This was a suggested book when I purchased Rework. It asks the question, “Are you indispensable?” Valid question, I guess. Somewhat motivational. Could Seth Godin deliver on the premise that he can help you become indispensable to your employer/clients? Wow, that would unlock untold riches and career fulfillment.

Trust me, I’m not making fun. This is great stuff. I like reading Seth Godin because he has a ton of great things to say and he usually does it in very manageable sound bites. Godin ships stuff. A lot of it. Artists ship! That’s his point, and it’s highly motivational.

So what’s an artist? Godin says this:

Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done.

That would be you.

But you’re struggling, huh? Godin paints a picture of “stagnant wages, no job security, and lots of stress” for members of the working middle class. The best way to break this cycle is to change your attitude, change how you go to work. Starting shipping great stuff:

Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.

Godin uses a lot of terms above like ship and art and gifts that don’t appear to fit into a conversation that is supposed to clarify how the average working stiff does great work; but don’t worry, Godin explores each of these in great detail.

Let’s start with this line of thought. Do you remember that book the E-Myth (actually E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber)? I own it. Godin sites a passage in the E-Myth Revisited where Gerber says:

The business model should be such that the employees needed possess the lowest possible level of skill necessary to fulfill the functions for which each is intended.

Godin takes issue with this, here is his take:

Here’s the problem, which you’ve already guessed. If you make your business possible to replicate, you’re not going to be the one to replicate it. Others will. If you build a business filled with rules and procedures that are designed to allow you to hire cheap people, you will have to produce a product without humanity or personalization or connection. Which means that you’ll have to lower your prices to compete. Which leads to a race to the bottom.

Now I don’t care if Godin misconstrued Gerber’s message or even if he’s taken it out of context. Either way, Godin’s passionate passage above is inspirational and sheds some light on the type of people that Godin terms linchpins. Linchpins are the artists, the connectors, the geniuses in any business that are integral to the success of that business. Linchpins rebel against procedures and rules that eliminate options for creativity. They rebel against stability and continuity to create work-product that they are proud of (to ship art). In short, Godin says, “There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.

You gotta be indispensable.

You know what’s valuable? Godin tells us:

Depth of knowledge combined with good judgment is worth a lot. Depth of knowledge combined with diagnostic skills or nuanced insight is a worth a lot, too. Knowledge alone, though, I’d rather get faster and cheaper from an expert I find online.

That’s an important point. That gets you on the road to being indispensable. To being someone who gets product out the door, solves problems, and leads.

Godin relates that it was Steve Jobs who said, “Real artists ship.”

When Steve Jobs said that, he was calling the bluff of a recalcitrant engineer who couldn’t let go of some code. But this three-word mantra goes deeper than that. Poet Bruce Ario said, “Creativity is an instinct to produce.”

But producing is hard work. It doesn’t always feel good, and stable, and comfortable.

And so, the conflict. The conflict between what feels good now and what we ought to do. This explains how someone with throat cancer can persist in smoking, or how an obese person who clearly knows better can persist in eating “just one more doughnut.” In the face of greed or fear from the amygdala, an untrained person surrenders.

This sets off one of Godin’s greatest contributions, his idea that you can’t surrender, you can’t give in to the lizard brain that says resist change, you can’t give in to the resistance. This is how Godin does it in his life – his workflow:

By forcing myself to do absolutely no busywork tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has. I can’t avoid the work because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. I don’t go to meetings. I don’t write memos. I don’t have a staff. I don’t commute. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping.

That, my friends, is a productive artist. Kind of reminds of something Jay-Z says in D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)

I don’t be in the project hallway¬†talking ’bout how I be in the project all day.¬†That sounds stupid to me, if you a gangsta this is how you prove it to me.

Jay-z is an artist, a linchpin.

Godin goes into details also. Here is his formula for being so productive over the years:

  1. Write down a due date.
  2. Brainstorm like a madman.
  3. Organize the brainstorm.
  4. Build the description. It’s a blueprint (Jay-Z ref?).
  5. Get approval from the boss/investors.
  6. Start.
  7. Ship.

There you have it. The formula. Which is something like the project planning method in Getting Things Done.

  1. Define purpose and principles
  2. Envision outcome
  3. Brainstorm
  4. Organize
  5. Identify next actions

I think these guys are on the same page.

And finally, Godin’s drawing of the Quadrants of Discernment is frickin’ priceless. Picture two axes; horizontally it goes from passive to passionate and vertically it goes from attachment up to discernment. Try and figure out where you would put the Bureaucrat, the Whiner, the Fundamentalist Zealot, and the Linchpin. I suggest you read the book to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Thank you Seth Godin for the knowledge combined with insight and judgment.