What I Learned From Seth Godin
November 19, 2013
There once were two factions in any organization; management and the people who labored for them. Today there's a third, described in Seth Godin's book Linchpin. If you look really hard on the lower inside front dust cover, there I am standing in front of my office, sharing that space with a lot of people nominated as "linchpins" through a challenge from Godin to his fans as he ramped-up the book. I have yet to get a cup of Starbucks at a reduced price because of it, but I'm flattered someone thought of me in that light. Conversely, anyone in the consulting field (radio programming or otherwise) had better become a linchpin because if we're not, we can't function.
So many entities tolerate failure. When that happens, failure multiplies. Look at any 1-10 football team, or a radio group perennially last among clusters in their market. Months bleed into years into decades and no one seems to emerge as a linchpin; an agent of change along the trail of the underwhelmed.
Godin asks, "Can you become indispensable? Yes, you can." Others have done it before; survived the corporate school system, survived their first job, or endured a mother-in-law issuing orders like a chief master sergeant, while still accomplishing what it takes to become indispensable. Yet so many people work really hard at burying their natural-born instincts. A lousy school experience won't condemn your future, but they do stack the deck. Godin points out, "Great teachers are wonderful. They change lives. We need them. The problem is most schools don't like great teachers." Most schools bore their faculty, stamp them as one-size-fits-all, bureaucratize them, and ultimately cast them as "average."
If you came from that dusty gray abyss and are living it out in your professional role, stop it! If you want a job where it's fine to follow the script, don't complain if you stay in a position where following the rules is all you get for your efforts. Seth Godin spells it out in crystal clarity: "If you want a job where you get to do more than follow instructions, don't be surprised if you get asked to do things they never taught you in school. If you seek a position where you take intellectual risks all day long, don't be surprised if you get promoted."
The linchpin becomes indispensable and sees the world in wholly different colors and dimensions. "Will you still be loved?" asks Godin. Perhaps not by the same people who love you now, since changing the organizational ecosystem may bring pain for some who want to remain on flat ground. Godin's Old American Dream: You kept your head down, followed instructions, showed up on time, worked hard, and sucked it up. Godin's New American Dream: Be remarkable, be generous, create art (as defined by your specialty), make judgment calls when it matters, and connect people and ideas without fear of making someone uncomfortable.
Finally, whatever you do, don't study government. Three words can kill an organization: "not my job." As time moves with inexorable speed and your group's challenges become more fluid and demanding, "not my job," says Godin, keeps expanding exponentially. Just look inside the Beltway.
If you're a manager ask yourself, would my efforts be more successful if my employees were more subservient? Or, would you be more successful if your team was more spontaneous, more artistic, more motivated, aware, and passionate? Godin sagely reminds, "When you're not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, you'll get paid what you're worth." I'd only add, "And if not, someone else will recognize your value as a linchpin."
That is the choice. It's your choice.