Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
March 6, 2012
These are my “book notes” from reading LINCHPIN: Are You Indispensable?, by Seth Godin.
If you’re not indispensable (yet) it’s because you haven’t made that choice.
The New World of Work
We have gone from two teams (management and labor) to a third team, the linchpins. These are people who own their own means of production, who can make a difference, lead us, and connect us.
You Are a Genius
If a genius is someone with exceptional abilities and the insight to find the not so obvious solution to a problem, you don’t need to win a Nobel Prize to be one. A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck.
The tragedy is that society (your school, your boss, your government, your family) keeps drumming the genius part out. The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.
Do not internalize the industrial mode. 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.
THE NEW WORLD OF WORK
We Are Surrounded by Bureaucrats, Note Takers, Literalists, Manual Readers, TGIF Laborers, Map Followers, and Fearful Employees
The first chapter of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations makes it clear that the way for business to win is to break the production of goods into tiny tasks, tasks that can be undertaken by low-paid people following simple instructions. Smith writes about how incredibly efficient a pin-making factory is compared to a few pin artisans making pins by hand. Why hire a supertalented pin maker when ten barely trained pin-making factory workers using a machine and working together can produce a thousand times more pins, more quickly, than one talented person working alone can?
For nearly three hundred years, that was the way work worked. What factory owners want is compliant, low-paid, replaceable cogs to run their efficient machines. Factories created productivity, and productivity produced profits. It was fun while it lasted (for the factory owners).
Some organizations haven’t realized this yet, or haven’t articulated it, but we need artists.
Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done.
Where Were You When the World Changed?
The cause of the suffering is the desire of the organizations to turn employees into replaceable cogs in a vast machine. The easier people are to replace, the less they need to be paid. And so far, workers have been complicit in this commoditization.
If a Purple Cow is a product that’s worth talking about, the indispensable employee—I call her a linchpin—is a person who’s worth finding and keeping.
The Rule of Ordinary People
One of the most popular books ever written on building a business is called The E-Myth Revisited, and here’s what its author, Michael E. Gerber, says about the perfect business model:
The Model Will Be Operated by People with the Lowest Possible Level of Skill
Yes, I said the lowest possible level of skill. Because if your model depends on highly skilled people, it’s going to be impossible to replicate. Such people are at a premium in the marketplace. They’re also expensive, thus raising the price you will have to charge for your product.
The business model should be such that the employees needed possess the lowest possible level of skill necessary to fulfill the functions for which each is intended. A legal firm ought to have lawyers and a medical firm should hire doctors. But you don’t need brilliant lawyers or doctors. What you need is to create the best system through which good lawyers and doctors can be leveraged to produce excellent results.
Here’s the problem, which you’ve already guessed. If you make your business possible to replicate, you’re not going to be the one to replicate it. Others will. If you build a business filled with rules and procedures that are designed to allow you to hire cheap people, you will have to produce a product without humanity or personalization or connection. Which means that you’ll have to lower your prices to compete. Which leads to a race to the bottom.
Indispensable businesses race to the top instead.
How Companies (Used to) Make Money
The difference between what an employee is paid and how much value she produces to leads to profit. If the worker captures all the value in her salary, there’s no profit.
As a result, capitalist profit-maximizing investors have long looked for a way to turn low-wage earners into high-value producers. Give someone who makes five dollars a day an efficient machine, a well-run assembly line, and a detailed manual, and you ought to be able to make five or twenty or a thousand times what you paid in labor.
So the goal is to hire as many obedient, competent workers, as cheaply as you possibly can. If you can use your productivity advantage to earn five dollars in profit for every dollar you pay in wages, you win. Do it with a million employees and you hit a home run.
Someone is getting better than you at hiring cheap and competent workers. They can ship the work overseas, or buy more machines, or cut corners faster than you can.
The other problem?
Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities. They crave the unique, the remarkable, and the human. Sure, you can always succeed a while with the cheapest, but you earn your place in the market with humanity and leadership.
Those are the only two choices. Win by being ordinary, more standard, and cheaper. Or win by being faster, more remarkable, and more human.
A Century of Interchangeable, Disposable Labor
There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.
The Final Straw: The Law if the Mechanical Turk
Here’s the law: Any project, if broken down into sufficiently small, predictable parts, can be accomplished for awfully close to free.
Jimmy Wales led the tiny team at Wikipedia that destroyed the greatest reference book of all time. And almost all of them worked for free.
The Encyclopedia Britannica was started in 1770 and is maintained by a staff of more than a hundred full-time editors. Over the last 250 years, it has probably cost more than a hundred million dollars to build and edit.
Wikipedia on the other hand, is many times bigger, far more popular, and significantly more up-to-date, and it was build for almost free. No single person could have done this. No team of a thousand, in fact. But by breaking the developlent of articles into millions of one-sentence or one-paragraph projects, Wikipedia took advantage of the law of the Mechanical Turk. Instead of relying on a handful of well-paid people calling themselves professionals, Wikipedia thrives by using the loosely coordinated work of millions of knowledgeable people, each happy to contribute a tiny slice of the whole.
The Internet has turned white-collar work into something akin to building a pyramid in Egypt. No one could build the entire thing, but anyone can haul one brick into place.
The Pursuit of Interchangeability
In 1765, a French general, Jean-Baptiste Gribeauval, started us down the endless path toward interchangeable parts. He demonstrated that if the French military possessed muskets with parts that could work from one gun to another, the cost of repairing and even making the guns would drop.
Until then the parts in every device, machine, and weapon were hand fitted together.
Thomas Jefferson encountered Gribeauval and his acolyte Honoré Blanc in Paris and lobbied hard to bring their ideas back to the United States. When Eli Whitney got an order to produce ten thousand guns for the federal government, a big part of the project was figuring out how to make the parts interchangeable.
For decades, armorers in the Northeast struggled at great cost to develop the technology to produce standardized parts for guns. Other industries were slow to come around. As late as 1885, Singer sewing machines, perhaps the most sophisticated device made in the Unite States in quantity, were essentially custom-made, each one unable to work with parts from the other.
Henry Ford changed all this. His development (and promotion) of mass production meant that cars could be made in huge quantities and at very low cost. Capitalism found its holy grail. Within two years of the launch if the Ford System, the productivity at some Ford plants had increased by 400 percent or more.
The essence of mass production is that every part is interchangeable. Time, space, men, motion, money, and material—each was made more efficient because every piece was predictable and separate. Ford’s discipline was to avoid short-term gains in exchange for always seeking the interchangeable, always standardizing.
It only follows, then, that as you eliminate the skilled worker, the finisher, the custom-part maker, then you also save money on wages as you build a company that’s easy to scale. In other words, first you brave interchangeable parts, then you have interchangeable workers. By 1925, the die was cast. The goal was to hire the lowest-skilled laborer possible, at the lowest possible wage. To do anything else was financial suicide.
That’s the labor market we were trained for.
Art and Initiative and Who’s an Artist Now?
We were all hunters.
Then they invented farming, and we became farmers.
And we were all farmers.
Then they invented the factory, and we all became factory workers. Factory workers who followed instructions, supported the system, and got paid what they were worth.
Then the factory fell apart.
And what’s left for us to work with? Art.
Now, success means being an artist.
In fact, history is now being written by the artists while the factory workers struggle. The future belongs to chefs, not to cooks or bottle washers. It’s easy to buy a cookbook (filled with instructions to follow) but really hard to find a chef book.
Average is Over
Leaders don’t get a map or a set of rules. Living life without a map requires a different attitude. It requires you to be a linchpin.
When the New System Replaces the Old
When electricity showed up in people’s homes, it never occurred to builders or electricians that perhaps people would want electrical outlets. Every home with electricity had a few light fixtures and that was it. When the washing machine was introduced, the only way to power it was to unscrew your light bulb and screw in the cord of your washing machine. Hundreds of people a year died using washing machines, because the new system wasn’t particularly well organized or understood.
It’s hard to describe how significantly different the postindustrial rules are, but I’ll try. The good news is that it probably isn’t as fatal as a washing machine.
Abstract macroeconomic theories are irrelevant to the people making a million tiny microeconomic decisions every day in a hypercompetitive world. And those decisions repeatedly favor fast and cheap over slow and expensive.
You Are What You Do
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote, “By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.” They went on argue that what we do all day, the way money is made, drives our schooling, our politics, and our community.
For our entire lives, the push has been to produce, to conform, and to consume.
What will you do if these three pillars change? What happens when the world cares more about unique voices and remarkable insights than it does about cheap labor on the assembly line?
Marx also traced our evolution from a single-class world (tribe members) to a world with two levels: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie has capital to invest and factories to run. Members of this class own the means of production, giving them considerable power over the workers. The hardworking “proletariat” are indebted to the bourgeoisie because they can’t build their won factories. They don’t have the capital or the organization to do so.
Makes sense to me. For two centuries or more, the gulf was distinct. You were on one side or the other.
Now, though, the proletariat owns the means of production. Now, the workers are self-organized online. Now, access to capital and the ability to find one another are no longer problems.
If the factories are our minds—if the thing the market values is insight or creativity or engagement—then capital isn’t nearly the factor it used to be. There’s a third layer to the economy now—call them the linchpins. These are people who are not proles (waiting for instructions and using someone else’s machines), nor are they princes or barons of industry. The linchpins leverage something internal, not external, to create a position of power and value.
Remember Adam Smith’s pin-making machine? Now, each of us owns our own machine, if we choose. Now, each person, working solo or in a team, already possesses the means of production. They are indispensable, if they want to be.
The End of ABC and the Search for the Difference Maker
Thornton May correctly points out that we have reached the end of what he calls attendance-based compensation (ABC). There are fewer and fewer good jobs where you can get paid merely for showing up. Instead, successful organizations are paying for people who make a difference and are shedding everyone else.
Owning the Means of Production
Today, the means of production = a laptop computer with Internet connectivity. Three thousand dollars buys a worker an entire factory.
It starts with bloggers, musicians, writers and others who don’t need anyone’s support or permission to do their thing. So a blogger named Brian Clark makes a fortune launching a wonderful new theme for WordPress. And Perez Hilton becomes rich and famous writing on his blog. Abbey Ryan makes almost a hundred thousand dollars a year painting a tiny oil painting each day and selling it on eBay. These individuals have all the technical, manufacturing, and distribution support they need, so they are both capitalists and workers.
Mediocrity and the Web
Hugh MacLeod: “The web has made kicking ass easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howls in protest.”
The Internet has raised the bar because it’s so easy for word to spread about great stuff. There’s more junk than ever before, more lousy writing, more pointless products. But this abundance of trash is overwhelmed by the market’s ability to distribute news about the great stuff.
Of course, mediocrity isn’t going to go away. Yesterday’s remarkable is today’s really good and tomorrow’s mediocre.
Mediocre is merely a failed attempt to be really good.
The Hierarchy of Value
There are always more people at the bottom of the stairs, doing hard work that’s easy to learn. As you travel up the hierarchy, the work gets easier, the pay gets better, and the number of people available to do the work gets smaller.
Lots of people can lift. That’s not paying off anymore. A few people can sell. Almost no one puts in the work to create or invent. Up to you.
The only way to succeed is to be remarkable, to be talked about. But when it comes to a person, what do we talk about? People are not products with features, benefits, and viral marketing campaigns; they are individuals. If we’re going to talk about them, we’re going to discuss what they do, not who they are.
You don’t become indispensable merely because you are different. But the only way to be indispensable is to be different. That’s because if you’re the same, so are plenty of other people.
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 care deeply about.
THINKING ABOUT YOUR CHOICE
Can You Become Indispensable?
They are people who have decided that a new kind of work is important, and trained themselves to do it.
Limited or Unlimited
If you believe that great talent leads to more innovation and more productivity, which then lead to more demand, generosity is the very best strategy.
The more you give the more the market gives back.
“Not My Job”
Three words can kill an entire organization.
As the world moves faster and engagements become more fluid, the category of “not my job” keeps getting bigger and bigger.
In a factory, doing a job that’s not yours is dangerous. Now, if you’re a linchpin, doing a job that’s not getting done is essential.
Secret Memo for Employees
If you want customers to flock you, it’s tempting to race to the bottom of the price chart. There’s a lot of room for profit there, though. You can’t out-Amazon Amazon, can you?
In a world that relentlessly races to the bottom, you lose if you also race to the bottom. The only way to win is to race to the top.
They need to do quality for its own sake, and they want to do good work. Anything less feels intellectually dishonest, and like a waste of time. In exchange, you’re giving them freedom, responsibility respect, which are priceless.
As a result of these priceless gifts, expect that the linchpins on your staff won’t abuse their power. In fact, they’ll work harder, stay longer, and produce more than you pay them to. Because everyone is a person, and people crave connection and respect.
INDOCTRINATION: HOW WE GOT HERE
Description of the Factory
I define a factory as an organization that has figured it out, a place where people go to do what they’re told and earn a paycheck. Factories have been the backbone of our economy for more than a century, and without them we wouldn’t have the prosperity we have today.
That doesn’t mean you want to work in one.
What They Should Teach in School
Only two things:
1. Solve interesting problems
SOLVE INTERESTING PROBLEMS
“Interesting” is the key word. Answering questions like “When was the War of 1812?” is a useless skill in an always-on Wikipedia world. It’s far more useful to be able to answer the kind of question for which using Google won’t help. Questions like, “What should I do next?”
Leading is a skill, not a gift. You’re not born with it, you learn how. And schools can teach leadership as easily as they figured out how to teach compliance.
BECOMING THE LINCHPIN
Creating Forward Motion
Imagine an organization with an employee who can accurately see the truth, understand the situation, and understand the potential outcomes of various decisions. And now imagine that this person is also able to make something happen.
Doesn’t matter if you’re always right. It matters that you’re always moving.
Linchpins and Leverage
The law of linchpin leverage: The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value. In other words, most of the time, you’re not being brilliant. Most of the time, you do stuff that ordinary people could do.
Massive Shift in the Leverage of Productivity
A very good senior programmer (who might get paid $200,000) gets paid about the same as a great programmer, who delivers $5 million worth of value for the same price. That’s enough of a difference to build an entire company’s profit around. Do it with ten programmers and you’re rich.
Organizing around the average, then, is too expensive. Organizing around average means that the organization has exchanged the high productivity of exceptional performance for the ease and security of an endless parade of average performers.
Does Every Organization Need Linchpins?
Hire cheap drones that you can scale, replace, and disrespect.
I have no issue at all with this as a business strategy. But I don’t expect that will lead to growth or significant customer loyalty, particularly in times of change.
More important, if you’re looking for a job, I have no idea why you’d want to work in a company like this. Let someone else have that job. You deserve better.
Depth of Knowledge Alone Is Not Enough
Depth of knowledge combined with good judgment is worth a lot.
1. When the knowledge is needed on a moment’s notice and bringing in an outside source is too risky or time consuming.
2. When the knowledge is needed on a constant basis and the cost of bringing in an outside source is too high.
3. When depth of knowledge is also involved in decision making, and internal credibility and organizational knowledge go hand in hand with knowing the right answer.
The Best Reason to Be an Expert in Your Field
Expertise gives you enough insight to reinvent what everyone else assumes is the truth.
Emotional Labor and Making Maps
“Emotional labor” was a term first coined forty years ago by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her book The Management Heart. She described it as the “management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display.” In other words, it’s work you do with your feelings, not your body.
Working without a map involves both vision and the willingness to do something about what you see.
Emotional labor is what you get paid to d, and one of the most different types of emotional labor is staring into the abyss of choice and picking a path.
Give Yourself a D
My heroes Roz and Ben Zander wrote an incredible book called The Art of Possibility. One of the most powerful essays in the book describes how Ben changes the loves of his hyperstressed music students by challenging each of them to “give yourself an A.” His point is that announcing in advance that you’re going to do great—embracing your effort and visualizing an outcome—is far more productive than struggling to beat the curve.
I want to go farther than that.
I say you should give yourself a D (unless you’re lucky enough to be in Ben’s class). Assume before you start that you’re going to create something that the teacher, the boss or some other nitpicking critic is going to dislike. Of course, they need to dislike it for all the wrong reasons. You can’t abandon technique merely because you’re not good at it or unwilling to do the work. But if the reason you’re going to get a D is that you’re challenging the structure and expectation and the status quo, then YES! Give yourself a D.
A well-earned D.
Troubleshooting is an art, and it’s a gift from the troubleshooter to the person in trouble. The troubleshooter steps in when everyone else has given up, puts himself on the line, and donates the energy and risk to the cause.
On the Other Hand…
Emotional labor is available to all of us, but is rarely exploited as a competitive advantage. We spend our time and energy trying to perfect our craft, but we don’t focus on the skills and interactions that will allow us to stand out and become indispensable to our organization.
Fearless, Reckless, and Feckless
Fearless doesn’t really mean “without fear.” What it means in practice is, “unafraid of things that one should be afraid of.” Being fearless means giving a presentation to an important customer without losing a night’s sleep. It means being willing to take intellectual risks and to forge a new path. The fear is about an imagined threat, so avoiding the fear allows you to actually accomplish something.
Reckless, on the other hand, means rushing into places that only a fool would go. Reckless is what led us to the mortgage and liquidity crisis. Reckless is a way out of style.
Feckless? Feckless is worst of all. Ineffective, indifferent, and lazy.
Where Do You Put the Fear?
Most of us feel the fear and react to it. We stop doing that is making us afraid. Then the fear goes away. The linchpin feels the fear, acknowledges it, then proceeds. I can’t tell you how to do this; I think the answer is different for everyone. What I can tell you is that in today’s economy, doing it is a prerequisite for success.
The Problem with (Almost) Perfect
Asymptotes are sort of boring. An asymptote is a line that gets closer and closer and closer to perfection, but never quite touches.
If you make widgets and one out of ten is defective, improving quality has a huge amount of value, to you and to your customers.
Now, if one in a hundred is defective, an increase in quality is welcome, but not overwhelming.
Once you get to one defect in a thousand, that’s pretty sweet, but certainly not perfect.
An increase to one in ten thousand as a defect rate is good enough for most things, except perhaps pacemakers.
An increase in quality to one in a hundred thousand is incredibly difficult to achieve, and it will get you a small raise.
An increase to one in a million, though, is so close to perfect that it’s unlikely you’ll even make a million units, so it’s unnoticeable by anyone.
As you get closer to perfect, it gets more and more difficult to improve, and the market values the improvements a little bit less. Increasing your free-throw percentage from 98 to 99 percent may rank you better in the record books, but it won’t win any more games and the last 1 percent takes almost as long to achieve as the first 98 percent did.
Personal interactions don’t have asymptotes. Innovative solutions to new problems don’t get old. Seek out achievements where there is no limit.
The opposite of being a cog is being able to stop the show, at will.
The Pursuit of Perfect
The problem is simple: Art is never defect-free. Things that are remarkable never meet spec, because that would make them standardized, not worth talking about.
Rough Edges and Perfect
If it wasn’t a mystery, it would be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth much.
The Problem with Bowling
Bowling is an asymptotic sport. The best you can do is perfect: 300, that’s it. There’s a ceiling.
If you could figure out how to bowl 320, that would be amazing. Until that happens, pick a different sport if you want to be a linchpin.
Do You Need A Résumé?
This is controversial, but here goes: if you’re remarkable, amazing, or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a résumé at all.
If you’ve got experience in doing the things that make you a linchpin, a résumé hides that fact.
A résumé gives the employer everything she needs to reject you.
If you don’t have a résumé, what do you have?
How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects?
Or a sophisticated project an employer can see or touch?
Or a reputation that precedes you?
Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs people kill for—those jobs don’t get filled by people e-mailing in résumés.
The only way to prove (as opposed to assert) that you are an indispensable linchpin—someone worth recruiting, moving to the top of the pile, and hiring—is to show, not tell. Projects are the new résumés.
What’s in It for Me
Author Richard Florida polled twenty thousand creative professionals and gave them a choice of thirty-eight factors that motivated them to do their best at work.
The top ten, ranked in order:
1. Challenge and responsibility
3. A stable work environment
5. Professional development
6. Peer recognition
7. Stimulating colleagues and bosses
8. Exciting job content
9. Organizational culture
10. Location and community
Only one of these is a clearly extrinsic motivator (#4, money). The rest are either things we do for ourselves or things that we value because of who we are.
And yet, cynical management acts like a factory, figuring that the only motivators are cash and freedom from scolding.
Remarkable People Deserve Remarkable Jobs
You can work for a company that wants indispensable people, or you can work for a company that works to avoid them.
The linchpin says, “I don’t want a job that a non-linchpin could get.”
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DO HARD WORK IN A CUBICLE?
Labor Means Difficult
Emotional labor is the task of doing important work, even when it isn’t easy.
Work is nothing but a platform for art and the emotional labor that goes with it.
The Gift of Emotional Labor
“The gift is to the giver, and comes back to him…”
The act of the gift is in itself a reward.
Artists Who Can’t Draw
Roy Simmons coined that phrase and I like it a lot. “Most artists can’t draw.”
We need to add something: “But all artists can see.” Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.
An artist is an individual who creates art. The more people you change, the more you change them, the more effective your art is.
A cook is not an artist. A cook follows a recipe, and he’s a good cook if he follows the recipe correctly. A chef is an artist. She’s an artist when she invents a new way of cooking or a new type of dish that creates surprise or joy or pleasure for the person she created it for.
Art is original. Marcel Duchamp was an artist when he pioneered Dadaism and installed a urinal in a museum. The second person to install a urinal wasn’t an artist, he was a plumber.
The Art of Interaction
If art is a human connection that causes someone to change his mind, then you are an artist.
There’s a Village in China
Outside of Shenzhen lies Dafen. It’s said that 60 percent of all the paintings in the world are produced by painters who live in this town.
Notice I said “painters,” not “artists.” That’s because the workers in Dafen, while diligent and talented, aren’t artists. They are cogs in a painting machine.
Gifts and Art and Emotional Labor
Art is not limited to art school, or to music or event to the stage. Art is any original idea that can be a gift.
Passion is a desire, insistence, and willingness to give a gift. The artist is relentless. She says, “I will not feel complete until I give a gift.” This is more than refusing to do a lousy work. It’s an insistence on doing important work.
A Practical Reason to Become an Artist
If art is about humanity, and commerce has become about interactions (not stuff), then commerce is now about art, too.
The reason you might choose to embrace the artist within you now is that this is the path to (cue the ironic music) security.
When it is time for layoffs, the safest job belongs to the artist, the linchpin, the one who can’t be easily outsourced or replaced.
The Myth of Project-Specific Passion
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.
Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with that 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.
And the gift is as much for you as it is for the recipient.
Who Is It For?
There are two reasons why it’s vital to know whom you are working for. The first is that understanding your audience allows you to target your work and to get feedback that will help you do it better next time.
The other reason? Because it tells you whom to ignore.
It’s impossible to make art for everyone. There are too many conflicting goals and there’s far too much noise. Art for everyone is mediocre, bland, and ineffective.
If you don’t pinpoint 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.
Nobody Cares How Hard You Worked
It’s not an effort contest, it’s an art contest. As customers, we care about ourselves, about how we feel, about whether a product or service or play or interaction changed us for the better.
Where it’s made or how it’s made or how difficult it was to make is sort or irrelevant. That’s why emotional labor is so much more valuable than physical labor. Emotional labor changes the recipient, and we care about that.
Can Your Work Become Your Art?
The job is not your work; what you do with your heart and soul is the work.
Artists Are Optimists
Artists understand that they have the power, through gifts, innovation, and love, to create a new story, one that’s better than the old one.
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.
The Passion to Spread
Passion is caring enough about your art that you will do almost anything to give it away, to make it a gift, to change people.
Part of the passion is having the persistence and resilience to change both your art and the way you deliver it. Passion for your art also means having a passion for spreading your art. This means being willing to surrender elements that you are in love with in order to help the other parts thrive and spread. And at the same time, passion means having enough connection to your art that you’re not willing to surrender the parts that truly matter.
It’s a paradox, of course. In order to be true to your art, you must sacrifice the part of it that hinders the spread of your art.
When an artist stops work before his art is received, his work is unfulfilled.
Far of Art
Art, at least art as I define it, is the intentional act of using your humanity to create a change in another person.
But I don’t believe that you need to be an outlier to be an artist.
“Real Artists Ship”
Poet Bruce Ario said, “Creativity is an instinct to produce.”
Artists don’t think outside the box, because outside the box there’s a vacuum. Outside of the box there are no rules, there is no reality. You have nothing to interact with, nothing to work against. If you set out to do something way outside the box (designing a time machine, or using liquid nitrogen to freeze Niagra Falls), then you’ll never be able to do the real work of art. You can’t ship if you’re far outside the box.
Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done. That’s where the audience is, that’s where the means of production are available, and that’s where you can make an impact.
Shipping isn’t focused on producing a masterpiece (but all masterpieces get shipped). I’ve produced more than a hundred books (most didn’t sell very well), but if I hadn’t, I’d never have had the chance to write this one. Picasso painted more than a thousand paintings, and you can probably name three of them.
As we’ll see, the greatest shortage in our society is an instinct to produce. To create solutions and hustle them out the door. To touch the humanity inside and connect to the humans in the marketplace.
The Contradiction Between Shipping and Changing the World
Is shipping that important?
I think it is. I think the discipline of shipping is essential in the long-term path to becoming indispensable.
Saturday Night Live goes on each week, ready or not.
Not shipping on behalf of your goal of changing the world is often a symptom of the resistance. Call its bluff, ship always, and then change the world.
What It Means to Ship
The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world. The French refer to esprit d’escalier, the clever comeback that you think of a few minutes after the moment has passed.
And the reason:
The point of getting everyone involved early is simple: thrash late and you won’t ship. Thrash late and you introduce bugs. Professional creators thrash early. The closer the project gets to completion, the fewer people see it and the fewer changes are permitted.
The reason that start-ups almost always defeat large companies in the rush to market is simple: start-ups have fewer people to coordinate, less thrashing, and more linchpins per square foot. They can’t afford anything else and they have less to lose.
There are two solutions to the coordination problem.
1. Relentlessly limit the number of people allowed to thrash. That means you need formal procedures for excluding people, even well-meaning people with authority.
2. Appoint one person (a linchpin) to run it. Not to co-run it or to leas a task force or to be on the committee. One person, a human being, runs it. her name on it. Her decisions. Get scared early, not late. Be brave early, not late. Thrash now, not later. It’s too expensive to thrash later.
The Resistance: Your Lizard Brain
Wild animals are wild because the only brain they possess is a lizard brain.
The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.
The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.
How the Resistance Evolved
There are several small parts of your brain near the end of your spinal cord responsible for survival and other wild-animal traits. The whole thing is called the basal ganglia, and there are two almond-shaped bits in everyone’s brain. Scientists call these the amygdala, and this mini-brain apparently takes over whenever you are angry, afraid, aroused, hungry, or in search of revenge.
One part of your brain worries about survival and anger and lust. The rest of it creates civilization.
This is part metaphor, part biology. The lizard brain is here to keep you alive; the rest of your brain merely makes you a happy, successful, connected member of society.
(Evolving a Brain That Could Create Civilization)
Quick oversimplified biology lesson: Here are four of the major systems in your brain. (Note: “system” is more of a conceptual hook for understanding what happens as opposed to a biological truth or hard wiring.) As you go down the list, each system becomes more civilized but less powerful:
1. Brain Stem—breathing and other unconscious survival functions
2. Limbic System—the lizard brain. Anger and revenge and sex and fear.
3. Cerebellum—coordination and motor control
4. Cerebrum—the newest and most sophisticated part of our brain, and also the one that is always overruled by the other three parts.
There are four lobes to the cerebrum, and their functions are the stuff to be proud of:
Frontal Lobe: reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement, problem solving
Parietal Lobe: movement, orientation, recognition, perception of stimuli
Occipital Lobe: eyesight (and the essential, overlooked, and underrated orbitofrontal cortex, which integrates the lizard brain with your rational mind)
Temporal Lobe: hearing, memory, and speech
The metaphor goes like this: the older a brain system is on the evolutionary scale (and the closer to the brain stem), the more power it has to suspend the actions of the younger systems. And the lizard brain within the limbic system is the loudest example of this metaphor. You rarely have a heart attack (I hope) and you probably won’t get so dizzy that you fall down, but your amygdala regularly suspends all civilized activity within your brain and takes over, putting you into lockdown.
The Man with Two Brains
In the face of greed or fear from the amygdala, an untrained person surrenders.
The Hard Part About Losing
Successful people are successful for one simple reason: they think about failure differently.
Successful people learn from failure, but the lesson they learn is a different one. They learn that the tactics they use didn’t work or that the person they used them on didn’t respond.
You become a winner because you’re good at losing. The hard part about losing is that you might permit it to give strength to the resistance, that you might believe that you don’t deserve to win, that you might, in some dark corner of your soul, give up.
Seeking Out Discomfort
Going out of your way to find uncomfortable situations isn’t natural, but it’s essential.
Fear of Public Speaking
Why is it that a common, safe, and important task is so feared by so many people?
In Iconoclast, Gregory Berns uses his experience running a neuroscience research lab to explain the biological underpinnings of the resistance. In fact, public speaking is the perfect petri dish for exposing what makes us tick.
It turns out that the three biological factors that drive job performance and innovation are social intelligence, fear response, and perception. Public speaking brings all three together. Speaking to a group requires social intelligence. We need to be able to make an emotional connection with people, talk about what they are interested in, and persuade them. That’s difficult, and we’re not wired for this as well as we are wired to, say, eat fried foods.
Public speaking also triggers huge fear responses. We’re surrounded by strangers or people of power, all of whom might harm us. Attention is focused on us, and attention (according to our biology) equals danger.
Last, and more subtly, speaking involves perception. It exposes how we see things, both the thing we are talking about and the response of the people in the room. Exposing that perception is frightening.
In a contest between the rational desire to spread an idea by giving a speech and the biological phobia against it, biology has an unfair advantage.
“I Don’t Know What to Do” and Other Classic Quotes from the Resistance
“I don’t have any good ideas”—actually, you don’t have any bad ideas. If you get enough bad ideas, the good ones will take care of themselves. And as every successful person will tell you, the ideas aren’t the hard part. It’s shipping that’s difficult.
“I don’t know what to do”—The art of challenging the resistance is doing something when you’re not certain it’s going to work.
The Cult of Done
Bre Pettis wrote this manifesto on his blog:
1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
3. There is no editing stage.
4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
11. Destruction is a variant of done.
12. If you have an idea and publish it on the Internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
13. Done is the engine of more.
Built to Ship
The habit that successful artists have developed is simple: they thrash a lot at the start, because starting means that they are going to finish. Not maybe, not probably, but going to.
If you want to produce things on time and on budget, all you have to do is work until you run out of time or run out of money. Then ship.
No room for stalling or excuses or resistance. On ship date, it’s gone.
Tick Tick Tick
I fight the resistance, and I ship. I do this by not doing an enormous number of tasks that are perfect stalling devices, ideal ways of introducing the resistance into our lives.
By forcing myself to do absolutely no busywork tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has, I can’t avoid the work because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping.
It takes crazy discipline to do nothing between projects.
Leo Babuta’s brilliant little book Zen Habits helps you think your way through this problem. His program is simple: Attempt to create only one significant work a year. Break that into smaller projects, and every day, find three tasks to accomplish that will help you complete a project. And do only that during your working hours. I’m talking about an hour a day to complete a mammoth work of art, whatever sort of art you have in mind. That hour a day might not be fun, but it’s probably a lot more productive than the ten hours you spend now.
The difference between a successful artist and a failed one happens after the idea is hatched. The difference is the race to completion. Did you finish?
Anxiety Is Practicing Failure in Advance
Anxiety is needless and imaginary. It’s fear about fear, fear that means nothing.
The difference between dear and anxiety: Anxiety is diffuse and focuses on possibilities in an unknown future, not a real and present threat. The resistance is 100 percent about anxiety, because humans have developed other emotions and warnings to help us avoid actual threats. Anxiety, on the other hand, is an internal construct with no relation to the outside world. “Needless anxiety” is redundant, because anxiety is always needless. Anxiety doesn’t protect you from danger, but from doing great things. It keeps you awake at night and foretells a future that’s not going to happen.
On the other hand, fear is about staying alive, avoiding snakes, feeding your family, and getting the right to play again tomorrow. Fear should be paid careful attention. There’s not a lot of genuine fear here in our world, so when it appears, it’s worth noting.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is dangerous paralysis. Anxiety is the exaggeration of the worst possible what-if, accompanied by self-talk that leads to the relentless minimization of the actual odds of success.
Anxiety makes it impossible to do art, because it feeds the resistance, giving the lizard brain insane power over us. It’s impossible to be a linchpin if you agree to feed your anxiety.
You’ll notice that throughout this book I’ve often used the word “fear” when I really meant anxiety. That’s because we do it all the time, confusing the two. A bad habit.
Anxiety and Shenpa
Shenpa is a Tibetan word that roughly means “scratching the itch.” I think of it as a spiral of pain, something that is triggered by a small event and immediately takes you totally off the ranch. A small itch gets scratched, which makes it itch more, so you scratch more and more until you’re literally in pain.
Embrace the itch from the start, but don’t scratch it. If you can’t teach the world a lesson, accept it, don’t get attached to a different outcome.
(Shenpa and Turbulence)
My friend Jon likes it when an airplane hits heavy turbulence. His insight is worth sharing. “The odds of a plane crashing from turbulence are essentially zero, so I sit and enjoy it. It’s like a ride at an amusement park.”
The best way to overcome your fear of creativity, brainstorming, intelligent risk-taking, or navigating a tricky situation might be to sprint.
You can’t sprint forever. That’s what makes it sprinting. The brevity of the event is a key part of why it works.
“Quick, you have thirty minutes to come up with ten business ideas.”
“Hurry, we need to write a new script for our commercial…we have fifteen minutes.”
My first huge project was launching a major brand of science-fiction computer adventure games (Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, etc.). I stopped going to business school classes in order to do the launch.
One day, right after a red-eye flight, the president of the company told me that he had canceled the project. He said that the company didn’t have enough resources to launch all the products we had planned, our progress was too slow, and the packaging wasn’t ready yet.
I went to my office and spent the next twenty hours rewriting every word of text, redesigning every package, rebuilding every schedule, and inventing a new promotional strategy. It was probably six weeks of work for a motivated committee, and I did it (alone) in one swoop. Like lifting a car off an infant, it was impossible, and I have no recollection at all of regularly. It keeps the resistance at bay.
Downhill Versus Uphill
At any step along the way, the resistance can cut you down. All you need to do is falter, and your work is wasted. You’re pushing a rock uphill, and if you stop for a second, the thing rolls all the way down, erasing all your effort.
You need a platform that makes it easy to turn your insight into a movement.
I’m trying to sell you on the idea of building a platform before you have your next idea, to view the platform building as a separate project from spreading your art.
It’s not easy to get to this point. A valuable platform is an asset, one that isn’t handed to you. It takes preparation and effort to set the world up so that your ideas are more likely to ship. By separating the hard work of preparation from the scary work of insight, you can build an environment in which you’re more likely to ship.
One Way to Thrash and Overcome Resistance
Here’s how I make stuff.
The first step is write down the due date. Post it on the wall. It’s real. You will ship on this date, done or not.
The next step is to use index cards, Post-it notes, Moleskine notebooks, fortune cookies, whatever you can embrace, write down every single notion, plan, idea, sketch, and contact. This is when you go fishing. Get as much help as you like. Invite as many people in as you can. This is their big chance.
It’s the blueprint.
Then say, “If I deliver what you approved, on budget and on time, will you ship it?”
Rethinking Your Goals in Light of the Resistance
What does the success of your project look like?
THE POWERFUL CULTURE OF GIFTS
They don’t spend a lot of time teaching you about the power of unreciprocated gifts.
There are three reasons why it’s now urgent to understand how gift culture works. First, the Internet (and digital goods) has lowered the marginal cost of generosity. Second, it’s impossible to be an artist without understanding the power that giving a gift creates. And third, the dynamic of gift giving can diminish the cries of the resistance and permit you to do your best work.
The very fact that gift giving without recompense feels uncomfortable is reason enough for you to take a moment to find out why.
Giving, Receiving, Giving
Power used to be about giving, not getting.
Part of the reason for this flip is the digital nature of our new gift system. If I create an idea, the Internet makes it possible for that gift to spread everywhere, quite quickly, at no cost to me. Digital gifts, ideas that spread—these allow the artist to be far more generous than he could ever be in an analog world.
We Can Never Repay Keller Williams
As I wrote in my previous book, Tribes, the new form of marketing is leadership, and leadership is about building and connecting tribes of like-minded people.
Linchpin thinking is about delivering gifts that can never be adequately paid for.
There Are No Artists on the Assembly Line
Artists shake things up. They invent as they go; they respond to inputs and create surprising new outputs.
Gifts as a Signal of Surplus
It’s difficult to be generous when you’re hungry.
Yet being generous keeps you from going hungry. Hence the conflict.
The Circles of the Gift System
Three circles have traditionally defined the cycle of art among fine artists, such as painters and sculptors.
The first circle represents true gifts—items that an artist gleefully and willingly shares. This circle comprises friends or family or the charge them. The meal is a gift. Friends ask for a stock tip or accounting help. You don’t charge them. It’s a gift.
The second circle is the circle of commerce. In this circle are people and organizations that pay for your art. They pay for a souvenir edition or a poster or a speech.
And now, the Internet creates a third circle, the circle of your tribe, your followers, fans who may become friends. Friendlies. This circle is new. It’s huge and it’s important, because it enables you to enlarge the more people and improve more lives.
This third circle changes art for all artists, forever. It means that you can share your gift with more people, cheaper and quicker, than ever before.
Linus Torvalds worked hard on creating the Linux operating system. He did it for free and he did it largely for his friends. The Internet permitted him to jump to a third circle, a hundred million or more people around the world who benefit from his art, who participate in his tribe and follow his work.
As the third circle grows in size, the second circle takes care of itself. Linus and the core team responsible for Linux will never need to look for work again, because as you give more and more to the friendlies, the list of people willing to pay you to do your work always grows.
The Difference Between “If” and “And”
In a monetary exchange, we focus on “if.” I will give you this if you give me that. The initial exchange depends on the promise of reciprocity, and doesn’t occur without it. In a gift, we imply and. I will give you this and you will do something for someone else. I will give you this and my expectation is that you will change the way you feel.
Washing Rental Cars
Consider the alternative: The bellboy who refuses a tip for helping an elderly customer. The doctor who drives out of her way to check on a patient even though it’s her day off.
In each case, the lack of a transaction created a bond between the giver and the recipient, and perhaps surprisingly, the giver usually comes out even further ahead.
Gifts of Art
As we’re seen, if there is no gift, there is no art. When art is created solely to be sold, it’s only a commodity. A key element for the artist is the act of giving the art to someone in the tribe.
The Selfish By-product
Artists are indispensible linchpins.
Art is scarce; scarcity creates value. Gifts make tribes stronger.
The astonishing fact is that the most successful people in the world are those who don’t do it for money.
Sunny Bates and Metalcalfe’s Law
Bob Metcalfe invented the technology that allows computers to be wired up in a network. The Ethernet, as he called it, made him rich. He also coined Metalcalfe’s law, which made him famous.
Metalcalfe’s law says that the value of a network increases with the square of the number of nodes on the network. In English? It says that the more people who have a fax machine, the more fax machines are worth (one person with a fax is useless). The more people who use the Internet, the better it works. The more friends I have who use Twitter, the more the tool is worth to me. connections are valuable in and of themselves, because they lead to productivity, decreased communication costs, and yes, gifts.
How to Receive a Gift
A gift well received can lead to more gifts. But artists don’t give gifts for money. They do it for respect and connection and to cause change.
Sometimes, I Don’t Want Your Gift
Great work is not created for everyone. If it were, it would be average work.
How to Encourage Gifts
What people delivering gifts seek is respect.
Respect is the gift you can offer in return.
THERE IS NO MAP
The Linchpin, the Artist, and the Map
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.
Seeing, Discernment, and Prajna
You can’t make a map unless you can see the world as it is. You have to know where you are and know where you’re going before you can figure out how to go about getting there.
Seek out an employee with the discernment, the ability to see things as they truly are. A life without attachment and stress can give you the freedom to see things as they are and call them as you see them.
Of course, no one does this all the time. When we apply to college, we’re attached to the outcome, so we’re blinded to the reality of the process. When our company does layoffs, we’re attached to the outcome, so we’re blinded by the truth of the situation.
Seeing Clearly Isn’t Easy
Abandoning your worldview in order to try on someone else’s is the first step in being able to see things as they are.
Elements of Attachment
Interactions in the real world often fell more complex than a pinball machine. We assign motivations and plots and vendettas where there are none. Those angry customers didn’t wake up this morning deciding to ruin your day, not at all. They’re just angry.
When our responses turn into reactions and we set out to teach people a lesson, we lose.
The Two Reasons Seeing the Future Is So Difficult
Attachment to an outcome combined with the resistance and fear of change.
Yelling at the Ref
If you’re able to look at what’s happening in your world and say, “There’s the pattern,” or “Wow, that’s interesting, I wonder why,” then you’re far more likely to respond productively.
Effort Can Change Things
There’s a difference between passively accepting every element of your environment (and thus missing opportunities to exploit) and being wise enough to leave the unchangeable alone, or at least work around it.
Zen at the Airport
Forty years ago, Richard Branson, who ultimately founded Virgin Air, found himself in a similar situation in an airport in the Caribbean. They had just canceled his flight, the only flight that day. Instead of freaking out about how essential the flight was, how badly his day was ruined, how his entire career was no in jeopardy, the young Branson walked across the airport to the charter desk and inquired about the cost of chartering a flight to Puerto Rico.
Then he borrowed a portable blackboard and wrote, “Seats to Virgin Islands, $39.” He went back to his gate, sold enough seats to his fellow passengers to completely cover his cost, and made it home on time. Not to mention planting the seeds for the airline he’d start decades later. Sounds like the kind of person you’d like to hire.
The Quadrants of Discernment
At the same time, the linchpin brings passion to the job. She knows from experience that the right effort in the right place can change the outcome, and she reserves her effort for doing that just that.
The linchpin has no time or energy for whining or litigation. Instead, she’s obsessively focused on the projects that have likelihood of changing the outcome.
The Artist and Prajna
Worldview and attachment always color perceptions. Ask people in the customer service department about the biggest problem the company faces, and they will almost certainly define the challenge in terms of customer service. Ask the same question of the guys in finance, and of course, the answer will be based on the financial lens they use to see the world.
Artists can’t get attached to the object of their attention.
Untangling the Truth
Successful people are able to see the threads of the past and the threads of the future and untangle them into something manageable.
The Guild of Frustrated Artists
My response: Telling people leadership is important is one thing. Showing them step by step precisely how to be a leader is impossible. “Tell me what to do” is a nonsensical statement in this context.
There is no map. No map to be leader, no map to be an artist. I’ve read hundreds of books about art (in all its forms) and how to do it, and not one has clue about the map, because there isn’t one.
If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.
MAKING THE CHOICE
You can either fit in or stand out. Not both.
The Typical Transaction (and the Missing Arrow)
Creating a career where you are seen as the indispensable linchpin may at first seem to be selfish goal on your part, but you will achieve this goal by giving selfless gifts, and those benefit everyone.
Nostalgia for the Future
The linchpin is able to invent a future, fall in love with it, live in it—and then abandon it on a moment’s notice.
Ishita Gupta wrote,
Everyday is a new chance to choose.
Choose to change your perspective.
Choose to flip the switch in your mind. Turn on the light and stop fretting about with insecurity and doubt.
Choose to do your work and be free of distraction.
Choose to see the best in someone, or choose to bring out the worst in them.
Choose to be a laser beam, with focused attention, or a scattered ray of light that doesn’t do any good.
The power of choice is just that. Power. The only thing we have to do is remember that we control the harnessing of that power. We choose.
Don’t let your circumstance or habits rule your choices today. Become a master of yourself and use your willpower to choose.
THE CULTURE OF CONNECTION
Honest Signals in Everyday Life
Sandy Pentland is a researcher and professor at MIT. His latest work involves the ways that humans figure out what is really happening around them. His new book, Honest Signals, is named after his term for information that flows back and forth between people.
Pentland’s research shows that speaking quickly after someone has addressed you has a fundamentally different impact from leaving room between the words and sentences. He has researched speed dating and other interactions and can now accurately predict the outcomes of interactions without hearing a word that is said.
Dialogue is expensive.
Why Don’t We Believe That Social Intelligence Makes a Difference?
Far more critical for the linchpin-in-training is figuring out how to project enthusiasm and get people to root for you.
THE SEVEN ABILITIES OF THE LINCHPIN
Is There a List?
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
Providing Deep Domain Knowledge
Lester Wunderman knows quite a bit about direct marketing. In fact, he invented it. He helped create the American Express card and the Columbia Record Club. When Lester agreed to serve on the board of my Internet company in 1996, I was thrilled.
It turns out that we didn’t learn a thing about the tactics of direct marketing from him. Instead, my team learned about decision making and strategy. We came to understand the big personalities in the industry as well as the motivations of many of our partners. Mentoring is rarely about the facts of the deal (the facts are easily found), but instead is a transfer of emotion and confidence. Lester had drawn a map once before and so he had the standing and authority to help us draw a new map.
Mapmakers often have the confidence to draw maps because they understand their subject so deeply.
Possessing a Unique Talent
When you meet someone, you need to have a superpower. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake. It’s not about touting yourself or coming on too strong. It’s about making the introduction meaningful. If I don’t know your superpower, then I don’t know how you can help me (or I can help you).
When I tell the superpower story to people, they seem to get it. But then I ask them their superpower, and they pick something that might be a power but isn’t really super. It’s sort of an average power. “I’m pleasant and compliant” is the one we’ve been taught. Sorry, that’s good, but it’s not super.
If you want to be a linchpin, the power you bring to the table has to be very difficult to replace. Be bolder and think bigger. Nothing stopping you.
The “super” part and the “power” part come not from something you’re born with but from something you choose to do and, more important, from something you choose to give.
The Dip is about this very thing. If you’re not the best in the world (the customer’s world) at your unique talent, then it’s not a unique talent, is it? Which means you only have two choices:
1. Develop the other attributes that make you a linchpin.
2. Get a lot better at your unique talent.
Compliance and Humility
The challenge, then, is to be the generous artist, but do it knowing that it just might not work. And that’s okay.
WHEN IT DOESN’T WORK
Maybe You Can’t Get Paid for Doing Your Art
1. In order to monetize your work, you’ll probably corrupt it, taking out the magic, in search of dollars;
2. Attention doesn’t always equal significant cash flow.
Do your art. But don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.
(And the twist, and because there is always a twist, is that as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money.)
Calling Ellsworth Kelly
There are two tactics that can help you:
1. Understand that there’s a difference between the right answer and the answer you can sell. Too often, heretical ideas in organizations are shot down. They’re not refused because they’re wrong; they’re refused because the person doing the selling doesn’t have the stature or track record to sell it. Your boss has a worldview, too. When you propose something that triggers his resistance, what do you expect will happen?
2. Focus on making changes that work down, not up. Interacting with customers and employees is often easier than influencing bosses and investors. Over time, as you create an environment where your insight and generosity pay off, the people above you will notice, and you’ll get more freedom and authority.
Will You Choose?
The act of deciding is the act of succeeding.
The barrier to success is a choice.
So, what’s smart? Living life without regret.