Book Review: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
I've been wanting to read one of Seth Godin's books for a while now. Since I didn't quite know where to start, I just checked Overdrive from my library. Linchpin was available, so I snagged it.
Let me start with two criticisms.
Consistently, I've read reviews that knock Godin's book for being repetitive. I would have to agree here. He browbeats every one of his main points.
That being said, I'm not certain if criticizing Godin exclusively for this repetition is entirely fair. The more non-fiction "self-help entrepreneurial productivity" books I read, the more I wonder if repetition is a curse of the genre rather than individual authors. As a teacher, I understand that restating the information in multiple ways helps students grasp concepts and internalize them. I'm going to err on Godin's side and make the assumption that his echoey writing style is merely meant to help a larger audience latch on to his ideas and make sense of them.
However, his idea of a linchpin implies to me that readers must buy into the idea that they are "special snowflakes". He begins by explaining how you can become the irreplaceable linchpin of your organization through positivity, generosity, and emotional dedication.
Okay. That's okay as a message to an individual. I guess. It is a self-help book so each person reading it wants to improve their career. And if you take his path of finding a boss who can't live without a linchpin, then you're good. You have a situation where you are valued and you've improved your life.
Then again, you could take the other path Godin outlines. And that's where I took exception. If you're the boss linchpin, you need to hire as many factory workers under you to blindly crank out your cogs. I'm not okay with the idea of keeping other people down so that my fancy pants linchpin boss butt can reach new levels of success. That aspect of his theme felt smarmy. Like Wall Street versus Main Street unethical.
So what did I like about Godin's book?
He focuses on creation rather than consumption. His idea of the paralyzing lizard brain explains why people fail to create. We're scared, we make excuses, we procrastinate, we conform, we find comfort in the consumption of the status quo.
He argues that people must fight the lizard brain and act! Create! Make! Do!
And then, here's the message that actually inspired me: You must ship! You must market your creativity, whether that's a product, service, or anything else. You need to know how to make the sale.
As a teacher, I found several of his ideas thought-provoking.
First, his criticism of our out-dated school-to-factory education system is spot on! Rather than focusing on teaching students to conform, we should be teaching critical and creative thinking skills.
I started teaching in 1997 in a small affluent district in Tucson. Many, if not most, of my students were little thought rebels. When I assigned a project, students wanted to know how far they could bend the rules and requirements. Usually, I let them pretzelize themselves and the results were often startling...in a good way!
Over the past several years, I've moved several times, but I am employed by that same district now. My students want to be people-pleasers and make good grades. Most prefer to consume rather than put effort into creation. When I assign projects, almost no one asks to break the rules. And I do let them know that if they have different ideas, I'm quite open to hearing them.
As a specific example, I assigned a multimedia presentation. I let the students know that if they had different ideas on how to present their topic, they should come see me. I had two girls who approached me wanting to know if they could create and present together. We talked about how they would split up their process and show the effort of two people, and then I gave them permission to proceed. They were the only students who asked to do anything differently with this presentation. When they got up together to present, their was a mini-explosion in the classroom: "We could present with a partner?"
While I spent a good portion of the rest of the year trying to get students to take risks, what I learned was that many of my students don't want to put in the effort to create. They understand that bending the rules is fine. But bending the rules takes work. Their lizard brains are fine with doing the minimum requirement.
What I find ironic about Godin's criticism of public education is the impossibility of changing it. Voters don't value linchpins in education. I would argue that some voters even misidentify educational linchpins.
Take some charter schools for instance. I know of a well-respected charter school in Tucson where they focus on skill and drill. Their rote system is the perfect factory model, which is also pretty exclusive. They can reject kids who don't fit their eligibility requirements. This charter school is touted as the model of success, but I see them as being rewarded for being the exact opposite of the linchpin solution.
Which leads me to another point that Godin makes that resonated with me. If you're working for an organization that insists on you being mediocre and enforces conformity in all of its employees, why stay? What are you building?
I see public education as increasingly insisting on mediocrity and enforcing conformity. Passing scores on teacher exams for certification have been lowered because the pool of applicants could not pass with the higher expectations. Likewise, I've learned to keep my mouth shut if I want to continue to genuflect before the community that I serve. Oh, and get a paycheck.
So why do I stay?
Emotional labor. Another of Godin's points. Teachers give emotional labor all of the time! When I applied to a master's program in education, I knew that I would never make big bucks. My reward is the student who tells me that I made a difference. Or the parent who takes the time to write a note about how I positively affected their child in ways that I may not be aware.
But what I fear is that in our increasingly consumer-driven society, there are fewer and fewer students who will choose to dedicate their lives to the emotional labor of teaching when the pay check for such work continues to fall behind in being able to provide a decent standard of living.
And when you factor in Godin's message that there are no road maps to success anymore, the future looks even more bleak. A college education does not guarantee that you'll be financially stable. We're living in a time period of constant technological evolution.
He hammers the message that the days of being the factory cog worker who follows the rules and finds success are over. Too many people try to work faster only to find the workforce has someone who is equally or better educated, faster than you, and cheaper. Competition for jobs is fierce! And the days of putting in your time and getting by are gone.
One of my core teaching values is to help my students recognize that doing their best work involves being the person who critically and creatively thinks through options & problems, and then creates the unique solution. Act! Do! Make! I want them all to be linchpins who help figure out how we rise out of this inequality hole we've fallen into as a society. And maybe, someday, we'll actually value education again.
My final point: Godin ends his book with this fantastic list of books that he's read. Since Godin's themes are not scientifically-based, but rather his opinions based on various readings and observations, I appreciate his sharing this long book list with the reader.
My "to be read" Goodreads shelf definitely grew!