevant conclusions about how the world works can be found on the very first page of his gargantuan work. There, Smith compares the output of a highly skilled pin artisan to that of several barely trained, low-paid workers at a pin factory.

As Smith noticed, despite their lack of skill on an individual level, the factory workers were able to produce a thousand times more pins than the artisan, merely because, in their case, the production process was split into several simpler, repetitive, almost routine steps.

And that’s how the world works ever since: as far as factory owners are concerned, the best production processes are the ones that can be split into simple steps, because – when that happens – compliant, unskilled workers can easily replace highly qualified professionals. And guess how much you can pay the former?

This, according to Godin, is the cruel, uncompromising law of the post-industrial age: “any project, if broken down into sufficiently small, predictable parts, can be accomplished for awfully close to free.”

Don’t believe it? Think of Encyclopedia Britannica, for a second. When the project first started (at about the same time Smith published “The Wealth of Nations”), it was deemed the summit of human intellectual effort. And for the past two and a half centuries, it continued to have the same reputation, thanks to more than a hundred full-time editors – each an authority in their field – and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now, compare this to the evolution of Wikipedia.

Many times bigger, far more popular, and significantly more up-to-date than Britannica, Wikipedia was built practically for free by millions of knowledgeable (mostly anonymous) people.

The secret? Just like in the case of the pin factory, the solution was to split the production process into tiny slices, i.e., developing all those book-length six million articles had to be broken into a countless number of one-sentence or one-paragraph projects!

The Linchpin: the artist that can bring it together and make a difference

Now, if something immensely difficult and challenging as an encyclopedia can be created by a host of nonspecialists almost for free, where does that leave you? What kinds of skills should you develop to become more than just a clog in the machine? Can you become indispensable?

“Of course you can,” says Godin. And, what’s more, you should: whatever Smith was babbling about in “The Wealth of Nations,” the world of today needs indispensable human beings more than ever.

“We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care We need marketers who can lead, salespeople able to risk making a human connection, passionate change-makers willing to be shunned if it is necessary for them to make a point.” And these are the people that Godin calls “linchpins.”

Why do we need them when ordinary people can produce much cheaper pins faster than highly-skilled artisans and general knowledge buffs can create encyclopedia articles at least as good as (if not better than) Britannica’s for free?

Well, for two reasons. First of all, because the times they are a-changin – as Bob Dylan sang. Ever since the Internet revolution, things are moving at the speed of light. And when things are moving that fast, no set of rules and no book of guidelines jotted down yesterday will ever be able to establish the production process of tomorrow.

When things are predictable, you need someone who can switch off, someone who’d rather follow instructions than risk making a mistake, an ordinary man. But, when things get unpredictable, you need geniuses, you need people who can work things out on their own, people who find themselves around much better without a map.

In a dynamic time such as ours, instead of the automatons of the Industrial Age, you need creative artists and soft-skilled masters, in one word: linchpins.

And therein lies the second reason why we need linchpins in the first place: low-skilled pattern-following workers will soon be replaced by robots, but “out-of-the-box artists” are irreplaceable, precisely because they tend to work around the rules.

“Linchpins are the essential building blocks of tomorrow’s high-value organizations,” writes Godin. “They don’t bring capital or expensive machinery, nor do they blindly follow instructions and merely contribute labor. Linchpins are indispensable, the driving force of our future.”

The seven abilities of the linchpin

At its bare essence, linchpins do two things for an organization: a map and they exert emotional labor. In other words, they are the ones who know what to do when something unexpected happens, while also being the ones who are never reluctant to smile at customers.

Godin admits on his own that the contributions of a linchpin may take many forms and lists the seven abilities that MAKES them indispensable in one of the chapters of the book. Let’s have a look at all of them.

1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organization

Did you know that Zappos offers graduates of its two-week paid training program $2,000 to quit their new jobs? Why do they do that? Well, because Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO, believes that people should work for his company for the right reasons – not for money. If they are willing to leave for a couple of thousand bucks – than they were never supposed to start working at all. A linchpin would never accept that offer.

A linchpin never works for the money and always provides much more than the minimum required to earn it. A linchpin is the one who leads, the one who connects the people in an organization, the one who reminds others of the company’s mission every day both through own actions and words.

This takes emotional labor and can’t be done by following the instructions in a manual.

2. Delivering unique creativity

As you know, if you want to be creative, you need to be highly personal, original, and unexpected.

To be uniquely creative, be knowledgeable: if you want to produce a unique work of art, it sure helps having seen lots of artworks and know a lot about the history of art.

Finally, if you want to be able to deliver unique creativity daily, you need more than insight. You need to be passionate enough to risk the rejection that delivering a certain solution can bring. In other words, you must produce and ship.

3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity

It’s always good to have a manual, but when a situation gets too complex, following it is impossible. And this is when linchpins are most valuable: they map on their own and allow an organization to navigate more quickly through a complex situation.

As every leader knows from experience, waiting for the paralyzed crowd to figure out what to do next is never an option. The greater the risk of complex new situations, the more indispensable linchpins are.

4. Leading customers

There was a time when transactions were one-way and static: a tiny group defined a product, and a slightly bigger group was in charge of selling it according to the instructions of the former.

With the advent of the Internet, this all changed. Now,  both sellers and buyers participate in the definition of a brand, which is why by-the-book sellers are failing so miserably in the world of today, and why the best sellers are the ones capable of doing “marketing as leadership.”

Linchpins are leaders, inventing  rules as they go and having a new set of rules for every customer they meet.

5. Inspiring staff

No matter how much power you have, you can’t just say – “Get more excited and insightful about your job or you’re fired.” Actually, you can, but if this makes any difference, it would certainly be for the worse.

That’s why every organization needs linchpins: to inspire others by doing their job with passion. And passion is contagious.

6. Providing deep domain knowledge

As we demonstrated above, having a deep knowledge domain by itself is rarely sufficient to becoming indispensable. Combining that knowledge with smart decisions and generous contributions is what changes things.

Many people are experts in their fields. However, only some are able to motivate others to learn. The former are replaceable; the latter are linchpins. 

7. Possessing a unique talent

If you want to be a linchpin, having a skill that you bring to the table and that is hard to replace, a kind of superpower, helps.

So, be bold and think big. Develop the attributes that make you a unique human being. Make never-before-seen combinations.

There are millions of designers, for example, all who have mastered Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, but how many of them are also Microsoft Excel experts who’ve read both Tolstoy and Proust?

The Daemon and the Resistance

One last thing. The thing that’s stopping you from becoming a linchpin isn’t your already acquired set of skills, the society, or your natural inclinations. It is your mind – or rather one part of it.

You see, your mind has two distinct sections, which can be metaphorically described as “the daemon” and “the resistance.”

The daemon – an ancient Greek term for a separate being living inside of all people that the Romans translated as “genius” – is the source of all of your great ideas. Unfortunately, it has one very fearsome enemy: the resistance, which sleeps inside your ancient, lizard brain, and is the one thing your daemon has no control over.

Most of the time, the resistance invents stories, illnesses, emergencies, and distractions to keep your genius bottled up. The reason is simple: it is afraid of what will happen to you (and to it) if your ideas get out and the magic happens.

Well, don’t let your lizard brain win. Face your resistance by doing things, by creating objects, by shipping stuff. 

After all, out of Picasso’s thousands of paintings, you probably know the title of only one or two. Now you finally know why: the remaining pictures were just his way to silence his resistance. His way of becoming indispensable. His way of becoming a linchpin.

Final Notes

“Linchpin” may not be Seth Godin at his best, but even Seth Godin at his average is good enough for us. Interestingly enough, this book seems to hold the reason behind this: Godin is a linchpin.

Find out how to become one by reading this book.

12min Tip

If you don’t like your job – quit it. Do yourself a favor and find one in which you’ll want to pour some emotional labor, one that will transform you from a “Thank God It's Friday" worker into a linchpin.

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Who wrote the book?

One of the foremost marketing gurus of the modern age, Seth Godin is an American blogger, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. A former dot-com business executive, Seth Godin used his innovative company Yoyodyne to promote the concept of permission marketin... (Read more)

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