Book Review: Seth Godin’s Linchpin

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Linchpin by Seth Godin

How many Seth Godin books have I read? Yes.

Yes, I am a glutton for pep talks.
Yes, I have the original Purple Cow milk carton.
Yes I have the first edition, pre-ordered copies of half a dozen others.
But I must admit that I find Seth’s books to be somewhat single-note wonders.

– Be unique!
– Be bold!
– Stand out!
– Staying safe is your ticket to mediocrity and limbo!

So I picked up Linchpin with trepidation.
I also picked it up with a promise to review it.

Seth did another one of those wonderful marketing things. He offered a free copy of Linchpin in exchange for a donation to The Acumen Fund. I really didn’t care what they did with my donation. I donated in order to support Seth’s marketing genius. The fact that Acumen uses the money, “to build businesses that can effectively and sustainably serve the poor,” is great but it could have been a dozen other things as well. Seth thought it was worthy of his book giveaways and that was good enough for me.

So let me be bold and unique –
I am predisposed to not like Seth Godin’s latest book.

Only predisposed? Yes – I have not read it yet. It was delivered as promised: Limited supply, one-time only offer. Get yours while the getting is good. And I reveled in the fact that I fell for it. I love marketing and I am knowingly susceptible to it.

Example:

I’m at a conference in a big swanky hotel and I cross the street to the convenience store for a big bottle of sparkling water and a candy bar for my room. When I approach the door, a well-dressed, clean shaven man approaches me with a piece of letterhead folded in thirds with the names of five local hotels – all within walking distance – and launches into his story. His car broke down. His family is waiting for him to find a hotel to stay in. His insurance company gave him this list of places they would cover but there are no available rooms and he just has to get back to his wife and kids who are waiting at a Denny’s and his wallet was stolen and he just needs $10 for a cab and before he could go any further, I stop him.

I like the story. I love the delivery. I don’t want it to fall over from its own weight. Too many details would undermine his carefully delivered pathos and derail a well-crafted yarn. I give him $10. I don’t think I’d have given him twenty had he asked, but I suspected his performance was sufficiently rehearsed and his intuition finely enough honed to peg me for a soft touch but not a sucker. As I extract the bill from my wallet, he asks for a business card so he can repay me and I shake my head and smile as I hand it to him and he’s gone before I can say, “Thanks for the performance. Best show in town.”

I saved boxtops and sent them away for baking soda submarines (an excellent acquisition), Sea Monkeys (the dawning of my mercantile skepticism) and X-Ray Specs (I am crushed by the inhumanity of my fellow man). It dawns on me that if it doesn’t work as advertised, it’s time to learn Latin: Caveat Emptor.

But I bought Seth’s other books. I fell for the pitch. Why? Seth Godin is a master of delivery. Some of his stories are so memorable, I find myself retelling them – with attribution of course – he’s that good.

Linchpin sits on my desk for two weeks and I don’t have time to crack it. It sits on my bedside table and after two months, I’ve only read a few pages. Then I get sucker-punched. Another copy of Linchpin arrives.

What? I think. Is there system broken? Did they double enter me in their database? Was my donation higher than the norm? Nope – it was just Seth being Seth again.

– “Generosity is a key piece of being an artist….
– Now, in recognition of your generosity I’m giving you another (copy).
– I hope you’ll share it with someone you care about….

Well shit, Seth. Your delivery and my guilt gang up on me to where now I must read this book and review it. Curse you Seth Godin!

So the new copy goes where it’ll be preserved and the old new copy gets wrapped in a t-shirt and packed in my luggage because I usually read when traveling. Eating alone has that one merit.

Another month goes by. And then another. I am wracked with guild but have no time to read either one of these copies. I am destitute. Seth has said some nice things about me in the past and I really owe him. Even though I am predisposed to dislike his book, I am beholden to him to gift him with the full benefit and wonder of my personal opinion. So I set aside some quality time to solve this problem.

That’s when it hit me: iPhone Kindle App! And in less time than it takes to write this sentence, I have the full electronic version in my pocket for consumption on planes, in the commode, in line and at the breakfast table. Heaven. I am finally able to actually read Linchpin.

So now, gentle reader, I begin.

– Be unique!
– Be bold!
– Stand out!
– Staying safe is your ticket to mediocrity and limbo!

I am dedicated to getting a few more pages into this to before I draw any conclusions.

The book takes it’s time around some subjects; the devastating souldeath caused by factory work; the educational system as life-force assassin; mindrot and heartdrain instigated by rote work. Humans are programmed for safety. We are taught to fit in. We are taught that we must go along to get along.

Then Seth gets into his grove.

– Think for yourself!
– Don’t follow the rules!
– Invest in your work emotionally!
– It doesn’t matter if your are always right,
– only that you are always moving!

I have been an entrepreneur for more than 15 years. I learned all those lessons the hard way. That doesn’t mean this is a bad book. It’s just not written for me.

I am at dinner, alone in a hotel – happens a lot, and somewhere between the appetizer Riesling and the fish course Pino Gris, I find that I am getting inspired. No, this is not a case of In Vino Veritas. This is a case of a slight shift from fighting Seth to catching his rhythm.

Once I’ve caught the rhythm of this book, I am no longer critiquing the words, but hearing the themes. That means I can disassociate from the text and let the magic work on me. I can stop taking it literally and take in on as it was meant, as encouragement.

I’ve agreed with pretty much everything Seth has said so far and I’m something like a quarter of the way through it (iPhone Kindle App doesn’t have page numbers. What’s up with that?) when I hit the bit about how you much overcome your fear. Sure, I think. Easy for you to say. But then he admits it. He says he can’t tell us how to deal with our fears – only that we must find a way. Eschew perfection, he says. Think of your work as art, he says.

Work as art.

Sometime between doing what I love doing now and death, I’d like to go back to being an artist. Family members have some of my pottery. There are sculptures in my back yard. My sister owns my one true masterpiece. Someday I will. Someday.

No, says Seth. You work is your art.

I am passionate about my work. I love my work. I think about why. It is because I strive to create and others praise me for what I do when I do it well.

I think about all the risks I’ve taken and how glad I’ve been that I’ve taken them. I think about the joy of expression that comes from making art and working as if it were art. Putting heart into it. Putting passion into it. Loving it.

I think about the work I’m doing now and how innovative it was.

Half way through Linchpin, I wonder… How innovative is my work now?

Have I not become a cog in my own machine? Am I not tied to the factory floor of email and social media messaging? Am I not producing the same product I did last year?

Now that I know I can be reinvigorated, I am ready to give Seth another chance and am now ready to not just read but to listen to the rest of this book.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.

Painter, sculptor, musician. The good ones change you. The work I do should change others.

Art is pure creativity but worthless without shipping.

I have pages and pages of great – really great – ideas. But if they don’t get out the door, it’s all so much daydreaming.

Understand how the human mind works in order to break it’s
command and control over your potential.

I have studied Martin Lindstrom, Jonah Lehrer and Joseph Carrabis. Seth hit in the science of what makes us not be artists.

I am reinvigorated. I am re-inspired.

Thanks for making me read your book, Seth.
I’m very glad I did.

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