Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?


Seth Godin is inspiring. Regardless of the content, his books inspire me to create something, to take calculated risks, and to not follow a predefined path. While Linchpin wasn’t brilliant, it was energizing and inspiring.

Here’s an excerpt of the Introduction:

You Are a Genius

If a genius is someone with exceptional abilities and the insight to find the nonobvious solution to a problem, you don’t need to win a Nobel Prize to be one. A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck.

So, the question is: Have you ever done that?

Have you ever found a shortcut that others couldn’t find?

Solved a problem that confounded your family?

Seen a way to make something work that wasn’t working before?

Made a personal connection with someone who was out of reach to everyone else?

Even once?

No one is a genius all the time. Einstein had trouble finding his house when he walked home from work every day. But all of us are geniuses sometimes.

The tragedy is that society (your school, your boss, your government, your family) keeps drumming the genius part out. The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for stability.


A guy is riding in the first-class cabin of a train in Spain and to his delight, he notices that he’s sitting next to Pablo Picasso. Gathering up his courage, he turns to the master and says, “Senor Picasso, you are a great artist, but why is all your art, all modern art, so screwed up? Why don’t you paint reality instead of these distortions?”

Picasso hesitates for a moment and asks, “So what do you think reality looks like?”

The man grabs his wallet and pulls out a picture of his wife. “Here, like this. It’s my wife.”

Picasso takes the photograph, looks at it, and grins. “Really? She’s very small. And flat, too.”

This book is about love and art and change and fear. It’s about overcoming a multigenerational conspiracy designed to sap your creativity and restlessness. It’s about leading and making a difference and it’s about succeeding. I couldn’t have written this book ten years ago, because ten years ago, our economy wanted you to fit in. Now, like it or not, the world wants something different from you. We need to think hard about what reality looks like now.

What if you could learn a different way of seeing, a different way of giving, a different way of making a living? And what if you could do that without leaving your job?

This is not a book for the wild-haired crazies your company keeps in a corner. It’s a book for you, your boss, and your employees, because the best future available to us is a future where you contribute your true self and your best work. Are you up for that?

One promise: the world to come (and this book) is neither small nor flat.

This Time It’s Personal

This is a personal manifesto, a plea from me to you. Right now, I’m not focused on the external, on the tactics organizations use to make great products or spread important ideas. This book is different. It’s about a choice and it’s about your life. This choice doesn’t require you to quit your job, though it challenges you to rethink how you do your job.

The system we grew up with is a mess. It’s falling apart at the seams and a lot of people are in pain because the things we thought would work, don’t. Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. They’ve become victims, pawns in a senseless system that uses them up and undervalues them.

This is a personal manifesto, a plea from me to you. Right now, I’m not focused on the external, on the tactics organizations use to make great products or spread important ideas. This book is different. It’s about a choice and it’s about your life. This choice doesn’t require you to quit your job, though it challenges you to rethink how you do your job.

It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map.

Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.

For hundreds of years, the population has been seduced, scammed and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions and exchanging a day’s work for a day’s pay. That era has come to an end, and just in time.

You have brilliance in you, your contribution is valuable, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must. I’m hoping you’ll stand up and choose to make a difference.

Making the Choice

My goal is to persuade you that there is an opportunity available to you, a chance to significantly change your life for the better. Not by doing something that’s easy or that you’ve been trained to do, but by understanding how the rules of our world have fundamentally changed and by taking advantage of this movement to become someone the world believes in indispensable.

It starts by making a simple choice.

I know that you can do this and I hope you will. A And once you do, if you do, I’m hoping you’ll share the idea with someone you care about.

The Take-Care-of-You Bargain

Here’s the deal our parents signed us up for:

Our world is filled with factories. Factories that make widgets and insurance and Web sites, factories that make movies and take care of sick people and answer the telephone. These factories need workers.

If you learn how to be one of these workers, if you pay attention in school, follow instructions, show up on time, and try hard, we will take care of you. You won’t have to be brilliant or creative or take big risks.

We will pay you a lot of money, give you health insurance, and offer you job security. We will cherish you, or at the very least, take care of you.

It’s a pretty seductive bargain.

So seductive that for a century, we embraced it. We set up our schedule and our systems and our government to support the bargain.

It worked. The Fortune 500 took care of us. The teachers’ union took care of us. The post office and the local retailers took care of us. We followed the instructions, we washed the bottles, we showed up on time, and in return, we got what we needed. It was the American Dream. For a long time, it worked.

But in the face of competition and technology, the bargain has fallen apart.

Job growth is flat at best.

Wages in many industries are in a negative cycle.

The middle class is under siege like never before, and the future appears dismal. People are no longer being taken care of – pensions are gone; 401(k)s have been sliced in half; and it’s hard to see where to go from here. You might be the hardworking secretary, the one with the institutional knowledge, the person who has given so much and deserves security and respect. And while you might deserve these things, your tenure is no guarantee that you’re going to get them.

Suddenly, quite suddenly in the scheme of things, it seems like the obedient worker bought into a sucker’s deal. The educated, hardworking masses are still doing what they’re told, but they’re no longer getting what they deserve.

This situation presents a wonderful opportunity.

Yes, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to actually enjoy what you do, to make a difference to your colleagues and your customers, and to unlock the genius you’ve been hiding all these years.

It’s futile to work hard at restoring the take-care-of-you bargain. The bargain is gone, and it’s not worth whining about and it’s not effective to complain. There’s a new bargain now, one that leverages talent and creativity and art more than it rewards obedience.

Where Does Success Come From?

Every day, bosses, customers, and investors make hard choices about whom to support and whom to eliminate, downsize, or avoid.

For the last twenty years, I’ve been studying eighteen varieties of that simple question. Some variations:

Why do some tactics work better than others? Why are some employees so much more productive than others? Why do some organizations wilt and fade in the face of a tumultuous market while others thrive? How come some ideas spread far and wide and others are ignored?

This book is my answer to that question.

Where Does Average Come From?

It comes from two places:

  1. You have been brainwashed by school and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow instructions. It’s not, not anymore.
  2. Everyone has a little voice inside their head that’s angry and afraid. That voice is the resistance – your lizard brain – and it wants you to be average (and safe).

If you’re not doing as well as you hoped, perhaps it’s because the rules of the game were changed, and no one told you.

The rules were written just over two hundred years ago; they worked for a long time, but no longer. It might take you more than a few minutes to learn the new rules, but it’s worth it.

Developing Indispensability

You weren’t born to be a cog in the giant industrial machine. You were trained to be a cog.

There’s an alternative available to you. Becoming a linchpin is a step-wise process, a path in which you develop the attributes that make you indispensable. You can train yourself to matter. The first step is the most difficult, the step where you acknowledge that this is a skill, and like all skills, you can (and will) get better at it. Every day, if you focus on the gifts, art, and connections that characterize the linchpin, you’ll become a little more indispensable.

Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.

-David Mamet

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