Must Read: Linchpin (the book)

Seth Godin straddled a tough line in his new book, Linchpin.

“Shut up, just shut up. You had me at hello.”

Seth Godin had me at “hello” in his new book, Linchpin.  And there’s so much to love in the book that I’ll start with that.

I’ve documented my struggles to establish a memorable brand for myself, even though my professional success has been based on creating clarity in the face of complexity.

Linchpin resolves that challenge.  It’s on the inside front cover flap:  Linchpins “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.  They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book.”  OK, I now have the foundation for crystallizing my own linchpin brand.

Here are the seven traits of linchpins:

  1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organization.
  2. Delivering unique creativity
  3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  4. Leading customers
  5. Inspiring staff
  6. Providing deep domain knowledge
  7. Possessing a unique talent

There’s an interesting dynamic at play.  Linchpins are people who, by definition, make themselves indispensable to an organization and therefore should be safe from layoff.  But I suspect many organizations don’t properly recognize their linchpins and might very well let them go in favor of keeping people who don’t rock the boat.  And the linchpins will, in the long run, be better off for it.

The challenge — if you’re a job-seeking linchpin — is figuring out how to highlight those traits in a way that gets you past the gatekeepers whose job it is to eliminate people who don’t perfectly fit the job description.  And linchpins rarely do, because the things they do well aren’t in the job description.

But this book is terrific for that group of people because, I suspect, they never defined themselves as linchpins; they just did the job.  It’s full of great tips on how to be better at it.  And Godin’s passion for the subject is burned into every page.

The problem — and this ties back to my use of the Jerry Maguire quote — is that Godin, who has rock-star status in many corners, is preaching to the choir.  He had me at hello, but it took 48 pages or so to get to the chapter on Becoming a Linchpin as he tried to convince me I needed to become one.  The reviews have been terrific; the adulation virtually unanimous.  But I wonder if the people who would buy this book wanted less convincing and more linchpin “tools.”

But that said, it was worth the wait.  This book is jammed with great stories — at times he could have edited more ruthlessly — and I feel I’m on a streak of three books that are changing the way I’m approaching the next chapter of my life (Switch, this one, and The Checklist Manifesto).

If you’ve read the book, how do you go about convincing a prospective employer that they should make room for a linchpin like you in their organization?

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Must Read: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (out Feb. 16)

     Great book, chock full of great advice and tools.  If you haven’t pre-ordered it and this post is a reminder to do so, I won’t be insulted if you jump right now to the bottom of this post and click through to Amazon (or your own favorite bookseller). 
     I’m never sure how much I should give away with a review like this, but the basic idea of the book (beyond the sub-title, which is How to Change Things When Change is Hard) is that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider and “any time the six-ton Elephant and Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.”
     I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy from the authors (Dan and Chip Heath, who also wrote another of my favorite books, Made to Stick)…and I understand that the idea is to generate excitement so people will go out and buy it.  I only have a couple of quibbles about the book, but let me highlight the overriding themes with the plea that you buy the book and read the stories that surround these themes to really effect change in your life.
     Theme No. 1:  Direct the Rider.  Basic idea here is that because resistance is often due to a lack of clarity, you need to provide crystal-clear direction.  You do this by finding bright spots in otherwise dismal situations and then giving direction to the Rider, creating a sort-of sandwich where you describe both a start and a finish and provide what the Heaths call a “destination postcard.”
     Theme No. 2:  Motivate the Elephant.  Here we’re focusing on driving change through motivation and we need to find the core emotional message that will get your Elephant moving.  The Heaths argue that what sometimes looks like laziness is often exhaustion (i.e., the Rider can’t get his way by force for long).  Knowledge isn’t enough to motivate change; you also need the confidence that you are capable of overcoming the challenge, that you are “big” enough to do it.  The answer:  Shrink the change and/or grow your people.
     Theme No. 3:  Shape the Path.    As the Heaths put it, what looks like a people problem may actually be a situation problem, and changing your environment can often make change much easier.  You can change the rules or the tools needed to do the job  (i.e., “tweak the environment”) or create new habits.  They offer a time-tested tool to marry these two approaches: checklists (which the authors promote with some nervousness).  You can Rally the Herd (of Elephants) and get them to convince each other about the value of supporting change.  And they introduce ways to keep the momentum going.
     I go through books like this with a highlighter and pen, and transfer my notes into a small spiral notebook that helps me remember key points from everything I read.  I took a lot of actionable ideas out of this book that will change the way I approach my life (business and personal).  Had I read this book six months ago, my blog might well have been called Elephant Simplicity. 
     My only quibbles?  It took awhile to get into the flow of the book’s structure — there’s a lot of bouncing between stories making them sometimes feel a bit redundant.  And the Heaths use a tool they call a “Clinic” in which they describe a real-world situation and ask the reader to apply the Switch framework to create change.  It’s a great idea — and they say you can read them as you go or come back to them later.  I suggest you come back to them later, since they’re introduced in Chapter 3 but incorporate materials you’ll find throughout the rest of the book.
     But again, those are quibbles.  This book is a terrific investment.  Here’s an excerpt.  And here’s one place you can order it.  My understanding is that pre-orders get aggregated and help the authors jump to the top of many bestseller lists in Week 1 and the discounts can more than offset the cost of shipping.
     Please come back after you’ve read it and let everyone know what you thought.

Must Read: The Linchpin (Seth Godin) table of contents

A lot of people have had a lot of nice things to say about Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable,” and I hope to blog on the book soon.

But take a look to the left at the Table of Contents for the book — it offers chapter summaries instead of page numbers.  What a very cool way to summarize the book and help (1) new readers navigate the book and (2) returning readers find the specific chapters they’re looking for.

An example…In most books, you’d see that the fifth chapter is Becoming the Linchpin.  In this book, Seth gets your attention by adding, The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen.  Every worthwhile institution institution has indispensable people who make differences like this.  Over at Chapter 9, in addition to There Is No Map, you get Indispensable linchpins are not waiting for instructions, but instead, figuring out what to do next.  If you have a job where someone tells you what to do next, you’ve just given up the chance to create value.”

The inside cover goes further with the definition of a linchpin: They “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.  They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book.  they delight and challenge their customers and peers.  They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.”

Can you imagine anything better than to be described as a linchpin by those who know or work with you?  Paging through it, this looks like a terrific book, starting with the Table of Contents.  It’s the next book I’ll be reading (after finishing Switch by the Heath Brothers, which will be officially released early next week).

Must Read: Bootcamp for great ideas

 I see a lot of job postings where an MBA is required.  I don’t have an MBA so that’s a problem.

That’s why a recent NY Times article about reinventing the MBA curriculum got my attention.  As one person put it, “At business school, there was a lot of focus on ‘You’ve got a great idea; here’s how to build a business out of it.’  The d.school said, ‘Here’s how you get to that great idea.'”

The “d.school” is a reference to the growth in “design thinking,” which emphasizes a focus on human needs to decide what problems need to be addressed.  There’s an engineering focus to all this (the Stanford d.school is part of the Engineering School), but that’s missing the point of today’s posting.

So here’s the point of the blog.  The Stanford d.school has posted a terrific document on its site that is a fairly short primer on the various concepts that drive the development of great ideas.  The D.School Bootcamp Bootleg starts with seven mindsets — including “Bias Toward Action” and “Create Clarity From Complexity” (my favorite) and “Show, Don’t Tell.”  It goes on to introduce modes like “empathize,” “define,” and “test.”  And then it outlines a variety of strategies (or methods) that are integral to design thinking.

Lest this sound overly academic — and some of them will lead your eyes to glaze over a bit — there are some great ideas you can use to better understand your customers or come up with that “one big thing” before you go too far down the road. 

Business books seem to be getting shorter lately…and packed with more usable information.  This one is less than 40 pages and well worth your time.

Read through it.  Think about how you’ve used the concepts without actually knowing you were employing design thinking.  Pick some things to try.  Keep them if they work and try something else if they don’t. 

Use this document — but think of it as a toolkit — and when the time comes perhaps you can overcome the lack of an MBA with a skill set that enables you to develop great, marketable ideas.

How about you?  How have you used some of these methodologies — interviewing for empathy, powers of 10, and so on — to fine tune your ideas?  What worked and what didn’t?

Are you missing that next great job opportunity or great client?

Would you have missed the world-class violinist playing in the train station?

An acquaintance passed this story along a while back, and I thought it was appropriate for the first few days of a new year.  The setting is the Washington, D.C., metro station just about three years ago, and the result was a Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 60 minutes. During that time, nearly 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

 After three minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

Four minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

Six minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

Ten minutes: A 3-year-old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously.  Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man collected a total of $32.

No notice.  No applause.  Barely any recognition for the violinist — Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played some of the most challenging pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million.  Two days before, he had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

Joshua Bell’s unannounced concert in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a experiment that basically asked whether people will see beauty if it’s in an unexpected place at an unexpected time.  The resulting story won the Post a Pulitzer Prize for the way it addressed these questions.  It also raises a quesiton for each of us:  How many opportunities do we miss each day because we’re just not paying enough attention?

In the midst of what is becoming a frustrating job search for many of us…or tense times in the office for those who have jobs, it’s good advice to take a moment and look around.  Who knows?  Perhaps what you see will provide the lead to your next job, client, or business idea.

Where have you found opportunities in unexpected places?

Must Read: Download Seth Godin’s What Matters Now for free

A veritable Who's Who of deep thinkersA few months ago, Seth Godin asked 70 of the brightest minds on the Internet to talk about a word or a phrase that answers the question, What Matters Now — something to thnk about as we enter the New Year.  He’s turned those thoughts into an e-book called, of course, What Matters Now that you can download here for free.

Some of my favorite writers are represented here — people who are Must Reads on their own.  Alan Webber, who wrote the Rules of Thumb — his word was Unsustainability.  Tom Peters (Excellence, of course).  Chip and Dan Heath (Change). Chris Anderson (Atoms).  Dan Pink (Autonomy).  Tim Sanders (Confidence). Zappos’s Tony Hsieh (Poker). Seth himself (Generosity).  And the list goes on and on.

I have to say it surprises me that the word that drives this blog isn’t represented:  Simplicity.  Perhaps it’s the growing complexity of the Web and of social media that led the word to be ignored.  Perhaps, as I continue to read through this book I’ll find that Simplicity is covered by a brighter mind than my own under the guise of a different word.

Seth is hoping for 5 million hits on this book through the various sites that are letting readers download it.  More to the point, he’s hoping for a lot of dialogue around the thoughts in his book and by readers who have their own thoughts.

What do you think?  Which of these resonated with you?  What’s missing?  What Matters To You?  I’ll be blogging on Simplicity soon.  I hope to have the chance to read your thoughts too.

Recipe for disaster: Gourmet stopped being relevant…and now it’s gone

Goodbye, Gourmet
Goodbye, Gourmet

Over the past week or so, a lot of writers have bemoaned the death of Gourmet magazine.  I don’t feel as bad as many of its readers.  To me, it was simple.

I love magazines.  There’s a basket sitting next to my computer with a bunch of magazines in it — some read, some not.  There are old issues of both Gourmet and Bon Appetit (both published by the same people) in that basket, but we gave up our subscriptions to both a few years ago.  As I recall, they each cost less than $10 per year.  I can’t tell you why specifically, but there are only so many ways to describe cooking Thanksgiving dinner or some hopelessly complicated meal that requires 100% concentration (i.e., no kids lurking about).

And our kids started getting older…and our youngest was born with severe food allergies and neither magazine seemed to recognize that there were readers out there that faced that situation.

A simple reason for closing the magazine

I liked the simplicity of Conde Nast Chief Executive Charles Townsend’s explanation for why he shut down Gourmet and a few other publications — they were losing money.

“We will not be in that position after today — we won’t have businesses that don’t make a contribution,” Townsend said.  “These businesses should be 25 percent net-margin businesses.  We have had some underperformers, but not businesses that have cost us money to run except for launches and businesses like Gourmet that, with the economy, have slipped into the red.”

In other words, Conde Nast set aside its emotional ties to the magazine and did the right thing.  Fans of the publication can blame lots of people — Rachael Ray was one favorite target — but the bottom line (no pun intended) was that not enough people wanted to read it, not enough people would commit to reading it, and the advertisers knew it so they looked elsewhere.

“We can no longer afford to be paternalistic.”

I was reminded of an interview I did back in 1992 when a DuPont senior executives told me about deep layoffs the company was planning.  His comment has stuck with me for 17 years.

“We can no longer afford to be paternalistic,” the executive said, understanding full well that he lived in a “company town” where that would be a shocking statement.  DuPont was replaced in the role as company town by MBNA America Bank for many years, until Bank of America stepped in and bought the credit-card issuer.  And it wasn’t long before the layoffs started there too.

It was just business.  The editor of Saveur, another food magazine, referred to Gourmet as “an American cultural icon” as if that should have been enough to save it.  GM was a cultural icon too. 

There is a long list of companies and publications that were important.  And then they weren’t.  And now they’re gone.  The irrelevant replaced by the relevant…or at least by people committed to trying to be relevant and find a voice and a community.

The bottom line…Gourmet failed to stay important to the people who paid the bills and failed to become important to a new generation of readers and cooks.  And now it’s gone.  It’s difficult for me to say that’s sad.  It’s just reality.