While attending the fifth annual Small Business Summit in New York this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Seth Godin speak. Even better, attendees received a copy of his latest “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”
Moved by his presentation, I wanted to read his book to gain more insight to a man whose blog is often retweeted. I was not disappointed.
Be Original by Adding Art to Your Profession
Godin starts bold…
“We are surrounded by Bureaucrats, Note Takers, Literalists, Manual Readers, TGIF Laborers, Map Followers, and Fearful Employees. The problem is that the Bureaucrats, Note Takers, Literalists, Manual Readers, TGIF Laborers, Map Followers, and Fearful Employees are in pain, they’re in pain because they’re overlooked, underpaid, laid off, and stressed out.”
He then focuses on how the ritual of work came to be. He gives historical perspective of how work became tedious labor and the signs that a cookie cutter worker is widely supported. He quotes from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, for example, as well as states how even education trains employees to be compliant and follow rote example.
Godin continues to today’s work environment, where obedience should be considered outdated. Passion, the core of one’s work, is “a desire, insistence, and willingness to give a gift”. To Godin, passion framed by artistic nature to learn and apply one’s craft breaks the monotony and drudgery of the past industrial complex.
“Your work is to create art that changes things, to expose your insight and humanity in such a way that you are truly indispensable….Your job is about following instructions; the work is about making a difference.”
Now, he is not saying go make a statue. He is saying to infuse a sense of artistry. It is not only personally rewarding, but is the true source of a Linchpin’s value. For example, Godin explains how in the “Hierarchy of Value” process creating value is a Linchpin endeavor, barely inferring entrepreneurship as the most valuable status.
“Lots of people can lift. That’s not paying off anymore. A few people can sell. Almost no one puts in the effort to create.”
I say barely because he writes like he speaks, his standard No-BS-Here way. And his way gives buoyancy to a key point, that the extension of creativity is to build-to-ship. To be creative means to issue that to which your passion gives birth. It is also the path to proving that you are a Linchpin, a valuable contributor:
“The only way to prove (as opposed to assert) that you are an indispensable Linchpin – someone worth recruiting, moving to the top of the pile, and hiring – is to show, not tell. Projects are the new resumes.”
Godin makes a good argument. His concepts support the tools and abilities available to create value-added projects and services that can promise opportunity. He leaves the choice of art up to you.
Balancing Art Against Profession
I value where Godin is saying. Linchpin is a great compliment to books like Scott Belsky’s Making Things Happen (see Anita Campbell’s review), a book about putting ideas in action and that also has an artist perspective.
There is some criticism of business that I am not in full agreement with, however. For example, Godin mentions how MBAs “often have trouble pigeonholing artists. Artists can’t be easily instructed….and that’s precisely what you are taught to do in business school.” Graduate business study is not automatically juxtaposed against artistry. Businesses have to manage the risk inherent in creative endeavors that require some level of engineering or project management.
However, Godin is not against all organizations. His main “work”, to carry his theme, is to challenge bureaucratic always-been-this-way systems. His writing is more cerebral than Rework, but still efficient, engaging, and makes for a terrific read.
Resistance Is Not Futile
All the while Godin extends thesis explained in his past books. For example, he refers to an earlier book, The Dip, when he touches upon “The Lizard Brain”, his metaphor for one’s natural tendency to resist change and growth that results from great artistry. He uses the resistance constructively, through recommending how to best identify it and power forward to results:
“In The Dip I talk about how hard it is to quit a project (a job, a career, a relationship), even if the project is absolutely going nowhere….There is not a lot to fear when you’re stuck in the dip….”
Godin links the defeat of the lizard brain to your choice of art. Your art should promote growth, a by-product of value, and be worthwhile:
“If you pick something beneath you, then the resistance will win. After all what’s the point of overcoming pain the lizard brain inflicts if all you’re doing is something that doesn’t matter anyway?… Overcoming excuses and social challenges isn’t easy, and it won’t happen if the end result isn’t worth it. Trivial art isn’t worth the trouble it takes to produce it.”
The analogies truly inspire. Though nothing is steeply rooted in behavioral science, you do not get the feeling that the words are hollow. Godin does offer interesting anecdotes, like how Pennsylvania small town banker Bill O’Brien creates a great business relationship with the local Amish, issuing home loans with a solid no foreclosure record as a result.
What Will Readers Gain
Godin’s energy comes across in “Linchpin”, and his mantra to infuse work with creativity and passion is light years beyond catchy. He writes for the times, the shift of how work is being completed. It is great complement to anyone who wants to contribute meaningfully to an organization without being the cog.
If you have to do one derivative thing, do what a lot people should do — Buy this book. Even better, let it inspire to connect with your customers and organizations to the highest achievements imaginable.