Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Book Review: Linchpin

I'm a fan of Seth Godin's material so had preordered Linchpin and started it immediately. I've read through it twice and recommend the book.

He's arguing for people to become indispensable - like a linchpin that holds a wheel to an axle. Let go of an ordinary life and decide to become extraordinary. Cogs in a machine see a job; linchpins see a platform to engage the world in amazing ways. Linchpins overcome "fake" fears - being laughed at, making mistakes, not fitting in. Instead of looking for inspiration, we need to figure out what's holding us back. No one gets plumber's block, so why does writer's block exist?We need to do the difficult work of bringing our very best self to each interaction.

Our job is to make change - connecting with people in a way that leaves them better and more able to get where they want to go. (Since I'm a natural encourager and teacher, this resonates strongly with me.) In the kinds of changing environment we live in now, we want people who can steer, innovate, provoke, lead, connect and make things happen. Our key work becomes deciding to work this way.

This message continues a story arc from previous Seth Godin books. In Purple Cow, the message was "Everyone is a marketer now." In All Marketers are Liars, the message was "Everyone is a storyteller now." In Tribes the message was "Everyone's a Leader now."

And the message of Linchpin is "Everyone is an artist now." Artist, taken broadly.

There are lots of reviews and promotional materials out for Linchpin. (Godin didn't want to do a book tour so he did a media tour instead; he did guest blog posts, answered questions from bloggers, and did phone interviews in the weeks prior to the release. Very slick.) I've attached the ChangeThis pdf that he produced.

I recommend this book, in part, because it will get a wide audience (though I'd be curious to see the ratio of purchasers and actual readers). But I do have some reservations.

  • The book length could have been trimmed. This may be Godin's longest book. Given the complexity of some of the ideas (like strategies for overcoming what Godin calls Lizard Brain), I suspect he felt he needed to say more. It's not that he says bad things, but usually he writes more sparingly -- and then fosters a lot of follow-up via his blog. With this book it feels more like he wanted to put *everything* in it.

  • At times the writing lacks flow. It feels somewhat like a sequential series of blog posts and tweets. (That does make it easier to dip into and get some information quickly.)
  • Some readers are going to want a 'what-do-I-do-next?' plan and will likely feel frustrated at the end when it's not there. That desire misses Godin's key thesis altogether, but the book does feel abrupt in its ending.
This may be Godin's most personal book. He shares stories from his own experiences. The chapters on Resistance and giving reflect his journey into Buddhist study.
Godin does a good job describing the value of genuine gifts to create relationships and connections. He goes too far in describing a gift-based economy. I think Godin is unduly hard on business systems, and rules out the possibility that systems management is itself an art. His ideals of a gift-based economy work best in a highly educated, affluent culture -- which is a product of the very things he despises about capitalism and business efficiency models. "There is no free lunch" is still true. In economic terms, everything free is subsidized in some way by other transactions. (Godin cites the potlatch giving of the American Indians in the Pacific Northwest as an example. But those were relatively small populations, they lived in a mild climate with abundant food sources, and used slavery.) Godin is an elitist dreamer who operates in a worldview where there is no sin and everyone aspires to higher order fulfillment. Actually, what he describes is in part how I imagine the economy of heaven might operate. Even there, "free" is supported by the Great Giver.

The description of the "lizard brain" is helpful. I think many people will recognize how to move past their fears once they understand these things. Godin's prescriptions aren't going to work consistently, however. When I was a practicing Taoist I loved the ideals, but there was no power to help me achieve their beauty.

For me personally perhaps the best chapter was on shipping. The idea here is that we're obligated to actually deliver our art, not just think on it some more, doodle it a bit better, hide it, but actually ship it. There were some practical ideas here about setting a ship date and then getting it done.

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