16 January 2010 ~ 2 Comments

most useful linchpin review in the world

A little background before I start: I speed read at least one book a week with topics predominately non-fiction and primarily in the business and self-advancement categories. I typically pick up a book at Barnes and Noble or in airport bookstores when traveling and the topics I choose vary but are usually relevant to whatever circumstances are pertinent in my life at that specific time. Every day, to me, is a school day.

My first encounter with Seth’s portfolio was ‘Meatball Sundae’ – a tremendous collection of rules for new age marketing using the Internet and the permission of people. After reading the book I went on to create a few ‘microburst’ web apps that drew a lot of very short-term attention (>1m unique hits in a single week) around Twitter. Those apps bought me the MacBook Pro I’m writing this review on and a few other good things.

The next in the collection I read was ‘Tribes’, a book that gave me the mindset and ambition (and, to be honest, the balls) that eventually led to me moving up from a Product Manager role to a Vice President in the same company in less than a year. Yes, I am completely aware that I’m attributing significant professional success to a single book and this was absolutely the case. I’ve since went on to read a further seven books in Seth’s back catalog.

Receiving a preview of Seth Godin’s Linchpin, complete with ‘energetic’ orange ‘Thor’-esque cover, arrived at an inappropriate time in my business life. I am settling into the VP role that I’ve been in for six months. The initial hazy mist of a significant new leadership role is rising and, while there is a lot that my teams have managed to achieve to date, there remains a lot to work on ahead (however the path is clear and we will execute to success). As I write this review I am on a plane heading back to Atlanta from New York (ironically on the day of the Linchpin launch that I could not attend) where, for the past three days, everything taught and encouraged to a team of 50+ people in the company I work in is largely contradicted by this book.

Linchpin arrived and the cover verbiage described ‘turning each day into art’. Prior to my latest role I was plagued with an internal conflict of art versus process, the romance of agility versus the practicality and controllable nature of rigidity. Having tended toward the latter in my own organization to get the basics right it wasn’t clear to me if Linchpin was going to encourage me to turn into an independent artist or, as the ‘Are You Indispensable?’ tagline hints, increase my personal value within the company. I suspected a play somewhere in the middle between Seth’s previous Tribes book and any number of ‘best practice in the workplace’ books.

Reading Linchpin feels like a huge collection of short essays with varying lessons and points around the linchpin theme and subsets thereof (keeps the wheel attached to the cart), rather than just a blog dump (ala Seth’s ’small is the new big’ collection). When reading each short section my mind was bouncing from one concept or example to another and I found myself forgetting the content of many of the short essays but still taking away the big points when they shone through. In the majority of cases one essay’s point does lead neatly into the next, making it a relatively tight and progressive collection.

Something that Seth has become a master at is that he not so much writes stories and conveys messages as creates an engaging conversation directly with you. He’s not talking at you but rather with you. Linchpin is definitely the finest pillar of achievement so far in this particular style of writing.

In his prior books Seth relies somewhat on examples from the real world. So-and-so did this and attracted attention. Silicon-valley-whatsername changed the world by doing something cool. Now I’m not sure if this is mathematically provable, however Linchpin surprised me in the sense that it felt more scientific and contained harder evidence over too many famous-people/company-did-something examples.

I’m not sure if it’s jealously or the ‘lizard brain’ mentality of certain people (i.e. me) that provokes me when I hear how someone else did something incredible and made millions, however the relative absence of these kinds of examples lends this book greater credibility in my view. For essays that do stray down the example path (that he describes as long footnotes), Seth surrounds the title of the relevant section in parenthesis making them easier to bypass for those (i.e. me) who prefer to do so.

Overall this short essay approach makes for a well crafted layering of stories and situations, resulting in Linchpin being a far more engaging read as I felt like I was absorbing more of the content than other people’s experiences.

The preview copy had a personal message from Seth and in that he points to a chapter starting on page 101 entitled ‘The Resistance’. This chapter reads more like a high level psychology guide than a Seth Godin book chapter. However, Seth does put a name to several psychological factors that you were probably not aware of and should be. It’s a powerful chapter and could even possibly have been a book on its own.

In classic Seth style: there’s not a single ‘five things to change your life’ list. There is a list on page 218 that describes the qualities of a linchpin, but it is thankfully far from being a to-live-by list. He sets the path, presents the evidence, motivates you to go and do something about it and then leaves you to figure out how to apply it. This is well executed in the ‘There is No Map’ chapter. I recognize that many people who rely on self help or motivational books need the ten point to-do lists, however in my experience you are only going to change the lists to suit yourself anyway.

It’s not all rainbows, puppies, snowflakes and rose petals though. There are negatives that take a little away from the power of the book. This is petty, I know, however Seth… did you seriously, intentionally and without tongue-in-cheek use the “nine pregnant women can’t make a baby in a month” metaphor? This is the fodder of bullsh*t bingo played in the corporate structures you are trying to crush with Linchpins. I genuinely had to reread this short section only to see if I missed a more humorous context.

At 236 pages this is long by comparison to Seth’s most successful books and it’s definitely a departure for him to stretch this far in page count at such a successful point in his career. At times I did feel that certain points made could have been done so with greater brevity, but in the back of my mind I knew he had spent a year writing this so he had clearly taken the time to refine what was probably a longer script into the length the book now is.

This next point is not necessarily a negative point but one to be aware of. As with each of the Seth Godin books I have read upon release in the past, it is way ahead of its time. While hard to say by how much, in my experience and from what I have absorbed in this volume it’s going to take at least two years for the traditional business world to fully grow to love and embrace the presented linchpin concepts, principles and ideologies.

This is more a recognition of the genius and vision accuracy of Seth Godin, as he has always been on target with predicting the future trends of business and specifically marketing, however unless you’re running a small startup do not expect your boss or the people around you to applaud the leadership and ‘artistic’ values you now possess after reading this book. Change does take time and you will be surrounded by skeptics; situations that I feel the book does not fully prepare you for.

I do believe, and it has been my own personal experience, that the business world you are in will catch up to this and it is my strongest recommendation that you take a day out of your life now to read Linchpin.

If you have never read a Seth Godin book before this is a great one to start with. It will change how you approach the world around you. Seth has a seriously strong and detailed understanding of leadership and in Linchpin he is at his absolute best in arming you with the best mindset to do incredible things in life and handing you the motivation to execute on the goals you are going to set for yourself.

If you have read his work in the past then expect a more established and determined Seth in Linchpin. His conversation with you is more direct and his evidence more data-driven than example based. This is a book that is a great, albeit long, read first time around however overflows with usable snippets, phrases that you’ll want to highlight and carry with you and extracts that you will revisit for an extra kick of motivation when you need it.

Both Tribes and Meatball Sundae handed me the energy and impetus to do something. Do big things. And I did.

Every four months or so I go back and reread or listen to the audiobook of Tribes. Many of its references have become dated however its core messages ring more true now than they did when I first read the book (naturally it’s always easy for me to join the dots backwards).

However, when I have a gap in new literature (that happens every four or five weeks) I always tend to return to ’small is the new big’, a collection of blog posts released in 2006. The short essays in Linchpin are closer to this than other Seth’s other books, however the common thread intertwined into each gives this collective the air of being a reference that I’ll turn back to regularly in the same way I do with the ’small/big’ blog post compilation.

In Linchpin Seth isn’t asking the reader to change the entire world, instead he’s asking – nay, begging – the reader to make a big difference in the world that they’re already in. He does this under the guise of convincing you to become an artist instead of his prior push to make readers understand their relevance in new world marketing.

I expect Linchpin to become the definitive reference for the small, today mostly insignificant, business owner in years to come. The small guy and their business who do remember the names of their customers, meaningfully say ‘thank you’ to them in person and genuinely care about doing the right thing for them. They don’t ask the customer to return. Instead they do more than what is asked and the customer returns, brags to their friends and has a better life for having done so.

This is especially important (and timely) given that the first world economies are now emerging from a recession and, as has typically happened in the past during this period, a surge of small businesses will emerge over the next twelve months to expose the business world to genuine creativity and fresh approaches.

Well played Mr Godin. Well played.

Only one question remains for me… who are the people whose mugshots are printed on the inside of the cover overlay?

2 Responses to “most useful linchpin review in the world”

  1. seth godin 16 January 2010 at 6:54 am Permalink

    Thanks for such a thorough review!

    and the mugshots… I’ll be blogging about them soon.

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