Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Linchpin, by Seth Godin

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

Seth Godin truly believes in what he espouses. The passion for his beliefs is evident in nearly every word; this makes Linchpin an entertaining read even if you don’t share the same ideas or aren’t convinced of the value of Godin’s. The basic thought here is that the key to job security is making yourself indispensable, a linchpin. This means that uniqueness and originality are more valuable traits than predictability and rule-following. That meeting goals is more important than how they are met. That the end justifies the means. An interesting and admirable point-of-view, but I don’t think as many corporations in our CYA, SLA, Sarbanes-Oxley world will reward these behaviors as Godin seems to believe. Or I’m not picking the right employers, anyway...

Godin writes, “Shipping something out the door, doing it regularly, without hassle, emergency, or fear—this is a rare skill, something that makes you indispensable.” I am a firm believer of a regular (and short) release cycle, but was asked to leave one job in part because I was doing this; ironically, I was told later that having regular releases wasn’t considered agile enough! It was obvious at this point that I wasn’t going to be successful in that company anyway, but according to Godin I should have been lauded, not let go. I don’t think this obviates the linchpin theory, but it does at least add a corollary about organizational acceptance of such methods. If you are in a conservative, hide-bound chain-of-command, getting labeled as a rebel rather than a rule-follower isn’t necessarily a key to job security.

Whether you drink Godin’s Kool-Aid or not, this is an enjoyable book. His sense of humor is sly and pervasive and he is unapologetic for his personal beliefs. In a discussion about business revolutions, Godin says shopping at Wal-Mart is okay because “you can get a jar of pickles the size of a Volkswagen for three dollars.” Pundits who try and convince people that shopping at Wal-Mart is somehow wrong “have been brainwashed into believing that the old version of the American Dream was a right.” I like both the humor and his political viewpoint here!

His personality is also on display in one of the passages towards the close of the book. The style of Linchpin is chapters, divided into smaller titled sections. One of these sections is composed of a single word, “Yes.” Of course, the title of this section is, “Wait! Are You Saying That I Have to Stop Following Instructions and Start Being an Artist? Someone Who Dreams Up New Ideas and Makes Them Real? Someone Who Finds New Ways to Interact, New Pathways to Deliver Emotion, New Ways to Connect? Someone Who Acts Like a Human, Not a Cog? Me?” Considering the titles are all in a heavy bold typeface, his point is well made.

The last bit of whimsy I’ll leave you with is the following diagram:
Zombies = Bureacracy

First Sentence:
The problem is that the bureaucrats, note takes, literalists, manual readers, TGIF laborers, map followers, and fearful employees are in pain.

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