A Look at Godin’s Linchpin: Get Uncomfortable & Get out the Cowbell

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Linchpin. Those who are already fans of Seth Godin's work will find his latest book Linchpin among his best, if not his best, and those who have never heard of him will get glimpses of his words of wisdom from his previous works of art Tribes, The Dip, Purple Cow and others.

A world renown branding and marketing expert, Godin's lessons and pitch to the world is really about how to live an authentic life. Sure, I love his writing and agree in principle with everything I've read, yet the real magic comes when you realize the power of meshing his Buddhist-like approach to being present, choosing happiness and YOU as the leader in charge of your life and making hard painful decisions to leave complacency and fear behind so you can start creating your real art.

He begins by reminding us what century we're living in. In other words, things have dramatically changed – we no longer have to be a faceless cog in the machinery of capitalism. We now have a choice, as the migration completes itself from two teams (management and labor) to a third team – the linchpins.

We no longer need to be faceless cogs in a bureaucratic mediocre system. We can choose our own path by stepping into our art in the same way other linchpins have done: Colonel Sanders, Jack Bauer in 24, Michael Jackson, Tony Robbins, Steve Jobs, Oprah. This is what Linchpins do – they step out of the faceless system, draw their own maps and create art that matters. Consider "this art" that you are here in this world to create, as gifts that change people and potentially change the way the world thinks.

He brings us back into the mediocre world – you know, where 'average' comes from. Among other things, he blames traditional schools which have conditioned us to do 'our jobs' and follow instructions. It makes us feel safe to fit in, doesn't it, but following the status quo has never made anyone indispensable.

Let's revisit the 'safe to fit in' part. If you think about it, when you feel most alive, the moments you can remember where you are in your zone and doing remarkable work, ask yourself, "were you fitting in or were you stepping out on a limb and creating art?" In these moments, the Linchpin took over and pushed the Lizard Brain aside. Seth refers to the Lizard Brain as the persistent obstacle that sets us back. The Lizard Brain often sabotages the progress we have made and stops us from creating our best work. Refer to a great post Seth wrote on 'quieting the lizard brain.'

The Lizard Brain stops us from saying what we think is important at the right time, and holds us back from making remarkable things.

Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you've got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you're learning to say it better.–David Mamet

Where Seth merges from taking ownership of living and winning in your own life to the business world is the crossroads where the same principles apply to the products and services you are trying to sell. You can win in the short term on selling cheaper, faster or even the best quality but where you really earn your place in the market is with humanity and leadership. He asserts: "the only way to get what you're worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people deeply care about."

When you do the latter my friend, not only do you win and start living a remarkable life, but so will the products and services you represent. They'll take on a life of their own because that authenticity and remarkableness will ensure that your what you create is true art, whether that be a physical product, how you interact with a customer or recommendations you make to a client.

This question and response is probably one of my favorites in the whole book and there are a lot of really great take aways: "Why is society trying so hard to kill our natural-born artists?" When we try to drill and practice someone into subservient obedience, we're stamping out the artist that lives within.

This topic is a particular hot button of mine – refer to a blog post I wrote entitled: Is American Mediocrity Killing the Artist in us?

What average managers and CEOs don't embrace is the notion that the universe always provides when we allow creativity and gifts to flow back and forth, somehow not only do we win, but thrive. Zappos' corporate philosophy is a great example of this. The more you give, the more the market gives back reminds Seth. "Abundance is possible, but only if we can imagine it and then embrace it."

He talks about the NEW American Dream and how to live it, the one that markets around the world are embracing:

–Be Remarkable

–Be Generous

–Create Art

–Make judgment calls

–connect people and ideas

…and we have no choice but to reward you.

As always, Godin weaves humor into his work with titles like Would Shakespeare Blog? People will Laugh at me and Anxiety and Shenpa, the latter being a Tibetan word that roughly means 'scratching the itch.'

And, as always, he talks about the importance of passion. It's no surprise that the most successful client relationships I've ever had are with ones who are also musicians or artists. There's a line at the bottom of my business card that says "Those Who See The Invisible, Can Do The Impossible." Some people read it and are confused or even worse, don't even notice it because they don't live their lives paying attention to where remarkable may show up in the details. Others read it, pause, nod and with intention either say "nice, really nice" or something to that effect. And, others get excited and say, I love this. Chances are I wouldn't have an outstanding relationship with the former group of individuals but would be able to collectively create magic with the latter.

Let's go back to passion. Godin puts it in these parameters: passion isn't project specific, it's people specific. Some people are hooked on passion, deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate. He goes on, "perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen. The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin."

So by now, you surely have an idea of what it mean to be a linchpin as defined by Godin. Among other things we have discussed, it's the person who makes a connection when it's not part of their job. That connection becomes a gift. Being open is art. And art is a gift.

Enter the Lizard Brain again because I know we've all had this experience. You work hard, you create your art and it falls on deaf ears. We didn't please everyone and Lizard Brain steps in to pull you back into the mediocre world to ensure you're safe and accepted by all. Remember the rejection that painter Jackson Pollock suffered through before critics declared him a genius. All of us want to make our art for an audience at the end of the day – we hope to change someone as a result of it; we likely even want to change ourselves in the process.

There must have been some mentor or friend in your life who told you before you reached adulthood – you can't please everyone — and nor should you try. The same applies to your creations. Seth puts it in this way, "if you don't pinpint your audience, you end up making your art for the loudest, crankiest critics. And, that's a waste. Instead, focus on the audience that you choose, and listen to them, to the exclusion of all others. Go ahead and make this sort of customer happy, and the others can go pound sand." Well said Seth.

He refers to Steven Pressfields The War of Art, where Pressfield calls our inability to easily free the daemon "the resistance." Enter Seth's powerful chapter on the Resistance, a tough chapter for those fighting the shift.

Here's the resistance at work – it's your Lizard Brain again, which is the part that the daemon has no control over. He writes, "it (lizard brain) will invent stories, illnesses, emergencies, and distractions in order to keep the genius bottled up. 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."

There is something that Tony Robbins always brings up in every seminar I've ever attended and every one of his books I've ever read: "the quality of our life is in direct proportion to the amount of discomfort (and I'd add uncertainty) we allow ourselves to live with," or something to that effect. (Tony – sorry if I got the exact quote wrong)

You get the point. Seth is on board with living and breathing this value as well and brings it up with examples throughout the book. He says, "the road to comfort is crowded and it rarely gets you there. Ironically, it's those who seek out discomfort that are able to make a difference and find their footing. Inevitably, we exaggerate just how uncomfortable we are."

I'll add – discomfort not only brings engagement and change but passion, purpose, and our true art to rise to the top and make a difference.

As I make my way through the book, I see a lot of life lessons from one of my favorite authors and buddhist thinkers: Pema Chodron, and then later, Seth references her. Why am I not surprised to learn that he's also a fan? I've read every one of her books and if you haven't, don't miss out on learning from her bright light and inspiration.

The place where Pema's insights come into play is his section on Anxiety. What Seth suggests is the very Buddhist (very Pema — sit with it and be present) route. Frankly, it's the only way. Not only can you not unleash the Linchpin inside you if you feed that anxiety, but you'll never feel at peace with your choices or the world around you.

Sit with it, acknowledge it, explore it, watch it, befriend it…and just when you feel that its getting overwhelming and you want to flee, sit with it even longer. I've done this time and time again (I just wish I were better at it), and a funny thing happens. The pain, the suffering, the resistance starts to dissipate and fade away. It works but it's not easy to do particularly if you're new to it and even moreso, if it involves a place or person or thing that has had you in a "stuck" comfortable position for years. Time to move on.

The last thing I'll mention in reference to his book is the concept of SHIPPING. Think about how many things you've started over the years and not finished. You never shipped the damn thing – your precious art. Somewhere the Lizard Brain showed up and its annoying "it's not safe out there" little voice came up with excuses, "I don't have the time, I don't have enough money, I don't have the resources, the product or service wasn't perfect."

I have spent my life helping companies SHIP…products, services, websites, blogs, books, movies. We always ship, but sometimes the art wasn't good enough, or the timing was off, or we shipped into a market that wasn't ready for it. There were other times when we shipped the wrong thing and the real art was the idea that got tossed because the idea was too "big" – perhaps too much of a "purple cow" - for the team to handle. Fear set in. Resistance took over. The Lizard Brain won.

As I read this section and thought about how many products and services I did ship, I was brought back to the one I'm trying to ship now and how long it is taking to launch. It still hasn't shipped – part of me wants it to be perfect, part of me wants the art to be just right and part of me wants the plan to finished before I give it some wings.

The bottom line is that whenever there is lack of movement and progress, I can't sleep at night. Why? Because this launch is created from nothing but passion, nothing but art….so the conflict is between serving clients on the other side and serving my art on the other. The art will ship this month, ready or not, because I've set a date. Setting a hard date with a goal next to it moves idea and poetry in motion to reality and increase the likelihood of getting to go.

Getting to go and releasing your gift is what its about. Linchpins, he writes are "geniuses, artists and givers of gifts. They bring humanity to work, they don't leave it at home. The hard work isn't lifting or shoving or sharpening. the hard work is being brave enough to make a difference."

I'll end on a humorous but reflective note from a title in his next to the last chapter: Making the choice: MORE COWBELL. I'm not sure what visual that brings up for you but as a New Englander, it brings up a real cowbell, an old rusty burgundy cowbell that sat in our den which we used as a dinner bell when we threw large dinner parties at holiday time.

I still have that cowbell and it looks out of place in my 1930s townhouse on a steep San Francisco hill. I don't have reason to use it anymore although I've decided I'm going to think of a way to give it some life again, even if its only a few times a year. It will serve as a symbolic reminder to everyone who hears it that we all need to get out our cowbells more often than we do and ring them loudly.

As Seth so rightfully points out, "the funny thing is that learning how to add joy, create art, or contribute humanity is a lot easier than learning how to play the guitar. For some reason, we work on the technique before we worry about adding the joy."

Why not start with the joy and work backwards and see where it brings you?

Seth, thanks for shipping Linchpin, a beautifully written, engaging and inspirational contribution.