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Linchpin: My Review

Mark Mzyk | January 31, 2010

In December of 2009, Seth Godin put out a call on his blog: donate 30 dollars or more to the Acumen fund and receive an advanced copy of his new book, Linchpin.

That was the deal that I signed up for and here’s the review.

Upon opening the book, the first thing I noticed was the loose page placed inside.  It was a typed letter to me, as an early reviewer, briefly explaining Linchpin and thanking me for any review I might write.  I didn’t expect this.  The only way it could have been better was if it had been personally addressed to me and actually signed by Seth.  Also if it had been handwritten, but given that over 2000 people got in on this deal, that’s probably asking a bit much.  Certainly the book as it’s found in stores won’t have this loose page, but it does highlight that Seth is willing to practice what he preaches.

The other thing I quickly noticed was that the inside of the book jacket contains a collage of pictures.  It’s face after face after face.  I vaguely remember reading on Seth’s blog his request for photos, but I wasn’t expecting to see it here.  How expensive is it to print all these photos on the inside of the book jacket, typically a place left completely blank?

Already, this book is different.  The difference also extends to the content.  I’ve read some of Seth’s previous books: The Purple Cow, and The Dip.  I enjoyed them, but Linchpin is a departure.  I think that previous books of Seth’s could be described as pithy.  They have a core message that is repeated in various ways, but after reading the book there isn’t much else to take away beyond the main message.

Linchpin is weightier.  More arguments are presented, more evidence given for why Seth sees the need for people to become linchpins and to make art.

That last sentence needs some definitions.

When Seth writes about a linchpin, his definition is of a person who is indispensable.  They are indispensable because if the business let them go, it would require a significant amount of time to find and/or train someone else to replace them.  This is because the linchpin went above and beyond their job: they make connections and get work flowing.  Being a linchpin is more than just having domain knowledge: it’s also being willing to do the hard work and getting it done.


Seth stresses that point.  Linchpins finish.  So who is a linchpin?  Someone who finishes.

What does a linchpin finish?  Art.  Seth points out repeatedly that when he says art he doesn’t mean the kind made with a paint brush and canvas, or clay and a spinning wheel, although his definition could include those things.  Art is anything that makes the world a better place.  It’s going above and beyond.  It’s the waiter who smiles and is friendly while serving you and it’s the office assistant who makes sure the people who need to be talking are. They make art and in their art they finish, they ship.

What keeps people from being linchpins, from finishing?  The resistance.  Our lizard brains, the fear we have of moving forward.  It’s the part of us that tells us we’ll be laughed at.  The part that doesn’t want us to look foolish.  The part that has us check Twitter for the one thousandth time in the past hour, despite the deadline we have tomorrow.  That’s the resistance and it’s what we’re fighting to finish.

Most of us fail.  That’s what makes linchpins so rare and so valuable.

The book starts out interestingly, as a history lesson.  Seth details how the world has been set up to lead us here, to a world where most everyone follows the system and linchpins are rare.  Then the book slowly morphs and becomes more like a typical Seth Godin book, with him communicating his message and then pounding it home with example after example and continually layering on the details.

My main criticism of the book would be the “foot note system” he introduces early on. Sections with titles in parentheses are supposed to be ones you can skip if you want.  The problem is, I couldn’t tell much difference between these sections and others.  They read the same and felt the same, not like an aside.  Seth introduces the foot note system idea but then doesn’t use it much at all.  If feels like an afterthought, a half formed idea.  The book is better served if you pretend the foot note system doesn’t exist and read everything anyway.  I suspect this is what most people will do.  If Seth wanted to somehow make the book shorter, he either needed to cut those sections he felt unimportant or provide an executive summary.  Most adults are adept at skimming if they don’t want to read something, so leave it up to them what they want to skip and don’t want to.

Is the book worth it?  I say yes.  It’s a more substantial book than any of the previous Seth Godin books I’ve read.  It felt like I was reading a book more in the David Allen vein than in the Seth Godin vein, although it is still clearly a Seth Godin book in style.  However, if you’re expecting instructions on how to become a linchpin, a step by step list, you won’t find it.  It isn’t there and Seth explicitly says he can’t give it to you, because it’s different for everyone.

It’s clear from the references through out the book and the included bibliography that Seth Godin is very well read across a variety of subjects.  It demonstrates how cross pollination of ideas can lead to new and better ones.  Seth writes in the book that to have good ideas you first have to have lots of bad ones, but he doesn’t mention the value in exposing yourself to many ideas and how that helps to generate new ones.

A puzzle of the book is that on the final page, the words The Resistance are printed, although it has a curious misspelling that I haven’t reproduced here.  When I first read it, I wondered why Seth chose to put it there, with the misspelling.  Now that the book is officially released, I know why: it is a key you can use to unlock bonus material Seth has provided online.  I should be happy for the bonus, but I’m not.  I liked it better when the final page was an enigma.  What did Seth mean and what did he want me to think?  Was it a reminder to never forget what keeps me from getting ahead?  Something else?  Now I know there wasn’t a deeper meaning, which is disappointing.

I recommend Linchpin.  It’s worth the price, especially if you like Seth Godin.  If you don’t, it might still be worth it, given how different this book is from his others.

If you don’t want to read it, here’s the book in a sentence for you:

Be smart, work hard, do more than is required of you.

Come to think of it, this could describe most of Seth’s writing.