'Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?'

Features - Business Bookshelf

Seth Godin tells you how to make a difference at your company.

June 16, 2011

Editor’s note:
To help out busy contractors, each month throughout 2011, Lawn & Landscape will run a review and synopsis of a business book – either from the accepted literary canon or a more modern classic. The sixth installment is Seth Godin’s “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable.” The rest of the year’s reading list includes:
Inside the dust jacket of “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?,” the 2010 book by prodigious business writer Seth Godin, are 566 pictures. Each picture is about the size of a thumb nail and almost all of them focus on a smiling face. There are a few that stick out, like a cartoon superhero in spandex and a balding office-hipster bobblehead doll with a soul patch, and there are a few that are instantly recognizable, like the Dalai Lama and Spike Lee. But most of the faces are average and anonymous. Who is that man wearing the Panama hat? That woman with puckered lips and a lock of hair blowing across her face? That surfer with a board held over his head?

And that is exactly the point.

Godin put them there, inside his book, because they all chose to make a difference. They’re all indispensable. They’re all geniuses. We can all choose to make a difference and be indispensable and be geniuses, too. Just because our face is another in a sea of anonymous eyes and noses and mouths doesn’t mean that our only option is to blend in. “The problem,” Godin writes on the first page, “is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.” We want to be able to show up to the office every day and have others tell us what to do until we go home again. But do we really?

Godin spends the first 224 pages of the book building us up, driving out of our minds the evil that he refers to as the Resistance – anything that keeps us from reaching our true creative potential. Part coach, part shrink, part earwig who has burrowed into our brains and discovered our innermost thoughts, Godin does nothing but persuade us that any of us can become a linchpin. (Spoiler alert: He does spend six pages warning us what can happen “when it doesn’t work,” which is sobering, but only so much so after hundreds of pages of positive reinforcement.) How can you become a linchpin and make a difference? Some advice:

Give gifts, but not because you want gifts in return. Godin posits that the best gifts are those that can’t be returned with other gifts: A song, a video, a book – art, yes – but also a presentation or a new way to solve an old problem. By giving gifts that don’t leave themselves open to reciprocating gifts, we build up a relationship with our recipients, we are bound together. And though gifts aren’t about the money, the more relationships you have, the more you are able to later generate income.

Don’t worry about a Plan B. If you have a backup plan, more often than not, you end up settling for that backup plan. “Why take the risk,” Godin writes, “when there’s the comfortable alternative instead? The people who break through usually have nothing to lose, and they almost never have a backup plan.” Dream big. And focus only on what you really want.

Also, don’t ignore the truth. Just because you want something to be true doesn’t make it true. Scarcity creates value, Godin writes, “and what’s scarce is a desire to accept what is and then work to change it for the better – not deny that it exists.”

And do your job, but do your job better. If you’re limited in how you do your job by an old-fashioned job description, if you know you can do it better, listen to the old Nike slogan and just do it. Don’t ask permission to do new things that will allow you to work better. Give yourself a new job without leaving the one you have. Choose to make a difference.

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.