Review–Linchpin, by Seth Godin

The moment you are willing to sell your time for money is the moment you cease being the artist you’re capable of being.

After dropping $9.99 in Amazon’s Kindle store for Seth Godin’s Linchpin, I sat down to read. Approximately nine seconds later, I was done.  At least, that’s what it felt like.  Godin’s style is fantastically readable; equal parts relevant anecdote, clever wordplay, and idealistic cattleprod, this is the type of book that should lead directly to action.

Godin’s talent as an author–thinker, really–is primarily a function of his ability to survey a vast and shifting economy, isolate the essential flaw in our collective thinking about it, and present a concise and memorable snapshot of the results.  He never, ever crams too many ideas into a book, or speech, or e-mail (and yes, he responds to reasonable e-mails from strangers).

Permission Marketing told us messages are more effective when people choose to hear them.  Unleashing the Ideavirus told us that people pay lots of attention to their friends, so success lies in any company’s ability to get those friends talking.  All Marketers are Liars told us that people want to live a story (see also Donald Miller), not a data set–and will buy the products that make sense in their story.  Purple Cow told us that the only companies that will survive in the new economy are those that are truly, visibly, and unignorably different.

And now Linchpin tells us the same, on a personal level.  The book’s central message is that the internet economy makes it possible–nay, necessary–for us to view any job as art.  An idea I often discuss with my students has also grabbed Godin’s notice:  people who clearly enjoy and excel at what they do, regardless of what they do, are a privilege to watch and be around.

You are not your resume.  You are your work.

He’s done his research, sure, but Godin has a story for everything:  coffeeshop employees, bloggers, factory workers, the CEO of Ford–all are treated with equal honesty and dignity in the stories Godin tells to reinforce the notion that all jobs can be elevated to the artistic.

Stories also serve as negative reinforcement.  You’ll have to buy the book to read about the deadly washing machines or hamburger milkshakes–but both examples are perfectly placed.

For the worker, there’s a subtle cautionary message implicit here:  only the artists will survive the new economy.  As population expands, and job availability shrinks, only the linchpins will make the cut.  For Godin, the linchpin is the guy who works his craft with no manual, no boundaries, and no fear.  The linchpin is the worker who operates from love for doing the work, rather than fear of losing the job.

Those are cogs.  In Godin’s central metaphor, we have been conditioned for failure, for life as a cog in a factory, doing mundane work in a replaceable way.  As a teacher, I found myself nodding along as Godin takes our cookie-cutter educational hegemony to task.  He does not like the way we educate.  Not at all.  Not a bit.

The essential thing measured by school is whether or not you are good at school.

Some employers will hate this book.  The type of person who rules by manual is going to go stark raving madover these ideas, given that the book is a call to do the tough work of good hiring, then set all the manuals on fire and turn your people loose to be smart and think on their feet.  As a school administrator, though, I know how much of my time is wasted in the implementation and enforcement of policy after policy after policy after policy (ad infinitum, ad nauseum).

Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient…or more artistic?

Godin’s book will sell a lot of copies because of his name.  Lots and lots of people will nod their head to its message, then staunchly do nothing about it, because (as the book honestly admits), human nature is chockablock full of fear and fundamentally averse to radical change.  But many people will do their jobs a little differently, a little better.  And a few will feel fearless enough to drastically alter the way they work, or the job they do.

After all, I didn’t start the36review until after I read the book…

5 thoughts on “Review–Linchpin, by Seth Godin

  1. Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient…or more artistic?

    I suppose there is compromise in everything but if I request for something to be done tomorrow I don’t need artistic accomplishment in a week, I need it tomorrow. I’m curious how Godin handles that.

    I agree with you on the point that people should love what they do and excel as an artist.

    I think rules and artistry are both extremely important.

  2. I think his understanding is that someone who sees their job as art knows when it’s appropriate to just get it done vs. when to fancy it up. Especially given that another of his mantras is to know when it’s okay to just be adequate. Writing this response can be adequate. No reason to edit / revise / ask for input. Writing a novel…that’s a different beast. I teach students every day. Most of them give the same amount of time and thought to a short-answer homework question and a two-page essay. The rare student understands which assignments seek minimal informative input, and which require elaborate critical reasoning.
    More on this coming in the next post, after our evening out tonight.

    1. No. Not having to be told an exact number of pages/words is an art form. Not having to constantly go from the drawing to your boss to make sure you’re building the thing right is an art form. The whole premise is that reasoned, independent decision making trumps obedience every time.

      But a LOT of bosses and boards and governing organizations are terrified of tht idea. Doesn’t that tie back in to the article you sent me earlier re: health care reform?

  3. Picking up where Grandad left off.

    It seems to me that art and obedience are both extremely important. The employee must be artistic in a way that will benefit the employer or they are both out of a job and must find a way to be artistic with ditch digging. If the employer assigns task X to an employee and the employee proceeds to be artistic on Y it will not work out very well. Obedience was as necessary as artistry (artisticness?) Unless obedience is included in your definition of artistic.

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