Check out this interview with Seth Godin, author of “Tribes” and his latest work, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”, and see how you measure up.
[Taken from Mashable]
In his book — Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? — Seth Godin poses a challenge: Take your gift, whatever it is, and use it to change the world.
In the tradition of his previous books, Godin has not settled for a standard how-to, but has written a book that will push and prod you into seeing things differently. I had the chance to interview Mr. Godin about his book and the concept of the linchpin.
As Godin says, “a linchpin is the essential element, the person who holds part of the operation together. Without the linchpin, the thing falls apart.”
For much of our lives, we have been trained to be the opposite of a linchpin — an interchangeable part in an industrial machine. Even before the global recession, it often took a career of job hopping to get ahead. In today’s world, companies and customers will show their loyalty only to those who are indispensable. This arrangement, Godin explains, leverages talent and creativity more than it rewards obedience.
However, we are hardwired to avoid this arrangement like the plague. Our “lizard” brain is what prevents us from becoming a Linchpin, and it orchestrates what Godin calls the “resistance.” The resistance is what prevents us from doing what we say we will do. It prevents us from getting that project completed, those phone calls done, and from stepping outside of our comfort zones. Our lizard brain wants us to remain safe, and at the earliest sign of danger, gives us all sorts of reasons why we can’t accomplish what we set out to do. For instance, it will tell you that people will laugh at your ideas if you hit publish on that blog post, and that you should probably rework that last paragraph to be a little less confrontational. Godin tells the story of a software engineer at Apple who was reluctant to finish a piece of code he had been holding on to because “it wasn’t quite ready,” to which Steve Jobs replied, “artists ship.” So, the only real way to prevent your lizard brain from taking over your life is to complete things even when it feels uncomfortable.
What is clear from Godin’s book is that the world has changed, and you are at the right place at the right time to make a huge difference in your organization and in your life. Reading this book just might be the kickstart you need to become a linchpin yourself. I hope you’ll take on that challenge.
Steve Cunningham: We’re here with Seth Godin, the author ofLinchpin: Are You Indispensable? Thanks for being here, Seth.
Seth Godin: Well, thanks for taking the time, Steve. I appreciate it.
Steve Cunningham: No problem. So, let’s start with the obvious question. What’s a linchpin?
Seth Godin: A linchpin is a little piece of a vehicle or device that you can’t live without. It has a very high utility to size ratio. In the terms of my book, a linchpin represents a fundamental shift in the way our economy works. Our economy was built for a hundred years to train people to fit in and be compliant and be productive cogs in a giant machine. And what has shifted just in the last five or ten years, is that those people are not rewarded any more. Those people are outsourced and mistreated and discarded. And instead the people who are accruing the value and doing the work that we’re proud of are what I call linchpins — the people we can’t live without.
Steve Cunningham: This book has a much more, I’d say personal tone to it than your previous books. It seems to be written directly to the person who’s reading it rather than about an idea. Why write this book right now?
Seth Godin: Well, you know, I get a lot of e-mail everyday — a couple hundred letters — and I saw in the last year or so the tone of it changing. What was happening is, you know, it’s fun to talk about strategy. It’s fun to talk about organizational concepts. But what I discovered that made me quite angry is that a large number of people had been brainwashed and abused, and tricked, and found themselves on a dead end because they had believed something about the system that just wasn’t true. And I felt like I had this moment in time where I could speak up and talk about this shift, and try, maybe just for 5 or 10% of the people who read the book, to push people to make a choice. And that’s all the book is about, is making a choice to stand out as opposed to fit in. Because what I’m seeing everywhere I look is that the people who are making that choice, not only are they more rewarded, but they’re happier.
Steve Cunningham: A little bit further in the book you talk about the resistance and why it is so hard for us to ship. James Cameron seems to be able to turn off all those distractions and take 10 years and create what the market is calling a masterpiece. Why is there so much resistance for us as everyday people working on everyday things to actually become a linchpin?
Seth Godin: Well, we evolved to want to fit in like most species. You don’t have a long profitable life by standing up and yelling when the saber tooth tigers are around or by offending the chief of the village. And thus our lizard brain, which is at your brain stem the top of your spine — the original brain, the brain that a chicken has — is speaking up on our behalf all the time. Lizard brain is responsible for fear and revenge and anger and sex and reproduction and survival. Well that leads to what Steve Pressfield calls the resistance. The resistance is that little voice in the back of your head that says, “Well don’t do that you’ll get in trouble. Don’t do that, they’ll laugh at you. Don’t do that, it won’t work.”
This resistance get worse when we go to a committee meeting. This resistance gets worse when we’re getting close to a deadline. It’s the resistance that makes Dell Computer, Dell Computer, but, it’s fighting the resistance that makes Apple Computer, Apple Computer. That every single time you are inclined to sand off a rough edge, what you’re doing is making yourself more average. And the problem with average is that other people are better at being average than you are. And other people are cheaper at being average that you are. And thus, there is little chance for your blog to build a following, or your tweets to get retweeted, or your product to get passed on if it’s average. Because who needs more average? We’ve got plenty of that.
And thus, what James Cameron has figured out is he doesn’t need to dig ditches for a living. He doesn’t need to be stronger than other people for a living. He doesn’t need to put on more hours as a telemarketer to make a living. All he needs to do is fight the resistance. That every time someone says, “Well why don’t we just make this part a little more average. If he can just stand up and say no I’m going to make it exceptional — even if it’s not better, just exceptional — that’s what he does for a living. That’s his job. And what I am challenging people to do is understand that that’s a pretty good job. And it’s one that almost anyone is capable of doing.
Steve Cunningham: Let’s get personal for a second. We talked about the resistance taking over our lives at some point. So did the resistance take over your life, at some point? And if it did, what did you do about it?
Seth Godin: Oh, every single day I fight the resistance. You know, the time I was probably defeated the most visibly was when I was building my first Internet company, and I was in the right place at the right time, with the right resources, and we could have built it to something quite large. Once I hit 72 employees, I couldn’t do it anymore. The resistance, the voice in my head said, “You know what, you have no business building a company with 200, or 400, or 1,000 people in it, and that’s when we made the decision to hook up with Yahoo. I was pleased that I was honest enough with myself that I wasn’t going to be able to overcome that one, but disappointed that I let that voice in my head rule the decisions that I was making. On a more prosaic note, every single day when I write a blog post, every single day when I decide what I’m going to do next, there’s a very loud voice in the back of my head that says, “You know, maybe you’re going to blow it with this one. Maybe you’re going too far. Why don’t you just take it easy? And that conversation, as I was talking about with James Cameron, that conversation’s what I do for a living.
I can’t listen inside your head Steve, but I’m imagining lots of people have that conversation. And I guess if there’s a difference between me and them, at least in terms of my career, it’s that I don’t listen to resistance. Instead I seduce it, or I trick it, or I ignore it, or I fight it different ways everyday. But I don’t let it beat me.
Steve Cunningham: Shifting on to the last topic now — and this is one that you’ve not gotten in trouble for, but people have spoken out about before — [is that] is you don’t give a map. You don’t tell people, “Here’s how you do it. Here’s how you become a linchpin.” Why is it so hard to create a map to become an artist?
Seth Godin: The minute there’s a map there is no art. Paint by numbers is not art. Paint by numbers is a mechanical activity. There’s a village in China called Dafen… By one estimate, a third of all the oil paintings in the world are painted in this village in China. And what happens is as soon as the sun rises hundreds of thousands of people run outside, set up their easels, and paint as fast as they can until sunset. That’s what they do for a living. No one would claim that these people are artists. They are painters. They are people who put oil paint on canvas. They have a manual. They have a map.
If I told you, step-by-step, what to do to become indispensable, then anyone could do it. And if anyone could do it, it wouldn’t be worth very much. Scarcity creates value. And, this is going to frustrate people, but the emotional labor of work, today — the thing that makes you worth $50,000 or $100,000 or $150,000 a year — is that you can navigate the world without a map. People who need a map, are going to get paid less and less and work harder and harder every day, because there’s plenty of those people, and I can find them with a click of the mouse. Challenge — the only thing I’m selling in this book — is the decision that you will now live without a map, that you will be less obedient, not more obedient; less compliant, not more compliant; and that ultimately, you will do work that matters. And, if I achieve that, with even a hundred people it will be worth the effort.
Steve Cunningham: Excellent. So we’re at the end of the interview here. What is the one thing you want anybody who listens to this interview or reads the book to do.
Seth Godin: Well, I’m hoping that if you get that far, you’ve already made some sort of the change that you need to make a difference. So what I would like you to do is be generous and teach somebody else this idea. Teach somebody else, maybe a kid, maybe a peer, maybe a boss, about the power of doing work that people talk about.
Steve Cunningham: Thank you so much for being here, Seth. If you are listening to this, you have to go out and get this book. It’s a fantastic book, and I for one will be playing with more cowbell from now on. Thank you very much Seth.
Seth Godin: Thanks Steve, I’ll see ya.