Think you’re not a Marketing Genius? Reading Seth Godin’s _Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?_ (Part One)

American guru Seth Godin has written some of the most powerful and persuasive arguments on Marketing ever penned. Their application to the Business world and to professional associations is limitless. He powerfully analyzes the Psychology of Business and, in particular, how to be a “linchpin” in any business climate. In this blog posting (the first in a three-part series), I’ll revisit Godin’s analysis that we all have genius to offer, from the profoundly insightful study, Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? Godin’s thoughts defy linear cataloging, so I’ll summarize his arguments and provide examples familiar to you. I’ll focus particularly on what Godin means by the concept of the“linchpin” and how every Creative can optimize their genius to become one.

Which of us hasn’t felt insecure at some point, while working in an association or organization?  One well-masked but common insecurity is the niggling, underlying doubt that “Maybe I’m not smart enough.”  Not smart enough to spearhead that million dollar campaign; not smart enough to recruit that world-class candidate; not smart enough to work with that legendarily difficult (billionaire) client . . . . and on it goes. When Godin says that achievement in business requires “genius” of us, I can almost hear the groans of Creatives’ self-doubt, as if in a painful, collective, “Charlie Brown” sigh. Genius, we think, belongs to other people.

And what is a “linchpin” anyway? You might ask, doesn’t it exclude me, since I’m not a card-carrying member of Mensa? . . . .A “linchpin” is a small piece of hardware that keeps a wheel from falling off its axle. It’s “not famous but certainly indispensable,” Godin writes. It’s not necessarily making the most money, or getting the most attention. But it requires “genius” from us. To be a “linchpin” is to leverage internal, not external, resources “to create a position of power and value” (22) where others only subsist.

Godin cites Keith Johnson scouring flea markets across the US to stock a high-end home furnishing store; David a baristo at Dean and Deluca in New York City, who goes out of his way to engage with his coffee-loving customers—both are “linchpins.” So too are Nelson Mandela, who changed the world from a jail cell in South Africa; and Cathy Hughes who dropped out of university but became the first black woman running a public company in the U.S. And it may also be you—working late after your children have gone to bed, to ensure that your PowerPoint presentation tomorrow speaks to both the new hires and the veterans of your association.

First, Godin redefines what “genius” really means. It’s someone with the ability and “insight to find the not so obvious solution to a problem” he writes. You “don’t need to win a Nobel Prize to be one” he says, and, better yet, “all of us are geniuses sometimes” (1). Godin says that you might find a shortcut others overlook, solve a problem that stumped your family, found a way to make something work that only failed before, or “made a personal connection with someone who was out of reach to everyone else” (1). Isn’t that you? Even once, he asks? I bet it is: so you too have genius within you.

Further, he adds that in being a “linchpin,” “it’s not about what you’re born with, it’s about what you do” (28). The only way to “get what you’re worth” is “to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about” (27).

“You’ll earn your place in the market with humanity and leadership,” Godin says. Don’t fear either (13). “In exchange for doing good work for its own sake, linchpins gain freedom, responsibility and respect, which are priceless” (36).

If you make your art (i.e. what many consider their “work”) as only cheap, fast and easy-to-replicate products or services, that disregard finding and retaining “linchpin” talent, “you’ll find you race to the bottom.” That means dehumanizing your business and lowering prices, supposedly to compete.

To strive to be a “linchpin” is to face the reality that it’s no longer OK to be a “cog in the wheel,” because the world economy no longer fairly compensates people who perform at that level. The chief bottle-washer’s days are over. The “linchpin” is neither bourgeousie (the “baron of industry”) nor proletariat (flipping burgers at McDonald’s), but owns the means of production, by leveraging their own internal resources, like energy and insightfulness.  And you needn’t change jobs to do it—“almost any job can be humanized or transformed,” he says (52).

To what end are these efforts to be a “linchpin,” you might ask? Godin says that “when you master the communication, concepts and connectivity of a linchpin’s “new” work, then you have more power than management does. And if management attracts, motivates and retains you for your great talent, then it has more leverage than the competition” (24).

To be a linchpin: “Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas . . . and we have no choice but to reward you” (33). It’s not the intrinsic nature of the painting or the sculpture but “the art and the insight and the bravery of value creation that are rewarded” (53).

But no, it won’t be a cake-walk: you don’t get a set of rules for this. Living life “without a map requires you to be a linchpin,” he says.

And here’s in injunction of my own: don’t confuse the “linchpin” genius or process with perfectionism. So don’t try to be too perfect for your association or your business. Instead, act as a linchpin or “genius” in doing better, as you learn. Consider David Mamet’s words (cited elsewhere in Todd Henry): “Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself, while you’re learning to say it better.”

So you too can use your “genius” without having that membership in Mensa.

For my next two blogs on Godin’s Linchpin, I’ll discuss how we can gain a “linchpin’s” strength paradoxically, by doing the things we least want to do, and that we know we’ll do imperfectly. We (as “linchpins”) counter “the resistance” that lives in (what Godin famously terms) our “lizard brain.”

Thoughts to share? I’d love to hear them. Drop me an email through my “contact” page. And good luck with your efforts at being or becoming a “linchpin!”

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