Book notes: Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin Seth Godin book summary by Marlo Yonocruz

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

Synopsis: “There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.

Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. Like the small piece of hardware that keeps a wheel from falling off its axle, they may not be famous but they’re indispensable. And in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom. Have you ever found a shortcut that others missed? Seen a new way to resolve a conflict? Made a connection with someone others couldn’t reach? Even once? Then you have what it takes to become indispensable, by overcoming the resistance that holds people back.” -Amazon

Opening Thoughts:

I’ve heard a lot about Seth Godin from Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi, but have never been exposed to his work directly. From what I remember, Seth is supposed to be somewhat of a writing guru and an well-known entrepreneur. If I’m not mistaken, Ramit credits Seth as being a mentor of his. I’ve had Seth’s other book Tribes in my to-read list for a while, and right as I was about to buy that book for this month, I came across this book in the recommended reads. It had even better and more reviews so I decided to go with this book as my first exposure to Seth.

Key Notes:

  • A genius looks on something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck
    • All of us are geniuses sometimes
  • The “take care of you: bargain: The world is filled with factories that make all sorts of things, these factories need workers. If you learn how to be one of these workers, if you pay attention in school, follow instructions, show up on time, and try hard, we will take care of you
  • The educated, hard-working masses are still doing what they’re told, but not getting what they deserve
    • Where does average come from? You have been brainwashed by school and the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow instructions
  • We don’t need the old ways of industrial workers, cogs in and efficient machine. We need indispensable human beings
    • We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care. We need marketers Who lead, sales people risk, and passionate change-makers
    • Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference
  • Organizations need artists, these are people with the genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done
  • The cause of the problem is the desire of organizations to turn employees into replaceable cogs in a vast machine
    • The easier they are to replace, the less they need to be paid. So far, workers have been complicit in this commoditization
    • People want to be told what to do because they are afraid of having to figure it out themselves
  • Creating a product without specialization means you will have to lower your prices to compete, which leads to a race to the bottom. Indispensable businesses race to the top
  • Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities. They crave the unique, the remarkable, and the human
    • You earn your place in the market with humanity and leadership
  • The Law of the Mechanical Turk: any project if broken down into sufficiently small and predictable parts can be accomplished for awfully close to free
  • The pursuit of interchangeability
    • The Ford System: the essence of mass production is that every part is interchangeable
    • The myth of the white-collar job: most of these workers wear a white collar, but they still work in the factories
  • Average is over. Our world no longer respects or pays for people who are cogs in a giant machine
  • You are what you do. What we do all day, the way money is made, drives our schooling, our politics, and our community
    • For our entire lives, the push has been to conform, produce, and consume
  • The third layer next to the proletariat and the owners is the linchpin. They leverage something internal, not external, to create a position of power and value
  • ABC = Attendance Based Compensation
    • There are fewer and fewer a good jobs where you can get paid for merely showing up
    • Instead, successful organizations are paying for people who make a difference and are shedding everyone else
  • Instead of building organizations filled with human atomic tons, we have realized we need to go the other way
    • The web has made kicking ass easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howels in protest
  • Lots of people can lift, that’s not paying off so well anymore. Few people can sell. Almost no one puts in the work to create or invent
    • Exceptional performers are getting paid a lot less, which is why they will and should leave
  • The information economy saying that we will pay you a lot, only if we have to pay you a lot
    • For the indispensable linchpins, scarcity creates value
  • The only way to be indispensable is to be different
    • If you are the same, then so are plenty of other people. The only way to get what your worth is to stand out, to be seen as in dispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about
  • The linchpins among us are not the ones born with a magical talent. They are people who have decided that a new kind of work is important, and train themselves to do it
  • Consumers say that’s all they want our cheap commodities. Given the choice though most of us most of the time seek out art
    • We seek out experiences and products that deliver more value, more connection, more experience, and change us for the better
  • You can see your marketplace as a limited zero sum game, or you can see it as unlimited, a place where talent creates growth and the market increases in size
  • The new American dream, the one that markets around the world are embracing is this: be remarkable, be generous, create art, make judgment calls, connect people and ideas, and then we have no choice but to reward you
  • As a linchpin, doing a job that needs to be done is essential
  • People crave connection and respect
  • What the boss really wants is an artist. Someone who changes everything, someone who makes dreams come true, someone who can see the reality of today and describe a better tomorrow
    • Factories are places where people go to do a job and collect a paycheck. Factories have been the backbone of our prospering economy for over a century
  • Keeping up with the Joneses is not a genetic predisposition, it’s an invented need and a recent one
  • The distinction between cogs and linchpins is largely one of attitude, not learning
    • Study show us that things learned in frightening circumstances are sticky, we remember what we learn on the battlefield
  • We need a school organized around teaching people to believe, teachers who are rewarded for doing their best work, not the most predictable work
  • School works, it teaches students how to do what we want them to do. The problem is it’s teaching the wrong stuff
  • Here’s what school is teaching kids to do:
    • Fit infollow instructions, use number two pencils, take good notes, show up every day, cram for tests and don’t miss deadlines, have good handwriting, punctuate, buy the things other kids are buying, don’t ask questions, don’t challenge authority, do the minimum amount required so you have time to work on another subject, get into college, have a good resume, don’t fail, don’t say anything that might embarrass you, be passively good at sports or extremely good at being a quarterback, participate in a large number of extracurricular activities, be a generalist, try not to have the other kids talk about you, once you learn a topic move on
  • Teachers strive to create linchpins, and it is not their fault
    • The problem lies with the system that punishes artists and rewards bureaucrats instead
    • It’s no accident that school is like a job. It was designed to create compliant workers and teach them just enough
  • Being good at school is like being good at Frisbee, it’s nice but it’s not relevant unless your career involves homework assignments, looking through textbooks for answers that are already known to your supervisors, complying with instructions, and then high pressure settings, regurgitating those facts with limited processing on your part
    • What they should teach at school:
      1. Solve interesting problems
      2. Lead
  • A linchpin is an unassuming piece of hardware, it’s not glamorous but it is essential
    • It holds the wheel onto the wagon, the thinger onto the widget. Every successful organization has at least one, some have dozens or thousands. The linchpin is the essential element. Without the linchpin, the organization falls apart
    • Without the linchpin, the whole experience with that company or business would fall apart. They don’t have to be the CEOs or entrepreneurs
  • Imagine an organization with an employee who can accurately see the truth, understand the situation, and understand the potential outcomes of various decisions. And now, imagine that this person is also able to make something happen. Why on earth would you ever consider the possibility of firing her?
    • Linchpins create forward motion
  • 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 aren’t being brilliant
    • Richard Branson’s real job is seeing new opportunities, making decisions that work, and understanding the connection between his audience, his brand, and his ventures
  • Not only do organizations benefit from linchpin employees, but employees also benefit when they become linchpins
    • Finding security as a mediocre cog is an exhausting process
    • If you’re in a commodity industry, you need to hire cheap drones first, reliable second, and present third
  • Depth of knowledge is rarely sufficient all by itself to turn someone into a linchpin
  • Situations where organization will reward and embrace someone with extraordinary depth of knowledge:
    1. When the knowledge is needed on a moments notice and bringing in an outside source is too risky or time consuming
    2. When the knowledge is needed on a constant basis and the cost of bringing in an outside source is too high
    3. When depth of knowledge is also involved in decision making and internal credibility and organizational knowledge go hand in hand with knowing the right answer
  • The best reason to be an expert in your field: expertise gives you enough insight to reinvent what everyone else assumes is the truth
    • Solve problems that people haven’t predicted, sees things people haven’t seen, and connects people who need to be connected
  • The closer you get to perfect, the less each improvement adds value
    • Innovative solutions to problems don’t get old. Seek out achievements where there is no limits
  • The opposite of being a cog is being able to stop the show at will
    • What will it take for you to stop the show?
  • Art is never defect free. Things that are remarkable never meet specifications because that would make them standardized, not worth taking about
    • Artists embrace the mystery of our genius. They understand that there is no map or step by step plan
    • If it wasn’t a mystery, it would be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth much
  • If you are a linchpin, having a resume will hide that fact
    • If you don’t have a resume, you can have 3 extraordinary letters if rec from people the employer knows and respects, a sophisticated project an employer can see or touch, a reputation that precedes you, or a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up
    • If you don’t have more than a resume, you’ve been brainwashed into compliance
  • Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs that people would kill for don’t get filled by people emailing in resumes
  • How do you get a great job?
    • The answer: find a company that understands the value of linchpins, that doesn’t use a computer to scan resumes, A company that hires people not paper
  • There are two ways a linchpin can use no:
    1. Never use it. There is a certain sort of indispensable team member who always finds a yes
    2. Saying no all the time. She says no because she has goals, she is a practical visionary, because she understands priorities. She has the strength to disappoint you now in order to delight you later
  • The linchpin can find new solutions to problems that have lead others to quit
    • The physical and mental posture of someone creating art both changes and causes change
    • Leaning into the work, energy creating energy in those around you, charisma turns into leadership. Art changes posture, and posture changes innocent bystanders
    • Leaning into the work, energy creating energy in those around you, charisma turns into leadership
      • Art changes posture, and posture changes innocent bystanders
  • Top 10 factors that motivate employees to do their best work:
    1. Challenge and responsibility
    2. Flexibility
    3. A stable work environment
    4. Money
    5. Professional development
    6. Pier recognition
    7. Stimulating colleagues and bosses
    8. Exciting job content
    9. Organizational culture
    10. Location and community
  • Money is the only extrinsic value in the list. Everything else are either things we do for ourselves or things that we value because of who we are
    • You can choose to work for a company that wants indispensable people, or you can work for a company that avoids them
  • Emotional labor is the task of doing important work even when it isn’t easy. It is difficult and easy to avoid
    • Volunteering to do emotional labor even when we don’t feel like it, especially when you’re not paid extra for it, is a difficult choice
    • You yourself benefit from giving emotional labor
    • Bring your emotional labor gifts to work
  • The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward
  • Art is anything that is creative, passionate and personal
    • Great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator
    • Art is about intent and communication, not the medium you work in
      • An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo
    • Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient
    • The medium doesn’t matter, the intent does
    • There is always a gift intent on the part of the artist when it comes to art
    • The moment you are willing to sell your time for money is the moment you cease to be the artist you are capable of being
    • Passion is a desire, insistence, and willingness give a gift
      • The artist is relentless in doing important work
  • When you give something away, you benefit more than the recipient does. The act of being generous makes you rich beyond measure, and as the goods or services spread through the community, everyone benefits
    • Successful people race to give away their expertise and spread their ideas
  • If art is about humanity, and commerce has become about interaction, not stuff, then commerce is now about art too
    • The reason to embrace your inner artist is because this is the path to security
    • When it comes to layoffs, the safest job belongs to the artist, the linchpin, the one who can’t be easily outsourced or replaced
  • Art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace
    • People do their art where they find it, and not the other way around
  • Passion isn’t project specific, it is people specific. Some people are hooked on passion, deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate
    • Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People who are passionate look for ways to make things happen
  • The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin
  • Giving a gift for reciprocity is manipulative and no way to build a career
    • Gifts allow you to make art and are given with no reciprocity hoped for or even possible
    • In everything you do, it is possible to be an artist, even a little bit
    • Most of the time, we make art for an audience, to change someone else
  • Knowing and understanding your audience allows you to target your work, and to get feedback that will help you do it better next time
    • The other reason is it tells you whom to ignore
  • Art for everyone is mediocre, bland, and ineffective. If you don’t pinpoint your audience, you end up making your heart for the loudest, crankiest critics, and that’s a waste
    • Instead focus on the audience you choose and listen to them to the exclusion of all others
  • 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 process of doing your art is called “work”
  • Artists are optimists because they have the opportunity to make things better
  • Passion is caring enough about your art that you’ll do almost anything to give it away, to make it a gift, to change people
    • Part of the passion is having the persistence and resilience to change both your art and the way you deliver it
    • Passion for your art also means having a passion for spreading your art
  • Deciding what to leave out and went to insist on is part of your art. Sometimes you must sacrifice the part of your art that hinders the spread of it
  • If the ideas don’t spread and the gift is not received, then there is no art, only effort
    • When an artist stops work before it is received, his work is wasted
  • People aren’t great artists because of fear, art, being laughed at, standing out, and standing for something
    • The economy is now punishing those who are fearful and increasing the benefits for the few who are brave enough to create art and generous enough to give it away
  • Artists don’t think outside of the box. They think along the edges of the box because that’s where things get done
    • That’s where the audience is, that’s where the means of production are available, and that’s where you can make an impact
  • Developing the discipline of shipping is important
    • Shipping becomes part of the art and shipping makes it work
    • The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects that we do you are never really finished, they must ship
    • Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world
  • You’re a lizard brain versus the neocortex. You can’t beat the lizard brain, but you can seduce it
    • The amygdala has its own memory and it’s own survival system in place
    • It’s difficult to reason with the lizard brain
  • The reason we don’t put our heart and soul into something is the fear of failure. We will always fail, but not all the time
  • You become a winner because you are good at losing
    • The hard part about losing is that you might permit it to you give strength to the resistance, you might believe that you don’t deserve to win, you might give up
  • The road to comfort is crowded and it rarely gets there. Ironically, it’s those who seek discomfort that are able to make a difference and find their footing
  • When you have a great backup plan you end up settling for the back up
    • A well-defined back up plan is sabotage waiting to happen
    • The people who breakthrough usually have nothing to lose, and they almost never have a back up plan
  • Finding good ideas is surprisingly easy what once you deal with the problem of finding bad ideas
  • The three biological factors that drive job performance and innovation:
    1. Social intelligence
    2. Fear response
    3. Perception
  • Our biology tells us that attention equals danger
  • When there is no sale or if someone breaks the promise, look for the fear
  • Fear is the most important emotion we have. It kept our ancestors alive
    • It dominates the other emotions because without our ability to avoid death, the other ones don’t matter very much
    • One antidote to fear is to pursue multiple paths, generating different ways to win
  • Confidence and also self-fulfills. If you can bring more of it to an interaction, you are more likely to succeed, which of course creates more confidence for the next interaction
    • It’s not an accident that successful people read more books
  • The art of challenging the resistance is doing something when you’re not certain it’s going to work
  • The point of getting things done is that so you can move on to other things
    • Done is the engine of more
    • Your work is to ship things that make change
  • The resistance is like a weathervane, the direction to head is directly into it
    • The goal is to quit the tasks you’re doing because you’re hiding on behalf of the lizard brain and to push through with the very tasks the lizard fears
  • Program: attempt to create one significant work per year. Break that into smaller projects and every day find three tasks to accomplish that will help you complete a project
  • Anxiety versus fear
    • Reassurance exacerbates anxiety
  • The best way to overcome your fear of creativity and risk-taking might be to sprint
    • When we sprint, all of the internal dialogue goes away, and we focus on going as fast as we can
    • You can’t sprint every day, but it’s probably a good idea to sprint regularly. It keeps the resistance at bay
  • Steps for shipping:
    1. Write down a due date and post it up
    2. Get index cards and write down every notion, plan, idea, sketch, and contact. This is when you go fishing and invite as many people in as you can and get as much help as you like
  • What does the success of your project look like? Quantify it by a measure that serves your needs
  • Three reasons why it is urgent to understand how the gift culture works:
    1. The internet and digital goods has lowered the marginal cost of generosity
    2. It is impossible to be an artist without understanding the power that giving a gift creates
    3. The dynamic of gift giving can diminish the cries of the resistance and permit you to do your best work
  • In the linchpin economy, the winners are once again the artist who gives gifts
    • Giving a gift makes you indispensable, inventing a gift and creating art, that is what the market seeks out
    • The givers are the ones who earn our respect and attention
    • The internet allows artists to be more generous than ever before and spread their gifts
    • Linchpin thinking is about delivering gifts that can never be adequately paid for
  • As soon as it’s part of a system, it’s not art
    • Artists shake things up, invent as they go, respond to inputs and create surprising outputs
  • Gifts not only satisfy our needs as artists, they also signal to the world that we have plenty more to spare
    • You shouldn’t charge your tribe members interest so that prosperity flows, but you should charge interest to strangers
  • The best and real gifts don’t demand reciprocation and are usually art
  • 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:
    1. Your family and friends
    2. Circle of commerce
    3. Your tribe or followers via the Internet
      • We profit most when we work to make the first and third circles as big as we can
      • Generosity generates income
  • The power of a gift lies in the creation of abundance, instead of “if” you use “and”
    • The lack of a transaction creates a bond between the giver and the recipient, usually with the giver coming out ahead
  • If you touch someone they have two obligations: to make you two closer and to pass it on
  • The astonishing fact is that the most successful people in the world don’t do it for money
  • Three ways to think about gift:
    1. Here’s a gift
    2. Here’s a gift, now you owe me
    3. Here’s a gift, I love you
  • A gift well received can lead to more gifts. But artists don’t give gifts for money, they do it for respect, connection, and to cause change
    • The best recipients are the ones who can reciprocate in kind
  • The most successful givers do it for themselves, because it is fun and gives them joy
  • As the linchpin, you must also be aware of where your gifts are welcome
    • Respect is one of the best gifts you can offer in return to artist giving out gifts
  • The greatest artists see and understand the challenges before them without carrying the baggage of expectations or attachments
    • A life without attachment and stress can give you the freedom to see things as they are and call them as you see them
  • If you accept that human beings are difficult to change and embrace the uniqueness that everyone brings to the table, you will navigate the world with more bless and effectiveness, and make better decisions too
    • If bad news changes your emotional state or what you think of yourself, then you’ll be attached to the outcome you receive
  • In the four quadrants, the linchpin is at the top right
    • She is unattached and passionate
  • It’s human nature to defend our worldview, to construct a narrative that protects us from uncomfortable confessions
    • There is no map or clear path to art
    • Art is the act of navigating without a map
  • You can either fit in or stand out, not both. You are either defending the status quo or challenging it
    • Real change happens when someone who cares steps up and takes what feels like a risk
    • People follow because they want to, not because you can order them to
  • Transferring your passion and your job is far easier than finding a job that matches your passion
    • I could _____ if only…
  • Nostalgia for the future
    • Don’t get attached to an outcome you cannot control. This is the worst kind of visualization
    • The linchpin is able to invent a future, fall in love with it, live in it, and then abandon it within a moments notice
  • Once we have enough, and enough might be less than you think, we all crave dignity
    • Dignity is more important than wealth. Respect in all things matters
  • The ultimate gift you could give, the one that will repay you today and tomorrow, is the gift of connection, art, love, and dignity
  • Loyalty and generosity to yourself
    • Develop a sense of loyalty to your mission and generosity to your work
    • The most generous thing you can do is to open yourself to the feedback that improves your art and helps it spread
  • In the case of personality, there are five traits that essential and how people look at us:
    1. Openness
    2. Conscientiousness
    3. Extroversion
    4. Agreeableness
    5. Emotional stability
      • These are also the signs of a linchpin
  • The placebo effect – the same auto suggestion that can change bodies can also change minds
  • Being a Linchpin/ indispensable
    1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organization
    2. Delivering unique creativity
    3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
    4. Leading customers
    5. Inspiring staff
    6. Providing deep domain knowledge
    7. Possessing a unique talent
  • When you meet someone and introduce yourself, you need a superpower (unique selling proposition) to make the introduction meaningful
    • Both sides can identify how they can help each other
  • When it doesn’t work, the solution is to make more art and give more gifts
  • Creating great art that people love doesn’t always mean you can monetize it
    • Attention doesn’t always equal significant cash flow
    • It makes sense to make art your art, to give yourself over to him without regard for commerce
    • Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living attic, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea
  • Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it
    • Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love, at least what you love right now. But you can figure out how to love what you do do you make money if you choose wisely
    • Do your art but don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills
  • The twist is as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money
  • People who are committed to their art never stop giving. These people have a posture of always giving
    • If you give enough to the right people in the right way, your gifts will be treasured and your journey will be rewarded, even if that’s not why you’re doing it
  • Summary Points:
    • The purpose of this program was to sell you i’m being the artist you already are, to make a difference, to stand for something, to get the respect and security you deserve
    • The act of deciding whether you want to fit in or stand out is the act of succeeding
    • Living life without regret is smart. Now that you understand that society rewards you for standing out, giving gifts, for making connections and being remarkable, what are you going to choose to do with that information?
    • You have a genius inside of you with something to share with the world, everyone does
      • Are you going to continue hiding it, holding it back, and settling for less than you deserve just because your lizard brain is afraid? There lies regret
    • That certain thing is that you can change everything
    • Every successful organization is built around people, humans who do art, people who interact with other people, men and women who don’t merely shuffle money, but interact, give gifts, and connect

Closing Thoughts:

After finally finishing this book, I really enjoyed it. I heard Seth Godin is known to be extremely insightful, and he definitely did not disappoint. To be honest, there were times where I felt like the book was jumping all over the place. Definitely a lot of fluff for making the same point, as it felt like he beat a dead horse more than once. About halfway into the book, I ended up increasing my listen speed to 1.5x, and didn’t find I was missing out on too much. Eventually, the main ideas and themes started to pop.

On the plus side, Seth has so many isolated pearls of wisdom. While at times it felt like a bunch of unrelated tangents, they were a lot of gold nuggets. I felt like there were many times I wanted him to get to the point, but found myself glad that I didn’t skip around. If I did, I would have missed a few good insights each time.

Essentially, you can get the meat of the ideas in this book probably from the table of contents or at least the headers of each section if it were listed out. However, I still say that Seth provides great insight into what it means to be a Linchpin and breaks down all of the elements thoroughly. The main ideas of standing out, embracing your inner artist, being an indispensable linchpin, and always giving gifts are timeless concepts anyone can implement.

Nutshell: Become indispensable by embracing your inner artist/genius and be prolific in giving your art away.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

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