March 28, 2010

Book Review: Linchpin

I started reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin about the same time as I began reading Rework, which I reviewed in a previous post. So, my reaction to each book will naturally be flavored by my experience with the other.

While Rework is a short, quick read, Linchpin is much more substantial, although still an acceptable 230 pages or so. While Rework shows us how a business can be run effectively with unconventional means, Linchpin tells us how to be successful and unconventional individuals.

The best summary of the message of Linchpin can be found on page 174:
You must become indispensable to thrive in the new economy. The best ways to do that are to be remarkable, insightful, an artist, someone bearing gifts. To lead. The worst way is to conform and become a cog in a giant system.
This is, at some level, rather obvious. Seth spends a lot of time explaining the gift economy and the lizard brain and what he means by making art. And all of this is pretty good stuff. But what it all comes down to is this: If you want to succeed as an employee, as an employer, as a person, you need to stand out from the crowd by exceeding expectations and giving freely your best work, even if less will do. Hardly earth-shattering stuff, but worth repeating.

As Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist says:
He is right. Of course. Seth is always right. The problem with all of Seth’s books is that he sets the bar so high with every one of them.
Another problem with his books is that he rarely tells you how he thinks you can achieve those very high bars.  Just that you need to meet them. Somehow. This is a problem that Seth himself mentions in Linchpin.
One of my favorite negative reviews of my book Tribes:
"Godin doesn't explain how to go about doing the actual hard groundwork of leadership. He makes it sound like anyone with an idea and  a cell phone can rally thousands of people to their cause in minutes if they just realize it's not hard"
My response: Telling people leadership is important is one thing. Showing them step by step precisely how to be a leader is impossible.
Linchpin works the same way. He tells you that being indispensable is important, and why, but stops short of telling you how. That would be impossible. Which makes Linchpin much more of a "get off your butt and do something" inspirational-style book than a "here's a bunch of things you can do to make your life better" self-help book.