Seth Godin Interview About Linchpin

For those of you who would rather read than listen – here is the transcript of the interview I did with Seth Godin this morning about "Linchpin – Are You Indispensable."

Bob Poole: Good
morning. I’m with Seth Godin, and
today we’re going to discuss his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? Which, by the way, has just been
released today, so this is a special day for you, Seth.  Welcome!

Seth Godin: Well,
thank you so much.  It’s almost anti-climatic
given how hard we’ve been working on this thing.  So, I’m thrilled to have pressed the publish
button, and things are working the way they’re supposed to.

BP: Great, I see
it already climbing on Amazon over the last 24 hours so I’ll be following it to
see when it hits number one. 

So tell me, what is a Linchpin, and what is it according to
you and the book?

SG: Well, in the
old days, a linchpin was a tiny piece of hardware, very light in weight and low
in cost that held the wheel onto the wagon. Without a linchpin the wheel would
fall off.  It’s the part you can’t live

And I use that as a talking point to get me started down
this road of talking about how our economy has shifted from 150 or 200 years of
industrial compliance in which a workers job is to feed the machine and keep
the system running, to a new age which just dawned, a revolution, in which the
employees we’re willing to pay, and the people we seek out, and the jobs that
we care about, are done by people, not who follow a manual, and do what they’re
told, but people who matter, who make a difference, who are linchpins, who we
can’t live without.

BP: Fantastic!
The thing that really struck me about the book when I was reading it, is that I
felt a personal connection to you, there was something about it that was different
from your other books.  And in fact, I
know in the introduction you wrote, “This time it’s personal.” Can you tell us
what you meant when you wrote that?

SG: Well, I
didn’t mean it was personal about me, I meant it was personal about you. All my
other books have been about systems, about policies, about ways that you use
tools to help an organization, a politician, a fundraising organization, a
for-profit, go out into the world and spread an idea.   In this book, I’m trying to say “Wait a
minute. If the underlying intent isn’t what it needs to be, then it’s not going
to get you anywhere.” The systems can only take us so far, and in fact, this
book is the anti-system book.  It says
that individuals are the building blocks of everything we have, and we need to
get back to the humanity of the individual.

BP: I notice the
first half of the book seems to be a lot about the new world of work, and how
we got where we are today, where so many people are unhappy with their jobs and
their lives, and what was sold to many of us as the American Dream.  My father, for example, spent his entire life
working in the same steel mill, doing the same job.  And, you know, I was raised to kind of
believe that was what you were supposed to do, you went to work for one company
and they took care of you.

So what was the dream, in your words, and why do you write
that the people in America
are still waiting to do in every corporation.

SG: All of us
were sold that dream. We were cajoled and pushed and brainwashed.  There was a reason for it, and the reason is
if you own a factory, whether it’s a steel mill or an insurance company or an
airline, you need it to be filled with workers who do what they’re told.  And the more people who want that job, the
less you have to pay. 

If there’s a line out the door, then you can mistreat and
disrespect people, and pay them less because you can easily replace them. So,
the school system was complicit in building out generations of people who
follow these instructions.  So, right
now, there’s a lot of people blamelessly in pain because the system is falling
apart but they’re still doing what they were told.

BP: So, then
people want to change, and there are people out there, who want to make a
change, but we don’t according to the book, and I hit page 101 and found the
longest chapter maybe in any book ever written and it’s called “The Resistance,”
and it’s all about the Resistance and something you call ‘the lizard brain,’
which causes us to confuse fear and anxiety, right?

SG: That’s right,
Steve Pressfield came up with the term ‘the Resistance,’ and then I combined it
with some brain science and the Triune Theory that talks about the lizard
brain, the amygdale, the pre-historic brainstem that is now miswired, but is
responsible for us surviving saber tooth tigers and dark, scary jungles.  That what we evolved to do is to stay with
the village, keep our head down and do what we were told, and not be out on our
own. That being laughed at 10,000 years ago was a really bad idea, ‘cause it
was the step before being expelled. Now, doing things that get you laughed at
is what makes you safe and secure.

BP: Now, let’s
say I’m a cubical dweller, or maybe I have my own office. Okay? I’m middle
management, I’ve been with the same very large corporation for twenty years and
with each passing week I realize I want to leave. I know I’m talented, I’m a
linchpin already where I work, which I I’ve gotten where I am, but I’ve had
enough of the corporate world.  But at
the same time, I’m afraid, I’m afraid to make the move.  Why do you think that is?

SG: Well, I’m not
pushing people to quit their jobs. I think if you want to quit your job that’s
a fine thing to do. But I also think that in our economy and culture, there’s a
lot to be said for being part of an organization, it gives you leverage. 

What I’m saying is, if you have a choice between doing great
work and maybe getting fired, or doing mediocre work and thinking that you’re
safe, you’re better off taking the first choice.  Because there were 20,000 auto workers in Detroit who thought they
were safe and they all lost their jobs. 
And there were 100 people at that small business down the road who
thought they were playing it safe and they lost their jobs. 

What you need to do, if you’re going to keep your job, is
lean into it and use it as a platform: a platform for doing your art, for
making your contribution.  And it’s a
great place, I mean, my first job taught me so much because, you know, there
were 16 million dollars in venture money.  Harvard
kicked in at
least half of it. I was surrounded by thirty or forty really smart people.  And I was the third guy down on the totem
pole. I wasn’t the senior management. No one worked for me, I had no direct reports.
 What a great place to play and learn and
make a commotion!  Because I could launch
a product, get into Lechmere, and Kmart, and Target, and if it failed I didn’t
have to sell my house, somebody else had to worry about that.

So, that opportunity made a huge difference to me, and I
think it’d make a difference to just about anyone.  The irony is, the really good part, is that
the people who are running the company, want you to do that! You’ve persuaded
yourself that what they want you to do is nothing, and be boring, and sit
still, but that’s not really what they want. 
They want you to push them to have bigger market share and better
connections and a bigger network.  And
you’ve just been silently blaming them when that’s not really the point.

BP: Yeah, I think
you touched on that in, you wrote two secret memos, one of was for employees
and one was for employers. I’m not gonna, you know, I’m not going to give up
the story, but they were great. What do you think employers are going to do
when they read linchpin. How do you think most of them will respond?

SG: Well, first I
don’t mind if you give up the story. My goal is to spread the idea, and if it
spreads without the book, that’s okay with me.

There’s two kinds of employers. The employers who don’t
understand the magic of what they do are going to want everything to stay the
same. They don’t want people who are indispensible. They want compliant,
disposable workers. They’re not going to buy this book for all their employees.
Don’t worry about it, it’s not going to happen. But I don’t think you should
work there anyway, because those companies are doomed. You know, the Western Unions
of the world, they’re still waiting for the telegraph to come back. That’s
going to be a problem.

On the other hand, most companies, particularly smaller
companies, are saying “You know what? There’s a lot of change in the world, I
like running a small company, I’d rather survive and thrive by filling this
place with people who will take responsibility and stand up for what they
believe in, than I would to fill it with people who are waiting for me to tell
them what to do.”

BP: You use the
phrase, “Real artists ship.” What does that mean, and why is it important?

SG: Well, I stole it from Steve
Jobs. And he uttered it in his unique way to a programmer who was begging for
one more day, one more day, one more day to keep tweaking code.

What I’m trying to argue for is that if no one sees your
work, if you don’t change people, then you’re not an artist. That painting in
your attic, or writing interesting things down and not sharing them, or coding
a website that doesn’t get used, that’s not art. That’s, you know, interesting,
and it’s a hobby, but it’s not important, because it doesn’t matter.  And, if you can’t ship your thing out the
door, whatever your thing is, a blog post, or a direct mail letter, or customer
service interaction, then you are failing.

BP: Your chapter
on gifts, and the gift of art, meant a lot to me. It kind of validated some of
my own beliefs.  When you write about the
gift of art, what do you mean?

SG: So, I was
inspired by a book by Lewis Hyde, called The
, and what he argues, and I completely concur with, is that it’s not
art if you got paid to do it.

Art is the bonus, it’s the extra, it’s the connection, it’s
the change.  That when Picasso paints a
painting he might get paid for the canvas, but seeing it in a museum is free.
The Beatles don’t get paid by you when you hear their song on the radio; the
joy it gives you is free. The souvenir addition, the concrete instantiation of
the item, that costs money. That’s
how you can make money. But if you’re not prepared to give a gift, to connect
to people, then you’re not going to be able to do art.

BP: I agree with
you that something as what might sound as simple as being good with people is
really an art. In fact, the linchpins that I know, that came to my mind as I
was reading it, are all the very best at being good with people.

SG: Right, so you
know you get on the airplane, you paid for the ticket to take you to Cleveland. You didn’t pay
for the flight attendant to smile at you. You didn’t pay for the pilot to come
out and comfort your granddaughter who’s crying. You didn’t pay for the baggage
person to carry the bag out to your car for free and refuse a tip. But after you’re
done with the flight, those are the only things you’re going to remember.
That’s the bonus, the thing that makes one airline worth more than another.
That’s the art of service.

BP: Fantastic. I want to go back to
the Resistant, for just a second, too. It’s such an important concept. What do
we do about the Resistance? Do we, you know, accept it? Ignore it? Chase it
down and beat it to death? What’s the answer to dealing with the Resistance?

SG: The answer
is, it needs a name. Right?

If you’re playing golf, and you don’t know about the thing
called the hook and the thing called the slice, It’s going to be really hard to
fix your game. But once you know the name of it, you’ve got a shot. Right? And
that’s exactly what Steve Pressfield did by naming the Resistance.

So once you know it’s there, once you know that that voice
in the back of your head that’s keeping you from shipping, the one that’s making
you go to meetings, the one that’s having you water down your great idea to
make sure that everyone likes it. That voice is a natural part of our
evolution. It’s there, and we have to acknowledge it.

Now, there’s lots of things you can do about it. You can be
the kind of person who fights it head on. You can be the kind of person who
views it as a weathervane. That’s what I do. If the resistance is loud, I know
I’m on the right track. I do exactly the opposite of whatever it says.  So that means if there’s a guy down the hall
who you’ve been meaning to have an honest heart to heart talk with, and the
resistance says, “Well, maybe you should just postpone it until tomorrow; it’s
not the right astrological moment” and stuff, that’s your signal to do that
difficult thing. Go have that difficult conversation.

Other people learn to make it their friend. To say, “You
know what, that’s part of who I am, it’s there, I’m used to it now.” There’s
lots of different ways to get through it, but what I know is that every artist
that I’ve ever spoken to, in every field, has told me the Resistance is
present. And everyone deals with it in a different way.

BP: How ‘bout
recognizing the lizard brain, the resistance… how do we know when it’s at work?
He lives in our gut, is that…?

SG: The lizard is
never going to tell you not to have that hot fudge sundae. The lizard is never
going to tell you not to ream out that parking attendant who was two minutes
late getting you your car. The lizard never speaks up when you’re about to do
something selfish. That’s not its job, that’s a different part of your

The lizard is the one that speaks up when, maybe just maybe,
you’re about to get laughed at. And if that’s the situation you’re in, and you
hear that voice in the back of your head, that’s worried about that speech you
have to give, or that phone call you have to make, or that graphic that you’re
about to post. That is what the lizard sounds like. And it won’t take you very
long to figure out the tone of its voice.

BP: I think I’ve
heard the lizard a few times.

SG: [Belly

BP: So, in
reading your other books, and following your online posts, I feel like people
always want you to provide a map.  In
fact, I’ve even seen criticisms that you don’t give people enough direction.
But that’s the whole point of being indispensible, isn’t it?

SG: Well, you
know, this is valuable because it’s scarce. Right? If everyone could do this,
no one would pay extra for it. 

So, if I could tell you how to do it, everyone would do it.
I can’t tell you how to do it. No one can tell you how to do it. When you go to
art school, Bob, they don’t teach you how to be Picasso, or Shepard Fairey, or
Monet, or Manet, because they don’t know. 
They can teach you how to paint. They can teach you how to do a still
life that looks like a photograph. But they can’t teach you how to do the next thing. ‘Cause no one knows, except
you. So, my job is to say, this is the opportunity, and in fact the obligation.
But if you want the step-by-step “Twitter for Dummies, Blogging for Idiots” manual,
I don’t write those. Sorry.

BP: Okay. You
know, when I finished reading Linchpin,
I realized that it really isn’t a business book, in my mind, but really a book
about how to find your purpose in life, and it’s a book about living the life
we all deserve. Would you agree with that? Was that your goal?

SG: Well, isn’t
that all of our goals? I mean, we didn’t build the internet, as I said earlier,
to someone, just so we could sit around wasting time watching Paris Hilton
videos. And we didn’t spend all those years in school just so we could sit
around at Aetna Insurance stamping insurance forms. There’s way more to do.

And as Baby Boomers get older and we look around and say “Is
that it?” I guess my answer to us is, “No, it’s not.” What’s “it” is this idea
of connection and change and transformation. 
And I’m not sure I mind sounding a little bit like a New Age guru when I
saw these things, because sometimes New Age gurus are right. And what we’re
right about, if I am one, and I’d like to think I’m not, but if they’re right,
it’s that this whole system we’ve built has a bigger purpose than yet another
McMansion. And I think the purpose of it is to do work that we’re proud of.

BP: Well, the new
American Dream, you describe it as, “Be remarkable, be generous, create art,
make judgment calls, connect people and ideas, and, in the end, we have no
choice but to reward you.” I think that’s a great summary to the book.

SG: I’ll settle
for that.

BP: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?

SG: I want to add
that the people who read what you write are really lucky. We’re fortunate that
you wake up every day to do it, and I want to thank you for kicking in, and
standing up, and doing work that matters.

BP: Well, thank you
very much, Seth, I appreciate that.  You
have a wonderful day, and the best of luck with Linchpin.  I’ll be following the action today, and all
the Hoopla!

SG: Thanks so
much, we’re working on it. See you later!

 BP: See you
later. Bye.

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