Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? (Book Review)

Since last August, I’ve been reading a lot. Like, way (yeah, italicized and underlined) more than I’ve ever read before. Given that I am a recent college grad, I chose to start reading a lot more in areas that interested me to help myself continue to learn and grow intentionally. Consequently, I have read 11 books since August of 2017. Welcome to a new series of blog posts dedicated to reviewing books.

The first I’m going to write about is Linchpin by Seth Godin. The premise is that if you are a linchpin, you hold important things together, specifically at work but applicable in other areas of life. If you are a linchpin, you are indispensable. He starts the book by discussing the current conditions of work. Work used to have more meaning to it. Everyone was an artist until factories were developed. At that point, people became “a cog in a machine,” doing meaningless and replaceable work. Since then, work has become increasingly automated.

“The only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about.” (p. 27)

How? Emotional labor. That is why working at a fast food restaurant is so replaceable. It doesn’t require emotional labor. You show up, make fries and leave.

“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.” (p. 63)

His first suggestions involve choosing something that requires emotional labor and is not asymptotic in nature. When something is “asymptotic,” it means that there is only so good you can get at it. Take bowling for instance. The best you can get is 300 points. That’s it. So by choosing something you can always get better at and in which you can grow more, it expands  your ability to become a linchpin.

This is where being an artist comes in. He doesn’t talk about artists in the sense of those who can paint, draw and sculpt. In fact, he has a section specifically labeled Artists Who Can’t Draw. Godin’s argument is that literally anyone can become an artist. The reason is because the word “art” is intrinsically deeper than what is conventionally understood. Because art is anything that require emotional labor.

What do you put your heart into? That is what require emotional labor.

And it doesn’t have to be “artistic” in nature. Recently, a coworker of mine told me that he isn’t a creative individual because he is an engineer. Having read this book, I countered.

“Don’t give me that. You are an engineer which means that you are creative. You have to develop creative ways to solve problems and make designs more efficient and effective!”

In the section titled, Do You Need to Be an Artist to Market Tofu?, Godin thinks you can. He says,

“I think art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace.” (p. 91)

However, it goes deeper than that. Godin argues that being a linchpin stems from generosity.

“Becoming a linchpin is not an act of selfishness. I see it as an act of generosity, because it gives you a platform for expending emotional labor and giving gifts.” (p. 153)

Essentially, you are an artist and a linchpin when you are giving what you put your heart into as a gift. That gift may come with monetary compensation, but it can still be a gift. He used the beginning of the Linux operating system as an example. When Linus Torvalds developed the system, he gave it as a gift to his friends. But when the popularity spread, he became a linchpin because his gift turned into something that helped people domestically and internationally. When you are generous, you become a linchpin. When you go an extra mile for a customer, you are a linchpin.

I liked this book. What it did for me was it expanded my view of art and creativity. It helped me understand more about the creativity of all individuals and how it isn’t confined to just those who are right-brained. He gives a very detailed perspective of how artistry creates indispensability. It helped me understand more about how I can apply those principles to my own work.

This book will help motivate you to change up things in your workplace, challenge the status quo and grow personally and professionally. You can find it on Amazon here.

-Caleb

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