Notes from Seth Godin’s “Linchpin”

The message that Seth Godin tries to deliver in this piece of “art” is that the time of being a cog in the wheel in an assembly line is over. To thrive in today’s world, you need to be an artist/a linchpin/indispensable at work. 

The important lessons from the Book are:

1. Emotional Labour: 

As the world of assembly line and mass production comes to an end by automation, people need to develop and build emotional bonds. The ability to invest emotionally in anything that you do, gives you a competitive advantage over others especially in service industries.

2. The Art of Giving:

Another aspect of being a linchpin is to stand outside the transactional cycle of giving and taking. To be an artist, to be indispensable you need to give unconditionally and more than what is demanded. You need to build a tribe of givers and like minded people. 

3. Shipping:

It is important to complete what you start. It is not enough to work on a product, you also need to ship it. Being a closet artist will not make you a linchpin

4. Platform:

It is not enough to merely be an artist/author/inventor. You need to create the medium/platform for your art to reach the largest number of people it can. Again, if you’re a closeted artist it does not work but even simply shipping your “art” also does not work if you do not have a platform/medium through which it can reach the people. 

My Notes from the Book:

  • Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. 
  • Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people It comes from two places: 1. You have been brainwashed by school and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow instructions. It’s not, not anymore. 2. Everyone has a little voice inside of their head that’s angry and afraid. That voice is the resistance—your lizard brain—and it wants you to be average (and safe).
  • Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference. Some organizations haven’t realized this yet, or haven’t articulated it, but we need artists. Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done 
  • The business model should be such that the employees needed possess the lowest possible level of skill necessary to fulfill the functions for which each is intended. A legal firm ought to have lawyers and a medical firm should hire doctors. But you don’t need brilliant lawyers or doctors. What you need is to create the best system through which good lawyers and doctors can be leveraged to produce excellent results. 
  • Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities. They crave the unique, the remarkable, and the human. Sure, you can always succeed for a while with the cheapest, but you earn your place in the market with humanity and leadership 
  • The Internet has turned white-collar work into something akin to building a pyramid in Egypt. No one could build the entire thing, but anyone can haul one brick into place 
  • Leaders don’t get a map or a set of rules. Living life without a map requires a different attitude. It requires you to be a linchpin Abstract macroeconomic theories are irrelevant to the people making a million tiny microeconomic decisions every day in a hypercompetitive world. And those decisions repeatedly favor fast and cheap over slow and expensive 
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote, “By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.” They went on to argue that what we do all day, the way money is made, drives our schooling, our politics, and our community
  • Thornton May correctly points out that we have reached the end of what he calls attendance-based compensation (ABC). There are fewer and fewer good jobs where you can get paid merely for showing up. Instead, successful organizations are paying for people who make a difference and are shedding everyone else 
  •  Or, consider for a second: would you be more successful if your employees were more artistic, motivated, connected, aware, passionate, and genuine? They do more than they’re paid to, on their own, because they value quality for its own sake, and they want to do good work. They need to do good work. Anything less feels intellectually dishonest, and like a waste of time. In exchange, you’re giving them freedom, responsibility, and respect, which are priceless 
  • So now, having learned from machines, organizations are applying the same logic to people. Letting people in the organization use their best judgment turns out to be faster and cheaper—but only if you hire the right people and reward them for having the right attitude. Which is the attitude of a linchpin 
  • We teach people to take initiative and become remarkable artists, to question the status quo, and to interact with transparency. And our graduates understand that consumption is not the answer to social problems.” 
  • Linchpins are able to embrace the lack of structure and find a new path, one that works. 
  • Emotional labor is available to all of us, but is rarely exploited as a competitive advantage. We spend our time and energy trying to perfect our craft, but we don’t focus on the skills and interactions that will allow us to stand out and become indispensable to our organization. Emotional labor was originally seen as a bad thing, a drain on the psyche of the stewardesses studied by Hochschild for her book. The mistake in her analysis was failing to consider the alternative. The alternative is working in a coal mine. The alternative is working in a sweatshop. It’s called work because it’s difficult, and emotional labor is the work most of us are best suited to do. It may be exhausting, but it’s valuable. 
  • Groucho Marx famously said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” The linchpin says, “I don’t want a job that a non-linchpin could get.” 
  • Wikipedia and the shared knowledge of the Internet make domain knowledge on its own worth significantly less than it used to be. Today, if all you have to offer is that you know a lot of reference book information, you lose, because the Internet knows more than you do. 
  • Depth of knowledge combined with diagnostic skills or nuanced insight is worth a lot, too. Knowledge alone, though, I’d rather get faster and cheaper from an expert I find online. If I need a great direct mail letter, it’s far cheaper and faster to hire a great direct mail writer to write me a letter than it is to hire someone and have him on staff for the one letter I need every month, right? 
  • Personal interactions don’t have asymptotes. Innovative solutions to new problems don’t get old. Seek out achievements where there is no limit. 
  • 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. 
  • But the most visceral art is direct. One to one, mano a mano, the artist and the viewer. It’s the art of interaction. It’s what you do. The art of running a meeting, counseling a student, conducting an interview, and calming an angry customer. The art of raising capital, buying a carpet at a souk, or managing a designer 
  • When a day’s work does not equal a day’s pay, that means that at the end of the day, a bond is built. A gift is given and received, and people are drawn closer, not insulated from each other. Passion 
  • It’s impossible to make art for everyone. There are too many conflicting goals and there’s far too much noise. Art for everyone is mediocre, bland, and ineffective. If you don’t 
  • It’s not an effort contest, it’s an art contest. As customers, we care about ourselves, about how we feel, about whether a product or service or play or interaction changed us for the better. Where it’s made or how it’s made or how difficult it was to make is sort of irrelevant. That’s why emotional labor is so much more valuable than physical labor. Emotional labor changes the recipient, and we care about that 
  • Can the time you spend at work be the place you give gifts, create connections, invent, and find joy? What has to change for that to be true—does something external need to change, or is it an internal decision 
  • The opportunity doesn’t necessarily feel like an opportunity. Volunteering to do emotional labor—even when you don’t feel like it, and especially when you’re not paid extra for it—is a difficult choice. My first argument, though, is that you are paid for it. In fact, in most jobs that involve a customer, that’s all you are getting paid for 
  • If art is a human connection that causes someone to change his mind, then you are an artist 
  • The alternative is to treasure what it means to do a day’s work. It’s our one and only chance to do something productive today, and it’s certainly not available to someone merely because he is the high bidder 
  • A day’s work is your chance to do art, to create a gift, to do something that matters. As your work gets better and your art becomes more important, competition for your gifts will increase and you’ll discover that you can be choosier about whom you give them 
  • Being open is art. Making a connection when it’s not part of your job is a gift. You can say your lines and get away with it, or you can touch someone and make a difference in their lives forever.
  • My fundamental argument here is simple: In everything you do, it’s possible to be an artist, at least a little bit. Not on demand, not in the same way each time, and not for everyone. But if you’re willing to suspend your selfish impulses, you can give a gift to your customer or boss or coworker or a passerby. And the gift is as much for you as it is for the recipient. 
  • The easier it is to quantify, the less it’s worth 
  • And if the ideas don’t spread, if no gift is received, then there is no art, only effort. When an artist stops work before his art is received, his work is unfulfilled. 
  • Successful people are successful for one simple reason: they think about failure differently. Successful people learn from failure, but the lesson they learn is a different one. They don’t learn that they shouldn’t have tried in the first place, and they don’t learn that they are always right and the world is wrong and they don’t learn that they are losers. They learn that the tactics they used didn’t work or that the person they used them on didn’t respond. 
  • So we churn out very good second violinists and very competent timpani players. We have a surplus of them, in fact, and that’s why it’s a dicey way to make a living, with only a few talented (and lucky) musicians making good money or holding steady jobs. Often guest conductors don’t even know the names of the people who make up the bulk of the orchestra. 
  • In Iconoclast, Gregory Berns uses his experience running a neuroscience research lab to explain the biological underpinnings of the resistance. In fact, public speaking is the perfect petri dish for exposing what makes us tick. 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. Speaking to a group requires social intelligence. We need to be able to make an emotional connection with people, talk about what they are interested in, and persuade them. That’s difficult, and we’re not wired for this as well as we are wired to, say, eat fried foods. Public speaking also triggers huge fear responses. We’re surrounded by strangers or people of power, all of whom might harm us. Attention is focused on us, and attention (according to our biology) equals danger. Last, and more subtly, speaking involves perception. It exposes how we see things, both the thing we are talking about and the response of the people in the room. Exposing that perception is frightening. In a contest between the rational desire to spread an idea by giving a speech and the biological phobia against it[…] 
  • The resistance would like you to curl up in a corner, avoid all threats, take no risks, and hide. It feels safe, after all. The paradox is that the more you hide, the riskier it is. The less commotion you cause, the more likely you are to fail, to be ignored, to expose yourself to failure. We tried to set up an economy where you could hide your big ideas, go through the motions, and get what you needed. 
  • Your work is to create art that changes things, to expose your insight and humanity in such a way that you are truly indispensable. Your work is to do the work, not to do your job. Your job is about following instructions; the work is about making a difference. Your work is to ship. Ship things that make change. 
  • When you first adopt the discipline of shipping, your work will appear to suffer. There’s no doubt that another hour, day, or week would have added some needed polish. But over time—rather quickly, actually—you’ll see that shipping becomes part of the art and shipping makes it work.
  • Shipping something out the door, doing it regularly, without hassle, emergency, or fear—this is a rare skill, something that makes you indispensable 
  • 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. 
  • I’m trying to sell you on the idea of building a platform before you have your next idea, to view the platform building as a separate project from spreading your art. You can work on the platform every day, do it without facing the resistance. As the platform gets bigger and stronger, you get to launch each idea a little farther uphill
  • A valuable platform is an asset, one that isn’t handed to you. It takes preparation and effort to set the world up so that your ideas are more likely to ship. But that’s effort that the resistance won’t be so eager to sabotage. By separating the hard work of preparation from the scary work of insight, you can build an environment in which you’re more likely to ship. 
  • Other people might need to consider the economic benefits first. These are people who were brainwashed by the last five hundred years of history, people who want to know what’s in it for them, people who believe there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch and every man for himself. These people have no art in their life because they’re unable to give a true gift. They want something in return. They want security or cash or both. The hardheaded selfish capitalists among us will enjoy the next sentence: Artists are indispensable linchpins .
  • As I wrote in my previous book, Tribes, the new form of marketing is leadership, and leadership is about building and connecting tribes of like-minded people. Keller’s generosity to his tribe doesn’t only connect him to them; it connects the tribe members to one another. One fan is automatically the friend of the next, if for no other reason than to share the effects of Williams’s generosity.
  • If money circulates freely within the tribe, the tribe will grow prosperous more quickly. I give you some money to buy seeds, your farm flourishes, and now we both have money to give to someone else to invest. The faster the money circulates, the better the tribe does. The alternative is a tribe of hoarders, with most people struggling to find enough resources to improve productivity. 
  • Obviously, there’s another force at work here. When I make an interest-free loan to you, I’m trusting you and giving you a gift at the same time. This interaction increases the quality of our bond and strengthens the community. Just as you wouldn’t charge your husband interest on a loan, you don’t charge a tribe member. 
  • You don’t want to take initiative or responsibility, so you check your incoming mail, your Twitter stream, and your blog comments. Surely, there’s something to play off of, something to get angry about, some meeting to go to. I know someone who goes to forty conferences a year and never seems to actually produce anything 
  • Instead, success lies in being generous or understanding someone or seeing a route that others don’t see. You’ve done this already, done it brilliantly 
  • Genuine gifts, given with the right intent and a respectful posture, meet our sniff test. All our senses are on alert, and the giver passes the test.
  • What happens when the conversation doesn’t happen, the product doesn’t sell, the consumer is not delighted, your boss is not happy, and the people aren’t moved? Make more art. It’s the only choice, isn’t it? Give more gifts. Learn from what you did and then do more. The only alternative is to give up and to become an old-school cog. Which means failing. Trying and failing is better than merely failing, because trying makes you an artist and gives you the right to try again. 

All Excerpts are from 

Godin, Seth. “Linchpin.” Penguin USA, Inc., 2011-10-22T00:55:46+00:00. Apple Books. 

Published by Hemanth Rao

I am an Advocate practicing in the High Court of Karnataka at Bangalore.

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