Are You Indispensable?
A Discussion of Seth Godin’s Linchpin
Do you feel like you go to work each day, week in and week out, do everything your boss asks of you, work hard, but never get ahead? Do you feel like other people around you get promoted while you toil away doing the same things, in the same position you were in five years ago? In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about what it takes to become a linchpin, to become indispensable to those around you. As he writes, “anyone can be trained to show up, what does it mean to make a difference?”
linchpin /ˈlɪn(t)ʃpɪn/ noun : a person or thing vital to an enterprise or organization
The World is Changing / / There are no longer any great jobs where you just show up and someone tells you what to do; the rules have changed, talent, creativity, and art are rewarded more than obedience. Employers are looking for people who think differently, who see the world in a different way, who have exceptional insight, and who give of themselves generously. The competitive advantage in today’s market goes to people who are more connected, who work with greater passion and energy, who make useful decisions, and who are flexible and resilient. The great news for you is that all of these things are choices, not innate talents. Anyone can be a linchpin, anyone can make a difference, the question is, do you want to?
The Lizard Brain / / None of us sets out to be average or mediocre, as children we all have big dreams and visions for our lives. Then sometime during our education or early in our careers, indoctrination kicks in and we start looking for a place to hide. We try to fit in, keep our heads down, and toe the line. Seth Godin attributes this to what he has termed, “The Lizard Brain.” The lizard brain is all about survival, it pushes you to stay in your safety zone, it wants to eliminate any discomfort and will do everything it can to reduce the risk of failure. The lizard brain is the part of your brain that tells you that you’re not good enough, that your ideas won’t make it, that you can’t make a difference. It’s the part of your brain that tells you to check Facebook again while at work, that there’s no point in continuing to learn, and it’s the part of you that is content with producing mediocre work. If you listen to your lizard brain you will survive, but you will never be able to stand out, inspire positive change, or change the status quo.
This might sound overwhelming, but there was something about identifying this lizard brain that I found empowering. To be able to identify and name the source of so many of my unhelpful thoughts is a massive first step in changing how I think. As I try to be intentional in my decision making, it is very helpful to identify the source of my thoughts. What is the purpose and reasoning behind the different options I see? What framing has my lizard brain put into place? How can I reframe the situation to open up more possibility? Much of my lizard-brain-driven thinking has become such instinct for me, but I am tired of being content with the status quo. I need to create new habits, to be intentional to reassess and rethink my decisions until eventually giving into the lizard brain’s fear is not the instinctive response.
Create Art / / We are all artists. I actually found this to be quite an unsettling statement, I definitely can’t paint and despite the popularity of adult coloring books these days, I don’t think most people would embrace this statement either. In Linchpin, Seth Godin defines art in a much broader way and summarizes it this way:
“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator. . . Art is about intent and communication, not substances. An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.”
This is how we become indispensable. We create art and we present it for the world to see. Whether we are working with numbers, customers, or car engines, we can be artists. Art is all about intent, it’s about choosing to expose our passions, to invest emotional labour into something others will see, and to display our creativity. To further clarify, let’s look at a customer service representative. We’ve all interacted with customer service representatives who dot the i’s, cross the t’s and professionally help us resolve our complaint. However, some of us may have interacted with those few who are creating art while doing the same work. This customer service representative is the one who goes above and beyond, who takes the initiative and creates solutions, who seems to genuinely care about their company and about us as a customer, and whose personal investment allows us a glimpse of their personality. These are the encounters that impact us, that make us likely to come back, to remember that employee, and tell our friends. This second customer service representative has created art. They have invested emotional labour into what they do, they make it personal, and their passion impacts you.
When we can figure out how to do this in our own lives, we will be well on our way to quieting the lizard brain. Don’t get me wrong, the lizard brain will not go quietly, it will try to influence you the whole way. For example, I’ve had to fight the urge to check Instagram, go make tea, and turn the tv on “in the background” multiple times while writing this review (full disclosure: I wasn’t successful every time). My lizard brain also keep reminding me that I have nothing to contribute, that people will probably criticize my writing, and that this post is not good enough to share online. The only way for me to quiet these thoughts is to ship it, to write it and post it. One of my favorite quotes in Linchpin is when Seth Godin writes:
By posting this review I have won against the lizard brain today, and I will wake up tomorrow to do it again. I may not win every time, but by recognizing the source of these thoughts, by understanding their purpose, I can establish new thinking patterns, create new habits, and make different decisions every day so I can thrive in all areas of my life.
Your Turn / / At the start, I asked if you feel like you can never get ahead. If you answered yes to this, I now add a new question:
Are you creating art? Are you creating, investing, and finding joy? If not, what has to change for this to be true — does something external need to change, or do you need to make some internal decisions?
Where have you and your lizard brain chosen to hide, where have you withheld your passion, and where are you not fully invested?
Find one specific area in your life and this week, start creating art. Invest emotional capital, give it your best, create something new and you will become indispensable.