Last week at a famous bookstore chain, the young lady at the cash register asked me if I had a coupon. “Yes,” I said. “It should show on my account.” “No, it doesn’t work that way,” she replied tersely. “You have to print it.” “Kind of a waste of paper,” I remarked. “It’s not my fault,” she said. And I had to agree – She is just a cog in the system. She doesn’t care. She is paid for her time and that’s it. She is not a linchpin. She is not indispensable. She could be replaced by virtually anybody.
And it so happened that coming back home, I found my early copy of Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? in my mailbox. This book is for the people who want to be more than a “faceless cog in the machinery of capitalism” (the “factory”), as well as any company who understands that it needs more than “two teams (“management and labor”) and intends to create “a third team, the linchpins,” i.e. people who “can invent, connect, create and make things happen.” As was the case of Tribes, this book sits in between several genres: it’s a socio-political pamphlet, a manifesto for individual development, and a call to a new workplace.
The book starts with a reference to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations that focuses on the division of labor. Yes, “what factory owners want is compliant, low-paid, replaceable cogs to run their efficient machines.” But “great bosses and world-class organizations hire motivated people, set high expectations, and give their people room to become remarkable.” So unlock the genius in you. Interact with people. Inspire. Expose your artistry, and invent new rules. In many respects, Linchpin is a sermon in the original sense of the term, a speech addressed to believers whose hopes can be rekindled, and whose beliefs can be linked together. If you are a linchpin – if you can answer “yes” to the question “Are you indispensable?” – and if dozens, thousands, hundreds of thousands do the same… in other words, if there is an insurrection of talents, what will happen? The end of pointless “factories.”
Seth Godin’s bibliography at the end of the book is quite remarkable. He refers to real books with real messages. His diehard optimism and his fervent iconoclasm, however, also reminded me of one of the most fascinating assailant of the concept of factory, the Russian Prince Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921) who similarly invited his contemporaries to read again the Wealth of Nations’ first chapter, in Fields, Factories and Workshops. He added that “the artist who formerly found aesthetic enjoyment in the work of his hands is substituted by the human slave of an iron slave,” and advocated for a novel “integral education” to help reshape the future. Such future varies based on any thinker’s present. In our time, this future will be designed by the change agents that Seth Godin calls the “linchpins,” i.e. people who want to make a difference and for whom “dignity, humanity and generosity” can transparently intersect.