Seth Godin ’s new book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? , comes out today. As with all of Seth’s books, it’s a quick and inspiring read - if you aspire to make a difference in the world, you’ll find this book thought-provoking.
I recently caught up with Seth to ask him a few questions about the book - I think you’ll find our conversation quite interesting…
First, let’s discuss the essence of the idea: what does it mean to be indispensable?
Today’s economy places little value on showing up, filling a cube, answering the phone. We can get people to do that cheaper than you, that’s for sure. Now, white collar workers, MBAs and executives are judged more harshly, or they’re replaced or outsourced. The job disappears.
So, to be indispensable is to do work your boss couldn’t imagine. It means that you’re human, an independent actor, an artist, someone who connects and makes a difference. These people have genuine job security, because what they do is scarce.
It seems like there are a million ways a person could potentially be indispensable. Are some forms of indispensability better or more valuable than others?
You’re right, there are. But we’ve been brainwashed not to think that way. Look around you. When times got tough, what did most people do? They pulled back and worked hard to fit in, not to stand out. It’s like Purple Cow for people. The obvious thing to do is average stuff for average people, with a lot of hype. But what works? Exceptional work, unexpected insights and genuine connection.
Can you figure out whether or not you’re already indispensable in some way? If so, how? Are there clues or characteristics to look for?
Do people come to you or do you go to them? Do you need a resume or do your references speak for themselves? Do you initiate or react? Do people seek you out and ask you to do something outside of your to do list? When was the last time someone asked you to come give a speech?
The world is a big place - if you’re not already indispensable to someone or some group of people, do you have any recommendations about who or what to focus on serving?
This is the really cool part of the opportunity - because just about all the interesting jobs didn’t even exist a little while ago, no one is obviously more qualified than you. So first, figure out what you love (not the industry, the work) and then go do it. And second, decide to love what you do, because that’s a big part of it too.
Is becoming indispensable an achievement, an ongoing process, a little of both, or something else entirely?
No way is it an achievement. You don’t stay indispensable for long. One day they’re scalping tickets to see you for $250 in the street, the next day you’re in the discount bin. The challenge is perpetual re-invention.
It appears to be far easier to become indispensable if you choose to walk your own path and consciously break away from the norms of large systems that seek stability and predictability, like schools, governments, and big companies. Is that true? Can “cogs in the machine" become indispensable?
If you work for a company that prides itself on anonymous cogs, then success there actually means life career failure. That’s a sucker’s game. But I think there are more and more companies that pride themselves on building entire groups of indispensable people, linchpins, people who seek to make a difference.
As you note in the book, our ancient “lizard brain" is always instinctively searching for pleasure, safety, and security. The process of becoming indispensable is often uncomfortable and feels quite risky. Do you recommend ignoring these instincts, or is there some way to use them to our advantage?
Here’s what I do: when I hear the lizard brain, the scared voice, what Steven Pressfield calls the resistance… I do precisely what it is afraid of. It’s my compass, but backwards.
Generosity seems to be a major theme in the book. The general approach to becoming indispensable seems to be giving away significant value; the more you give, the more indispensable you become. At the same time, the defining moment of every self-supporting business is the transaction - no sales, no business. At what point do you transition from giving to trading?
I think the transition becomes easy when the thing you want to sell is naturally scarce. If you need custom work, fast work, exceptional inspired work… that’s what you’re going to pay for. Before you pay for that, I demonstrate to you how hard it is to live without it, because you’ve already seen what I can do for others (or perhaps for you).
I love the connection you make between businesses that matter and art, which you define as “a personal gift that changes the recipient." What do the most successful businesspeople and artists have in common?
Art has nothing to do with painting, and everything to do with change, emotion and connection. And isn’t that what smart, growing businesses do? We now pay for surprise and delight and productivity. Where do those things come from? Not from a manual. Not from a marketing textbook. They come from an artist.
Craftsmen and artists, more often than not, hate to compromise - even when their vision requires working with others, who may have different values or priorities. For example, changes to a building’s budget may impact an architect’s vision for the space. When is it better to walk away from situations that compromise your ideals? Is there a time and place for making tradeoffs to ensure the work becomes real? Does accepting tradeoffs make you any less of an artist or craftsman?
This is a spectacular insight, and I don’t know the answer. Certainly, there are artists that are so cocky and imperious and so afraid to work with someone else that they have no work at all. The challenge is to balance the trade offs. Not easy to describe, I think, but worth trying to do.
A strong mental association many people have related to the idea of art is the image of the “starving artist" - a person who chooses to live a life of material want in favor of living their ideals, which are often anti-commercial. Does commerce cheapen art? Is the business artisan destined to live a life of relative poverty?
Commerce cheapens art, because art is a gift. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get paid for the souvenirs, for appearances, for the work you do that creates value… at the same time your generosity completes your art by adding a gift element. More complex than I can go into here, but in the book I try to outline precisely why a culture of gifts creates the connection that makes art actually happen.
In the book, you say that art is the product of “emotional labor," which is always difficult and guaranteed to provoke inner resistance. How can you tell the difference between something that’s difficult because it’s important and something that’s difficult because your plan isn’t working? Where does The Dip fit into the picture?
Difficult in this case only refers to the internal dialog. Hard to smile when you don’t feel like smiling. Hard to delight a customer when he’s a jerk. Hard to serve someone who is mocking you while you’re asking questions. But it’s that difficulty that creates real value, it’s what we get paid for.
Self-education and self-improvement are subjects that are near and dear to both of us. What encouragement or advice would you give to someone who is determined to become indispensable and make the most of their life without the benefits (and detriments) of formal schooling or advanced certification?
Don’t pick a job that likes cogs.
Don’t pick a job that insists on advanced degrees.
Don’t look for safety.
Fail in public.
Try to find things people will criticize.
Learn from your mistakes, with eagerness.
Do difficult emotional labor that others fear.
You can order Seth’s new book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? , from Amazon.com or your local bookstore. Additional interviews and commentary about the book can be found via The Linchpin Posts.
Published: January 26, 2010Last updated: January 26, 2010
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Godin in 2009
Seth Godin is an American author and former dot com business executive.
After leaving Spinnaker in 1986, he used $20,000 in savings to found Seth Godin Productions, primarily a book packaging business, out of a studio apartment in New York City. He then met Mark Hurst and founded Yoyodyne. After a few years, Godin sold the book packaging business to his employees and focused his efforts on Yoyodyne, where he promoted the concept of permission marketing.
Yoyodyne, launched in 1995, used contests, online games, and scavenger hunts to market companies to participating users. In August 1996, Flatiron Partners invested $4 million in Yoyodyne in return for a 20% stake. At Yoyodyne, Godin published Permission Marketing: Turning strangers into friends and friends into customers. In 1998, he sold Yoyodyne to Yahoo! for about $30 million and became Yahoo's vice president of direct marketing.
In March 2006, Godin launched Squidoo. In July 2008, Squidoo was one of the 500 most visited sites in the world. By 2014, it was no longer considered financially viable and was sold to HubPages.
As of April 27, 2014, Godin is the author of 17 books. Free Prize Inside was a Forbes Business Book of the Year in 2004, while Purple Cow sold over 150,000 copies in more than 23 print runs in its first two years.The Dip was a Business Week and New York Times bestseller;Business Week also named Linchpin among its "20 of the best books by the most influential thinkers in business" on November 13, 2015. In the early 1990s, he curated a 10-book series for children titled Worlds of Power. Each of the book's plots is based on a video game.
In June 2013, Godin raised more than $250,000 from readers with a Kickstarter campaign, which in turn secured him a book contract with his publisher.
Seth Godin, being a motivational influencer, has inspired a lot of people to find their purple cow via various platforms including cold email. It is based on an idea to find something that differentiates a person from the cluster eventually leading to success by being remarkable. 
Seth Godin's blog was named by Time among its 25 best blogs of 2009.
- Godin, Seth (1993). The Smiley Dictionary. Berkeley: Peachpit Press. ISBN 1-56609-008-3.
- Godin, Seth (1995). eMarketing: Reaping Profits on the Information Highway. New York: Berkley Pub. Group. ISBN 0-399-51904-1.
- Godin, Seth (1999). Permission marketing: turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85636-0.
- Godin, Seth (1998). If You're Clueless about Selling: And Want to Know More. Dearborn Financial Publishing. ISBN 0-793-12989-3.
- Godin, Seth (2001). Unleashing the Ideavirus. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8717-6. Book online – Detailing the idea of Viral marketing
- Godin, Seth (2002). The Big Red Fez: How To Make Any Web Site Better. New York: Free Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-7432-2790-5.
- Godin, Seth (2002). Survival is not enough: zooming, evolution, and the future of your company. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2571-6.
- Godin, Seth (2003). Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. Portfolio. p. 224. ISBN 1-59184-021-X.
- Godin, Seth (2004). Free Prize Inside!: The Next Big Marketing Idea. Penguin USA Portfolio. p. 256. ISBN 1-59184-041-4.
- Godin, Seth (2005). All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 1-59184-100-3.
- Godin, Seth; the Group of 33 (2005). The Big Moo: Stop Trying to be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 1-59184-103-8.
- Godin, Seth (2006). Small Is the New Big: and 193 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 1-59184-126-7.
- Godin, Seth (2007). The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 1-59184-166-6.
- Godin, Seth (2008). Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 1-59184-174-7.
- Godin, Seth (2008). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Portfolio Hardcover. p. 160. ISBN 1-59184-233-6.
- Godin, Seth (2010). Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?. Portfolio Hardcover. p. 256. ISBN 1-59184-316-2.
- Godin, Seth (2011). Poke the Box. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 1-936719-00-2.
- Godin, Seth (2011). We Are All Weird. The Domino Project. ISBN 1-936719-22-3.
- Godin, Seth (2012). The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?. Portfolio Penguin. ISBN 0-6709-2292-7.
- Godin, Seth (2012). V Is for Vulnerable: Life Outside the Comfort Zone. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 978-1591846109.
- Godin, Seth (2013). Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck?: And Other Provocations. Portfolio Hardcover. ISBN 978-15918-4609-3.
- Godin, Seth (2014). What To Do When It's Your Turn (and it's always your turn). Seth Godin. ISBN 978-19367-1931-0.
Godin and his wife Helene live in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York with their two sons.
- ^ abTrachtenberg, Jeffrey (June 24, 2012). "Giving Book Readers a Say". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
- ^Walker, Rob (November 14, 2014). "Self-Promotion, but With Self-Respect". New York Times. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
- ^Adams, Bryan (April 28, 2016). "The 3 Rules of Successful Business as Taught by Seth Godin (and Your Mother)". Inc. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
- ^ abKuntz, Mary (September 9, 1998). "Entrepreneur Profiles: Point, Click--And Here's The Pitch: Yoyodyne uses prizes to get you to read those online ads". BusinessWeek. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
- ^Taylor, William C. (March 31, 1998). "Permission Marketing". Fast Company. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- ^Yahoo! to Acquire Yoyodyne, Earthweb News, October 12, 1998, archived from the original on 2005-02-14
- ^Junnarkar, Sandeep. "Yahoo to buy Yoyodyne". CNET News. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- ^Yahoo Acquiring YoyodyneWired.com. October 12, 1998.
- ^"Speaker: Seth Godin". Business Week's "Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age". Special Libraries Association. June 18, 2008. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
- ^Eric Enge Interviews Seth Godin on Stone Temple Consulting. June 20, 2007
- ^Traffic Details: Squidoo.com on Alexa.com. Retrieved July 18, 2008
- ^"Seth Godin's Squidoo Acquired by HubPages". SearchEngineWatch. August 19, 2014.
- ^"Forbes.com Business Book of the Year". Forbes. Retrieved 2014-01-20. "
- ^Hogan, Ron (2005-05-16). "How to Succeed in Business (Books)". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2014-01-20. "...reports that the two-year-old title has more than 150,000 copies in print after 23 printings"
- ^Business Week Bestseller List: October 8th, 2007
- ^New York Times Bestseller List: June 8th 2007
- ^Feloni, Richard (November 13, 2015). "20 of the best books by the most influential thinkers in business". Business Week. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- ^People (magazine), July 30, 1990, "Worlds of Power" series review by Ralph Novak
- ^Vuleta, Christina. "How A Cold Email Got This Founder A Mentor (Seth Godin) And A Mission To Challenge Others To Rise". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
- ^"Seth Godin's Blog". Time. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- ^Seth Godin on Stepping Up and Making it Happen
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