Wednesday, January 23, 2013 In Copy | trackback

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Books 2012 in review

I read two books by Seth Godin, Linchpin, and Meatball Sundae. Godin is also a public speaker on TED. Although his main focus is on marketing, the first book is inspirational in many terms. I like all books that drive people to stop being their regular “9-5 employees” into career owners, no matter how small, by doing something they are good at, to become great at what they do.

Seth Godin talking about Linchpin | Notes here

The rule of ordinary people

If you build a business filled with rules and procedures that are designed to allow you to hire cheap people, you will have to produce a product without humanity or personalization or connection. Which means that you’ll have to lower your prices to compete. Which leads to a race to the bottom.

He has a legitimate point, and I agree, but other writers have been arguing that the most successful businesses in the decades of last century belong to visionaries who decided to do things a bit differently: hire a lot of cheap labor, for each to do a single task that is absolutely no-brainers, to shorten the time it takes to produce a product to market. It worked! But probably on products that have long production lines, like automobiles.

Thinking about your choice

“Not My Job” Three words can kill an entire organization.

Three words can kill me! What bothers me even more is living the fact, and assume everybody believes it too, so it goes without saying. Just around deadlines and rebounds do they actually mention it:

  • so guys, what went wrong?
  • I did everything I was supposed to do!
  • did you forward client emails on time?
  • that was not my job!
  • grrrrr!

consumption is not the answer to social problems

Talking about how we invented the need to keep up with the Joneses, within two generations of pushing for consumer products, that we barely needed.

Becoming the linchpin

If the game is designed for you to lose, don’t play that game. Play a different one.

Referring to companies hiring paper, or resumes of people, instead of people. He goes on by saying that you should avoid trying to get a job at a typical company, resist, present yourself in your work, be patient, and you will soon find yourself standing out, instead of fitting in.

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.

Terrific, being a flight attendant who repeats the script with no extra emotional labor, then being more frustrated when losing airline replaces script with audio, then losing more money forces then to lower wages… That attendant that followed guidelines is now dispensable. I like this argument, that in order to be a linchpin at your work, you have to drop the instructions manual and do seemingly unpaid-for labor. I say seemingly, because when you become irreplaceable, that is what you were paid for.

Artists Are Optimists The reason is simple: artists have the chance to make things better. Other people often make the choice to be victims. They can be the flotsam and jetsam tossed by the waves of circumstance.

No comment, just like the quote.

Get scared early, not late. Be brave early, not late. Thrash now, not later. It’s too expensive to thrash later.

After explaining two ways to get projects to launch fast, first is to involve as few people as possible to reduce coordination efforts, and second is to hire one linchpin to get it done. So be brave early on, when you can afford it, and break the corporate rule and screw policy.

The resistance

The lizard brain theory


no matter how successful or acclaimed you are, the lizard will seek you out and probably find you.

This was my favorite section, about the lizard brain. The lizard brain is metaphoric for resistance, out natural animalistic tendency towards survival. Your creative mind floats around, breaking rules to invent new ideas, and the only thing standing in its way is fear, resistance, hunger, laziness… the lizard brain. That’s why artists get blank slates, and writers’ blocks. I experienced this as I brought myself to write this post, had I remembered this part, it would have been faster to go live!

I also experience my lizard brain resistance at the beginning of every new project I take, where I have to stretch my imagination and be at my extreme creative edge, it’s so tedious, I end up taking more naps, playing more jigsaw, and tweeting more rubbish than any other phase of the project. And the scariest part is when Godin says:

The resistance is nefarious and clever. It creates diseases, procrastination, and most especially, rationalization. Lots and lots of rationalization, some of which you might be experiencing right now.

I was! I was thinking that distraction, taking naps, fighting against ideas, was part of my creative processes. That it always works out eventually. Rationalizations!

The funniest part though, was that I had just recently created a twitter app to serve the purpose of reducing distraction on twitter, and -oddly- named it sekrab lizard! I had no encounter with the term Lizard brain before, it just came to me.

I recommend you read this section of the book. It starts at page 134.

Don’t ship on time. Late is the first step to never. Procrastinate, claiming that you need to be perfect.

Here he talks about signs when the lizard brain kicks in. He goes on with a long list, I could easily relate to almost all of them.

  • Ship early defective ideas, hoping they get rejected.
  • Suffer anxiety about what to wear on an event.
  • Make excuses involving lack of money.
  • Do excessive networking with the goal of having everyone like you and support you! (Damn, I fell in this trap just recently.)
  • Demonstrate a lack of desire to obtain new skills.
  • Spend hours of obsessive data collection (like gathering site traffic and do nothing about it!).
  • Be snarky.
  • Start committees instead of taking actions (I remember the first company I worked for, OneWorld, started out full power, by the time it collapsed, there were more committees than people).
  • Join committees instead of leading.
  • Don’t ask questions.
  • Ask too many questions.
  • Be boring.
  • Wait for tomorrow.
  • Manufacture anxiety about people stealing your ideas (had Hands on experience with a client that suffered this anxiety for a decade, disallowing them to launch).
  • Believe it’s about gifts and talents, not skills (yup, that’s me alright).
  • Announce you have neither.

So in essence, the lizard brain is all about excuses, blame game, victimization, and resistance.

Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.

Seth goes on explaining how to get things done in a section titled “the Cult of Done.” He mentions perfection as a reason why we never get things done. Gosh! That’s an all-time favorite excuse!

Trivial art isn’t worth the trouble it takes to produce it.

Trivial art is what you choose to work on that is beneath you, if the path to create art is not hard and fruitful, the result isn’t worth it. Your lizard brain will kick in and win.

Check my e-mail box to see what people think of my work. Answer them. Check the tribes online site to see what’s going on. Adjust if necessary. Check my e-mail box. Check my blog feeds to see what’s happening. Read the relevant ones; comment if appropriate. Check the status of my Squidoo pages. Repeat.

He goes on in describing his day when the lizard brain kicks in. Sounds any familiar?

The powerful culture of gifts

The biblical proscription against usury goes all the way back to Moses.

Didn’t know that.

If their airline started using hidden cameras and customer report forms to push them to do it more, they’d actually do it less. Manipulated art (even the art of service) ceases to be art.

That is an example about how the best workers are givers. Godin, throughout this book compares linchpins to artists, claiming good work is an art. The common factor between artists and linchpins is that they are both givers. They do whatever they do because it makes them feel good and happy that it makes others feel good and happy.

Because we humans tend to give gifts for no exchange, being good at what you do should constitute part of the gift culture. I totally agree with him on the statement that he eventually makes: that the real payoff of your work isn’t the paycheck, it’s the appreciation of it, and how it changes people. It just isn’t easy to convince people to take that path. They all seek “stability!”

There is no map

Fundamentalist Zealot. He is attached to the world as he sees it.

Those are the ones that spend hundreds of millions of dollars to sue people downloading and listening to music for free. They just are passionate about keeping things the way they are.

The bureaucrat is a passionless rules follower, indifferent to external events and gliding through the day.

Passive and unattached, lethal combination.

The whiner has no passion, but is extremely attached to the worldview he’s bought

Everybody hates those. Godin thinks generally the newspaper industry is full of whiners, they define the world as they want it, but won’t do anything about it!

Making the choice

And what the linchpin who leads change is able to do is just that: leap.

So a linchpin, or that irreplaceable worker we all need to be, is someone who sees the world as it really is, but instead of wasting his efforts in whining and litigation, creates a solution. This comes to mind in recent economic turmoil, I find more of my friends out of job, and incapable of finding another dream post, simply because it is too small, irrelevant, a downgrade, or completely different than what they do; their own words. A linchpin would leap!

Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.

‘Nough said.

I could be more creative if only . . .

The challenge in filling the statement forces us to fix the reason we think is stopping us from being what we want until we have no excuses left.

The only thing that separates great artists from mediocre ones is their ability to push through the dip.

Hard work, this is the last stage of excellence, to my belief. First comes talent; the familiar ability to do a certain job over and over again without boredom. Then comes knowledge, it isn’t good enough to be a talented cook if you don’t know what makes bread. Then skills, that you build with experience, and require training. Finally, what will set you apart, is hard work. Exercise. Wake up early. Do extra hours. Give away. And don’t whine.

The culture of connection

That’s how desperately we want to be touched by another person. That’s how much the gift of attention from a person means to us.

He mentioned a story of a “Frank Eliason” who tweeted back to an angry customer to help him, the twitter community rejoiced when they found out that the twitter account had a real person behind it. Frank did not have it in his manual or company guidelines that he should respond to help, it was a gift to give, it was his art.

We have everything we need, so we’re not buying commodities. We’re not even buying products. We’re buying relationships and stories and magic.

This is why the corporate world is failing, they package their commodities with lies and insincere emotions. When was the last time you clicked or even looked at a full-color banner ad full of jargon promoting the “most innovative accounting solutions for your growing business?”

The seven abilities of a linchpin

The resistance, our fear of standing out, rears its ugly head every time we’re on the hook for this sort of work.

Delivering unique creativity that is. Being passionate enough to survive rejection.He lists that as one of seven abilities a linchpin possesses.

  • Providing a unique interface between members of the organization
  • Delivering unique creativity
  • Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  • Leading customers
  • Inspiring staff
  • Providing deep domain knowledge
  • Possessing a unique talent

This isn’t a gift you’re born with. It’s a choice.

On managing complex organizations at tough time. I must disagree though. It is a lot of practice, which is by choice, but if you are not born with the seed, watering the land forever cannot yield the tree you desire.

Do your art. But don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.

Sometimes, the art you find yourself in love with doing, isn’t making any money, Godin suggests you should not only look for a job where you love what you do, but also do what you love, on the side, without payoff expectations. Writing blogs, painting, making free music… Etc. You never know, it might be the one thing that pays off eventually. Making open source projects is definitely an art that software developers should seek out, as it builds your reputation like no resume, or slideshow, or portfolio can do.


Linchpin cover

I can’t say enough about this book. I already am doing what I love, and when I stop loving it, I move on, I did consider myself a linchpin in the places I worked for, but the lizard brain theory was a complete shocker to me! It matches perfectly. Now I have to re-think my situation, and re-evaluate my gift.


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