“YOU CAN EITHER FIT IN OR STAND OUT. NOT BOTH”
The Sub-title for the book is “Are You Indispensable?” Those are mighty words in a modern economy that has been sold to us as a normalized state of flux where being mobile and flexible are sold as a given virtue.
In Linchpin, prolific author, marketer, pundit and thinker Seth Godin, exhorts and espouses the imperative to become a namesake person by leading, gifting, giving, standing out and generally not be “a cog in the giant industrial machine.” Godin asserts that linchpins who lead us and connect us in this manner, counterintuitively, will have secured their present and future as today’s economy is ruthlessly punishing the fearful. There is no map on how to go about this, but a Linchpin rejects the compliance lessons he has learnt at school and at work and instead of being silenced and cowed charts his own path of “genius” via the aforementioned qualities, by creating value, chucking the rule book, making a difference and creating order. The assumption here is that one wants to be a linchpin and cares enough in the first place.
Before continuing, however, it should be pointed out that while the above promise does indeed come across as praiseworthy there are plenty of reasons to go in doubting both this book and its author. After all, motivational speakers and modern age ‘gurus’ are a dime-a-dozen. Moreover, while many people have positively commented on the author’s Purple Cow, and other works, his The Dip seemed personally unimportant and incomplete to me. Even worse, my skepticism is reinforced when recalling that this is the same author who sifted through online directories to come up with a printed directory called E-Mail Addresses of the Rich & Famous in 1994, with which he annoyed a few rich and famous people by printing their e-mail addresses, but then would release a book called Permission Marketing in 1999.
With that declaration in place what about Linchpin? The core concept is sane and the assertion noble. The author’s reminder that the traditional workplace, media and school perpetuate myths and render one compliant in exchange for stability is not odd, but that world is gone. Furthermore, Godin’s ridicule of mainstream nonsense mongers like Thomas Friedman is one of his many progressive arguments and another cause for applause.
In the book, which as said comes across as a motivational speech-cum-rally, there is a whole lot of pandering and a whole lot more of encouraging. Linchpin, the author explains, is a matter of attitude and not learning. It is about people who put in emotional labour. One has a choice and one has to resist the resistance, push back the “lizard brain” and chart a path by creating value.
This new Linchpin way is the new bargain replacing the old money/job/stability-for-compliance and conformity order. The new proletariat owns the means of production (computers, say), which is a shocking statement that is far from true and even refers to Friedman’s “world is flat” drivel. The only difference between a mediocre rule follower and a linchpin is that the latter has never bought into the self-limiting line of thought or, my addition, has freed himself from it. Page 43 of the book has a diagram in which Godin depicts being his favoured Linchpin as a confluence of charm, talent and perseverance. A tall order, sure, but recall that we are all geniuses in something at least (patronizing?) or could be so by changing our attitudes. The race to the top is achieved by leaning in, persevering, throwing out the rule book, not giving up, creating art and giving it freely. Somewhat paradoxically, on its surface, a linchpin says no 1- never (always finds a way to say “yes”) or 2- all the time (being a visionary means uttering “no” is with good intentions given how saying “yes” obstructs the art and the achievement). Godin, congruently, comes out against the concept of time for money/work for pay. He deems selling oneself to the highest bidder cheap and asks the reader to opt for creating art instead. The concept, as espoused on page 87, really does seem to target the core of the capitalist system. As cheekily, and on page 79, Godin advises against creating resumes and concealing one’s true self in order to get a job. After all if one has to conceal his identity to obtain a job, then he needs to bury it in order to keep the job.
In the second half of the Linchpin Godin drops the actual reprise of the word “linchpin” and goes about supporting his premise by lateral assertions. Here one learns that linchpins are all bout passion and art. Moreover, it is not art if it is not offered for free and freely. The more one gives away the more one receives. “The easier it is to quantify, the less its worth.”
How does one know that the lizard brain is at work resisting the said concepts? Here are examples: one does not ship product/art/results on time. “Late is the first step to never.” Making excuses, suffering anxiety on what to wear, procrastination demonstrates a lack of desire to learn new skills, start committees instead of acting, join committees instead of leading, not asking questions or asking too many, be boring or waiting for tomorrow. The whole discussion on shipping and not resisting the “lizard brain” is expanded upon with a touch on neurology and evolution. Godin insists that we abandon fear and that the more one hides the more likely it is to fail. Find the wind of resistance and move towards it and face it down. A successful artists completes the idea – although even false had had ideas.
Having said all of the above, Godin either seems to misunderstand the nature of some people or being American plays the brainwashed game. He claims it is a pity that a chance encounter with an ex-US soldier showed how said former soldier/current sales guy is simply following his boss’s orders instead of being an artist and going above and beyond. Clearly, soldiers are more courageous and talented than that! In fact, all jarheads are trained to comply and outsource thinking and reasoning. Obeying standard rules and not questioning is the way of the soldier. Given such an error one wonders what Godin was thinking.
Where he makes more sense – but not necessarily being correct or truthful to readers – is when addressing a hiring company’s perspective. Obviously, as he advocates spearheading the genius inside to becoming a linchpin Godin knows many wonder what if the ‘machine’ out there is resisting the paradigm change. It often is the case that corporations suck employees’ strengths dry increasingly destroying employees, society and the nation with their folly. It is all fine and good for one to secure one’s future, but not by necessarily with the present employer. What about the lack of acceptance and progressive corporations/businesses/societies to go with the rise in quantity and quality of linchpins? Firstly, Godin believes stepping out of line is not harmful to one’s career. In fact, he insists that since the demise of the ‘factory order’ it is quite the opposite. He adds that a company now wants employees to be a linchpin. Turn to page 36 and Godin is telling employers to hire, nurture and pay linchpins to transform into likewise companies and enjoy employees who work harder, longer, better and deliver more. Companies, he insists, should not be afraid to make employees linchpins and not be afraid of them either. The book sets it off as linchpins versus workplace drones – clearly a simplification (but Godin disagrees).
In his quest to set parameters for a race to the top Seth Godin has little room for shades of grey. On page 55 he grants a major exception for organizations which are centralized, monopolistic, safe and cost sensitive. The author, however, emphasizes that such companies are paying a price and will not garner customer loyalty. However, as it seems to be the case with most modern books of this sub-genre, the author eschews footnotes or scientific and controlled studies to prove his point. Moreover, the material is often redundant and repetitive. It is a long read that could be entertaining or interesting, but also hammers the point again and again.
Finally, here are a few words more about the incidentals in the book. The book’s cover artwork looks lifted off the Hydro Utility Workers’ Union collateral. The book is essentially a 220-page conversational and rousing speech to break the rules and to prove his point, and in keeping with the spoken nature, the author pays little heed to grammar. Fragmented or backward sentences are the norm. “once one person in your class or your town had a car, others needed one” is one of hundreds of examples. Beginning sentences with ‘and’ like “and it worked but this isn’t enough” are also common. Worse, sentences like “the typical household spent a tiny fraction of what we do on everything in our budget” are confusing.
As mentioned, Godin has been prolific and he manages to subtly name drop his other books in order to give us examples of his prescriptions. He nonchalantly mentions several of his better-selling works.
The Seven Abilities of The Linchpin:
- Providing a unique interface between members of the organization.
- Delivering unique creativity.
- Managing a situation or organization of great complexity.
- Leading customers.
- Inspiring staff.
- Providing deep domain knowledge.
- Possessing a unique talent.