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How to Be Indispensable

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Are you an integral part of your team?

Do you contribute something essential to the projects you work on?

Do your friends have more fun when you’re around?

Are you a linchpin?

According to Seth Godin, author of Linchpin, just being someone who shows up, follows directions and works hard isn’t enough to get ahead anymore; it can be a recipe for disaster.

Instead, Godin argues that we all have tremendous untapped potential. In fact, the very first sentence of the book highlights it:

“You Are a Genius.”

This is the basis of Linchpin. Godin tells us to focus on finding the artist inside us all, the genius that’s been tamped down and hidden away and to become someone who is utterly indispensable: a linchpin.

Godin argues that everyone, me and you (not just the Einsteins of the world), have a genius inside of them that needs to be unleashed. Someone who can solve a problem, create a positive change and get people unstuck.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the markers Godin believes we need to explore in order to become a linchpin in our own lives and jobs.

So how can you find your own genius? How can you be a linchpin? Check out the things Godin feels we need to embrace in order to do it:

Step #1: Make Great Art

Art isn’t always just what we think it is in the conventional sense. Yes, paintings, sculptures, movies, plays, songs and books are all art.

But so is anything brought on by passion, creativity and personality.

I want you to think about what you loved to do when you were a kid:

  • Designing new outfits for your Barbie
  • Building castles out of Legos
  • Selling lemonade at your corner stand
  • Studying all the stats on the back of your baseball card collection

As Godin describes, all of that is art because it was based on passion.

When we’re children we follow our passions. We were incredible fashion designers, architects, entrepreneurs and statisticians without even realizing it.

We did it because we loved it, it felt natural, but somewhere along the way, that got lost. The dresses, legos, baseball cards got tucked away in the attic, the lemonade stand came down and we were told to focus on fitting in, following directions, going to school and going to work.

Even in this fantastic world of automation and just-in-time production lines; remember that a machine is something that still can’t make art.

Here are some of the “unconventional” things Godin cites as art:

  • Tony Hsieh created a company focused on providing incredible customer service
  • Jonathan Ive designed the iPod
  • Ed Sutt created a nail that would make homes stronger

So think about the work you do now. Are you doing it because you have to do it or because you’re passionate about it?

If you find that passion or direct yourself towards it, you have given yourself the opportunity to really create art.

#2: Tame the Resistance

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.

Seth Godin, Linchpin

For a quick primer on your lizard brain (and some advice on how you can overcome it), check out this video:

The lizard brain is the first part of our brain. It’s the part of us that is in charge of those biological impulses that have helped us survive in the form of homo sapiens for the last 200,000 years: fight or flight, fear, anger, lust and arousal.

This part of our brain is very hard to beat. The cerebrum, where we find reasoning, recognition, problem solving, speech, vision and memory, is pretty much always going to lose to the amygdala (the lizard brain) as it’s been created to take over in order to protect us.

When you start to move outside that, to think, question, ship; the lizard brain jumps into action and fires out all sorts of defenses to make sure you fall back into line.

Any of these feel familiar:

  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • Missing deadlines
  • Making excuses
  • Feeling “not good enough”
  • Feeling like “you should just give up”
  • Worry about what other people will think

These are all examples of the resistance and the lizard brain at work.

What can you do to battle the lizard brain?

Learn from failure.

That doesn’t mean learn that failure is bad, or learn that you never should have tried in the first place. Nope. Instead take lessons, understand why something didn’t work, challenge yourself to embrace failure and use it as something that will take you to the next step.

One of the very best examples on how an artist can struggle with the lizard brain and find the art within it is a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love at TED:

I want you to think about ways you can both recognize and overcome your lizard brain:

  • Embrace your imperfections
  • Ship before you’re ready
  • Determine if your rationalizations are legitimate or just excuses
  • Push yourself through procrastination
  • Find uncomfortable situations and put yourself in them
  • Don’t always ask for permission

#3: Nurture Tribes and Give Gifts

The concept of gift culture as a basis of tribal economies has been around for a very long time (Godin cites it at 50,000 years).

In ancient tribes, those who had the most power, the Kings and Queens and Chiefs were those who gave the most gifts.

Their power was founded in their ability to give it all away.

After a while, that concept was flipped. The powerful were those who got the most gifts.

Now, Godin argues, the advent of the internet has given us the ability to go back to the original tribal view of the giving economy. In the digital world, we can give more than ever and create tribes of people who connect with both the artists and each other.

Here are some examples:

All of these gifts are something that builds tribes of people who are connected through genuine and authentic art of the person who created that gift and is giving it away.

That’s powerful stuff!

Godin thinks you can become a linchpin by giving away your art for free. That might be your best ideas as blog posts, your incredible photos as free images or open sourcing that amazing software you designed.  

The key here though is to lose the conventional wisdom that gifts must be reciprocated. Instead, don’t concern yourself with the idea that any repayment is going to come your way; do the art for art’s sake.

Here, Godin explains the connection between art, gift giving and tribes:

“One reason that art has so much power is that it represents the most precious gift we can deliver. And delivering it to people we work with or connect with strengthens our bond with them. It strengthens the tribal connection.”

Consider some of the gifts you can give to build your tribe.

#4: Ship

Godin cites a famous quote by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs: “Real artists ship.”

He tells the story of the launch of the original Mac and how the designers worked around the clock for days to finish the project. They weren’t sure if the computer was even finished or ready, but in that moment they “shipped.”

It seems pretty easy, right?

Start a project, create something and then ship it.

It’s that last step, the shipping, where so many people get stuck– completely paralyzed with fear and find it incredibly difficult to move forward.

No doubt, you’ve probably encountered this in your own life, I absolutely have. Here are just a few examples many of us can relate to:

  • Hitting publish on your blog post
  • Finishing your resume
  • Calling to set a time for an interview
  • Creating a slide deck for a presentation
  • Selling the muffins you spent all day baking

Godin says that shipping “is the collision between your work and the outside world.”

For most of us it feels like that, doesn’t it? A collision.

This is why the ability to consistently ship is something that can make you a linchpin. It’s something that so many struggle with. He talks about two key challenges that those who are able to ship have been able to overcome.

First is the concept of thrashing. For most of us, the closer we get to the end of a project, the more people get involved — co-workers, bosses, compliance departments, you name it. This causes projects to get bogged down, muddled and changed, thus making shipping so much more difficult.

Linchpins are able to take this thrashing and move it from the end of the project to the beginning. They allow for lots of input early, but as the project moves closer to being finished, the people and changes that can be involved are incredibly limited, making it that much easier to ship.

The other challenge is coordination. It’s all too common in companies for projects to have a lot of stakeholders. And when a project looks to be like it’s a good one? Well, everyone wants to get involved.

Just like with thrashing, the more people involved, the more problems. The coordination of large groups can be a nightmare, easily derailing a project and consistently pushing the shipping date back. Here’s how to fix it: be relentless in limiting the number of people involved (be secret if you have to) and appoint a linchpin to run it.

But what’s the biggest reason why we are being held back from shipping?

Our old friend: lizard-brain resistance.

The Abilities of Linchpins

In the book, Godin highlights seven key abilities that showcase how linchpins do what they do. That doesn’t mean you have to possess all of them, but rather they are different ways people who have become linchpins can demonstrate just why they are so indispensable.

Here they are:

  1. Providing a special or unique connection between people both within and outside the organization
  2. Delivering creativity
  3. Managing complex situations
  4. Leading your customers somewhere
  5. Inspiring other staff members
  6. Having a deep knowledge of something
  7. Having a talent that no one else has

This video, from Seth Godin himself, gives a wonderful short and quick overview of each of these seven abilities.

He also serves a couple of important reminders in this video. First, these are all skills that can be taught and learned. Second, our pesky lizard brain loves to creep in and tell us that we aren’t good enough– that’s what stops us from achieving all the things we really can do.

Now I want you think about your own skills and abilities:

  • Do any stand out to you because they align with the list above?
  • Can you think of a way you can actively improve your skills and abilities to become a linchpin?
  • Is there something you are truly passionate about that can lead the way?

Godin points out there is no defined road map to becoming a linchpin. It’s something we all have to find out for ourselves if we’re willing to break out of the old system and forge a new path.

You have the makings of a linchpin already. The key question is, are you willing to put in the time and effort to let it shine?

Key Takeaways

  • Inside of all of us there is an artist and a genius
  • Step to the edges of the box society has placed you in and choose to be different
  • Your lizard brain is always going to try and stop you

Linchpin teaches us quite a bit, both about the system of work as it stands today and how you can decide to see things differently.

Godin cites the concept of the new American Dream: being remarkable, generous, connecting people and ideas and creating art as the way to be rewarded. Creating art in whatever you do and embracing your genius is only going to benefit you.

For Godin, choosing the path to becoming a linchpin is the smartest move you can make right now. In fact, he argues, it’s the only way to operate because once you prove yourself as someone who is indispensable, then you’ll begin to see the rewards: more autonomy at work, better pay, more job security.

No matter how hard you push, however, you’re always going to face the resistance, the lizard brain pushing back. The more you can identify it when it rears its ugly head, the better prepared you will be to keep moving yourself forward.

Are you ready to make yourself indispensable?

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