Seth Godin's 'Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?'

Seth Godin's Linchpin

If you just want to get the mortgage paid without too much discomfort, this book is not for you. Challenging, razor-sharp and unabashedly passionate, Linchpin is a must-read for anyone who’s serious about doing great work (whether you’re already in a great job or not). Natasha shares what she thought and her top take-aways.

Creative, experimental and daring, Seth Godin's name comes up in just about any conversation about work, entrepreneurship and the sharing of thought. Linchpin, it has been said, is his seminal work (although it seems that this is said about every new offering he brings to the table, until he offers up the next one).

The premise of the book is this: the old rules of work are crumbling and the new rulebook has not yet been written. It’s your challenge, then, to create your own rules when it comes to your career – and to do so in a way that’s both fulfilling to you as an individual, and in a way that creates a real gift to the world.

It’s no longer good enough to be a cog in a machine; or at least, not if you want to do work that truly means something. To do great work, you have to think outside the box, bring your whole self to the table and engage with challenges in a way that opens up new possibilities.

Godin draws strongly on the idea of work as art – a comparison that, in my view, is bang on the money and utterly indispensable in order to flourish. An artist, in this context, isn’t just someone who creates paintings and sculptures and poetry and cartoons. An artist is someone who shows up to do what Godin calls (and I love this term) ‘emotional labour’ – who throws their heart and soul and very self into whatever they do and does the hard work of bringing their best self to every interaction, even (and especially) when it’s not easy.

If you’re still married to concepts such as ‘work-life balance’ and believe that your work is (and should be) simply something you do to pay the bills, the entire underlying paradigm of Linchpin won’t speak to you. In fact, it’ll probably exhaust and upset you. Some of you won’t want to be artists at work. You just want to show up, get paid, and not pull out all your of hair in the process. But if you’re interested in getting paid to create greatness, and to reap all the rewards associated with it, Linchpin is absolutely the book for you.

So how is this relevant to career changers? How is this book going to help you find and move into work that you love?

Linchpin is widely touted as being about ‘becoming indispensable’. The word is right there in the subtitle. So upon first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a book about how to never get fired. Or made redundant. And on one level, that is exactly what it’s about.

But beyond that, it’s the swansong of the old career rulebook. It’s a call to action to change the way you think about your career – who you are at work and in the world – and to approach the whole conversation in a new way. How would a linchpin – an artist – enter a new industry? How would she connect with other people doing the work that matters to her? How would he showcase his talents? How would they deal with the fact that they weren’t able to find a specific job opening that fit their career history?

The question: “What do I want to do with my life and how do I get paid to do it?” then becomes a creative question rather than one of practicality. It’s not about finding a company that will accept you, it’s about creating work that makes them want you.

Linchpin may not be a ‘career-change book’, as such. But I’d argue that it’s fundamentally important to any contemporary conversation about doing work that matters, to you and to the world, and as such is an unmissable read for any career changer seeking a labour of love.

Our Top Takeaways

  • You are a genius (or you would be, if you’d just start acting like one): “It’s easy to argue that this genius stuff is for other people, not you. Those other people have gifts, or genes, or education or background or connections. It’s easy to fool yourself into believing that genius works for them, but it won’t work for you. Of course. Except Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were raised by adoptive parents, and Nelson Mandela changed the world from a jail cell. Except that Cathy Hughes dropped out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and ended up as the first black woman running a public company in the United States. I don’t have room to list all the less famous people who had the same resources you do, but were willing to accept the genius label and make a choice.”
  • Your schooling taught you how to fit in. Now, you have to unlearn it all: “It’s not an accident that school is like a job, not an accident that there are supervisors and rules and tests and quality control. You do well, you get another job (the next grade), you continue to do well and you get a real job. Do poorly, don’t fit in, rebel – and you are kicked out of the system.”
  • It no longer simply takes long hours to succeed: “It takes art. Our economy now rewards artists far more than any other economy in history ever has.”
  • Stop engaging with crappy systems, people, and opportunities: “If you seek out the critics, bureaucrats, gatekeepers, form-fillers, and by-the-book bosses when you’re looking for feedback (or a job), should you be surprised that you end up doing the things that please them? They have the attitude that there is an endless line of cogs just like you, and you better fit in, bow down, and do as you’re told, or they’ll just go to the next person in line. Without your consent, they can’t hold on to the status quo, can’t make you miserable, can’t maintain their hold on power. It’s up to you. You can spend your time on stage pleasing the heckler in the back, or you can devote it to the audience that came to hear you perform.”
  • It’s ok to screw up. In fact, it’s necessary to do anything meaningful. Screw up. Over and over again: “Avoiding the treadmill of defect-free is not easy to sell to someone who’s been trained in the perfection worldview since first grade (which is most of us). But artists embrace the mystery of our genius instead. They understand that there is no map, no step-by-step plan, and no way to avoid blame now and then. If it wasn’t a mystery, it would be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth much.”
  • Trash your resume (or at least give the idea some thought): “This is controversial, but here goes: if you’re remarkable, amazing, or just plan spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all. If you’ve got experience in doing the things that make you a linchpin, a resume hides that fact. A resume gives the employer everything she needs to reject you. Once you send me your resume, I can say: ‘Oh, they’re missing this or they’re missing that,’ and boom, you’re out. If you don’t have a resume, what do you have? How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects? How about a sophisticated project the employer can see or touch? Or a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up? .... The only way to prove (as opposed to assert) that you are an indispensable linchpin – someone worth recruiting – is to show, not tell. Projects are the new resumes…. You are not your resume. You are your work. If the game is designed for you to lose, don’t play that game. Play a different one.”
  • The game has changed. Get with the program: “’Wait! Are you saying that I have to stop following instructions and start being an artist? Someone who dreams up new ideas and makes them real? Someone who finds new ways to interact, new pathways to deliver emotion, new ways to connect? Someone who acts like a human not a cog? Me?’ YES.”