Customer Reviews: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
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on January 26, 2010
While reading Linchpin I looked around a few times to see if author Seth Godin was perhaps peering through my living room window to see my reaction. It really felt like he was talking to me, singling me out. How could he know how I rationalize things?

"There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do."

Linchpin is a most unusual, well-organized, concise book about what it takes to become indispensable in the workplace - whether you work for someone else (at any level) or are self-employed. It's about how business has rapidly changed and how treating employees like factory workers (or doing your job like one) doesn't work any longer. We must make choices and take action to "chart our own paths" and add value that others do not. We cannot wait for a boss or a job description to tell us what to do, rather we must just take the initiative ourselves. Only then can we become indispensable "linchpins," rather than replaceable "cogs." There are so many fantastic quotes in the book too.

"You don't become indispensable merely because you are different. But the only way to become indispensable is to be different. That's because if you're the same, so are plenty of other people."

The 14 chapters in this book are each broken down into short segments with great headlines that summarize them. Godin uses special vocabulary words to describe the many factors that go into becoming a linchpin. These words have unique meanings in the context in which they are used. You'll learn interpretations for terms such as art, thrashing, gifts, resistance, pranja, ship, lizard brain, shenpa, emotional labor and others.

"Art is unique, new and challenging to the status quo. It's not decoration. It's something that causes change. Art cannot be merely commerce. It must also be a gift."

You'll never be bewildered or bored while reading Linchpin. It will awaken a part of your brain that you may have never used before. It will make you take a deep look inside your thoughts, patterns and habits and oblige you to realize there are things you can change right now to become more of a success, a true "artist." In fact, you may find yourself sliding down in your chair a bit while reading, like I did. But that's okay; it's part of the learning process.

"If all you can do is the task and you're not in a league of your own at doing the task, you're not indispensable."

This is particularly true in the chapter on page 101 entitled The Resistance. Just this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. You've got to read it twice to really capture all it offers. Here you'll be faced with all the reasons why you're currently not as indispensable as you could be - as you should be. Have you ever delayed a project and not delivered (Seth calls this shipping) on deadline just because you were trying to achieve perfection? That's resistance. It is the "lizard brain" way-of-thinking that causes us to resist. Do you find yourself doing a lot of busy work (obsessive email checking, Tweeting, etc.) rather than taking action that really adds value? That's resistance too.

"The lizard brain is the reason you're afraid, the reason you don't ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance."

Godin will educate you on what it truly means to be a valuable gift giver. He'll tell you that there's no map in existence to help you become an indispensable artist. He'll tell you that you have a choice to either "Fit in or stand out. Not both." He'll even tell you that there are times when your art will not work, and for whatever reason, you may not be able to get paid for your particular talent.

"Maybe you can't make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now) But I bet you can figure out what you can do to make money (if you choose wisely)."

"There is no map. No map to be a leader, no map to be an artist. I've read hundreds of books about art (in all its forms) and how to do it, and not one has a clue about the map, because there isn't one."

The only thing Seth Godin left out of his well-researched Linchpin book is that his principles can be applied not only to business but also to other aspects of a person's life. Linchpins can be better spouses, friends and community members at large. They can be truly indispensable in many ways.

"Nothing about becoming indispensable is easy. If it's easy, it's already been done and it's no longer valuable."

Ever read a business or marketing book that is interesting while you're reading it, but two days after you have finished it, you cannot really remember the gist of what you read? Linchpin is not one of those books. This one will stay with you. There is nothing else like it; it can change your future. That is, if you set your lizard brain aside and replace it with the true linchpin artist in you.
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on January 31, 2010
I got an early copy of Seth Godin's new book "Linchpin: Are you indispensable" because I made a $40 donation to the charity Acumen. In return, I agreed to review the book in a blog post at my site. Here goes, I hope you find this helpful.

Every once in a while I run across a book that is so important, so compelling, so unique with respect to not only content but also writing style that I can't put it down until I finish it. This is not one of those books (for me); nevertheless, I am going to recommend it because I concur with his core message and if you have not heard it before from other sources, I think you need to hear it now.

Parts of this book are brilliant - they will change how I talk about my core message. Much of what Seth had to say in this book was not new to me, and frankly I prefer the way others have said it. But Seth has a style of writing that will appeal to many, and I predict many will come away reading this book thinking it is the most important book they have read in a long time. Don't get me wrong, I am a BIG fan of Seth Godin, but for this book such claims would be pretentious.

Here is Seth's bottom line:

I didn't set out to get you to quit your job or to persuade you to become an entrepreneur or merely to change the entire world. All I wanted to do in this book was sell you on being the artist you already are. To make a difference. To stand for something. To get the respect and security you deserve. If I've succeeded, then you know that you have a gift to give, something you can do to change the world (or your part of it) for the better. I hope you'll do that, because we need you. (p. 230).

I think he succeeded, and if you have never heard this message, then I encourage you to get this book and read it. Seth is right, we need you to make a difference, to stand for something. YOU need you to make a difference.

A linchpin is someone that is remarkable. They bring the emotional labor to their work. They pour themselves into what they do because they know it is the right thing to do, and they become better people for living and working this way. This also makes them very scarce, and that scarcity makes them valuable - indispensable.

Seth defines art as "the intentional act of using your humanity to create a change in another person" (p. 99). I love that. Seth acknowledges that when we give to others, the law of reciprocity kicks in and they will feel indebted to return our favor. But Seth reminded me that when we give to others with no expectation of anything in return, that posture of unconditional generosity changes us. It creates abundance in our lives and in the lives of those we connect with at work and in our communities. I've known that for a long time, but is always good to be reminded of it. Thanks, Seth.

I wish this book had been 50 pages and free on the internet instead of 236 pages and $15 on Amazon. Then more people that need to hear this message of remarkable, abundant living might get it. Alas, this book to some extent represents the cog in the system that is the object of Seth's lament.

Read more: [...]
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Others have their own reasons for praising this book. Here are five of mine. First, this is by far Godin's most personal book in which he reveals more of his emotions and "soul" (for lack of a better term) than he has in any of his previous books. Also, from the beginning, he establishes a direct and personal rapport with his reader. I felt that he had written this book specifically for me. Although he and I have never met, I felt as if he were speaking to me and discussing ideas with me as if we were engaged in a face-to-face conversation.

Moreover, unlike in most of his previous books, Godin does not climb up into a pulpit and launch a tirade, engaging his audience with a confrontational tone and Old Testament vehemence. He obviously cares deeply about the thoughts and feelings he shares but is at all times respectful of his reader. He repeatedly explains that everyone has several choices and urges his reader to make those only choices that are in her or his long-term best interest.

In addition, meanwhile, Godin creates a multi-dimensional context, a frame-of-reference, in which to anchor his insights and recommendations throughout the narrative. He skillfully uses what I describe as a bi-polar strategy: passively but alertly observing what is happening (and not happening) in order to recognize and understand the ever-changing realities of the world that we share and then actively challenging whatever demeans and diminishes anyone's dignity. Finally, Godin utilizes the manifesto genre as a means by which to celebrate humanity at its best, not as an ideal beyond human fulfillment but as an attainable destination if (HUGE "if") vision, faith, courage, integrity, and commitment are sufficient to the formidable challenges that await each pilgrim.

Near the downtown area here in Dallas, we have a Farmers Market at which some merchants offer complimentary slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now provide three brief excerpts from Godin's book.

On becoming indispensable to customers: "Here's the win (actually, there are two).

"If you want customers to flock to you, it's tempting to race to the bottom of the price chart. There's not a lot of room for profit there, though...In a world that relentlessly races to the bottom, you lose if you also race to the bottom. The only way to win is to race to the top. When your organization becomes more human, more remarkable, faster on its feet, and more likely to connect directly with customers, it becomes indispensable....

"Second, the people that work for you, the ones you freed to be artists [i.e. creators of unique, compelling, and substantial value], will rise to a level you can't even imagine. When people realize that they are not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, they take the challenge and grow. They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money....

"As a result of these priceless gifts, expect that the linchpins on your staff won't abuse their power. In fact, they'll work harder, stay longer, and produce more than you pay them to. Because everyone is a person, and people crave connection and respect." (Pages 35-36)

On résumés: "If you don't have a résumé, what do you have? How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects? Or a sophisticated project an employer can see or touch? Or a reputation that precedes you? Or a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up? Some say, `Well, that's fine, but I don't have those.' Yeah, that's my point. If you don't have these things, what leads you to believe that you are remarkable, amazing, or just plain spectacular? It sounds to me like if you don't have more than a résumé, you've been brainwashed into compliance. Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs people kill for - those jobs don't get filled by people e-mailing in résumés." (Page 73)

On the power of being genuine and transparent: "Virtually all of us make our living engaging directly with other people. When the interactions are genuine and transparent, they usually work. When they are artificial or manipulative, they fail.

"The linchin is coming from a posture of generosity; she's there to give a gift [no-strings support of your efforts to succeed]. If that's your intent, the words almost don't matter. What we'll perceive are your wishes, not the script.

"This is why telemarketing has such a ridiculously low conversion rate. Why corporate blogs are so lame. Why frontline workers in the service business have such stress. We can sense it when you read the script because we're so good at finding the honest signals." (Page 214)

For various reasons previously indicated, I hold this book in very high regard and conclude my review of it with one more observation: The person whom Godin characterizes as "indispensable" is defined by what is indispensable to that person. It could well be, for example, a sincere desire to be of service to others. Or it could well be a sincere desire to offer unconditional "gifts" of trust, faith, respect, and candor. Those whom Godin characterizes as "artists" possess the vision, faith, courage, integrity, and commitment needed to create -- in collaboration with others -- a "post-commercial world that feeds us, enriches us, and gives us the stability we've been seeking for so long." That said, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate or ignore the importance of self-interests. Those who create the world to which Godin refers also feed and enrich themselves as well as those whom they serve and with whom they share a community of faith. Only then can they obtain for themselves as well as others the stability they have been seeking for so long. That should be our vision and Godin challenges us to fulfill it.
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on August 9, 2011
On the plane from Beijing to Amsterdam I read Linchpin by Seth Godin.

OK, I tried reading it.

I gave up after about 40 pages and 400 simplistic generalizations. I nearly choked on my salted almonds when reading that Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) and Karl Marx (Das Kapital) "said the same thing." (Which is similar to the claim that both Barack Obama and Adolph Hitler had the same number of fingers.)

What bothered me most about Seth Godin's book is the problem of the Single Strategy God. It is a literary style that many business books suffer from. (Though I'm afraid it's often me, the reader, who is doing the real suffering.) The authors write from a divine perspective, and their books claim that if you want to be successful your strategy should be to "be a linchpin" or "find a blue ocean" or "lead a tribe" or "move from good to great" or "be a purple cow".

But it's all a load of purple crap.

If the Single Strategy God really existed He would have created all species to mimic the survival strategy of Antarctic krill. It is (measured in terms of biomass) the most successful species on our planet.

Side note: in Linchpin Seth Godin argues that workers should try and become indispensible by becoming super-specialists: different from other people, and the only ones who can do their jobs, because linchpins define and adapt jobs around themselves. He ignores that, in a complex system, generalization and specialization, scaling up and scaling out, are the effects of forces that keep adapting to each other in never-ending balancing feedback loops. If nearly everyone in an economy would follow Seth Godin's advice and focus on specialization, and being different, then the few who would focus on generalization, and creating copies, could make a huge amount of money.

People love simplistic advice. It reduces their need to think for themselves. After all, it takes effort to understand that the world is far more complex than Seth Godin tries to make us believe. It takes brains to realize that ants, humans, and cyanobacteria are successful because their survival strategies differ from each other. Some species scale up, others scale out. Some are specialists, others are generalists. Some systems thrive in blue oceans, others in sandy deserts. Some people are great linchpins, others are superb army knives.

Any strategy that leads to success is a fine strategy.

Seth Godin's strategy is to pad his ideas with as many stories, examples, anecdotes, and platitudes as possible, until every single idea can be published as a separate hardcover book in 200 pages, double-spaced. This strategy works brilliantly. If your name is Seth Godin.

But would it work if your name is Jurgen Appelo?

I don't believe so.

p.s. I just returned from China, where many companies make money being unremarkable and copying/producing whatever the US and Europe want to procure, at the cheapest possible rate. It's a country of 1.3 billion army knives, not linchpins. I've heard this has helped sustain the global economy. Not such a bad strategy, it seems.

Originally published at NOOP.NL
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on July 15, 2010
I've never written a review on Amazon before but feel compelled to after throwing in the towel on this book 80 pages into it. I'm mystified that so many reviewers enjoyed this book so much. I felt like I was being shouted at throughout those 80 pages and told the same thing again and again and again. To me, the book felt like little more than a series of sound bites anchored around a theme but not tied together well at all. The examples, which I usually love in a book, often weren't explained well enough for me to fully get the point if I wasn't already familiar with the person.

I just finished two other business books that I really enjoyed, Drive by Dan Pink, and Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. This book wasn't even close to the caliber of those and isn't worth your money or your time.
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on April 9, 2010
(This a a re-post of a comment I made on another forum that is not likely to be seen by anyone else. Since it essentially boils down to a review, I'm going to post it here instead of writing another one.)
I'm reading this book now and "losing my mind" trying to see Seth's point of view. I inhabit the world of the cogs (and I indeed did not plan to end up here and I do not want to turn my brain off at work) so I know for a fact that several of the assumptions that he's basing his theories on are wrong. I also noted how the book conveniently mentioned the lizard brain as a judgment to foist upon those of us who disagreed with his premise. I will not accept that judgment.

Not all companies value linchpins and creative thinkers. To some, they are just troublemakers. Also, my job and many other cogs may be *defined* as unskilled, but the reality can far different. Is it as skilled as that of an architect or engineer? Of course not. But to imply that those jobs are the new norm/middle ground and broadly define those of us below that level (at jobs that *used* to be considered professional) as unskilled, stings. And I refuse to wear that label. We live in a world where our university economies have been pumping out masters degree graduates and Ph.Ds doing endless postdocs, while most of our new jobs are in the service sector. It's my belief that underemployment is mostly a structural problem, not a personal one that points to lack of creativity, initiative, or energy on my part (plus living in MS and being obligated to stay here doesn't help... but this is another common problem for the cogs; lack of money and responsibilities to family usually prevent them from fleeing to other states or cities where they can practice their talents)

I've only gotten about 1/3 through the book so far. I'm going to hope that his message gets a little easier to swallow or that at least he no longer insults people like myself. The audience of this book is definitely not people like me. I see it as upper middle class/white collar pablum to appeal to people who have little experience with being poor and being stuck being a cog. To me, only people who have never really been smacked down by illogic and outright theft of their ideas, money and future can say things like you're stuck being a cog because you *won't* change. (for example, I see students at the university I work at who literally have their parents *steal* their money from their checking accounts and savings, open up credit lines in their names and ruin their credit -- sometimes before they ever even get to college.) Changing your life requires at least some measure of resources to do so. Stating that we *all* can do it if we want to...baloney. No such thing as "can't" may hold true for a percentage of society, but that doesn't mean that it really doesn't exist. One-hundred and fifty years ago, try saying "no such thing as can't" to a slave. Their lot in life changed not from being all "engaged" with their work. It came from the "uppity" ones that fought back, escaped, and the white abolishionists. It came from a president that refused to allow the country to participate in forcing a populous to be property. And later it came from another president who sent armed troops into Mississippi to demand that the state follow the laws of the land.

I have no problem with the personal message to completely engage yourself in everything that you do. Giving with no expectation of being noticed or rewarded is the only way to go. So, on a personal level, be courageous and give your job and anything you do your full attention and go the extra mile. But the reality is that most people will take advantage of you, your job excellence will redefine the expectations of your position to a new higher standard and you and others will be judged more harshly. Clueless managers will likely not know how valuable you are so they'll lay you off with equal frequency as all the non-linchpins. (Unless you spend time in self promotion and schmoozing around your company which would seem to be the opposite of being a linchpin to me).

This review is by a cog, who lives in a world that no matter how creatively you work and how much involvement you try to get in your job, your management will not let you participate because you don't have the purchased credentials of a masters degree. You will be left out of meetings, your ideas will be ignored, creativity frustrates them because you're acting uppity, and you have no hope of promotion no matter what you do. This is my reality. I still engage fully with my job even though it bores me to tears. I still try to be creative and think of things we could do better, but I have to find a "higher up" to sponsor them.

To sum it up, on a personal level, I thought Seth's ideas were spot on. A no-brainer, but worded in an engaging and positive manner. But equating them to becoming indispensable and less likely to be laid off in the corporate world was a stretch; one I just couldn't make. There's an old saying...something like, the graveyard is full of indispensable men. Ultimately, no one is indispensable. The irony is that we are all remarkable snowflakes; beautiful in our individuality, but all utterly replaceable no matter how far up the food chain you rise. For us cogs, that point is driven home very early in life. I also resented what appeared to be an assumption by the book that those stuck in cog jobs were resistant to change, not engaged in their work, or unskilled. Saying that there's no such thing as "can't change" is akin to blaming a hostage that they can't free themselves from their imprisonment. Sure, some people wouldn't run if you killed the criminal, opened all the doors and laid out a red carpet and flashing neon directional signs. But most folks...just give `em a little wiggle room and they will indeed rise to the occasion. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong that we live in a world where we are not all Nelson Mandelas.
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on May 3, 2010
I would have given this book 2 stars, but the sheer number of 5 star reviews for a book that clearly doesn't deserve it demanded that I lower my rating to 1 star.

I had to literally force myself to read this book all the way through. The book consists of two or three basic ideas that would have made a fine magazine article. In this book, the same material is repeated over and over and over until you want to scream "Stop! I get it!"

In addition, the material doesn't seem organized in any logical way. It reads more like a series of disjointed blog posts than a book. In typical Seth Godin fashion, the book never gets specific or tells the reader how to actually accomplish anything. It's mostly airy theory--there's very little that's of practical use. Godin is aware of this criticism and deflects it in the book, saying that if he could tell you anything concrete, it means there's already an existing roadmap, and you have to create your own roadmap. So you never get any practical advice, just a lot of platitudes. At times, I felt I was reading "Be Here Now."

Godin's definition of "art" is a bit strange. Contrary to Godin's assertion, being good at one's job or putting in extra effort at work doesn't make one an artist. As romantic as it sounds, when a waiter asks you if you'd like more rolls or fills up your water glass without asking, that doesn't make him an artist. Creating art makes one an artist.

Godin's belief that the great artists made art because they were interested in giving to the world and that commerce never entered into it is simply not accurate. Many of the great artists of the past worked for a patron, who paid them to create art--for them. Many of the famous portraits you see in art museums were commissions-- essentially commercial art.

The most valuable concept in this book is the idea that if you're indispensable to your organization, it will be hard for your boss to fire you. I basically just saved you the price of the book.
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on June 11, 2010
Seth Godin is a brilliant marketer. So brilliant that he's formed himself as a brand so strong that it doesn't matter what he actually says - everyone just loves it.

Unfortunately, he uses his great marketing skills to just sell and spread his own products, instead of actually writing down those tactics in print. This book, like most of his books, just offers a many-faceted re-hash of common sense ideas and platitudes. I've plowed through much of his work, and have yet to find anything substantial or actionable. Most of his books are so high-level they offer little in the way of real content - they're more like a thought-experiment.

Buying this book won't help you actually do or improve on anything.
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on December 18, 2010
I got the audio version and have been listening to it with my wife while we do weekend errands. We both agree that it is very interesting for about five minutes. The problem is that the same point (note: not points) is repeated without end. It's a book designed to make outcasts feel a sympathetic bond. You are special. You don't have to take it from the man. You can change an organization. The problem is that he never gets to the point of how to do so. Or at least, not within the first hour of the CD that we listened to. This was a 100% waste of money and time.
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on February 13, 2010
I, like several other people, donated some money to a charity and was able to read an early release of this book. Seth is a brilliant and creative marketer. It is no surprise that there are so many 4 and 5 star reviews for this book since most of these reviews are from people who received an early release of the book, just as I did, and are likely already fans of Seth.

Not only this, but these people are likely already Linchpins themselves and are going to be very receptive to this book because they already have a connection. It's always exciting to read a book and say, "Wow, that's me!" or "So that's why I think that way." I think this book does a decent job of encouraging people who are already Linchpins (people who are the glue that holds a society or company together by their creativity, adaptability and generous spirit) to continue to do what they are doing. I'm not sure that anyone else, other than someone teetering on the edge, would find the book near as riveting.

The first third of the book is really good. I flew through it and found it very inspirational. If you are already a Linchpin, you will probably love this part of the book. He tells you that you are a genius, discusses how American society has been built on cheap replaceable labor, and explains the mindset of Linchpins and why they are better able to survive and flourish during difficult times.

I thought he had some great examples of people who go out of their way to show generosity and integrity. It certainly made me take more notice of these types of people in the world around me and appreciate them more.

I also liked his reference to Steve Jobs saying, "Real artists ship." It is great to see people who are able to fight through adversity and actually deliver a product or service rather than just wishing they could.

About midway through the book he began talking about your lizard brain and the resistance. Maybe I'm fueling the resistance by saying this, but I guess that is what keeps this from being a one-sided critique. Seth basically divides the brain into two parts, the lizard brain or limbic system, which is all about survival, fear, anger and resistance, and your creative brain or cerebrum, which is, as Seth puts it, the newest and most sophisticated part of our brain that is always overruled by the other parts.

Throughout the book, Seth encourages you to completely ignore your lizard brain and focus on the creative, artistic part instead. Regardless of whether you agree with this or not, toward the end of the book, Seth laments the NO FEAR motto as, "either disingenuous or stupid." To be fair, I think he is talking about recognizing your fear and managing it, but after his tone earlier in the book it comes across almost contradictory.

Much of the latter parts of the book come across as Seth trying to be convincing, but either not certain of the best way to do it, or else uncertain of what he really thinks himself. For instance, in one place he says, "None of us knows the absolute truth, of course, but the goal is to approach a situation with the least possible bias." Not ten pages later, he talks about people ignoring the truth by deciding to stay in their homes during a hurricane: easy to say in hindsight of the New Orleans tragedy, but what about before then?

He also tells a story of how no passengers wanted to ride home with him in a rental car instead of remaining on a delayed flight and assumes that most of the people wanted to have a reason to blame the airline for their situation instead of themselves. In reality, these people made a choice, just as he did, but it wasn't the choice he wanted them to make so therefore they must be wrong. After all, he knew the truth of the situation and they didn't.

I know it may not seem like it from this review, but I actually have a lot of respect for Seth and have found a lot of his writing to be very insightful and inspirational. If you are already a dedicated person and worker, you will probably find the first part of this book very encouraging. If your only reason for existence is to make a lot of money or just go to work, collect a paycheck, and go play, I doubt this book will change your outlook on life.

Seth does practice what he preaches. He's been working on this book for over 10 years and he finally shipped! I think the timing may have been dictated more by the current state of our society rather than his understanding of how to communicate and inspire the remedy.
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