Summary of “Are You Indispensable ?”: To address the economic crisis and the evolution of the world of work, Seth Godin suggests we become “indispensable, unique and enterprising“, which should allow us to address our personal goals as much as the current needs of our society, with the common aim of changing the game.
by Seth Godin, 2010, 360 pages.
Original title: “Linchpin – Are you indispensable?”
Book chronicle and summary of “Are You Indispensable ?”:
Note: This guest column was written by Max Mario from the “Une Vie extra-ordinaire” website, dedicated to exceeding personal achievement
Introduction of “Are you indispensable”
Right from the get go, Seth focuses on the subject matter of the book, not on marketing – his speciality – but on the individual and their development: he speaks directly to us.
The days of factory work are over. It is no longer a question of being an anonymous worker lost in a crowd, but about standing out, making a mark.
How? By first accepting the fact that each of us is a genius. You don’t have to be a full-time genius – even Einstein was not – rather, from time to time, find new solutions to problems that seemed previously unsolvable. Has this ever happened to you? Even if only once? Then you can do it again. Genius is the basis, the striding step that allows us to stand out when the time comes.
This book addresses these 2 lives (the old one in lost in the crowd, the new one that stands out), highlighting the possibilities and limitations of these 2 approaches.
It also explains why differentiating oneself from others is not the most common approach these days, even if it better matches our personal goals.
Chapter 1: Changing the world of work
The workplace is changing: faced with the end of industry and the development of the Internet, work is no longer simply divided into 2 clans (the workforce on the one hand and management on the other) but into 3, thanks to the emergence of “Linchpins” (or the “nucleus”). These people make all the difference: they are able to make things happen, to direct, to introduce and above all they produce their own output (they do not depend on a manufacturing chain).
The end of factory work could be seen as a profound crisis, because we were all brought up with this mindset: “Work, be a cog and you thus be part of the collective effort”. But things have changed, Fordism is an obsolete model. Some may deny it, but it is a belief shared all over the world.
It is, according to Seth, one of the reasons for rampant unemployment: a company’s sole objective in the industrial age is to maintain a low-cost, easily replaceable workforce. And these 2 points are connected: If a worker is easily replaceable, then you can pay them less. It is therefore a virtuous circle (for the company), and vicious one (for the employee). Fortunately, this system is reaching its limits in this day and age.
The changing nature of work is actually a revolution, and like any profound change, it can be truly scary– we are no longer sure what tomorrow will bring – but it is also a huge opportunity, because we now have the chance to assert ourselves and to give the best of ourselves, to really change things, and reap the rewards accordingly.
Chapter 2: What is your choice?
Faced with this, what do you want to do? Stay trapped in fear (revolutions are always scary), or find your own path? This question is decisive, and will impact the rest of your life. There is no problem in wanting security and keeping your job come what may. Do you want a job where you have to follow instructions? In which case don’t be surprised if that’s the only thing you’re asked to do every day: follow instructions. In this case there is no need to evolve, or to be creative: this will be of no use in your job.
You want to differentiate yourself yet you feel restricted for different reasons (“I did not complete any major studies so I will not be able to compete”, “I’m not an artist, I don’t know how to create”, “People won’t like me anymore if I leave the pack”, etc.), but Seth sweeps each of these reasons aside:
- You have not done any major studies? Neither have most large companies executives
- You are not an artist? Yet you were, at the age of four when you were drawing. You were at 7 when you were writing poems. All of this is within you, hidden away.
- People will not like you anymore? It is exactly when you give the best of yourself that people like you. So everything will be fine. And if some people don’t like you anymore… well that was probably the case beforehand.
So ask yourself this question: What would make you incredibly good at your job? It is only a matter of making a choice, not about having a talent.
Seth also dispenses what he calls a “confidential message to employees”: If you know how to behave like a human being at work as opposed to a machine, then you will be able to discover a passion for your work. It is simply a matter of caring about things, of humanising relationships, and thus creating a virtuous circle.
Chapter 3: The Roots of indoctrination
Seth shows us that this way of thinking doesn’t come from ourselves. It is the whole educational system that is built on this myth: listen to instructions, do not rebel, and this will allow us – if one is obedient – to become a good worker at the local factory.
For decades this mediocre lie produced people with mediocre ambitions. It is the system that creates all the replaceable workers of the industrial age.
Fortunately, this indoctrination has its limits, which are being exposed in the modern age. So why keep following it? We need to find an opening and look at our situation differently: we need to change our answers to questions, change the way we react, and ideally change the question itself.
According to Seth, the key to this comes down to 2 unique values:
- Know how to solve interesting problems
He also reminds us that the fault is with the system that produces these obedient workers, not the teachers. We need to reorganise schools to free up time for inspiring teachers… and expel the poor ones.
Chapter 4: How do you become a Linchpin?
The Linchpin is a small cog of the system. It costs almost nothing, but it has unique added value: It connects the wheel to the car; it is a widget. Without it though, everything collapses.
In the business world, the Linchpin is the one that coordinates. The one who initiates movement, who solves problems, invents, and provokes. It is the centerpiece that transforms chaos into creation. Many companies organize themselves around a Linchpin (Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Steve Jobs at Apple, etc.). Other companies employ several Linchpins, dozens, hundreds even.
How do you spot them? They are usually the really motivated people who are passionate about their work. It is not a matter of fulfilling one’s contract, but of moving things forward. Seth contrasts “Respecting the Rules” (which takes a lot of time, commanding a small salary), and “Having Ideas” (which takes less time, commanding a higher salary). So it is not about investing all one’s time, it’s really about investing in oneself.
Where deep knowledge was previously enough to be a genius, knowledge alone is no longer a source of wealth. Wikipedia, the Internet in general and the sharing of knowledge, means that one will always find more information than one already has. Deep knowledge and good judgement are always signs of strong added value.
Chapter 5: Intense work, beauty and the gift
Generally speaking, we often reveal our Linchpin inclination when we talk about our passions. This is exactly what we need to reproduce at work: commit to things, and perform beyond expectations. This is how we stand out.
In this regard, Seth compares different ways of working (old versus new):
- Leave your personality at home > > investing personally
- Perform a Task > > be a skilful artist, give of yourself
- Easy work > > Hard work, because it leads to changing things
Seth cites a very relevant example about the gift. He uses the Apple iPod as an example. Apple could have just made an object that simply met expectations (listening to music), but the Apple designer wanted to go further and produce a beautiful object. This beauty was a gift by the designer, who was deeply committed and produced something way beyond expectations. In this sense, he is a Linchpin.
Beyond its normal definition, skill simply becomes the ability to create something new, special and unique. The gift becomes the means with which we share our skill. Seth links the gift, the skill and work at a fundamental level.
Chapter 6: Resistance
All of this can only be beneficial, so why do so many balk at becoming Linchpins? Why is it not a natural thing to do?
It is partly biological, Seth says. In our brain (the amygdala cerebellar to be precise) there is “reptilian” area. Its purpose is to protect us from anything that might be unusual and potentially dangerous. By habit it makes decisions for us, and sabotages all our “daring” ideas. Therefore we must be more aware of this reptilian part of the brain, anticipate its actions and fight it.
It is this resistance that drives us to carry on working on a project when we should just deliver it. And it also makes us postpone certain actions until the following day, and even stops us from applying our skill.
Chapter 7: The power of the gift
Very interesting part of the book : Seth returns to the the gift, and what the gift brings to the workplace. In Linchpin ideology, the gift is specifically the added value it delivers, this extra something that will enhance your achievement. You could just blandly do your job, but you decide to do it in an extraordinary way. In this respect, you present a gift.
This is not a gift that requires something in return. A true gift is one-way, it is sign of affluence, and it will gradually be taken onboard by your tribe.
Some examples range from the musician – who will play his solo beyond expectation – to the bartender – who chooses to do be especially generous to you. The gift should be built into daily work, and this is what will transform us into Linchpins.
Conversely, every now and then we also receive gifts from people. In keeping with the same ideology, receiving a gift does not necessitate giving something back, but Seth points out that it is important to simply express what this gift makes us feel, saying “thank you and…. Thanks and…I have pass on the information. ” “Thanks and…here is a tip of €10 “. “Thanks and…I’m very touched”. “
Chapter 8: A map? What map?
Even if we are used to looking at roadmaps in order to work out where to go, Seth says that in the Linchpin culture, these maps do not exist. There will be no one to tell you what to do, or how to get there.
There is a simple reason for this: if there was a manual or a user guide to achieve your goals, then that would mean you had no added value. Anyone can follow a map. When you follow a guide, you deprive yourself of creating value.
Identifying this clear vision is difficult, and that is why it is so rare and precious.
Chapter 9: Making a choice
Using various examples, Seth emphasises the importance of making choices in the life of a Linchpin. We are not born a Linchpin, but we can become one. That’s what happens most of the time.
The Linchpin will make choices, and it is these choices that will make him or her unique. One must not believe that choices are made gradually. A Linchpin is not there to adapt gradually, but rather take one important leap.
Just like big changes that happen suddenly, a Linchpin will take radical decisions to stand out.
Seth provides an example of 2 strategic questions, the answers to which will mean the person asking them will either stand out or stay on the same path:
- Should I challenge the established order or strengthen it?
- Is my job compatible with my passion?
Chapter 10: The culture of the rapport
Key components of a Linchpin are to coordinate, organise, and propose. A rapport with others is therefore paramount. As a Linchpin, your personality and attitude will count at least as much, perhaps even more, than the fruits of your labour. It is a question of teamwork.
But there is no need to overdo it however: the Linchpin simply proffers an attitude of generosity. They are there to present a gift, and it is this that others will pick up on. Ultimately, using the above, the intentions you have and the actions you take will be worth more than the words you say.
Chapter 11: The 7 assets of a Linchpin
Seth lists 7 crucial points to becoming indispensable. These are a great start to improving oneself:
- Create a unique channel of communication with the organisation’s staff
- Demonstrate unique creativity
- Take charge of a highly complex situation
- Guide customers
- Inspire staff
- Demonstrate deep knowledge of the sector
- Possess exceptional talent
Each of these points is a Linchpin asset.
Chapter 12: What if it doesn’t work?
What do you do when your artistry fails? It can happen. The best solution in this case is to try anyway, even if it is fails later. This is better than just failing: it means you have the skills and gives you the right to try again.
There are generally 3 reasons for failing, which can prevent you from becoming a Linchpin:
- “My boss is not interested”. 9 times out of 10, that isn’t true. For that 1 in 10, change jobs
- You might not be ready for the battle you want to fight
- You might not get paid to apply your skills: it might be that they only get recognition outside of the corporate world, for example volunteering.
Chapter 13: Conclusion – Are you indispensable
Seth concludes his book with a manifesto: The world has changed, we now know what the stakes, risks, and possibilities are. Two paths stand before us: one is very obvious – it is the most trodden – and we also know that it will not match up to our innermost expectations. Then there is the other path: less clear, where one becomes master of one’s own circumstances, and creates change.
This second path allows us to address our aspirations, what it is we really care about, but it is also about understanding what the workplace expects of us.
Instead of working obediently in search of total security, we have the opportunity to assert ourselves and face the future, our own as much as that of others, in order to address our need for achievement.
“It’s not about compliance, but about vision and commitment,” says Seth.
Book critique of “Are you indispensable?” by Max Mario :
I really bought into the theory of this book. The world of work is often perceived as bad, and rarely the subject of much positivity. Here, Seth Godin proffers an innovative vision of work, which addresses both our personal objectives (satisfaction, skill, recognition), as well as company’s (strong added value, differentiation). It also tackles the real needs of society (the need for individuals to make a difference).
I see this book as a personal manifesto that can really change your daily life, and if read by many others, their lives too. If you want to find new meaning in your work, in your career, then this book is for you. It will enlighten you on the best aspects of your personality to put forward, ones that the world needs. Beyond giving us confidence, this book points us to the type of work we all seek: one that depends on us.
Seth Godin’s career really takes off with this book, he moves from “Marketing Guru” (“I’ll show you how to sell your products”) to a much more personal theme, one in tune with our time: What do we really want? What do we expect from the world of work?
His observations of the industrial world (low-cost factory/obsolete schoolboy model/interchangeable employees) are sadly entirely correct, and his alternative proposals seem reliable and intelligent.
Personally, this book has allowed me to develop my relationship with work, and the space it takes up in my everyday life. When I come across an innovative person, who is stands out on a professional level, I think back to this book and I tell myself that I have just met a Linchpin.
If I had to remember only one sentence it would be: “Be unique, remarkable and human”. Good stuff.
- Easy to read, pragmatic
- A truly innovative and optimistic work vision: We rarely find books that speak positively about work
- Very motivating, with several concepts can be applied immediately
- Gets us to think about our relationship with work: What are we working towards?
- Has many specific examples, employee and CEO stories
- The book seems to want to steer us, but in anticipating a truly practical guide, the author warns us…there is no guide.
- Some ideas recur over the course of the book but are redundant (e.g., the power of the gift). This delivers very little to the reader, and may be disappointing.
- Chapters are divided into small parts (no more than 1 page) to facilitate reading, but this is detrimental to the expansion of ideas
My rating :
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