Linchpin

By

Seth Godin

My Thoughts

This book is about your potential to make a difference at work. A linchpin combines deep knowledge and good judgement, makes work more personal and collects, connects and nurtures relationships.

Highlights & Summary Notes

A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck.

This choice doesn’t require you to quit your job, though it challenges you to rethink how you do your job.

Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.

You have been brainwashed by school and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow

The New World of Work

What we want, what we need, what we must have are indispensable human beings. We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care.

If you make your business possible to replicate, you’re not going to be the one to replicate it.

The difference between what an employee is paid and how much value she produces leads to profit. If the worker captures all the value in her salary, there’s no profit.

There are only two choices. Win by being more ordinary, more standard, and cheaper. Or win by being faster, more remarkable, and more human.

Competitive pressures (and greed) have encouraged most organisations to turn their workers into machines.

Linchpins are the essential building blocks of tomorrow’s high-value organisations. 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.

You are what you do — The linchpins leverage something internal, not external, to create a position of power and value.

Remarkable people — The only way to succeed is to be remarkable, to be talked about.

Thinking About Your Choice

If you want a job where you get to do more than follow instructions, don’t be surprised if you get asked to do things they never taught you in school.

If you want a job where you take intellectual risks all day long, don’t be surprised if your insights get you promoted.

It’s not about what you’re born with, it’s about what you do.

It seems to me that your outlook is completely due to your worldview. If you believe that all programmers are fairly average, then the pie is limited. If you believe that your job is to do your job (follow the map) and go home, then of course it’s a zero-sum game. The linchpin sees the world very differently. Exceptional insight, productivity, and generosity make markets bigger and more efficient. This situation leads to more opportunities and ultimately a payoff for everyone involved. The more you give, the more the market gives back.

The competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst.

When work becomes personal, your customers and coworkers are more connected and happier. And that creates even more value.

It turns out that pushing decision making down the chart is faster and more efficient.

Indoctrination How we Got Here

We’ve been taught to be a replaceable cog in a giant machine. We’ve been taught to consume as a shortcut to happiness. We’ve been taught not to care about our job or our customers. And we’ve been taught to fit in. None of these things helps you get what you deserve.

We’ve been trained to believe that mediocre obedience is a genetic fact for most of the population, but it’s interesting to note that this trait doesn’t show up until after a few years of schooling.

What They Should Teach in School Only two things: 1. Solve interesting problems 2. Lead

Becoming the Linchpin

Branson’s real job is seeing new opportunities, making decisions that work, and understanding the connection between his audience, his brand, and his ventures.

The law of linchpin leverage: The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value. In other words, most of the time, you’re not being brilliant. Most of the time, you do stuff that ordinary people could do.

Depth of knowledge combined with good judgment is worth a lot.

Expertise gives you enough insight to reinvent what everyone else assumes is the truth.

It’s work you do with your feelings, not your body. Emotional labor is the hard work of making art, producing generosity, and exposing creativity.

Who are you trying to please? — If you seek out critics, bureaucrats, gatekeepers, form-fillers, and by-the-book bosses when you’re looking for feedback, should you be surprised that you end up doing the things that please them?

Fearless doesn’t really mean “without fear.” What it means in practice is, “unafraid of things that one shouldn’t be afraid of.”

It means being willing to take intellectual risks and to forge a new path. The fear is about an imagined threat, so avoiding the fear allows you to actually accomplish something.

Why are we surprised that people spend their precious minutes of self-directed, focused work time trying to achieve perfect? The problem is simple: Art is never defect-free. Things that are remarkable never meet spec, because that would make them standardized, not worth talking about.

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 résumés.

The linchpin brings the ability to lean. He can find a new solution to a problem that has caused others to quit. His art, his genius, is to reimagine the opportunity and find a new way to lean into it.

The linchpin says, “I don’t want a job that a non-linchpin could get.”

Is it Possible to do Hard Work in a Cubicle?

Emotional labor is the task of doing important work, even when it isn’t easy.

Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.

A cook is not an artist. A cook follows a recipe, and he’s a good cook if he follows the recipe correctly. A chef is an artist.

Art is original. Marcel Duchamp was an artist when he pioneered Dadaism and installed a urinal in a museum. The second person to install a urinal wasn’t an artist, he was a plumber.

The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.

The job is not the work.

Optimism is for artists, change agents, linchpins, and winners. Whining and fear, on the other hand, are largely self-fulfilling prophecies in organisations under stress.

Art, at least art as I define it, is the intentional act of using your humanity to create a change in another person.

The Resistance

The discipline of shipping is essential in the long-term path to becoming indispensable.

The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.

The French refer to esprit d’escalier, the clever comeback that you think of a few minutes after the moment has passed. This is unshipped insight, and it doesn’t count for much.

Thrashing is the apparently productive brainstorming and tweaking we do for a project as it develops. Thrashing is essential.

Every time you find yourself following the manual instead of writing the manual, you’re avoiding the anguish and giving in to the resistance.

I’ve seen it wreck people, teams, and corporations. The resistance is nefarious and clever. It creates diseases, procrastination, and most especially, rationalisation. Lots and lots of rationalisation, some of which you might be experiencing right now.

It’s the lizard brain that tells you that you’re not qualified, that your degree isn’t advanced enough, that you didn’t go to a good enough school.

The reason the resistance persists in slowing you down and prevents you from putting your heart and soul and art into your work is simple: you might fail (See The War of Art).

Successful people learn from failure, but the lesson they learn is a different one.

You become a winner because you’re good at losing.

Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re busy hiding out in the comfortable zone.

One way to become creative is to discipline yourself to generate bad ideas. The worse the better. Do it a lot and magically you’ll discover that some good ones slip through.

The part of you that wants to deny this is the resistance. The rest of you understands that you’re as capable as the next guy of an insight, invention, or connection that makes a difference.

It turns out that the three biological factors that drive job performance and innovation are social intelligence, fear response, and perception. Public speaking brings all three together.

The more you have to fear, the worse it goes. One antidote is to pursue multiple paths, generating different ways to win. This meeting or that proposal no longer means everything.

Confidence self-fulfills as well. If you can bring more of it to an interaction, you’re more likely to succeed, which of course creates more confidence for the next interaction.

When the resistance tells you not to listen to something, read something, or attend something, go.

Symptoms of the Lizard Brain

Excessively criticise the work of your peers, thus unrealistically raising the bar for your work.

Criticize anyone who is doing something differently. If they succeed, that means you’ll have to do something differently too.

Start a never-ending search for the next big thing, abandoning yesterday’s thing as old.

Wait for tomorrow.

“I don’t know what to do”—this one is certainly true. The question is, why does that bother you? No one actually knows what to do. Sometimes we have a hunch, or a good idea, but we’re never sure. The art of challenging the resistance is doing something when you’re not certain it’s going to work.

By forcing myself to do absolutely no busywork tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has. I can’t avoid the work because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. I don’t go to meetings. I don’t write memos. I don’t have a staff. I don’t commute. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping.

Zen Habits (Leo Babauta) helps you think your way through this problem. His program is simple: Attempt to create only one significant work a year. Break that into smaller projects, and every day, find three tasks to accomplish that will help you complete a project. And do only that during your working hours. I’m talking about an hour a day to complete a mammoth work of art, whatever sort of art you have in mind. That hour a day might not be fun, but it’s probably a lot more productive than the ten hours you spend now.

“People Will Laugh at Me” — We remember that all our lives, and it’s affecting the decisions you make today, even though the people who laughed at you in school don’t even remember your name.

The Powerful Culture of Gifts

There are three reasons why it’s now urgent to understand how gift culture works. First, the Internet (and digital goods) has lowered the marginal cost of generosity. Second, it’s impossible to be an artist without understanding the power that giving a gift creates. And third, the dynamic of gift giving can diminish the cries of the resistance and permit you to do your best work.

The magic of the gift system is that the gift is voluntary, not part of a contract. The gift binds the recipient to the giver, and both of them to the community.

Human beings have a need for a tribe, but the makeup of that tribe has changed, probably forever. Now, the tribe is composed of our coworkers or our best customers, not only our family or our village or religious group.

A loan without interest is a gift. A gift brings tribe members closer together. A gift can make you indispensable.

There are many forms of equity, and few of them involve cash. When you invest time or resources into someone’s success or happiness, and your payment is a share of that outcome, you become partners.

Three circles have traditionally defined the cycle of art among fine artists, such as painters and sculptors.

  • The first circle represents true gifts—items that an artist gleefully and willingly shares.
  • The second circle is the circle of commerce. In this circle are people and organisations that pay for your art.
  • And now, the Internet creates a third circle, the circle of your tribe, your followers, fans who may become friends.

Metcalfe’s law says that the value of a network increases with the square of the number of nodes on the network. In English? It says that the more people who have a fax machine, the more fax machines are worth (one person with a fax is useless). The more people who use the Internet, the better it works. The more friends I have who use Twitter, the more the tool is worth to me.

Connections are valuable in and of themselves, because they lead to productivity, decreased communication costs, and yes, gifts.

There is no Map

A life without attachment and stress can give you the freedom to see things as they are and call them as you see them.

We’re often attached to the outcome, so we’re blinded to the reality of the process.

Abandoning your worldview in order to try on someone else’s is the first step in being able to see things as they are.

Fire is hot. That’s what it does. If you get burned by fire, you can be annoyed at yourself, but being angry at the fire doesn’t do you much good. And trying to teach the fire a lesson so it won’t be hot next time is certainly not time well spent. Our inclination is to give fire a pass, because it’s not human. But human beings are similar, in that they’re not going to change any time soon either.

The first sign of attachment is that you try to use telekinesis and mind control to remotely control what other people think of you and your work. We’ve all done this.

The second sign of attachment is how you handle bad news. If bad news changes your emotional state or what you think of yourself, then you’ll be attached to the outcome you receive. The alternative is to ask, “Isn’t that interesting?” Learn what you can learn; then move on.

When our responses turn into reactions and we set out to teach people a lesson, we lose. We lose because the act of teaching someone a lesson rarely succeeds at changing them, and always fails at making our day better, or our work more useful.

The Quadrants of Discernment

The bottom left is the corner for the Whiner. The whiner has no passion, but is extremely attached to the worldview he’s bought into. Living life in fear of change, the whiner can’t muster the effort to make things better, but is extremely focused on wishing that things stay as they are.

And that leaves the top right, the quadrant of the Linchpin. The linchpin is enlightened enough to see the world as it is, to understand that this angry customer is not about me, that this change in government policy is not a personal attack, that this job is not guaranteed for life. At the same time, the linchpin brings passion to the job. She knows from experience that the right effort in the right place can change the outcome, and she reserves her effort for doing just that.

The linchpin has figured out that we get only a certain number of brain cycles to spend each day. Spending even one on a situation out of our control has a significant opportunity cost. Your competition is busy allocating time to create the future, and you are stuck wishing the world was different. We’re attached to a certain view, a given outcome, and when it doesn’t appear, we waste time mourning the world that we wanted that isn’t here.

Making The Choice

You can either fit in or stand out. Not both. You are either defending the status quo or challenging it.

Either you are embracing the drama of your everyday life or you are seeing the world as it is. These are all choices; you can’t have it both ways.

These are internal choices, not external factors. How we respond to the opportunities and challenges of the outside world now determines how much the outside world values us.

The resistance encourages you to avoid the work, and our society rewards busywork as well. Serious artists distinguish between the work and the stuff they have to do when they’re not doing the work.

I’ve argued repeatedly that your product should match your marketing, not the other way around, and the same inversion is true here. Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.

“If only” is a great way to eliminate your excuse du jour. “If only” is an obligator, because once you get rid of that item, you’ve got no excuse left, only the obligation.

We’re good at visualising this future, and if we think it’s not going to happen, we get nostalgic for it. This isn’t positive visualisation, it’s attachment of the worst sort. We’re attached to an outcome, often one we can’t control.

And the reason is your nostalgia for the future. You’ve fallen in love with a described outcome, and at every stage along the way, it appears that hope and will and effort on your part might be able to maintain the future quo.

What will make someone a linchpin is not a shortcut. It’s the understanding of which hard work is worth doing. The only thing that separates great artists from mediocre ones is their ability to push through the dip.

Discerning the difference between feedback that helps and criticism that degrades, though, will take some time. In the meantime, ease up on yourself.

The Culture of Connection

Five traits that are essential in how people look at us: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extra-version, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability. (These are also the signs of the linchpin)

Now, consider job satisfaction. The key point of distinction between places to work is rarely the work you’ll be asking the employee to do.

Thus, the individual in the organisation who collects, connects, and nurtures relationships is indispensable.

Key takeaway: dialogue is expensive. It takes an enormous amount of processing power to absorb all these signals, compose a response, and broadcast it back. Because interactions so overwhelm our processing ability, it’s almost impossible to fake your intent.

The Seven Abilities of the Linchpin

Linchpins do two things for the organisation. They exert emotional labor and they make a map. Those contributions take many forms. Here is one way to think about the list of what makes you indispensable:

  1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organisation
  2. Delivering unique creativity
  3. Managing a situation or organisation of great complexity
  4. Leading customers
  5. Inspiring staff
  6. Providing deep domain knowledge
  7. Possessing a unique talent

A Unique Interface Between Members of the Organisation

The organisation also includes its customers and prospects. That means that if you are the person who provides the bridge between the outside world and the company, you are in a critical position.

Delivering Unique Creativity

Delivering unique creativity is hardest of all, because not only do you have to have insight, but you also need to be passionate enough to risk the rejection that delivering a solution can bring. You must ship.

Inspiring Staff

Organisations obey Newton’s laws. A team at rest tends to stay at rest.

The linchpin changes that. Understanding that your job is to make something happen changes what you do all day.

Providing Deep Domain Knowledge

When you meet someone, you need to have a superpower. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake. It’s not about touting yourself or coming on too strong. It’s about making the introduction meaningful. If I don’t know your superpower, then I don’t know how you can help me (or I can help you).

When it Doesn't Work

The vivid truth is this: now that we have the freedom to create, we must embrace the fact that not all creations are equal, and some people aren’t going to win.

The challenge lies in knowing your market and yourself well enough to see the truth.

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea.

Understand that there’s a difference between the right answer and the answer you can sell.

Image credits: Linchpin by Seth Godin