Let me start by admitting I haven’t (yet) read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin. However, I’m a regular reader and big fan of Seth’s blog, so I feel like I understand his general aesthetic. There are several interviews and reviews of the book (like here and here) if you want more background. What caught my eye was a conversation on Cameron Plommer’s former blog, EconApps, about whether or not it’s even feasible for everyone to be a linchpin.
To answer the question, you first have to understand what Seth meant by the term Linchpin. In some ways it’s obvious–it’s the small piece that keeps the whole together. From the publisher’s description,
Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations: they invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They love their work and pour their best selves into it and turn each day into a kind of art – and, in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom.
So what if everyone took Seth’s advice and became a linchpin? Paul MacPherson describes three main reasons he thinks this “call to action” may be impractical: 1) linchpins are harder to manage, requiring a larger management burden, 2) linchpins would dictate a higher salary and thus would burden an organization’s budget and profitability, and 3) by definition, linchpins are a rarity.
Let me respectively disagree with my friend Paul (who I really do know from the Brazen Careerist forums). First, I don’t think Linchpins are harder to manage unless you have a communication problem. Of course, many people do have difficulty clearly defining and communicating their expectations, but that’s not the Linchpin’s fault. The beauty of linchpins is they are intrinsically motivated. All you have to do is point them in the right direction and watch them go. Paul also suggested linchpins might be more prone to combat, if I read him right. But in fact, linchpins understand the best way to achieve goals is through collaboration (or at least respectful discourse, as Jim Collins suggests in Good to Great).
Second, if everyone was a linchpin, you’d need far fewer workers. In my experience, organizations often have to expand to make up for the dead wood they’re hauling around. In many respects it would actually be cheaper to have an organization full of linchpins, not to mention a lot more exciting. That doesn’t mean the workforce would reduce by half upon linchpin transformation–they’d just be more effectively resourced. Many more businesses would succeed with a small cadre of linchpins.
The reason we’re so short of linchpins is not due to a fundamental limitation. The problem, as Nicholas Lore points out in his book The Pathfinder, is the vast majority of people spend more time deciding what kind of car to buy or where to go on vacation than what to do with their lives. They don’t know their strengths or even their passions. They chase status, wealth, their parent’s affection, and even freedom from the “conventional.” While those motivations aren’t likely to make you a linchpin, there’s nothing preventing someone from overcoming them either.
Much as I hate to admit it, I think my Dad had it right: find your “fire in the belly” and follow it. I’m not talking about lightning-flash inspiration, but some good old-fashioned self-reflection and assessment. Not only does a happier life await the linchpin, it may well be society can no longer to afford a sad collection of cogs.