Linchpin: Are You Indispensable


Seth Godin is one of those guys who views the world on a different lens. In Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Godin talks about how one can become a linchpin. A linchpin is indispensable to any organization not only because of his/her artistry and genius but also because of that “it” factor that you cannot put in a manual. What is this “it” factor? Imagine a restaurant with four waiters where the owner has to fire one. Three waiters work really hard and follow all the rules in the manual. The fourth waiter can deal with an angry customer, fix a computer, and appease a drunken chef – tasks beyond the confines of the restaurant manual. Out of the four waiters, it is obvious that the fourth waiter has the most secure job. That waiter is a linchpin.

Furthermore, linchpins are artists – people who use bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. Artists create art. Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. If there is no change, there is no art.  Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

Throughout the book, Godin also states the importance of emotional labor, which is the hard work involved in creating art.

The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.


Big Idea: In order to be relevant in a job today, one has to be a linchpin

One theme in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is that a business can become more efficient when dividing huge tasks into smaller tasks, each task undertaken by a specialist. In factories, Smith’s message of division of labor is resounding as it creates more profit due to higher productivity. Here is the problem, however. These specialists are cogs in a machine. With automation and outsourcing, these workers (cogs) are replaceable. Thus, in order to be relevant in a job today, one has to be a linchpin.

The Seven Abilities of a Linchpin:

  1. Providing a unique interface between the members of the organization
  2. Delivering unique creativity
  3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  4. Leading customers
  5. Inspiring staff
  6. Providing deep domain knowledge
  7. Processing unique talent

Big Idea: Schools teach us to be average

Where does average come from?

  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 of their head that’s angry and afraid. The voice is resistance – your lizard brain – and it wants you to be average (and safe).

What schools are teaching?

We train the factory workers of tomorrow. Our graduates are very good at following instructions. And we teach the power of consumption as an aid for social approval.

What schools should be teaching?

  • We teach people to take the initiative and become remarkable artists, to question the status quo, and to interact with transparency. And our graduates understand that consumption is not the answer to social problems
  • Solve interesting problems
  • Lead

The law of linchpin leverage. The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value. 

Big Idea: Skills are not enough, emotional labor is needed

The challenges of becoming a linchpin solely based on your skill is that the market can find other people with that skill with surprising ease (outsourcing). Or the market could replace jobs done by people with machines (automation).

Emotional labor is available to all of us, but is rarely exploited as a competitive advantage. We spend our time and energy trying to perfect our craft, but we don’t focus on the skills and interactions that will allow us to stand out and become indispensable to our organization.

Big Idea: Find a company that hires people, not paper

If you’re remarkable, amazing, or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all. The very system that produced standardized tests and the command-and-control model that chokes us also invented the resume.

The system, the industrialists, the factory… they want us to be cogs in their machine – easily replaceable, hopeless, cheap cogs.

How to find a great job?

Find a company that understands the value of a linchpin. Find a company that doesn’t use a computer to scan resumes, a company that hires people, not paper.

If you want a job where you are treated as indispensable, given massive amounts of responsibility and freedom, expected to expend emotional labor, and rewarded for being a human, not a cog in a machine, then please don’t work hard to fit into the square-peg job you found on Craigslist.

If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job.

Find the discomfort zone

Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re busy hiding out in the comfortable zone. When you’re uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.

Should you develop a Plan B?

No. When you have a backup, you end up settling for the backup. A well-defined backup plan is sabotage waiting to happen. Why push through the dip, why take the risk, why blow it all when there’s the comfortable alternative instead? The people who break through usually have nothing to lose, they almost never have a backup plan.

Art is about giving

Art is about giving a gift that will change the other person. Do not expect anything in return. Because once you expect something in return, your intentions are changed. It is not anymore a gift, it is a service.

Living below your means

When you live below your means, you have a surplus of cash that will allow you to create more great art.

What if you fail at making art?

Create more art.

Paradox of the safety zone:

The more you hide, the riskier it is. The less commotion you cause, the more likely you are to fail, to be ignored, to expose yourself to failure.

Some anecdotes that I particularly liked:

Young Richard Branson was in Puerto Rico getting ready to fly to the British Virgin Islands. His flight, however, got canceled because they didn’t have enough passengers to warrant the flight. Instead of complaining, Branson thought of finding a solution. He walked across the airport to the charter desk and inquired about chartered flights to the British Virgin Islands. He then wrote in a blackboard, “Seats to Virgin Islands for $39.” Richard Branson got enough people to pay the cost of the chartered flight and made it to Virgin Islands on time. This was a precursor on what would be Richard Branson’s future business – Virgin Atlantic. (I found the original story from Virgin’s website).

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, offers $2,000 to their interns to quit their new jobs at Zappos. Hiseh does this because he wants to know if these people are there for the right reasons and not just for money.