Linchpin – Are You Indispensable?

Rating: 4.5/5

Seth’s main argument in Linchpin is that the successful worker is no longer just someone that shows up on time and follows the right directions. In fact, Seth makes it clear that there aren’t any great jobs that have a clear set of “Do this; Do that” instructions. Instead, the successful worker is a linchpin, a vital component of the organization that creates real value. Becoming a linchpin is difficult (if there were specific steps to follow, it wouldn’t be valuable). In Linchpin, Seth articulates what separates a linchpin apart from traditional workers in an organization and outlines some key linchpin traits to help you become a more valuable contributor. It’s well worth the read!

Reading Notes from Linchpin

There are no longer any jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.

Seth mentions a concept called ABC or attendance-based compensation.

There are fewer and fewer good jobs where you can get paid merely for showing up. Instead, successful organizations are paying for people who make a difference and are shedding everyone else…people who make a difference by doing work that’s really hard to find from someone else.

If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for? I think it’s unlikely that they’d seek out someone willing to work more hours, or someone with more industry experience, or someone who could score better on standardized tests. No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. All of these are attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you.

In a chapter on becoming a Linchpin, Seth describes the law of linchpin leverage:

The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating value. In other words, most of the time, you’re not being brilliant. Most of the time, you do stuff that ordinary people could do.

For “the best reason to be an expert in your field”:

Expertise gives you enough insight to reinvent what everyone else assumes is the truth.

In the same chapter on becoming a Linchpin, Seth argues that becoming a Linchpin based around a single attribute that can be easily measured is exceptionally difficult. He uses Don Bradman, an Australian cricket player that has t he highest batter average of all-time in cricket by the largest margin across all sports. Basically, he’s virtually impossible to surpass:

When you start down the path of beating the competition based on something that can be easily measured, you’re betting that with practice and determination, you can do better than Len Hutton or Jack Hobbs did at cricket. Not a little better, but Don Bradman better. And you can’t.

On the topic of “a day’s work for a day’s pay”:

I hate this approach to life. It cheapens us…for two reasons 1) Are you really willing to sell yourself out so cheap?…2) Is that it? Is the transaction over? If we’re event at the end of the day as the formula says, then you owe me nothing and I owe you nothing in return…there is no bond…The alternative is to treasure what it means to do in a day’s work.

If you don’t pinpoint your audience, you end up making your art for the loudest, crankiest critics. And that’s a waste. Instead, focus on the audience that you choose and listen to them, to the exclusion of all others. Go ahead and make this sort of customer happy, and the other guys can go pound sand.

Seth is a huge believer in the benefits of shipping (he’s blogged daily for many years). He identifies shipping as a trait that makes you indispensable.

Shipping something out the door, doing it regularly, without hassle, emergency, or fear — this is a rare skill, something that makes you indispensable.

Seth repeatedly talks about the “lizard brain,” which is a reference to the triune brain theory. The theory hypothesizes that every human brain has three basic parts, one of which is the lizard brain, a piece of the brain that tells us to slow down, compromise, and be careful. Here are some symptoms of the lizard brain at work that I found particularly illuminating:

Make excuses involving lack of money. Don’t ship on time. Demonstrate a lack of desire to obtain new skills.

The most interesting one to me:

Spend hours on obsessive data collection. (Jeffrey Eisenberg reports that “79 percent of businesses obsessively capture Internet traffic data, yet only 30 percent of them changed their sites as a result of analysis.”

This distinction of fear and anxiety was perfect:

The difference between fear and anxiety: Anxiety is a diffuse and focuses on possibilities in an unknown future, not a real and present thread. The resistance [Seth’s term to describe the resistance to do great work] is 100 percent about anxiety, because humans have developed other emotions and warnings to help us avoid actual threats. Anxiety, ont he other hand, is an internal construct with no relation to the outside world.

Seth proposes we give more without asking for anything in return. Linchpins create and give art away. It’s one way they create value. Three reasons make gifts more valuable:

  1. “First, the Internet (and digital goods) has lowered the marginal cost of generosity.”
  2. “Second, it’s impossible to be an artist without understanding the power that giving a gift creates.”
  3. “And third, the dynamic of gift giving can diminish cries of the resistance and permit you to do your best work.”

Many readers might provide the excuse that “my boss won’t allow me to do Linchpin-esque work and step outside of my normal duties.” Seth’s response:

It’s entirely true that your boss won’t take the fall for you, won’t stand up for you when you royally screw up without notice, and won’t guarantee your success regardless of your behavior. If that’s your definition of “my boss won’t let me,” then we have a semantic problem, not a management problem. A cornerstone of your job is selling your boss on your plans, behaving in a way that gives her cover withher boss, being unpredictable in predictable ways…You don’t start with the confidence of the company; you earn it.