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Are You Dispensable?

By: Seth Godin

Reviewed By: Ramona Sukhraj

Are you irreplaceable? 

That's the question Seth Godin prompts in his book Linchpin: Are You Dispensable?

In this critically acclaimed read, Godin tells you how to be just that. He describes an approach to making yourself more productive, more valuable to an organization, and overall, more difficult to replace.

What he describes in his book is a strategy to make art of your work, in a way that makes you truly indispensable to your team.

Simply showing up to work on time and doing your job isn’t enough to succeed in the modern business world. It might put you ahead of the average, lazy employee, but you will always be seen as a worker bee.

To accelerate your career, you have to be irreplaceable. 

What is a Linchpin?

Linchpins operate on a totally different level than workers or average employees. They have little direct competition and they know it.

They are often recruited for better jobs rather than having to apply through traditional channels like their peers. 

They receive higher compensation because by their very nature give more than they take, so a “fair salary” for linchpins is nearly impossible to define. 

Linchpins also expose themselves to more risk and open themselves up to more vulnerability.

According to Godin and most of history's brave hearted, however, the rewards far outweigh the costs. 

What Sets a Linchpin Apart From The Average Worker?

To briefly illustrate how a linchpin compares to the average worker, let’s take a look at seven common descriptions of each, as observed by Godin. 

An Average Worker: 

  1. Keeps their head down
  2. Follows instructions
  3. Shows up on time
  4. Works hard
  5. Sucks it up
  6. Is easily replaceable
  7. Is a commodity 

A Linchpin: 

  1. Creates own tribe
  2. Gives generously
  3. Creates great art
  4. Is remarkable
  5. Makes judgment calls
  6. Is unique
  7. Is indispensable

The distinction between the two is clear, but Godin stresses the point that linchpins are NOT born with any special gifts -- they simply decide what they want to do and figure out how to get it done. 

Linchpin = charm + talent + perseverance

Let's take a look at a few of these characteristics more in-depth. 

Linchpins Make Great Art 

When we think of art, we typically think of painting, sculpting, singing, and dancing, however, art isn’t limited to these disciplines.

According to Godin, “Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.”

Note: Great marketing checks all of these boxes. 

Linchpins transform generic work into art through emotional labor.

Emotional labor, Godin explains, "is the task of doing important work, even when it isn't easy. Emotional labor is difficult and easy to avoid. But when we avoid it, we don't do much worth seeking out.”

It's here that they gain their biggest competitive advantage.

Linchpins Tame Resistance

Godin borrows the concept of resistance from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, where resistance is the part of your mind that leads you to procrastinate, make excuses, and do anything else that prevents you from sharing your genius (your art, talent, gifts, etc) with the world.

Everyone battles with resistance but linchpins are different because they actually defeat it.

Rather than worrying about their art being perfect, what others will think of them, whether they have enough data, or other distractions, the linchpin persists through doubt and fear to get their art delivered.

Linchpins Nurture Tribes

A linchpin builds their tribe in two ways:

  1. They genuinely seek connections with others in an authentic way
  2. They share their art with others

Linchpins grow their tribe through influence, as opposed to collecting as many contacts as possible. The result is a loyal, dedicated network that grows on its own.

The result is a loyal, dedicated network that grows on its own -- no iron fist or Kool-aid needed.  

Linchpins are Generous Gift Givers

According to Godin, “The people you work with won’t change if you don’t believe. The communication and leadership starts with the gift you give, not with the manipulation you attempt.”

A linchpin thrives by giving away most of their art as gifts, which have more value than effort and often leads to commercial opportunities. 

This idea also reigns true for brands using inbound marketing. If you want to be "linchpin" in your buyer persona's mind, you should share your expertise generously through quality content

Linchpins Are Effective Shippers

There are plenty of talented, creative workers out there, but linchpins are unique because they always ship.

When a linchpin sets a deadline for a project, they deliver on time, every time. No matter what.

Godin says, “we don’t have a talent shortage, we have a shipping shortage.”

When it comes time to ship, resistance wants us to question whether the project is perfect or ready for the public to see. Linchpins do the best they can all the way up to the deadline, then they ship and move on. 

How Do You Become a Linchpin?

As Godin argues, no one is born a linchpin, but there’s also no single, direct path to becoming one.

He says you have to first actively decide to become a linchpin before taking the necessary steps to do so -- and it won't be easy. 

You will struggle, fail at times, and probably rub some people the wrong way at first. Your art likely won’t have the impact you desire, but Godin says the best response is to keep creating more art and sharing more gifts. 

“linchpins make their own path.” - Seth Godin

1. Apply to Jobs Differently

“You are not your resume. You are your work,” declares Godin.

Linchpins don’t send their resume to potential employers. Instead, they do the following:

  • Provides a recommendation letter that proves they are a linchpin
  • Shows case studies that prove the effectiveness of their art
  • Writes a blog that displays the gifts they give
  • Builds a reputation that precedes them, which provides proof of their tribe 

2. Solve the Coordination Problems of Your Team

More people lead to more conflict and indecision, which delays shipment. With this in mind, limit the number of people collaborating on any given project and try to reduce this number as the project progresses.

One linchpin (yourself or another) should be directly responsible for all decisions made in the direction of the project.

This is where the emotional labor comes into play for the overall success of the project.

3. Consistently Ship On Time

Godin provides four tips to ensure you ship on time, every time:

  1. Gather as much input as possible in the early stages when making significant changes is easier. As the project progresses towards the shipping date, limit the amount of input to prevent indecision in the final crucial stages.
  2. Break each project into groups of smaller tasks. Each day, create a list of three tasks to be completed that bring the project closer to shipping.
  3. Hold yourself accountable to ship on time. Put your name on the final deadline and never make group decisions to change it.
  4. Clearly define what “success” means to you. Are you trying to please the critics or are you trying to create art? Decide what your parameters are for success and worry about those alone.

4. Give the Correct “Thank You” For Gifts

Simply saying “thanks” and moving on is how average people show gratitude for a gift.

Godin's linchpins take it a step further. 

Say “thank you” and then share with the person what you did with their gift.

For example, if they purchased a book for you then you would thank them and tell them what you’ve applied from the book and how it’s impacted you.

This builds a genuine connection and it shows that you’re deserving of more gifts.

Key Takeaway

Linchpins go above and beyond expectations. They see the bar and consistently strive to raise it. To be indispensable to your team, and in your organization, in general, you have to be capable what of what others are not.

If you see a void not being filled or an opportunity to give just a little bit more, seize it. That effort could be the difference between making an impact and just flying under the radar.