‘A linchpin is an unassuming piece of hardware, something you can buy for sixty-nine cents at the local hardware store. It’s not glamorous, but it’s essential. It holds the wheel onto the wagon…Every successful organisation has at least one linchpin…’
‘Linchpin‘ is by well-known entrepreneur and change advocate Seth Godin. In it, he gives advice about how to make yourself indispensable in your workplace and transform your career. There is no way I can remotely do justice to all the ideas in this thought-provoking tome so I have picked just a few ideas.
The premise of the book is somewhat similar to that of Dan Pink’s ‘A Whole New Mind‘, an earlier book in my reading series, in that Godin discusses in the opening chapter how the world of work has changed and that to excel in a career or even retain a job we need to stop following the rules to the letter and think differently. In both the veterinary and education spheres I’m involved in it’s definitely true, given the increased numbers of veterinary graduates competing for jobs and clinics competing for clients, and the easy access to educational materials through MOOCs and other open educational resources. We need linchpins – ‘people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection or a new way of getting things done.’ (p. 8) Godin then adds ‘That would be you’.
According to Godin, linchpins are not those born with exceptional talent, but instead those who have ‘decided that a new kind if work is important and trained themselves to do it. (p. 28) ‘ All jobs, regardless of their nature, are a platform for demonstrating that you are indispensable. To apply some of Godin’s words to my twin interests, ‘every interaction you have with a … customer (in a veterinary practice) is an opportunity to practice the art of interaction’ which requires emotional labour. In an educational setting, ‘Every product you make represents an opportunity to design something that has never been designed (ie a learning experience), to create an interaction unlike any other.’ When we all inevitably think “but my work is all routine boring stuff”, Godin’s reply is that ‘the challenge is to replace those tasks with rule-breaking activities instead’ by finding your own path rather than the one you are directed onto. He does later give the caveat that you shouldn’t set out to do something way outside the box because you’ll never achieve it. Rather you should (and I absolutely love this concept) ‘think along the edges of the box because that’s where…you can make an impact’, as the audience and means of production are available.
One idea that really surprised me it is Godin sees gifts as an important part of being a linchpin. A gift may be going beyond the call of duty to organise for a patient to have an appointment with an appropriate referral veterinarian. The recipient, in this case the owner, understands that there is no ulterior motive and the act creates a bond between the clinic staff and the owner, which may persist well beyond the current moment of need. This is the act of a linchpin.
A long chapter is devoted to the concept of ‘the resistance’ – the reason why many of us shy away from taking the risk of being noticed or possibly criticised. We’ve all experienced that moment of knowing we should do something but been too afraid to follow through. I’m ashamed when I think of some of the situations when fear stopped me acting in the way I should have. Godin refers to it as the ‘lizard brain’, a relatively primitive part of the human brain which controls some deeply instinctual feelings and behaviours such as fear and revenge. He has many examples of when the resistance stops you from doing something and how you might manage it. One of them is to set yourself tight deadlines and stick to them, regardless of whether the work is as perfect as you would like. While you are sprinting to get the work done, you won’t have time to feel the fear.
My takeaways from the book are that I can become a linchpin if I choose to, that it will take courage to overcome the fear of doing things differently (this is the part I will find the hardest) and that I will have to exert emotional labour to go the extra mile and become indispensable. I’m going to choose that path and see where it takes me. What about you? Or are you already a linchpin?