“Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”

Godin, Seth.  Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.  Westminster: Do You Zoom, Inc., 2010.  Print.

Borrowed from the Waterloo Public Library.

Read between December 10-12, 2012.

Three out of five stars.

Linchpin

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin seeks to identify a new team in the organizational landscape, one that is neither labor nor management, but rather a new type of workers which Godin refers to as “linchpins”.  This type of person is one who sees things differently than others; they have exceptional insight, are able to view the world through an unbiased lens (known as pranja), are productive, generous, creative, good at making connections with others, and are selfless.

In the first third of the book, Godin replays the evolution of work from humans’ origins as hunters to farmers and eventually factory workers.  Organizations, in an attempt to lower monetary, time, and effort costs created a system where workers would perform the same duties day in and day out in order to efficiently create the final end product, whether it is a car, a hamburger, a website, and etcetera. People working in this type of environment developed a “produce, conform, consume” mentality, which in turn fed the factory-model of organizations and furthered the demand for more cogs to spin the wheels.  Enter the linchpins who, unlike the passive, obedient, replaceable “cog” laborers of the factory-mentality economy, are indispensable artists, entrepreneurs, inventors and leaders.

The author’s analysis of the shift from the factory-era worker to this new linchpin mindset was fairly straightforward.  He explained how people (through the factory-model) are taught to be replaceable, to consume heavily, and to fit in.  Repeated attempts at keeping up with the Joneses created a network effect of consumerism: people wanted things immediately, cheaply, and easily.  However, as economic shifts occur it has become easier to outsource work overseas, create machines that can perform work tasks, or consolidate several positions into one or two.  The author argues that organizations are now left with an abundance of cogs: replaceable workers who are easily outsourced, consolidated, or eliminated.  Godin’s answer is to transform into linchpins by continually seeking out new problems to solve, developing a good sense of judgment and depth of knowledge, treating each interaction with customers, clients, coworkers and supervisors as a learning experience and by exerting emotional labor.

On page 101, Godin begins his chapter called “The Resistance”, where he outlines reasons why people are hesitant to transform from cogs to linchpins.  To me, this is where I began to lose interest.  Godin starts off strong with a quote from Steve Jobs, “Real artists ship”, and explains the factors that inhibit shipping, (which refers to publishing, selling, presenting, sending, etc.).  One of these forces Godin calls “thrashing”, which refers to the editing, tweaking, changing, and deleting that occurs before, and often delays, shipping. The next is coordination, which can postpone shipment when there are too many people involved. Following this initial forthright segment, the next 50 pages read as a disjointed, schizophrenic rambling about “lizard brains” (a person’s fight-or-flight response), fear, procrastination, hesitation, second-guessing and rationalization that all hinder a person’s conversion from cog to linchpin.  Godin could have easily edited this section down to far fewer pages and made the same point: in order to ship you have to stop thrashing and start doing.  He eventually offers some concrete advice on how to do this, (1. Write down the due date, 2. Keep track of each idea, notion, thought, plan, sketch, etc. on paper, 3. Collect the cards of ideas and put them in a database, 4. Create a description for the project/website/presentation/ paper etc., 5. Take the blueprint to your supervisor or boss), but the steps almost get lost in the mix of everything else.

Following “The Resistance” are chapters on gifting (a process necessary of linchpins), creating your own maps, choosing to become a linchpin, and what to do when being a linchpin isn’t working.  Only one chapter, “The Seven Abilities of the Linchpin” provides readers with any sort of concrete, how-to advice.  While other readers might want clearer guidelines and straightforward instructions, I don’t think it was the author’s intent to provide them.  Rather, in linchpin-esque fashion, I think Godin wants readers to create their own map and come to their own conclusions on how to stop being a cog and start being a linchpin.

I chose to read and review this book after coming across it on GoodReads.com’s “Best Career Books for Young Professionals” list (and had to read and review a business book for my Organizational Management class).  Linchpin had overall good ratings on GoodReads (3.96 average out of 5) and was ranked number four on the list, and after skimming the reviews I thought it would be an interesting read (other readers called it “riveting”, “provocative”, “thought-provoking”, “stimulating”, etc.).  While there were certainly portions of this book I would describe using those adjectives, overall I think the book suffered from being too long, too fragmented, and too repetitive.  I think it would have made a wonderful chapter in another book, an essay, or a series of blog posts, but I often felt as though I was rereading segments, or the author was rehashing (and more than once contradicting) past portions.  Overall, I felt that the content was innovative, intriguing, and interesting, but the delivery was lacking.

Despite some of the issues I had with this book, I would still be interested in reading a few of Seth Godin’s other titles, notably The Dip, Tribes, and Purple Cow, all of which are mentioned briefly in Linchpin.  Although I am not certain, I felt that there were ideas in Linchpin that were not fully explained because they had been touched on in Godin’s previous books.  I would recommend this book to someone who is either familiar with Godin’s other works, or who is looking for something they will be able to put it down and come back to over a long period of time, rather than read straight through in a few sittings.  I felt that this book contained some great ideas, but that they just weren’t cohesive enough.

“Winter of the World”

Follett, Kenneth, narrated by John Lee.  Winter of the World: The Century Trilogy, Book Two.  Westminster: Penguin Group USA, 2012.  Audio Book.

Borrowed from the Waterloo Public Library.

Listened to between September 20 and November 28, 2012.

Four and a half out of five stars.Winter of the World

Winter of the World is the second book in Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy*.  The first, Fall of Giants, followed five families across Europe, Asia, and North America throughout the Russian Revolution and the First World War.   Follett continues these stories vicariously through the children of Giants’ characters taking readers on an intricately plotted ride through the world-wide economic, political, and social turmoil of the 1930’s and 40’s.  Readers will get to know Carla von Ulrich as she struggles to stand up for what is right, in spite of the dire consequences to defying the Nazis; Lloyd Williams the son of a housemaid-turned-Labor Party Parliament member, who travels to Spain to fight Fascism and witnesses the horrors of civil war;  Daisy Peshkov as she climbs the social ladder from Buffalo, New York to London meanwhile her half-brother Greg works to develop a nuclear bomb for the United States and their cousin Volodya spies for Russia, vehemently defending (but eventually questioning) communism; Chuck and Woody Dewar, sons of an American senator who travel vastly different roads to war; and a large supporting cast of complex characters with varying degrees of likability, but all written with such candor and grit as Follett is known for.  Though Winter of the World is packed with action, the characters are developed over time and the overlapping plot lines are slowly unveiled, spanning the course of sixteen years.  There is an equal amount of description and dialogue, both of which are engagingly and richly written.  The tone of the book changes from bleak, melancholy, and sobering as it deals with the realities and hardships of war, to moving, impassioned, and dramatic as the multitude of characters fall in and out of friendship and love.  The book is heavy (both figuratively and literally), and not for the faint of heart as sex and violence are detailed with absolute frankness.  Fans of historical fiction, particularly that dealing with World War Two from different countries’ perspectives, will enjoy Winter of the World, as will those who enjoy a large assembly of multifaceted characters and deeply interwoven plot lines.

John Lee, (who also narrates Follett’s other historical fictions Fall of Giants: Book One of The Century Trilogy, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), effortlessly conveys the emotional developments of the novel’s numerous characters with clarity of tone and pitch.  In addition, Lee also captures perfectly the various dialects and accents (Russian, German, Welsh, English, Spanish, French, and more), as well as both male and female characters, throughout the book’s 31.5 unabridged hours of listening time.

Having listened to quite a few audio books, I have developed more than a few personal preferences when it comes to this particular format.  That being said, a few criticisms come to mind with this production of Winter of the World.  For one, there were relatively few tracks per disc, about twelve, which made each individual track around six and a half minutes long (which, from what I can tell, is fairly standard for audio books).  However, I listened to this book while driving, and was therefore not always able to devote my full attention to the story, and occasionally would not miss a minute or so.  This meant I would have to go back to the beginning of the track, or hope I hadn’t skipped anything too important and carry on.  Secondly, there was not any indication on the final track that I had reached the end of a CD, so I would sometimes inadvertently start to re-listen to the first track. These didn’t stop me from listening to the book in its entirety, but are just a few idiosyncrasies I thought I would address, in case Penguin Audio reads this (ha!).  I am already a huge fan of both John Lee and Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book of all time…), so it came as no surprise that I loved this book.

*Although it is technically a sequel, Winter of the World could be read as a stand-alone title or as the second book in Follett’s Century Trilogy, which may appeal to readers and readers’ advisors alike.