Book Club #2: Linchpin

linchpin

Seth Godin is an author, entrepreneur, speaker and legend. His books make a big dent in the world. His blog, at over 1 million subscribers, even more. He’s authored 17 books, including the bestsellers Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable which sold over 150k copies. Seth Godin teaches readers how to make remarkable products and spread powerful ideas. He wants to guide you into making a huge difference in whatever field you choose. He’s all about learning and never stopping. Recently a reporter from Forbes asked him to name the one book every struggling entrepreneur should read. His answer?

“If you’re a struggling entrepreneur, how dare you say you can only read one book to fix your business! You should read a book a day from the library, they’re free, until you’re not a struggling entrepreneur anymore.”

The key point of this book is: linchpins are the indispensable employees of a company. They are artists. They take a stand, have courage, they take their work personally, they are willing to fight for what’s right and don’t compromise. Ironically, in many businesses, those guys get fired. But in a great business, making great work, often those guys become so valuable that the company knows that firing them is a bad idea (e.g. firing Steve Jobs from Apple). As Godin puts it, “your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it.” That is a linchpin. Just as an artist doesn’t ask you what colors you should use for his painting, the linchpin doesn’t require hand-holding and step-by-step instructions from his bosses.

Historically we look at business this way: there are managers and executives on one side… and their are laborers on the other. But that distinction can be disrupted. and their are , they feel you are either management or labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.

“Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must.”

Godin clarifies what makes someone an artist: “It’s about intent and communication, not substances.” In that regard, anyone in any field, in an organization can be an artist. They have energy, they’re always moving and they lean in to their efforts with creativity. We all like to laugh at the bullshit marketing ploy of telling Subway employees that they are “sandwich artists.” But honestly, if you make a sandwich, BE an artist about that sandwich. Make it something special, put yourself into it, and view it as work, but not a job. If you make yourself that person, chances are, you aren’t going to work at a Subway restaurant. But you might be a guy who works with numbers or interacts with customers. If you do it with passion, you will make yourself indispensable.

“Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. They may not be famous but they’re indispensable. And in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom.”

Godin tells us “Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.” His point is, don’t try to beat others on price alone. You will lose. The people who make products infused with art, such as a Hermes scarf, a Porsche sports car or any Apple product, can’t be knocked off. The people who makes these products are artists. If you make a basic knit scarf, car or computer with no “art” to it, you are now making a commodity. Someone will make it cheaper, the market will buy THERE version, and you’ll be screwed. You are dispensable.

HOW I USE THIS INFORMATION:

The business of making TV, not surprisingly, often a thing that tries to squash art and the artist. An accountant who treats his work as an artist, might be welcomed and revered. But there are TV executives who smell an artist a mile away and are heavily prepared to squash that person. Many TV networks are up to their necks in “artists.” So being a passionate artist IS crucial, but you have to be very political and know how to smooth ruffled feathers. I listen to people. I pay close attention to the people who sign my paychecks. You have to. But you can never let that turn you into an automaton, following every rule and request robotically. Network execs and production exec keep their jobs because they make their boss happy. So I have to make them feel comfortable that we will make their boss happy. It’s not always a direct road to success. So yes, they know I’m passionate. This isn’t just a job, EVER. And I do what I can to keep my energy up because I know energy is contagious. I don’t over-work people. I know people need rest and down-time, but I let them know that we’re all going to have to behave like artists. A rough-cut of a show has to have some magic and polish. We have to surprise ourselves with the quality, and surprise those we deliver to. If we get criticism or negative notes, we have to embrace it, analyze if it can make the product better, and carefully implement changes artistically. Godin would tell me, you don’t ever STOP being an artist. When you hand in a cut, and you get notes, re-cutting is THE time to get artistic! You don’t turn into a cog at that point, you continue to be indispensable by processing notes with such care and passion that they project goes to a higher level. Even when the notes are bad. So I think of Godin often… when I am at the point that I’m being asked to just deliver something formulaic, I find a way to politely resist that, to make something just a little bit more interesting, and to get everyone on board of that endeavor, above me and below me. Ultimately I know – and they know – that nobody wins when you make a show that’s a commodity.