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.
The New World of Work
If you make your business possible to replicate, you’re not going to be the one to replicate it.
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.
Thinking About Your Choice
If you want a job where you take intellectual risks all day long, don’t be surprised if your insights get you promoted.
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.
When work becomes personal, your customers and coworkers are more connected and happier. And that creates even more value.
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.
The only two things they should teach you in school: 1. Solve interesting problems 2. Lead
Becoming the Linchpin
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.
Expertise gives you enough insight to reinvent what everyone else assumes is the truth.
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.”
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.
Is it Possible to do Hard Work in a Cubicle?
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 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.
Every time you find yourself following the manual instead of writing the manual, you’re avoiding the anguish and giving in to the resistance.
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 my notes on the The War of Art).
You become a winner because you’re good at losing.
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.
Symptom of the Lizard Brain: “I don’t know what to do”. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Providing a unique interface between members of the organisation
- Delivering unique creativity
- Managing a situation or organisation of great complexity
- Leading customers
- Inspiring staff
- Providing deep domain knowledge
- 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.
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).
Image credits: Linchpin by Seth Godin