Almost a review of Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin
Seth Godin's new book, Linchpin, has arrived. I read it on the farmer's sofa.
The farmer is going through a midlife crisis. It's not really a midlife crisis, though. As an expert on the process of coming of age in one's twenties, I'd have to say that the farmer is actually going through a quarterlife crisis.
Typically, one's twenties, a period now called emerging adulthood, looks something like this:
Learning to separate from parents.
Figuring out where one fits in the world of work.
Getting ready to be married and have kids.
The farmer is doing those things in compressed time: the two years since I have known him. Many people think it was totally crazy that he sent an email to me, out of the blue. But in hindsight it's clear that he knew he needed something to kick-start his quarterlife crisis. And when you are already forty and have not had one, you need something as cataclysmic as a girl from New York coming to the farm and shaking things up.
The farmer is on the sofa. I had to convince him to let me come here because there is a snowstorm coming. The snow is a big deal if you have a thousand animals out in freezing weather and can't get food to them. I am not going to go into all the details of the stresses of winter farming. Mostly because I don't know them. But I do know that every time there is a lot of snow, something freezes and it always seems to be life threatening: Like water for the pigs.
As a reward to the farmer for trying to cope with the snow and me at the same time, I brought him a snowstorm's supply of lox and bagels. (Note: You can't say he's not a fast learner. He told me the other day he saw someone eating lox and bagels like a sandwich instead of on two bagels side-by-side and he knew it was not the right way to eat it.)
And I brought pie. The farmer used to be haughty about food. Haughty, like, wondering why everyone can't eat grass-fed beef and homegrown vegetables at every meal and have 10% body fat and be able to leap fences one after another. Now that he has to manage reading on the sofa with me at the same time as thinking about the cows trudging through snow to get to the silage (I don't even know what silage really means, but I know I'm using it correctly), there is a higher stress level in his life. Now he has to think about if he left enough time between fixing fences and eating dinner to play Sorry! with the kids (A digressive tip: Cheat so that the game goes faster. The farmer never cheats. Which creates even more stress, from boredom.)
So I bring him pie, and I love eating pie because, as the mother of two boys who is almost always on the edge of an anxiety breakdown, I eat lots of carbs. I used to feel bad but then the farmer, who always seems to come across new research about the age-old problem of how to eat less pie, found this book, How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. It's a great book, and I don't think Lehrer would mind me calling him an almost-Malcolm Gladwell. Lehrer can put all the research together in fun ways, but he can't synthesize it into a fascinating, overarching thesis like Gladwell often does.
So the farmer is reading Lehrer’s book, and he tells me about a study where researchers gave people either long or short numbers to remember, and then they sent the person down the hall and gave them a choice of a piece of fruit or chocolate cake. The people who had the long, difficult numbers to remember picked the cake at a much higher rate.
So that's where we are, at the farm, on the sofa. I am asking the farmer to do long numbers. It's not just that he has to go through a quarterlife crisis in order to get married. But he also has to accept that he used to have the life of someone asked to remember only short numbers: the farm is stable, steady, paid for, and he's been doing it so long he could do it in his sleep. So with no stress, he was always able to pick fruit instead of cake.
Now, with me and the kids in the mix, he has to do things like come home from thawing the pig water to hear me tell him that the flies in the house are not normal, even for a farm, and there is something going on in the walls and I can't live in a house that is fly-infested.
Me bringing the pie is like saying, you can't get out of fixing the flies, but at least you can have your favorite carbohydrate delivery system to make up for the stress I'm causing you.
He is still not convinced, by the way. Forget that I already told the world that we're getting married. We are not. Who knows what we're doing–I also told the world that we are broken up. We are not that either. The only thing we are definitely doing is reading Linchpin on the sofa on the farm in the quietest time of year.
He hears me turn a page and asks me to tell him what I'm learning. Here's what I'm learning: If you are a really hard worker and you have perseverance and people are completely charmed by you, then you are indispensible in your work. I am that. I would not say I'm completely charming, but I am charming enough so that I do not get fired when I am difficult.
The farmer is not indispensible. I am not allowed to write about why this is. But he has agreed that I can write that he is clearly not a linchpin on the farm, the way it is set up now.
So we talk about how Seth Godin says that people should strive to be linchpins. And Seth spends 300 pages telling us what it means to be a Linchpin and why it's important. The farmer's head is on one end of the sofa and my head is on the other, and our legs are intertwined in the middle, and I have to shift my knee when I want to see if the farmer is insulted when I suggest that I'm a Linchpin and he's not.
He is not insulted. We agree that if he would commit to being married, then he'd be a Linchpin to me and my sons. But he is still deciding.
And here comes my review of Seth's book: He is right. Of course. Seth is always right. The problem with all of Seth's books is that he sets the bar so high with every one of them. For example, The Dip is probably the book that I depended on most to get me through the point when my company, Brazen Careerist, ran out of money. I thought I was going to die. And chapters in The Dip would remind me that if we’d keep going, we'd get through it.
So Seth was right, but I am not sure I could get through it again. It was scary. It was gut wrenching, and it was terrible for my kids. Not very many people can get through a dip, for real.
The same is true with Seth’s book, Tribes. It's a great life goal—to have big ideas that people want to follow, and you are a leader by giving people strength in numbers to instigate change through ideas. That's great, if you have the ideas and you can get a following. As a blogger who is asked all the time about how to get more followers, I have this advice to give you: Cancel your whole life if you want to attract a tribe, because it is absolutely a full-time job, and you have to give your whole heart and soul to that tribe in order to receive, in return, a following.
So that's two things that Seth's right about that are extremely hard to get yourself to decide to actually do. I think Linchpin is another. It's totally obvious to me (and the farmer) that it's more important for him to have a job where he is the Linchpin—keeping a family together—than it is for him to just keep coasting along in the job he has. Which means he has to figure out what he likes in his current situation and what he wants to change.
But change is hard. And usually small change (remembering a longer number sequence) begets bigger change (eating chocolate cake even if you don't usually do that) so that you always get scared that you don' t know when change will stop.
The farmer says, “Let's go to bed.” I used to think he goes to bed really early because he's a farmer. But I've seen him stay up late for a movie, and he's just fine. So really, “Let's go to bed,” means, “If I have to hear you talk about complicated stuff for one more minute I'm going to need another piece of pie.”
Of all his books, I am hoping that this is the one where all Seth's readers will, en masse, finally decide they must rise to the standard that Seth's preaching. Of course, I hope at least the farmer will read the book and decide he must be a Linchpin and then, I move to the farm with my kids.
So when he gets off the sofa, I leave Linchpin there in the center, so he can't miss it, but upside down, so he doesn't think I'm preaching.
Digressive comment: You can make Sorry! go faster by playing with fewer starting pawns. If our family of 4 (with twin 5 year old boys) plays and each person has the default 4 pawns, the game takes over an hour. Start with 2 pawns each and it takes less than 30 minutes.
Nope. Can’t go there. Used to like the word “pawn”. It’s a great word. But that’s before my ex stole my jewelry to take it to a **** shop. Now, even the game Sorry has all sorts of implications!
Okay – just kidding! That is a GREAT tip because it is a BORING game and the quicker it’s over, the better! Try SET, instead. But be warned, your kids will whoop your fanny til it slides down your legs (p.s. this concept is not nearly so scary to dads as it is moms….)
My mom hated playing Sorry! when I was growing up, but I loved it. As a way of making it more fun for her, she made us play it while speaking in funny accents and saying/singing “Sorry!” operatically to make it go faster.
Interesting post that reads like the calm before a storm. Can’t wait for the storm to descend.
I’ve been reading your blog since we met in Madison in Sept/Oct and I can honestly say you are the most authentic person I have ever known. Thanks for the info about Seth’s book and for sharing your life with us.
It’s obvious from your blogs that the farmer does not love you. You are delusional to think that this relationship is real or reciprocal. He’s young and doesn’t fully know what he wants. And you’re convincing. But you can’t convince someone to love you.
I don’t think you are qualified to say this. Firstly you are not the farmer and inside his head. None of us are. Secondly you are making this conclusion from Penelope’s posts not the farmer’s posts. She is also not the farmer and inside his head, though I think she probably has better insight into it than you do.
Maybe not. But you can hear PT repeating her pattern and giving him ultimatums again.
I like the concept of Linchpin a lot. i somehow connect with the concept of Connector, from The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I think it’s a very powerful thing to be.
Seth Godin writes great books, but they’re too heavy on reader-flattery: “Person holding my book, you’re oh-so-special and wonderful, you’ll beat everyone else.” Sure, reading a marketing self-help book puts you ahead of the pack, but that doesn’t make *everyone* a Purple Cow.
Purple cows? I need to finally read a Seth Godin book, sounds like a trip.
The farmer is hesitant because or your unpredictability. He
also is hesitant because he and I both know that city girls do not hang around the farm after the thrill is gone.
So manage his expectations at least in the “I may be a flake dept.,yet I am going to let you know how and when if possible to soften things and make me seem less unpredictable”. When you get ready to leave the farm set the stage for a easy transition for both of you. He will follow you, I would.
This is the kind of post you do best: you’re good at synthesizing around a theme (like Gladwell). In fact, I’d venture to say you’re one of the very best out there at this kind of writing. A great pleasure to read: excellent work.
He has a point there re this is your best kind of post. The synthesizing variety.
I’m only partway through Linchpin but am definitely grasping the concept of being indispensable. I hope farmer is able to grasp that concept soon too!
I’m reading Linchpin as well. It’s a good book, but it would be an awesome article or series of blog posts. The problem is that it’s mind-numbingly repetitive. I keep thinking that I’ve accidentally lost my place because I know I’ve read a particular paragraph before. It’s also complicated by the fact that he has all of these boldfaced headings as if the book is impeccably organized, but the headings don’t really mean anything, they just add to the fluff. This makes me really ambivalent about the book, because I love what I’m learning; it might change my life, but man, that guy needs an editor. Did anyone else feel this way too?
Linchpin/lynchpin/lunchpin…. hmmmm…. what I think is, in your job, you should just try to do the best quality work that you can do; with all the integrity, honesty and authenticity that you can muster. And the rest will take care of itself. You might become a linchpin, or not, but at least you’re done your best.
Is that really what would be best for a company; to have someone who is indispensible? What do they do when that person chooses to move on?
Exactly, the whole ‘Linchpin’ concept is bogus-because it’s looking at happiness ass-end backwards-from the point of the view of the company…
Why don’t you write shorter posts? Really, you lost me by the fourth “the farmer”.
I like your writing, but it goes forever, and I read you at work.
I hope it’s okay that I have quite a blog-crush on you. I love your writing style and your perspective. I hope you don’t let the negative pinheads leaving stupid comments pull you down. You are a purple cow if ever there was one and reading your posts is consistently a highlight of my day. Thanks.
@ Mike – My comment is above yours so I’m assuming you are referring to moi.
What’s negative about ‘write shorter posts’? That it should have included the word ‘please’?
And really- ‘negative pinhead’? ‘Stupid Comment’? Yikes, I’m back to high school, but I’m a mature person now, so here it goes: Mike, my apologies for offending your crush-Nerd!
Have a pleasant day :)
1. Thank you for admitting that you cheat to make kids game go faster.
2. Give the farmer some time, he’s used to tending things, adding a wife is one thing,but two kids deserve someone who has seriously contemplated the job.
3. Seth Godin’s books always seem to inspire and depress me at the same time. You nailed it, creating a Tribe is a 24/7 job. I think I know why it’s usually men who write these books, heavy sigh, all the idea are great, but alas, there are only so many hours in the day, and being a Purple Cow, leading a Tribe and being Linchpin, all take a singularity of focus that can be challenging when you’re living in a world where your kids don’t care who the F** you lead, they just want you to get them to viola lessons on time.
Lolol, ain’t that the truth.
Making a tribe takes sacrifice and sometimes, it’s just not worth the who I would be sacrificing.
Well said, justamouse. The most resonant piece of career advice I was ever given was by my very successful (male) mentor:
“You’ll have to make sacrifices – big sacrifices – but if anything ever makes you sacrifice your spouse or your future children, then it’s not worth it.”
I love your honesty. I also got my copy to read too. And I’m loving it.
wow, this post has so many different ideas that my head is spinning (in a good way, mind you). Makes me want to read one of Seth Godin’s books – which was probably the intent – but it also amazes me that you can start off talking about Lynchpin and somehow weave pie, a study on the effects of stress (or is it carbohydrates?) on memory, and Sorry! into what the title suggests is a semi book review. And despite the fact that this was a rather long and meandering post, you neglected to tell us one very important thing: what kind of pie was it?
okay, I wrote a really pithy comment and somehow it disappeared when I hit ‘submit,’ so I’ll try to recapture my thoughts – this post has so many ideas it makes my head spin! (in a good way, mind you) It simply amazes me how you can start off with Seth Godin’s book and somehow weave in a personal story involving pie, a study on the effects of stress on memory and dessert selection, and Sorry! into the post and still have it make at least a little sense. But you left out the most important piece of information: what kind of pie was it?
… an alluring pipe-dream which philosophers of language have long had … once the smoke has cleared, we are told, the sense in which … in the light of various possible reactions and objections [from readers] to your ‘the farmer’ writing, we shall (shall we?) find … when Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote about pausing to re-light his pipe, does it matter whether he “really” did light the pipe again? Not to me! While I am still enjoying breathing and heart-beatings, I have not ‘bought the farm.’ I take ‘the farmer’ at its word(s). My favorite ‘dip’ was in the pond on the farm of my maternal grandparents, after I had been riding the June grain (oats and wheat) combine in the North Carolina rural summer of 1954, two months before I would turn age ten.
3.1415 (I make the crust)
I loved this post! I like how you make the farmer come to life in your blog. You’re staying true to his request to not tell everything about him, and that makes me admire you (and him) even more.
This, to me, was like a yummy Valentine!
Based on the entry I can identity (to my shock) three times I’ve been a linchpin, i.e., at the center of the action, the puller-together. It was scary and then became exciting. It was a role I was not used to but I did silly stuff like volunteer or show up to work when someone else volunteered me.
For awhile, during those projects, I loved going to work. Me. Yes, me. But then the projects ended. Instead of learning to capitalize on the moments of indispensibility and find other projects, I chose to fade into the plaster. A mistake.
And what if the Farmer continues to follow the “indispensible” path? Will you be satisfied knowing that he COULD be a linchpin? But chooses not to? Or maybe it’s not a choice. Maybe he’s just not that kinda person.
Darn you Penelope!
Now you’ve gone and writen the perfect “how it relates to me” review.
I’ve got three copies of Linchpin – due to Seth’s overwhelming generosity in the face of a bit of generosity on my part. (one because I gave to the Acumem Fund, one because Seth is cool, and one because I bought the box set.)
Been thinking of writing my review for days. Uggg.
Well, good job. Thanks for setting the bar a bit higher.
Darn linchpin bloggers…
Great post, PT! I, too, have suggested to my spouse that he needs to read Linchpin. On those good high-confidence days, I’d definitely say I’m a linchpin in my company, at worst, I’m a really hard worker who’s always pushing at the edges. My husband, like the farmer, is not a linchpin – he’s a good worker who’s content with what he has. My ambition vs his competent complacency is a constant tension in our relationship…but one I’ve come to appreciate. I know that left to my own devices, I’d be much more of a workaholic, I’d be changing jobs/moving every couple of years chasing the next great job. It’s a good thing to have a stable partner who balances against my penchant for living my through spontaneous gut instincts. I think in return, I add a little more excitement and mental challenge to his life. And good food – always good food.
I’m assuming you mean your husband’s a non-linchpin at work, right? If so, cherish him.
My husband also is a non-linchpin. It’s his personality. He enjoys being the guy who does the work and leaving the leadership headache to someone else. At work, that is.
My husband’s whole focus is his life after work. His family. He’s home every evening and every weekend, and he’s always here for us. He’s the linchpin of our hearts.
I was once a linchpin but then my Ohio company merged with some California guys and they had linchpins too. It ended up that the newly formed organization had more California linchpins so most of the Ohio pins became un-linched.
I was once like the farmer too. I was single and doing fine just me and the dog but I wanted a relationship someone to share life with. Then along came the nurse. I quickly fell in love with the nurse but I was a bit apprehensive about the nurse’s dog, daughter and son so I held tight to the nurse but dragged my feet otherwise. She was so patient with me, up until the day she was not! My foot dragging days were running out but I was too scared to do what I really should do and she was too tired to wait. Who’s going to blink?
She left. I was devastated and awakened. After three years of foot dragging I have now been kicking up my heels with the nurse for 23 years.
Penelope, you may not be there yet but I see a stare down coming for you and the farmer. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for this blog. Read BC as often as I can and appreciate your bravery and the insights you share. If we all worked hard, persevered, and were kind, gracious and friendly (no gossip), we truly could make this world a better place. No one is truly indespensible though–if I got scooped up by aliens tomorrow, they’d find someone to replace me. I’m humble enough to know that they wouldn’t be as good as me in the same ways, but they’d be better than me in others. Your “hint” was subtle as a freight train for the farmer, but I know sometimes subtle doesn’t work (at least with my husband).
If you are a really hard worker and you have perseverance and people are completely charmed by you, then you are indispensible in your work.
If this is what the book says, then we don’t need to read the book – we all know that, thank you. What we cannot do is how to find a work that engages us, how to keep our focus, and how to be charming. Well, need to read the real book to find out if my rant is right…
Can I second that you are a GREAT PLEASURE TO READ. That even sounds like the high compliment that it is….
I really enjoyed your blog! You are (and deserve a fellow) Linchpin. Don’t wait for someone else to determine your life path…move forward in the way YOU want to…take pleasure in yourself and let the farmer make his decision alone.
You know, I think that in some ways Americans have a pattern of family forming that is quite destructive.
Note the pattern:
“Learning to separate from parents.
Figuring out where one fits in the world of work.
Getting ready to be married and have kids.”
This is a new framework and one that deprives families of their wealth as well as the interconnectedness of the generations.
In so many successful societies, including our own before we threw the parents out of the home, there was a sense that families worked together, that SEPARATION was not a desirable phenomenon as that relates to the generations, and that the shared wisdom and support of the generations provided everyone with continued perspective RATHER than insurmountable gaps.
I truly believe that if we didn’t send our kids off to be raised by State schools that the natural affection that was so common up until 1850 or so in America among family members would give us a much healthier society.
The further we get from the intact multi-generational family model, the further our kids suffer, as our public school graduates now rank dead last in the developed world in terms of knowledge, and, at the same time, are told that, by the age of 21, they are to be out of the home and on their own.
What is wrong with that picture.
My favorite hobby shop:
ToysPeriod is a leading online shop specializing in lego sets and model railroad equipment.
Beth, Interested in where you got your data. I worked in public schools for over 20 years, and intuitively agree with you, but would like to know where you found the data point mentioned.
I coached quiz bowl teams for years, and found that the kids most attracted to being on the team were math/science nerds who weren’t particularly good at the kind of quick response to general inquiries that the game rewards.
Particularly egregious, I thought, were kids great in AP Chem, who seemed to have no real sense of the Periodic Chart. Or kids great at AP Physics, who seemed to have no sense of the history of scientific discoveries that paved the way for modern physics, with great in both case being defined as getting A’s and B’s in the coursework, and 4’s and 5’s on the AP tests.
We don’t seem to value general intelligence, as witness the marketing of the Republican Party for at least the last 30 years, if not all the way back to Harding.
(This may just be sitting in a moderation line, but since it’s been a couple hours I thought I’d repost)
1. Fantastically woven post. I love it when you write like this.
2. I recently had a conversation with a co-worker where she said “I was once in a serious relationship with a fellow who had kids and everyone kept asking me if I was OK with being a mom. Why? Yes, I like them, but they already have a mother. I’m not about to infringe on her territory of motherhood just because he didn’t want to be alone.” It was an interesting point of view, because I’ve always been of similar mind to you and the above commenters. Just a thought.
3. I think the Farmer and I could use some mutual motivation for not staring at the closed door so long that the open one shuts.
If you’re a linchpin at work, and then you decide it’s too overwhelming or tiring or whatever, you can quit. Agreeing to be the linchpin of a family, especially a family with children, is such a substantially larger commitment that I’d argue it’s not a valid comparison. (Also, the linchpin of a family doesn’t get paid!)
I think I’ve been through my quarter life crisis now. Your blog has had the effect you describe for Seth Godin’s books – you’ve raised the bar for me as a blogger. Damn this is good – so compelling. For what its worth, I think that Seth Godin is the master of making common sense sound really appealing – no bad thing at all, the world needs more. Not sure if I want to be a lynchpin yet – I’ll save that for the mid-life crisis!
This is the kind of post you do best: you’re good at synthesizing around a theme
I enjoy reading your stuff, even though I shake my head a lot at your expanding/collapsing spiral life/thoughts, but I have to say to the farmer.
Farmer: You’re a much braver man than I am and I really feel for you and this roller coaster your on.
Good luck to you both.
Seriously? You’re not going to tell us what kind of pie?!?
He will eat any flavor pie. Favorite brand: Whole Foods. Maybe, if this relationship ever sees us living in the same house, I will learn to make pie. And then his favorite will be what I can make :)
Ah. When you’re ready, let me know. I’ve got killer pie skillz. ;)
I’ve been eating bagels and lox as a sandwich since kiddieland.
I’ll always eat bagels and lox that way, and last week, for our third major snow, but first legit BLIZZARD in years, I bought me a half dozen bagels and 6 oz of lox.
Mmmm, mmm, good!
But Pen: what kind of pie? And no ice cream?
Peach or apple with vanilla work hard for me. Cherry I like conceptually better than literally, and I prefer my blueberrys raw, by the handful. Strawberry can be nice, but raspberry with plenty o’ vanilla, is to die for.
And yes, Seth is always right. Thanks for the reappraisal. The Dip is priceless.
Still dispensable, but working on it, Jay.
Seth Godin’s books always seem to inspire and depress me at the same time. You nailed it, creating a Tribe is a 24/7 job. I think I know why it’s usually men who write these books, heavy sigh, all the idea are great too. Thanks for the post, it is such a very good read.
I am charming enough so that I do not get fired when I am difficult.
This is a great statement. I used to be this charming, but somewhere along the way I lost it. Thanks for the reminder that I need to find it again!
Seth Godin is a master. I’ve read most of his books. The first one was Permission Marketing and it changed the way I thought of online marketing. I didn’t even know he was behind Squidoo until recently. I can’t wait to get my hands on Linchpin.
“If Seth Godin didn’t exist we’d need to invent him” Thats What Alan Webber, Founder, Fast Company said, and I agree!
Seth Godins books are an excellent read. I first came across him with the Idea Virus and always look forward to his latest read with anticipation. He does set the bar high, but its interesting to see other people who are successful utilizing his ideas. One idea I particularly like is that of building something or providing a service that is “remarkable”. I guess the problem is that “remarkable” is indeed just that, and getting to remarkable is not always easy.
I look for to reading Lynchpin.
I know several people that loves Seth Godin and his books. I haven’t gotten a hold of one so I couldn’t tell. But with you telling me us about how fantastic they are, I would take your word on it.
On a different note, I am wondering how do yours kids deal with your Asperger’s syndrome. I wonder how you are as a mother as you’ve been a prolific writer. I wonder how its’ like to live with a Penelope Trunk. You are not necessarily the best but your posts are just the right read for me.
thankss for this2
I always love reading his books, Im now waiting anxiously for his next book to come out.
Unquestionably consider that that you said. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the internet the simplest factor to consider of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed even as other people consider worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and outlined out the entire thing with no need side effect , folks could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks
Actually, you can just stop reading when you want and those of us who want more can keep reading. The length of Penelope’s posts are just fine. Go read a yahoo article if you want a brief summary of something.
I came here from another homeschooling post and I am still here, reading everything else on this blog.
Emotionally, I don’t understand it when a woman acts as if she knows a man better than he knows himself. I see the value in helping the guy, being his friend, but I don’t see the value in trying to convince him there is “more” between us. I’m not saying the man always has to be the one to define the relationship, but surely, you are leaving some things out in your blog posts, because it makes no sense to keep on reeling him back without getting any signs of real romantic interest from him. A man has to make the initial investment -the ring, being a symbol of the promise to love- and then I’m all his – forever. This is what makes him a man.
I’ve taken a lot from my husband of 16 years, we have two kids, but I would NEVER in a million years have put up with his worst if we weren’t married. The commitment is certainly an incentive for me as well as him to stick it out. But I know not all men are the same… some “gems” need a little more work/polishing in the beginning and then they become true lion-lamb-lovers making you feel like a queen the rest of your life. I admire you…