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Work–The Gift That Keeps Giving

If you missed Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin (Penguin Books), when it was first released last June, there’s still time to make it part of your January list of resolutions. In fact, as our economy hiccups back to life in the new year, and employers realize it is okay to start hiring again, Godin’s book offers hope that, with the right attitude, you’ll be hopping right on board that gravy train as soon as it whistles its way into Flagstaff.

The message is simple enough. In today’s work world, being useful or productive is not quite sufficient. After all, anyone – with minimal training – can froth up a latte at Macy’s or point you in the direction of Dillard’s after Christmas clearance display. Surviving career-wise these days, however, means you must be indispensable; a linchpin no one can afford to fire. “We need to think hard about what reality looks like now,” writes Godin.

Success in our present reality means “understanding how the rules of our world have fundamentally changed,” and “taking advantage of this moment to become someone the world believes is indispensable. It starts,” according to Godin, “by making a simple choice.” What that choice is takes the entire book to reveal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all need a good pep talk now and again, and if Godin wants to draw it out to the last page, it is still easy medicine. “Can you become indispensible?” he asks. “Yes, you can.” But, the way things used to be just isn’t any more.

The rules, in fact, changed in that long-ago century when labor first discovered it was dependent on management because management controlled production. The solution is to change the rules to circumvent the outdated equation. “Today, the means of production = a laptop computer with Internet connectivity […] This change is a fundamental shift in power and control.”

Godin commends the blogger, the musician, the writer, and any other worker who takes charge of the system through risk, passion, expertise, and becoming unique. Viewing your work as an artistic creation – and therefore, a gift – is at the heart of Godin’s advice. “The combination of passion and art,” he writes, “is what makes someone a linchpin.”

Doing a job well sets you apart; becoming a linchpin requires more effort, but also a different kind of attitude. Godin gives the example of a photographer selling her work to a celebrity magazine. If the photo isn’t good enough – isn’t up to the standards of the client magazine – the photographer won’t make the sale. The difference between the good-enough photographer and the linchpin (Annie Liebovitz, for example) is that the latter goes beyond just meeting the standard. In surpassing it, she gives a gift to the client and its readers, thereby building a reputation. Godin compares this kind of gift giving – whether you’re a photographer or an insurance salesman – to art. Spreading this gift, your art, your reputation, and your passion are what make you indispensable, with the added bonus that you will be fulfilled in both your personal and your work life.

The problem with Godin’s advice, and ultimately with his book, is that when the pep talk is over, you still have to figure out how to apply it. Sure, we’d all like to be more passionate about work – especially if it includes handling yet another file from the inbox-without-end. But can we really all be linchpins? Isn’t that just a little too Lake Woebegone to be true?

Godin is a master of the generalized dictum; pronouncements delivered in accessible style, short, easy bursts of advice peppered with quotes from real life linchpins, and the assurance that conquering fear and embracing passion will lead us to a better, more secure work life.

Despite the drawbacks, it is still a worthwhile read, especially if you’re already having trouble keeping up with your other resolutions. Yes, you can become indispensable. But without the pep talk, are you sure you will? FBN

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