Being Indispensable

February 11, 2011 at 12:25 am 7 comments

You get paid to go to work and do something of value. But your job is also a platform for generosity, for expression, for art. – Seth Godin

I read Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin about a year ago. I meant to review it right away, but perhaps it’s better that I didn’t because now I’ve had some time to chew on it and digest it. I love the basic concept – the idea that people (regardless of their position) need to commit to being indispensable linchpins rather than mere cogs in the machinery of their organizations.

I read a few articles and things that Godin wrote about this book, and he seemed to think the chapter on Resistance might be the most powerful. It is powerful.  But the idea that resonated most strongly with me was his discussion of emotional labor. Being a linchpin is about more than just completing a list of tasks. You have to put in the emotional effort to turn your work into art, into a gift. It’s how you add the value that only you can add, and what makes you indispensable. And he’s right – it’s a big investment to make, but the emotional labor pays tremendous dividends for your organization and the people you encounter in your work, not to mention yourself.

Emotional labor is hard. Really hard. But I find that the more emotional labor I exert, the more energy I seem to have. When I start phoning it in and just doing the job, I’m exhausted at the end of the day even though I haven’t worked as hard. It seems like a great paradox, but it’s not that hard to figure out  – one path feeds your soul and the other doesn’t.

I also love what Godin says about optimism:

Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow. And all artists have this optimism, because artists can honestly say that they are working to make things better.

This is why organizations under pressure often crack. All parties can see that their current system isn’t working, but they’re unable to embrace a new one because they’re certain that it won’t turn out perfectly, that it can’t be as good as what they have now. Organizations under pressure are stuck because their pain makes it hard for them to believe in the future.

I know a lot of people and organizations experience this. We fall into the trap of waiting for the “perfect” solution. Our inability to tolerate failure or even uncertainty holds us back. Godin again:

What does it take to lead?

The key distinction is the ability to forge your own path, to discover a route from one place to another that hasn’t been paved, measured, and quantified. So many times we want someone to tell us exactly what to do, and so many times that’s exactly the wrong approach.

The higher the stakes, the harder it is to take that risk, to go off the map. I found this book was a good reminder of how I want to approach my life and work on a day to day basis. It’s not a perfect book. The chapters are broken down into short chunks and stories that don’t always gel into a cohesive narrative. But you could turn that weakness into an advantage; read a chunk or two at a time for inspiration – your daily kick in the butt.

I was given an extra copy of this book, and I’d like to give it to someone who’d really like to read it. If you’re interested in a free copy of Linchpin, leave a comment on this post by noon on Monday, February 14th (Pacific Time). I’ll do a random drawing on Monday to determine the winner.

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7 Comments

  • 1. fortygreatideas  |  February 11, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Great quote to start this post – if only more people could bring, and were allowed to bring, this attitude to their work. I’m currently researching why people working in public organisations often make such bad decisions about citizens’ rights and entitlements – and what I’m finding is that the best way to change and improve what they do isn’t to supervise them more, give them more rules, restructure the organisation, but to try to change their values and the way they think and feel about the world. So was really interested to read your review and get an insight into Seth Godin’s idea!

    • 2. Genesis  |  February 11, 2011 at 9:32 am

      Daniel Pink wrote an interesting article for the Telegraph that deals with motivation and studies that showed reminding people of the reason for their work and the affect they have actually increased their productivity: http://bit.ly/dOKPnK

      I definitely agree that more rigid structures are not the answer. Far better to connect the work with people’s intrinsic motivations.

  • 3. Rosario Garza  |  February 11, 2011 at 9:42 am

    This is so, so timely in view of the budget situation. I know that every library director and system director in California is taking a hard look at staffing. Our current question is certainly forcing me to look at our own staffing and trying to decide what positions are truly needed to do what our governing board wants us to do.

    Obviously I need to read this book! (Put my name in the drawing, pretty please???)

    • 4. Genesis  |  February 11, 2011 at 10:24 am

      Done!

  • 5. Patricia Rivera  |  February 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Genesis,
    Thank you for this! I definitely am intrigued with the aspect of emotional labor. As Rosario mentioned, this is so timely. I can’t wait to read this!

    Please add me to the drawing. Thank you!

  • 6. Genesis  |  February 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    And the winner is…Patricia! I’ll contact you via email to arrange for the delivery of the book. Enjoy!

  • 7. John  |  February 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    “Emotional labor” seems like a euphemism for “caring about your work.” I believe caring about work leads us to find better solutions. Optimism may help us to implement the solutions we come up with, but I think it’s the caring that allows people to get unstuck.

    Additionally, I think organizations which are unable to embrace change in a timely manner are ones which don’t fully trust the individuals to implement that change. Hence the “change management” strategies and similar change-stifling overhead which has become prevalent.

    Innovation is most often a bottom-up process.


"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce

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