Book Review: Linchpin

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Higher Education, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 01-13-2010


I just finished my advance copy of Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? It was certainly different than other Seth Godin books, focusing more on you as a person and what you can personally do to make yourself a necessity at your job or in the marketplace.

Oh, and I should mention before the review, I have a free copy of Linchpin to give away before it hits the shelves on January 26th.  After you read my review, answer the question at the end of the review as a comment and I’ll choose my favorite by the end of Friday and ship the book on Saturday AM! (If you win, look for me on the dust cover!)

Let me start by admitting I can’t possibly do this book justice.  It’s fantastic, very well-written, and expands much further beyond this already long review. (To read other reviews that might summarize differently/better, go here.)

For me, there were three main themes that stood out throughout Linchpin:  Art, The Resistance, and Shipping. (If and when you read this book, you might latch on to one of the other themes, but this is what resonated with me.)

You might be wondering what a linchpin is?  Literally, it is a pin inserted through holes at the end of an axle, to secure a wheel in place.  In reference to a human, it is someone who is indispensable or unreplaceable for an organization. When the wheels fall off the wagon, you’re not going anywhere. Linchpins deliver unique creativity, they ship (more on that in a bit), and they understand that their job is to make something happen (p. 221).

Godin argues that we have gone from two teams (management and labor) to a third team now, the linchpins.  “These are the people who own their own means of production, who can make a difference, lead us, and connect us.” In short, a linchpin is a person worth finding and keeping on your team.  You can’t replace them and you need their valuable insight, opinion and production of work.


If you were to pick up this book at any certain point, you might think it was for painters and poets.  Art/Artists are heavily referred to throughout the text.   But according to Godin, we’re all artists now. As factory jobs disappear and the economy that factory jobs were built on crumbles, it’s now the artists who will have success (p. 18).  But factories aren’t just sweatshops and car manufacturers, a factory is “an organization that has it figured out, a place where people go to do what they’re told and earn a paycheck.” (p. 40)

Now that our view of a factory has been shaken, let’s toss Art into the mix.  Art isn’t just for painters and poets. Art is “anything that’s creative, passionate and personal. [...] An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.” (p. 83)  You don’t create Art as something to keep to yourself, you share that talent or ability with others.   And when you diffuse a situation and provide great customer service to someone on your University’s Facebook page, that’s art.  And as Godin argues, this is the sort of art that will be indispensable in the near future.

Art is human.

Art is interaction.

Art is original. (“Marcel Duchamp was an artist when he pioneered Dadaism and installed a urinal in the museum. The second person to install a urinal wasn’t an artist, he was a plumber.” p. 85)

Art is the product of emotional labor.

And most importantly, Art is a gift.

For me, this blog and its content is a gift to you. My presentations are a gift to the audience. Everything I post here is a gift that I hope will give you insight or takeaways to do your job better. When Nick Denardis reviews websites each week on, he’s being an artist. When Karine Joly spends hours preparing and sending out her Higher Ed Experts newsletter, she’s being an artist.  Artists are optimists, and they have a chance to make things better. Artists have such a passion about their art that they’ll do almost anything to give it away, to make it a gift, to change people (p.98).

Godin goes on to talk about the powerful culture of gifts (giving/receiving art) and how being an artist can be profitable as well, but you’ll have to buy the book to learn that.

The Resistance

What is The Resistance?  “The Resistance is afraid.  Afraid of what will happen to you (and to it) if the ideas get out, if your gifts are received, if the magic happens. [...] The Resistance is nefarious and clever. It creates diseases, procrastination, and most especially, rationalization.” (p. 107-8)

In short, The Resistance is everything in your mind telling you not to do what you want to do.  Moving forward with an idea, suggesting a new way to try things, reallocating your budget towards what makes sense.  The Resistance loves when you start a committee instead of taking action.  The Resistance wants you to slide into complacency. The Resistances wants you to sit on Twitter all….day…… long. Godin calls Twitter “perfect resistance, because it’s never done. There’s always another tweet to be read and responded to. Which, of course, keeps you from doing work.” (p. 134) He later says “You don’t want to take initiative or responsibility, so you check your incoming mail, your Twitter stream, and your blog comments. Surely, there’s something to play off of, something to get angry about, some meeting to go to.” (p. 194)

If The Resistance is making you uncomfortable reading this, it’s winning. Simply put, The Internet is Crack Cocaine for The Resistance. (p. 134)

Godin jokes that if you sat at your desk and watched TV re-runs you’d probably be fired, but it’s apparently alright for you to update Facebook for an hour because that’s “connecting to your social graph”.

So how do you beat The Resistance? For starters, some people simply don’t want to, and they’ll stop reading about right here.  For many, sitting and getting a paycheck is an acceptable way to live.  But it’s also the way to becoming dispensable and easy to let go of.  It’s dangerous to be complacent and not be adding value to your organization.

For those of you who recognize The Resistance holding you back from what you want to accomplish, it’s time to ship.


Shipping is sending a project out of the door. Pretty mindblowing, right? But to get to the heart of shipping, you have to think about 1) how you ship, and 2) what you ship.

Godin mentions that he’s written 12 books since 1999.   How? By shipping.  He says:

“Am I some sort of prodigy? I don’t think so. I ship.  I don’t get in the way of the muse, I fight the resistance, and I ship. I do this by not doing an enormous number of tasks that are perfect stalling devices, ideal ways of introducing the resistance into our lives.” (p. 135)

Think of what you’re working on right now.  Does it have a deadline? (It should.)  What is the deadline?  Is the deadline a new deadline that has replaced the old deadline?  If so, you’re not shipping. (Wait… is this blog your stalling device?  I’m honored. :) )

Godin suggests writing the due date of each project and posting it on the wall, and that done or not, you will ship on this date.  He then outlines the steps and techniques he uses to make sure that the project is absolutely finished by that date (you’ll have to buy the book to see that.)

The idea of shipping was the stickiest for me.  Getting quality projects and ideas out of the door, and doing it on time.  In a world of delayed deadlines and “Phase 2″, it’s easy to get complacent with projects that don’t hit deadlines. That’s what The Resistance wants. Instead, Godin says that “understanding that your job is to make something happen changes what you do all day.” (p. 221)

Final thought:  “We don’t have a talent shortage, we have a shipping shortage.” (p. 235) It’s time to ship more.

What We Can Do

Where to start?  There is so much talent at each of your workplaces.  Some of you are already linchpins, truly holding the wagon together.  Others are on the verge, but The Resistance is holding them back.  (The topic of pay in Higher Ed is a whole different blog post that could be pulled out of the thoughts in this book).

Maybe your employer isn’t ready for you to be a linchpin and create great things.  But once you’re creating (and making them look better), I’m sure they won’t mind.

If you want more out of your job, your life, and your paycheck, check this book out.  If you want to be inspired to try harder, to do better, and to accomplish more, read it.  If you’re content and complacent with where you are, this will certainly be a hard book for you to get through.  If you want to achieve your personal best and make the others around you better, you’ll definitely find some next steps for that out of this book.

The Giveaway

It’s pretty simple.  Leave a comment before Thursday 5pm EST and tell me about a linchpin that you know. It could be a co-worker, a twitter friend or colleague, a family member, a neighbor.  Tell me what makes them a linchpin, in your opinion, and what’s one thing that you can take away from how they do life.

I’ll ship the book Priority mail on Saturday AM, so if you’re in the US you’ll have it by next Tuesday or Wednesday, still a few days before the book hits the shelf.  I look forward to your responses!

Comments posted (31)

My Linchpin: My Wife! Her dedication to her job (teaching 7th/8th grade), the way she makes kids accountable for their actions and not letting them slide by with the bare minimum in the classroom, and by constantly stretching the rest of the staff to do better and care more makes her indispensable, in my opinion. She exemplifies many of the qualities that Godin says our teachers need in order to raise up the next generation of linchpins. But as with any good linchpin, the system can sometimes hold her down.

Excellent, very detailed review. Thanks a lot.

The “shipping” part is really crucial. One has to make it a habit of “shipping.” Starts with small things, and gets bigger, and bigger.

The usual package from Amazon takes 2 or 3 weeks, sometimes if customs gets involved even longer till I get it here. I am sitting on “the grill” and have to ask myself. Will I get it in February? :-(


P.S.: I also like the fact that you are nominating your wife as linchpin. :-)

I don’t need a book, but I did want to tell you how much I enjoyed this. You got it.

Means a lot, Brad.


Thanks for an excellent, detailed review. I love the art piece. There will always be that concept that you love and someone else hates. If you are passionate enough about that idea, it will upset you. It should upset you – but often people overlook that emotion and just move on without trying to make the idea better or pushing more for it. It’s your art – you should care.

It’s funny you mention Twitter – at first I felt like a loser because I didn’t have a lot of followers. Now? I’m at almost 300 and think that will be my cap. I want it to enhance my life – not control it.

My resistance? I’m a planner. And if I’m not sure exactly where I’m going, I just stop until I get a better idea. I need to keep moving, if even just to try new things.

The biggest linchpin I’ve ever met was our office administrative assistant at Alma. She’s been in the position for almost longer than I’ve been alive – she knows everybody and everything about the place, she knows what’s worked and what hasn’t in the past, she was always willing to try something new and she keeps the entire department together and running. I always said if I opened my own shop, she’d be the first person I would hire.

My linchpin?

I don’t have one – that’s why I need the book more than anyone else, and fast!!!

If you choose me, you will be improving my life more than you than would be improving anyone else ‘s!!!

I had a professor once — speech 101 I think — who said that “The definition of art is to either show me something new, or show me something old in a new way.”

Seems to fit with your definition.

If you were simply rehashing old ideas without synthesizing it in a new way, you would not be artists. Artistry seems to go hand-in-hand with “finding your niche” as well. :)


Great review! I like how you picked out the key topics that resonated most with you instead of giving an overview of the entire book. I’m really looking forward to Linchpin because I know Seth’s work is always superb and the topic of personal skills and how to become indispensable is extremely relevant to me as I start out my career.

Also very cool that Seth commented here already. Although I’m guessing that might be your favorite comment, even he said you can’t pick him for the book! haha

My linchpin is my fiance Marie. I was hesitant to choose her because her story is very similar to your wife, Brad. Marie is a 6th grade English teacher in her first year, and I’m amazed by how much work it’s been for her to keep up with 78 students. I never really liked writing essays or stories in my english classes because it took a lot of time, but I never realized how much time it took my teachers to grade all of them…and that was only in a class of 25 students! Marie stays on top of all of her deadlines, and also finds time to coach a volleyball team, start a fitness program for other teachers after school, and spend some time with me. She’s definitely got the “shipping” part down, and she’s able to overcome The Resistance. Now all she needs is to add some more hours to a day so she can design some even more creative lesson plans to make her teaching into an art.

And I spent part of my lunch hour commenting on blogs…she makes me look bad. Time to get back to work.


Nice review and I will for sure be picking this book up and possibly forcing my student workers to read it. I couldn’t help but laugh when reading about the resistance because it rang so very true to me. If it is resistance of my own making or that of others.

Either way my linchpin is my boss, friend, and team owner of my other job which is running a cycling team. He encourages me to “Just Do It” (thank you Nike). We have come a long way and it is fun to have the ability to just run with ideas (or ride with ideas in this case), be creative, be original, and try things in a new light. He has helped me a great deal in the shipping aspect. Now if I could only apply this to my “real” job.

I am Captain. Let’s get the Ship moving. Death to The Resistance!

Great review on the book.

Whether I knew it or not – I am the Linchpin. My small organization just laid off 2 employees (one this week). These events and this post have provided me prospective about my role. People in my nonprofit organization already know it. For 5 years I have been the “go to” primary art dealer (the shipper of art, get it?).

No matter how rocky the seas, it’s important to keep fighting through The Resistance to achieve the joy from the accomplishments and new territory that are on the horizon. I get that and feel reaffirmed by this review.

As linchpin I need to be ever-vigilant. The wheels really could fall off.

Thanks for the post.

I want this book! I feel kinda like a linchpin at a growing organization and am all over the place holding stuff together, often to my disadvantage. Being the linchpin is a heck of a tough job if you don’t add others that can help carry the load as the organization grows.

Having extra linchpins handy allows you to add more wheels that help carry the weight in the organization, benefiting all.

I look forward to reading this!

First I would like to say, that I attended a conference in Missouri where you spoke and have been following you on Twitter and your blog ever since. I have really learned a lot and appreciate what you do and the knowledge you share. You really are going above and beyond to help higher ed be better. Even though I don’t work in higher ed, I have learned a lot, and I thank you.

My linchpin is a co-worker, he has been in his position for over 30 years. Even though he is burned out in a lot of ways and is really looking forward to retiring, he continues to come up with new and innovative ways to work with youth and their families (which is our audience). When I once asked him how he gets through the mundane boring daily pile of complaints and hand holding to do focus on other things, he told me he looks for projects that are interesting and different, and those are what help him get through the muck. He may call them side projects, but to the rest of the organization they are “ah ha” moments that help us all do our job better. They are as small as e-mailing out pieces of advice or thoughts he has before a busy summer season or organizing an informal group of professionals to chat about the odds and ends of work that the higher ups don’t take the time to answer or care about, or don’t have answer for. To organizing a state wide summit to really get to the meat of why we do someone of the programs that we do. Programs that we are required to do as a part of our job but we have never been trained on how to conduct them or do them well. While sometimes there is resistance from the powers at be, he doesn’t give up. It may be a year or two later, but he is at it again asking those questions and trying to better our organization.

When he does retire, our organization will have a great hole and large footsteps to fill. As a young professional, I don’t imagine that I will ever fill his shoes, but hope that I can have ah ha moments and innovation that I can share with my organization.

My linchpin? I dunno. How do you find a linchpin in a corporate culture dedicated to status quo and statistical reliability?

I work retail. If I had to pick a linchpin, I’d pick the manager in the city here we affectionately call Yoda. Certified electrician, teacher, brilliant man. Why does he still have a career in retail after nearly a quarter century as a manager?

Because he loves his job! Flat simple. Teaching people new things, being on the cusp of the new toys’ releases, it’s why he’s still in it. And yes, he’s damned good at what he does, and most of what I know about customer service, client care, and the approach I’ve taken for the last five years to hands-on business, I learned from him.

Innovation? No. But a linchpin still – so I say.

Missed the deadline. I’ll take the book if it’s still up for grabs – but I had to share, either way.

Thanks for sharing this, Brad. I’ll link here when I get the book – whether I have to buy it or not :)


I really enjoyed your review. I love the art and shipping ideas but somehow I worry if I’m part of the Resistance! :)

My Linchpin: My Grandma

Why she’s my Linchpin: She stepped up when nobody else would. She taught me the value of hard work. And, made me realize the importance of education. Without her I would never have gone on to complete my degree. She taught me to believe in myself and to never quit – even when times were tough. Without her I wouldn’t be the good man my wife says I am today.

Why I think she’s a Linchpin to her community: As a teacher for over 30 years…she taught thousands of people the same lessons she taught me. At the age of 86 she still chairs the local Museum board, is active in her church and volunteers time to the local clinic.

I’d love the book, but I’m a Seth fan…so I know I’ll buy a copy anyway. :)

Enjoyed your review of the book and am eagerly anticipating its arrival. My linchpin is a type of person(s) that I see in my work and personal lives. They are “go-to” people and are constantly questioning, pushing and evaluating in a quest to become better.

[...] Book review: Linchpin (tags: sethgodin books managing initiative) Twitter Updates [...]

My linchpin? My grandpa. At 60 years my elder he’s constantly buzzing. He’s one of the strongest advocates for hard work I’ve ever met and always has a compliment to share. Ever thankful he passed those traits to my dad and then to me.

Literally wouldn’t be on the planet without him but more importantly wouldn’t have half the ambition and work ethic I’ve adopted in life without his guidance. Hope to do the family proud by continuing to pass these traits along.

I’m not trying to win the book but wondered if there’ll be a contest to come over to Blue Fuego HQ to hangout and read it (you know Borders style.) I can wait til it warms up and just kinda lounge out on your porch.

Just throwing that out there.

And, just in case my wife reads this. She is MY linchpin. We are definitely a team and if I didn’t have her talents to compliment my own. I’d be in a world of hurt.

Brad – great review…makes me want to sit down and read this book asap! Sounds like it’s got a lot of great ideas and concepts.

I think my husband is the best example of a linchpin that I know. At his job too, but I’m thinking of the way he runs our house. Often, I am guilty of thinking about doing things too much while he just goes ahead and gets done what needs to be done…which is much more effective at keeping the household running smoothly! In his office, he is reliable as well – efficient at his work and his boss knows he can come to him with any project because he will take initiative and produce quality work quickly.

I continue to strive to be constantly productive while still dreaming and planning along the way…and not let mundane, unimportant tasks take up my day. (like reading blog posts for instance :) jk)


I read Seth’s blog post, and then I came over here and read your review. And 3/4 of the way through I turned to my mother and said, I’m buying us a copy of Seth’s new book, and I’m buying one for Kris (one of my dear friends) too.

She said, “I was waiting for that.”

We are currently working our way through the most amazing “dip” of our lives. We are broker then broke, as in, we seriously wonder if we will be able to pay our bills next month, and yet we know we are rich. Rich in experience, and direction, and potential. We are building a company. Everyday we make decisions that other people would (and do) call us crazy for, but we make them. And while its hard, and sometimes nerve racking, I can truly say this past year has been an awe inspiring adventure, and I expect the next will take it up another couple of notches.

Wow, thanks for the great comments everyone! I truly enjoyed reading them all and learning more about the linchpins that you know.

I chose Bryan Povlinski for the Linchpin book. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exactly here he is right now, but it really resonated with me and I know that this book will help him personally, but also help him push his future wife to become a linchpin at her school, something we desperately need more of.

I’ll be emailing a few more of you to send a few other Seth Godin books. I was blessed with his box set for Christmas, which means I know have two of many of his recent books. After you’re done reading them, please pass them along to others!

Thanks for participating!

“Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” Fabulous book! “Linchpin” is modern-day “Wisdom Literature.” The book includes proverbs, rants, pep talks, parables, prophetic literature, creativity, systems-thinking, leadership, and identity formation. Godin sees today for what it is, and he offers his giftedness and art to all who will read. The book is eclectic, creative, challenging, and inspirational. I highly recommend reading it.

Great review Brad, I’m just about finished with it. Love that Seth commented on here.

You’re a linchpin keep making change.

I just got the book, I read tribes last year, and was inspired to e-mail Seth. He e-mailed back! AND Quoted me in this book! How cool is that? I am a trainee linchpin! Read about it here

These posts have convinced me to buy the book (probably will get 2). I can’t tell you how many copies of “Tribes” I have sent or given to friends. Reading it gave me an instant boost and desire to start learning again! My linchpin is Michaela. She was my “assistant” (a very poor description of her connection with me) in the “cubicle nation” for over 20 years. Her integrity, unflappability, and support changed my life and now we are both escapees and still rely on this bond.

[...] found a great review and summary of the book on .  If you read it, you probably don’t have to buy the book, because the review is so [...]

I don’t need a book, but I did want to tell you how much I enjoyed this. You got it…

[...] (from review on Squared Peg) [...]

Found the book to be inspirational. Do your pART. Read my review at

Not Cannot Page..

GOOGLE ROCKS! (brought me here to see this great article)

Traditional medicine | Traditional medication

Great review! You and Seth are both very much on target. I am a psychotherapist with a mind/body healing practice and mission. I teach and practice based on the principles you and Seth are talking about, with the mental health professionals I train and with my clients. There is absolutely a neuorbiological basis for our resistance to change and to taking the risks involved in putting our gifts and our art out there. I am the linchpin I want to talk about, and here’s my story. I already do the art thing–after thirty years of professional work, practice, self discovery, writing, speaking, etc–and in recent years I have nearly overcome the resistance to stepping up and putting my art out there in front of bigger audiences, and of offering professional training, and even certification in my school of healing–Force of Habit. My remaining obstacle is shipping. I don’t tweet, but I’m too slow to ship my many projects, including an unpublished book. Maybe that’s tied in with the remaining shards of my resistance, but either way it’s why I need to read Seth’s book. If I don’t get your free one for laying this on you, I’ll have to buy it anyway. Sounds very worthwhile, and, as I said, it is in line with psychological, emotional, and neuroscientific reality. Sounds like great stuff!

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