Sunday, January 17, 2010

How to be Indispensable: More Cowbell!

Thoughts on Seth Godin's new book Linchpin - Are you indispensable?

You are a genius. That start to Seth Godin's new book got my attention. If this guy knows how smart I am, then I definitely want to listen to him.

Godin proposes that we must become indispensable in our jobs. The days are gone when we could show up to the factory (or cubicle), follow the instructions and then be guaranteed a regular paycheck. The market has always favored the cheaper alternative and it is easier to find those alternatives. Journalists, car factory workers, chicken slaughterhouse cutters and engineers have all learned that there is someone willing to do their job for less. The solution to this downward spiral is to become an artist - someone that invests their emotional energy into their job to deliver something that is uniquely different. Like a linchpin that connects two rail cars, indispensable employees can't be removed and discarded.

Godin explains that indispensable artists are a combination of dignity, generosity and humanity. This is a person who can walk into a chaotic situation and create order. They also connect people and naturally give gifts. Just like the famous Saturday Night Live skit that features the cowbell player of the Blue Oyster Cult, artists invest completely into their art - always willing to give more cowbell.

SNL: More Cowbell - Click here for video

The author spends much of the book convincing the reader that things are truly bleak for the average order taker. He convinced me of this fact in 10 pages, so I wanted to quickly skip to the part where told me how to solve it. People have critisized Godin in the past that his books present all problem and no solution. His unapologetic response - "There is no map." Art is intrinsically new and applies to that situation. He can't map out the solution, only give you the motivation to put in your passion to solve the problem.

The art of shipping is the concept that grabbed me the most in Linchpin. The only purpose of starting is to finish according to Godin. Shipping is the practice of regularly finishing the project (art) you are working on. It doesn't do any good to come up with great ideas and then not put them out there. Also, it doesn't do any good to continuously refine them and never actually ship them. I can really appreciate this discipline after working in several startups. You are always in the dark about what the customer really wants until you put something out there for them to evaluate. So many marketing meetings arguing about feature sets, messaging, pricing, bugs, packaging without any real knowledge of what the market wants. Once it is out there the customer tells you what they like and don't like. Then you can refine and ship again.

Godin's book is inspiring. I lept off my chair when I finished the book eager to share what I'd just learned with the world. Although the book doesn't give the reader a map to the treasure, it confirms your faith that exerting the extra emotional labor, delivering unique creativity, and investing in developing your domain knowledge will pay off.

Disclosure: I got a free preview copy of Linchpin that is scheduled to be released on January 26. Godin put together an innovative pre-release marketing program with the hopes that people will share their feelings about his book with their friends. You can buy the book here - I don't make any money from it.

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