Linchpin: Summary & Review

linchpin book cover

Linchpin is a much-needed kick in the butt for artists who are being paralyzed by the fear of failure and the fear of judgment.
This book might give you what you really need to finally start sharing your artwork.

Exec Summary

  • Be damned those jobs that clip your wings. We require your art and genius in this world!
  • Your lizard brain wants to keep you safe. Be aware of it and learn to overpower it or you’ll be stuck in the wheel forever
  • Real artists ship

Linchpin Summary

Seth Godin doesn’t mince words in flattering us right off the bat.
You are a genius, he says. Chances are you have something great to share with the world, but society squeezes the genius out of you.

Your fear of letting go and do art stems from two places:

  1.  You have been brainwashed into believing that your job is to follow instructions (hint: it’s not);
  2. The resistance -your lizard brain- is the voice keeping you safe -and average-

Linchpin is about removing those obstacles.

Chapter 1: The New World Of Work

The world has changed. The previous generations of the industrial revolution could have kept their head down, followed orders and in exchange, they’d get a stable life, a mortgage and a car.

The goal for the capitalists was to have as many easily replaceable laborers as possible (Michael Gerber recommends you do so).
But the con game is finally ending and there’s a new bargain now, one that leverages talent and creativity.

Today three thousand dollars (laptop and internet) buys you an entire factory of output. The factories are our mind, and access to capital and the ability to find partners are no longer a problem.

Enter today’s third player: the linchpins. Linchpins are not proles waiting for instructions, nor are they industry barons. But they leverage something internal to create value.
They are artists who can find new answers, new connections, or a new way of doing things.

If you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you learn to say it better.

Chapter 2: Thinking About Your Choice

The new American Dream that is being embraced all over the world is this:

  • Be remarkable
  • Be generous
  • Create art
  • Make judgment calls
  • Connect people and ideas

And if you are an employer: obedient and artistic are antithetic, if you’re looking for obedient employees, you’ll never employ artists.

Chapter 4: Becoming The Linchpin

These are the characteristics of a Linchpin:

  • Run towards fear

Linchpins do feel the fear, acknowledge it, and then proceed anyway.
Seth Godin says he can’t tell you how to do it, but it’s a prerequisite for success.

  • Knowledge is like opinions

Linchpins are not just knowledgeable.
Knowledge is worth little in the age of Google. Depth of knowledge with insight instead is worth a lot.
The linchpin can walk into chaos and create order, invent, connect, and make things happen.

  • The limit is the asymptote

Asymptotic is anything with a ceiling, an upper limit.
Bowling is asymptotic because there’s a fixed ceiling (the number of pins). Six Sigma approach is similar: there’s an upper limit.
Organizations and people achieving dramatic success do so in fields without asymptotes.

If you can’t be remarkable, probably you should do nothing until you can.

  • Don’t get a CV

You are not your CV, you are your work.

And the only way to prove you are a linchpin, someone worth moving to the top of the pile and worth hiring, is to show, not tell.

And if they can’t get your point, the linchpin says “I don’t want a job a non-linchpin could get”.  Remarkable people deserve remarkable jobs.

If the game is designed for you to lose, don’t play that game. Play a different one.

Chapter 5: Is It Possible To Do Hard Work In a Cubicle? 

Seth Godin says that in everything you do it’s possible to be an artist.

What is art

Art requires an element of risk and daring: if it’s risk-free it’s usually not art.
And a certain complexity: your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it.
The last element that defines art is the gift: you can’t do it just for money.

Salaried Wok (=You’re Owned)

He says he hates that approach to life as it cheapens us.

First, he asks, are you willing to sell yourself so cheaply?
Do you want to swap an entire, irreplaceable day of your life for a few bucks?

When you sell yourself for money, you’re not the artist you could be.
And second, it’s a cold, mathematical transaction with no added value (I give you money, you give me time).
At the end of the day, there’s no bond: you are owed nothing and I owe you nothing.

The alternative is to use that day as your chance to do art, not available to anyone merely because he’s the highest bidder.

Who’s your boss?

The artist is supposed to change us.

But when you have a boss too often your job is to please that boss rather than changing him/her or the people around you.

It’s OK to have someone you work for. And it’s also OK having someone watching over you and paying you. But the moment you treat that person like a boss in charge of your choices and output, then you’re not an artist. You’re a cog.

You can’t be an artist when someone owns you

The myth of project-specific passion

Seth Godin also debunks the idea of “finding your passion”.

You don’t magically find your passion.
Jeff Bezos wouldn’t have been sitting around in the pre-Internet era and Spike Lee wouldn’t be an average Joe if he hadn’t found a camera.

Passion is not dependent on a particular project or endeavor. It’s inside of us.

Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project, maybe you need to get in touch with the fire within you, and learn to become more passionate.
Because the combination of passion and art will make you a linchpin.

Who is it for?

You will not be able to do art for everyone. As a matter of fact, art for everyone is mediocre.
Your art must be focused.

Gifts VS MBAs

The digitization of work makes MBAs happy.
Today you can measure and put stuff on a spreadsheet, hallelujah!

The problem is that everyone is doing the same. Your competitors are analyzing the same data and using the same spreadsheet.

Similarly to asymptotes, in data-driven environments, there’s little room for quantum growth.
The easier it is to quantify, the less it’s worth.

The passion to spread

Passion means caring so much about your art that you would do almost anything to spread it.

And it can also mean giving up parts you love in order to spread the rest.

Seth Godin mentions people he knows who write books which don’t sell and still refuse to change anything to “stay true to their art”.

That way through their art is useless because it’s not being consumed.
And if not consumed it’s not art, only effort.

Swapping your days for a salary. Are you willing to sell yourself so cheaply?

Chapter 6: The Resistance

The only purpose to start is to finish.

The project we are working on never really finish, but they must ship.
Real artists ship.

Shipping means hitting the publish button, doing the sales pitch, picking up the phone. Shipping is where your art meets the world.

Seth Godin says that meeting deadlines regularly, without hassle, emergency or fear, is a rare skill and something that will make you indispensable.

The Lizard Brain

And here we get to the all-important resistance.

What’s stopping you from delivering your art?
Seth Godin says it’s fear.
It’s the fear of being ridiculed, of standing out and standing for something. And we’re even afraid of openly talking about this kind of fear.

In ourselves, we have a daemon, which is our artistic genius, and the resistance, which is our lizard brain shackling the daemon.

Indeed, Seth Godin emphatically says: We don’t need more genius, we need less resistance.

Here are a few ways the lizard brain typically stops you:

  • “I don’t have any good ideas.”
  • “I didn’t graduate from [insert brand of some prestigious educational institution here]
  • “My boss won’t let me.”

And now please add to that list “and people will laugh at me if I try”. Great, now at least you got your real reason in there.

One way to control is it rationalize what’s happening and saying it out loud

  • “My lizard brain is making me anxious.”
  • “I’m angry right now because being angry is keeping me from doing my work.”

Another way to dominate the resistance is to always head directly into the resistance.
Quit the tasks you’re doing out of fear and do the tasks you’re afraid of. Once you start doing work that matters, the lizard brain will silence and you will hear the full roar of your daemon.

Seth Godin also recommends you don’t set up a judge for your goal. Not having a judge will let you work on your art without alerting the resistance.

Seth Godin says that the difference between a successful artist and a failed one happens after the idea is hatched.

The difference is the race to completion.

Did you finish?

Developing plan B

You will have people coming to you with nice suggestions.

The nice suggestion is often that you should get a backup plan in case things don’t go as hoped.

And you know what happens when you get a plan B? You settle for that.
As soon as you say “I’ll try my best” rather than “I will”, you leave the door ajar for the lizard brain to bust through and re-set camp in your mind.

Anxiety

Anxiety is fear about fear. Basically, a fear that serves nothing.

Fear is often a spiral: it’s triggered by something small and immediately takes over.
Seth Godin says you control anxiety by embracing it. Don’t assuage it, don’t try to force it away. So the next time you’re afraid if you got the passport and you already checked, don’t check again! And don’t get up to check the lights!

The difference is the race to completion. Did you finish? ” username

Chapter 7: The Powerful Culture of Gifts

Seth Godin says we evolved based on mutual support and generosity and that we’re made to give rather than to receive.

Becoming a linchpin is an act of generosity because it will give you the platform for giving gifts and expanding what he calls emotional labor.

Some people see gifts in light of receiving. Some others to get something back (possibly something bigger). The most successful ones give gifts as a demonstration of love, they like giving gifts because it gives them joy. They seek respect, not reciprocity.

Being a linchpin is about delivering gifts that can never be adequately paid for.
And don’t worry about being left with nothing: gifts signals the world that we have plenty more to share, and the more you have in your cup, the more people are to want a drink.

Friendlies

The Internet has added another layer between friends and business: the friendlies.
These are followers and admirers who might be friends one day. When you focus on friends and friendlies, the business circle (money) will take care of itself.

What art will you do?

And now the big question is: how do you know what kind of artist to become and what gifts to give?

There’s no obvious answer and finding the answer will be the key to your success.
You have to find the map.
But here’s the news: there’s no ready-made map.

Chapter 8: There Is NO Map

But that’s also great news.

The reason why art is valuable is precisely that nobody can tell you how to do it. Art is the act of navigating without a map, the ability to forge your own path, to discover a new route.

Seth Godin also refreshes on an important concept all successful author insists upon: the linchpin also accepts the world as it is and doesn’t waste any effort on what he can’t control.

Chapter 9: Making The Choice

If you are only working for the person on top of you in the org chart you may be scarifying your future.

Unless, you are being an artist.
Deep down you probably know the truth. Think about it.

And if you’re not doing art, If your agenda is set by someone else and it doesn’t lead you where you want to go, why is it your agenda?

Lean in and seek out projects where you can make a difference and don’t accept anything below your potential.
And if not possible, if you don’t have any room for work that matters, draw your own map and lead.

How to find your passion

And here’s Seth Godin answer to people looking for their passion: you don’t look for something that matches you passion. You transfer your passion to what you’re doing.

How does a linchpin work

In a world where indispensable people are so rare, the linchpin has two options:

  1. Hire factory workers. Take advantage of the fact that most people want a map and will surrender their time on the cheap
  2. Find a boss who understands the value of a linchpin and reward you with freedom and respect. Do the work and make a difference.

And if you aren’t doing either of those, why are you still there?

Failure and ego

You will fail, and often.

And that’s when your lizard brain will rear its ugly head again.
He will highlight the critics, emphasize your mistakes and missteps.

Successful people learn from failure too, but it’s never that you shouldn’t have tried in the first place (more key literature on learning: The Obstacle Is The Way ; Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Learn)

And what about all those people hurting you? They are only getting away with it because you allow them to.
Be open to feedback, but don’t let harmful comments get to you ( discerning feedback from degrading criticism will take some practice).

Worst kind of attachment outcome

Some people who often feel bad and have nostalgia not just for the past, but for the future IF things had gone different. Ie. if they hadn’t been fired, if they were still together with their ex etc.

Seth Godin says that’s the worst kind of outcome attachment because, well, we can’t control it.

I smile proudly looking how far I have come from a past when that was exactly me, so I can vouch for the fact you can change that :).

The visionary leaders instead see a future with different rules and move and act to have that kind of different future.

If your agenda is set by someone else and it doesn’t lead you where you want to go, why is it your agenda?

Chapter 10: The Culture Of Connection

Linchpins do not succeed alone.

They build a web of connections.
Most psychologists agree there are 5 essential traits for doing well with people, which are also the signs of a linchpin: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Emotional Stability.

You need to get better at them if you want to become a linchpin.

Chapter 11: The Seven Abilities of a Linchpin 

Here’s what will make you indispensable:

  • creativity: original and useful
  • unique creativity: requires domain knowledge, the creativity must be focused
  • delivering unique creativity: you must ship!
  • Managing a situation or organization of great complexity: when it’s impossible to follow a manual linchpins step in
  • Leading customers
  • Inspiring staff
  • Providing deep domain knowledge with smart decisions and generous contributions
  • Possessing a unique talent: as a linchpin, you need to have a superpower that is difficult to replace. So either get all the other ones, or get the best in the world at your unique talent

And of course you have to be amazing at what you do. 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.

Chapter 12: When It Doesn’t Work

Word of caution:

before you self-appoint yourself as the artist and go pointing fingers at your boss, know that it’s very likely your boss think you are not contributing as much as you could.

And it’s also true your boss will not give you all the freedom of this world because, well, you gotta earn it first.
Part of your work is indeed earning that trust first, and selling your plans to those around you and above you (see Extreme Ownership for more on leading up the chain of command).

The possibility of failure

Now that we have the freedom to create, we must embrace the fact that not all creations are equal, and some people aren’t going to win.

It might happen indeed things don’t work out.
And that’s ok.

What do you do then?

You do MORE ART, you give more gifts. Learn from what you do and then do more.
People committed to their art never stop giving.

Because the alternative, giving up and becoming an old-school cog is not appealing. So you do more.
Trying and failing is better than merely failing.

And keep in mind what you love, but if you need to make a living with it, then you also have a to find a niche where money flows as a consequence of your art.

linchpin book cover

Real Life Application

Become an artist
Here’s a potentially revolutionary way to apply Linchpin by Seth Godin.
Ask yourself: are you in love with your work? Are you doing art?
Yes? Great.
No? Do yourself and this world a favor and change it.

Embrace anxiety: it works
I absolutely love the idea of not giving in to anxiety. Take the example of the keys, checking twice before you close the door or making sure they’re in your pocket for 10 times while you’re out. They seem small things, but it’s the thoughts behind it which are corrosive.
I did try to embrace the anxiety and not check again and it did work, so I absolutely recommend it.

CONS

Fear of not fitting in learned at school?
When I hear of people blaming human behavior on schools, churches or society, I always need to resist the urge to disqualify them. Humans are complex and pinpointing this or that as a single culprit rarely seem the best explanation (Viktor Frankl on generalizations).
I believe indeed the fear of not fitting in is not just learned in school but also a major human innate driver (and I’m not the only one).

Artists and convenient descriptions
Linchpins and artists descriptions feel a bit like reading the horoscope: most people would be nodding their heads thinking it’s exactly them.
It’s very convenient, somehow.
Yet, that’s also the beauty of Linchpin by Seth Godin: you just love reading it, and it can be helpful: we remember more and are more moved by well crafted words.
So it’s not a con but its greatest asset IF you don’t just nod your head but also let it spur you to action.

Linchpin Review

Linchpin by Seth Godin is one of those rare books combining a great reading experience, great insight and a motivating force to take action.

Two more things I’d like to highlight which are key:

Master Artist
Learning to overcome the resistance is indeed critical. Read more on critical identity mindsets to spur you to action. Just one thing I’d like to add to the puzzle: make sure you also focus on delivering and sharing great art.

The Lizard Brain
I was surprised to read Seth Godin stopped writing Linchpin a dozen times.

I’d urge you to reflect on that. Here is a world famous author, rich and experienced. And he was still afraid. It goes to tell us that nobody is above and beyond the resistance, not even the people telling you how to overcome it.
So don’t worry, it’s not just you who’s afraid. We all are. It’s my struggle, it’s your struggle, it’s our struggle. But we keep going anyway. Welcome to the club.

Downrating Note:

I demoted it from 5 stars to 4 after realizing it takes most of its ideas from The War of Art.

Get Linchpin on Amazon.

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