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Seth Godin's Linchpin: a review

Have you read Seth Godin’s Linchpin yet? If not, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. In fact, this is the best business book I have ever read. It gets to the core of why some are failing and some are thriving. It gets to deeper meaning, like how to get more out of life by transforming what you do into your individual art.
The bargain is over
The bargain that Godin writes about is the deal between owners and labour: a worker trades a day of work for a day’s pay. Also implied is a worker’s loyalty and labour will be rewarded with job security and a living wage. This bargain is becoming more and more rare, as competition and obsolescence are preventing owners to keep their side of the bargain. So what is a worker to do?

What is a linchpin?
Along with owners and workers, Godin identifies a third type of person: the linchpin. In mechanics, a linchpin is a fastener that keeps other parts of a machine together. If the linchpin goes missing, the whole machine breaks down. Godin’s definition of a human linchpin is somebody who works outside of the established rules to achieve unexpected results. They exert emotional effort into their work and create new and innovative products and services. These innovations can be called art, and rightly so.

This is what you need to be.

Why are they so rare?
When we were young, creating art was something that came naturally. You’ve never seen a three year old with crayons and paper with writers block. You never see them ashamed of their art either. Something must happen to them by the time they enter the work force. Godin places the responsibility on how schools are run. He explains that today’s schools are geared to produce factory workers. It rewards punctuality, attendance, reading and following rules. Expressing oneself is usually barely tolerated or even punished. While this is good if all is required is to follow the rules, but what happens when something happens that isn’t covered in the rulebook? The machine falls apart. It isn’t fair to blame schools for the entirety of the problem. Godin states that the reason why this is so effective is how our brains are wired and calls the result the resistance.

The resistance
During human evolution, the brain has grown to be capable of great artistry and complex thought. However, the brain did not get rid of its lower functioning aspects. The limbic system is the lizard brain-the part of the brain that is shared with animals. This controls fear, anger, and lust – the functions that are designed to enhance survival of the species. While the limbic system is very useful in protecting us from immediate physical danger, it can get in the way of our art. Fear of failure, ridicule and separation from the pack are very powerful motivators and prevent people from really creating art from their work. Because this is so powerful, it is extremely difficult to overcome.

Be a linchpin
So the old guarantee of a secure job if you follow the rules is gone. What are you to do? You need to become indispensible to your employer or customers. How do you do this? Godin describes emotional effort and artistry as the keys. Emotional effort involves making a personal connection with the users of your effort. This is combined with putting all of your energy into creating a solution to their problems, whether they recognize them or not. When this effort hits the mark, the result is art, and everybody benefits.

Hire linchpins
One of my pet peeves about hiring is the over-dependence on credentials and experience. To me, employers are trying to manage their fear of hiring somebody unqualified. If they require a lot of certificates and experience, chances are, the successful candidate will have standardized approaches to work. The end result is a work force of rule followers unable to innovate. If you hire people with ideas on how to change your business for the better, you win. You might be challenged on your established practices, but how else are you going to achieve breakthrough results?

Get out of their way
Finally, it’s not enough to simply hire linchpins. If you strike down their ideas and punish them for working outside of the rules, two things will happen. You will lose your best employees. Linchpins will go where they can make their art and use their genius. The second result is worse. Other employees with innovative ideas will see how practicing art is punished and will hold back their best ideas out of fear. If you allow linchpins to do their thing, they can make other employees into linchpins. If these other employees see the rewards of emotional efforts, they have the possibility to overcome their fear.

I’ve only covered a small portion of the Godin’s message. Anybody looking to improve his or her organization or career should take the time to read this book. It is time well spent.

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