Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
Penguin Group
244 pages

Whenever we went to the McDonald's near my college campus, it was like dining at a five-star restaurant. At this particular Mickey D's, every single customer was greeted by the most cheerful and friendliest guy I have ever encountered.  He held the door open, asked you about your day, stopped by your booth to see how your Big Mac was, and engaged you in some witty repartee. 

People loved this guy. The Husband and I certainly did. Its been 20 years since I last laid eyes on the guy and while I can't remember his name (if indeed I ever knew it to begin with), I think of him every single time I walk into a McDonald's.  Any McDonald's. It's like I expect him to be there because he has made an indelible impression on my mind.  I've connected him with that experience so strongly that he has come to be part of what I associate with the McDonald's brand, even two decades and two kids later.

Seth Godin would know the name of this guy.


In his latest book, Godin writes about the qualities and characteristics of linchpins - those people in every organization who are the go-to people, who are the ones who seem essential and indispensable, who don't know the meaning of the phrase "not my job."

"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." (from the book jacket)

Godin's view is that as managers, we have the ability (and some might say the responsibility) to develop linchpins among our employees.  But more importantly, as employees we have the ability to develop linchpin characteristics within ourselves. 

This is becoming more essential in order to survive in the workplace because the days of being a cog in the wheel are over.  Back in the day, we bought into a mentality of work where, in exchange for doing what we were told and what was expected of us without any resistance, we were rewarded - with a paycheck, with health insurance, with job security, with the gold watch upon retirement. 

As we all know, those days have disappeared - taking with it our paychecks, our health insurance, our security, our gold watches - but that "factory" mindset still persists. ("Factory" being a term for workplaces and organizations of any type, not just assembly-line style processing plants.) According to Godin, one of the only ways to survive this new world of work is by becoming a linchpin.  After all, think about the people who usually survive the layoffs, get the bonuses and the perks others don't. They are people considered to be essential to the organization or the brand.  They're indispensable.  (Not irreplaceable.  Indispensable.  There's a difference.)

Linchpins produce art, says Godin. Not art in the Michaelangelo sense, but art as it relates to our work.  Delivering (or "shipping") three grant proposals in one day, as I did on Monday.  It needs to be consistent and often.

And, we need to give our art away, as a gift. Kind of like we do here on our blogs.  There are so many stories (like the one about the McDonald's guy, like the one I'm about to tell you about my Uncle Warren) that I could keep to myself or perhaps store up so that they become fodder for some of my writing, work that someone, somewhere might pay a couple pennies for.  And maybe it will, but in the meantime, giving it to you as a gift makes me feel good.  I like that my posts are being read, enjoyed, retweeted.  It's a gift to recommend a great book that I loved. In doing so, those of us who do this - often - are becoming the linchpins to readers.  This is what Ron Hogan was talking about at the Book Blogger Convention when he referenced Linchpin in his talk.

When we start giving gifts, we become identified as a person who gives freely of him or herself.  People who give gifts do so often (Godin says that you have to) and people gravitate to that person, making him/her a linchpin. 

My grandfather's family did this constantly.  They were the ones who were always at church, usually fixing something like the heater or volunteering on some committee.  I spent many a Saturday of a my life reading or writing in an empty Sunday School classroom while my Dad checked on some plumbing issue or did some other sort of maintenance job at our church. At my Uncle Warren's funeral (which was a packed house and - I swear, standing room only - and the man was pushing 90) they told a story about how they found him climbing on the newly repaired church roof "just checking on whether the contractor did things correctly."

(Uncle Warren was known for giving gifts.  He'd shake your hand or embrace you, and you'd look down in your palm and there was a peppermint candy.  He was so subtle, so quick, that you didn't even feel the peppermint being offered.  If you didn't like peppermints, he would have your favorite candy the next time he saw you.  For every single person he met, there was always a piece of candy ... even at the foot of his open casket, where a basket of peppermints was there for the taking.)  

Think about it.  These are really not unique concepts: be good with people, connect with them in a memorable and unique and powerful way, provide joy, don't be a cog in the wheel, do great work and do it often, deliver the unexpected and give people something unexpected for free.  We've heard much of this before and Godin admits just as much.  The reason it hasn't stuck is because our brains (the "lizard brain") have resisted this new way of thinking.  We're scared stiff that we'll lose our jobs if we take a risk, try something new, speak up in meetings. We think that we don't have the authority to be bold, yet the irony is that our bosses want these sorts of qualities.  They hire for these sorts of intrinsic qualities because it is almost impossible to teach them.  In some ways, I think, you've either got it or you don't.  And those who have are going to be the ones leading us out of this gawd-forsaken economy we're in.

I'm a fan of Godin's. I've been one for quite some time now, primarily through Seth's blog.  He has the ability to take the whole concept of marketing and other communication (whether it is in the workplace or personally or whatever) and explains it in such a way that makes sense for the average person. Linchpin is a little bit of a departure from that while still being written in the straightforward, no-nonsense style.  Each chapter is divided into short, blog-post like subheadings.

Seth Godin has been getting a lot of press lately - good and bad - for his decision to make Linchpin the last book he publishes via a traditional publisher.  Personally, I don't care whether Godin publishes his next book traditionally, exclusively on an e-reader, via subscription on his blog, or by scrawling on papers delivered piecemeal by carrier pigeon. Just as long as the man keeps writing stuff like this - as well as his previous books (they were darn good, too) - then however he thinks is the best way to get them into my hands or my eyes to the screen, it doesn't matter. I mean, who the hell am I to tell him what to do or how he should do it.

Instead I say good for him.  After all, that's exactly what being a linchpin is all about.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

I've been hearing a lot of about Seth Godin today so after reading your excelent review I checked on his blog and put the book on my Kindle wish list.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

I think you'll like this one, Yogi. Let me know what you think. It would be a good one for the Kindle.

Trisha said...

Reading about linchpins makes me wish I had the self-motivation necessary to internalize some of these qualities. :)