Seth Godin's sh!t doesn't stink. It can't. Not after writing his latest and greatest, at least.
Let's start with the title. Wikipedia defines a linchpin as a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other rotating part from sliding off the axle it is riding on – a great analogy for the subtitle and the question Godin (can I call you Seth?) attempts to answer for you in 236 pages: "Are You Indispensable?". Hold that thought for a second. According to Seth, there used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. A third team, however, has prevailed: the linchpins. Linchpins, he argues, are those people who invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, makes things happen, and create order out of chaos. In short, linchpins are the essential building blocks of any great organization, the ones with no job description. Why? They solve problems that others haven't predicted, see things others haven't seen, and make connections no one knew existed. A job description or a manual can never describe what they do. Linchpins don't sit around and wait for job assignments from the top. They have a knack for knowing what needs to be done and just do it. No permission necessary. Creating art (Seth defines an artist as "anyone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to fight the status quo"), and fighting the resistance and the lizard brain are the broader themes throughout the book. One particular chapter, however, stood out for me.
The Powerful Culture of Gifts That's the title of the chapter that had me nodding my head in agreement the entire time. It's where Seth takes us back to the tradition of tribal economies (built around the idea of mutual support and generosity) to make a point about the power of unreciprocated gifts. "We've been so brainwashed that it doesn't even occur to us that there is an alternative to 'How much should I charge, how much can I make?'". Hard to believe, but once upon a time, power was about giving, not receiving. Money and structured society changed the system. We expect to get without ever giving, our titles serving as a (false) sense of entitlement. However, Seth predicts that the winners will once again be the artists who give gifts.
Giving a gift makes you indispensable. Inventing a gift, creating art – that is what the market seeks out, and the givers are the ones who earn our respect and attention.
It is difficult to be generous when you're hungry. Yet being generous is what keeps you from going hungry. Hence the conflict.
Why does gift giving make you indispensable in today's world? The digital nature (think internet) of our new gift system allows us to create an idea that spreads everywhere fast at little to no cost. Ideas that resonate are rewarded. If your work persuades, others willingly share their experiences (via the tools available – think blog, facebook, twitter, yelp, foursquare, i.e. word of mouth of HGH). You prosper. The gift, the art, is difficult to quantify. "Artists can't be easily instructed, predicted, or measured." He's got a point. However, if you have the ability to deliver a gift that can never be adequately paid for, you're on to something. You may very well be a linchpin or on your way to becoming one. Are you open to new ideas? Are you conscientious? Agreeable? Emotionally stable? Are you indispensable? Are you a linchpin? Bonus: You can go to a local bookstore (like this one) and purchase your very own copy of Linchpin. I'm sure Seth Godin wouldn't mind. Or you can borrow my dog-eared and note-filled copy, dog-ear your own pages and write your own notes in it, and return it to me in a few days. All you have to do is ask for it. There, my gift to you.