THE GIST: “The Linchpin” by Seth Godin

The Gist is a new series where I summarize books I’ve read and my reflections on how their concepts apply to my life as a music entrepreneur.

It was 2008 and I was about to release my first EP of 7 songs. As I sought for marketing strategies, I came across bloggers Derek Sivers and Seth Godin. What was supposed to be marketing advice turned out to be full blown life philosophies that I have lived by for about a decade. Both Derek and Seth are gentle, articulate heretics. Their respective blogs are generous with their wisdoms. They have an optimistic outlook on life and the future of art. They question the status quo, and don’t settle for “that’s what people do”. My kind of people. It was not hard to win me over as a customer.

I’ve just finished re-reading Seth’s book “The Linchpin”. Here are my take-aways:

  • There is art in every job. All of us are artists when we find an elegant solution to a problem, or add a personal touch to make a customer feel special, or even just offer a kind smile. Art isn’t just for musicians, painters, writers, film makers. It’s for everyone who is willing to be creative.
  • In a post-commercial world, we need artists. Those people who come up with creative ideas, who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, even if that means risking ridicule. The linchpins. Not necessarily glamorous people. Just people who are very, very hard to replace because their mere presence makes things better.
  • Emotional labor is quickly replacing physical labor. It takes emotional labor to care about the job, the customer, the problem, and to come up with a creative solution. It takes emotional labor to put something out in the world despite our lizard brain begging us not to risk rejection and make a fool of ourselves. It takes emotional labor to distance ourselves from our work enough to be objective and not take it personally when it does not work out.
  • Fear and anxiety are not the same thing. Fear keeps us physically alive. In modern society, very few things actually warrant fear. We mostly experience anxiety. Anxiety is redundant. It is practicing failure that will not actually happen and often makes things worse.
  • The lizard brain (the resistance) wants you to fit in, worries about what others think, would prefer you to settle for less. Recognize it, acknowledge it, and move on. Often, the lizard brain will urge you to do something rash. Do nothing. Great negotiation tactic.
  • Linchpins do not let emotional attachment or ego get in the way of the work. Attachment can lead to denial. E.g. the record industry in the early 2000s.
  • You can fit in or you can stand out. You cannot do both. Success starts with a choice.
  • We experience joy from giving. Giving only what you are paid for deprives you of an opportunity to experience joy. Do not let the transactional nature of business get in the way of creating joy. It will make work more rewarding.
  • In the connection economy, the generous win, the hoarders lose.
  • Masterpieces are shipped. Always ship. On time. The work is worth nothing if it does not ship.
  • Projects often don’t get shipped because of too much thrashing at the end. More and more people are brought in as the project develops and request different approaches and features, which then introduce bugs and other issues. It should be the opposite. Get all the opinions upfront, then lock it down. Less and less people should be involved closer to ship date. Thrash often, but thrash early.
  • Artists don’t color outside the box. Outside the box is doomed to fail. On the edge is where everything is happening, where projects are shipped and problems are solved.
  • You don’t need to change titles, jobs, or careers to be a linchpin. You can decide to become one by seeking interesting problems to solve within your current organization.
  • You are a genius. Sometimes. Most people are geniuses sometimes. No one is a genius all the time. You could probably do Richard Branson’s job most of the time, except for a few minutes or hours a year when he comes up with the next big thing. The rest of the time, his work is just average work.
  • The education system was founded on the economics of factory production. Factories needed trained workers who can follow and obey simple instructions. Schools created obedient, competent workers for the factories. Cogs.
  • In the new connection economy, we need creative people who are not here to follow instructions. And we need to allow them to challenge the status quo. You can have a culture of obedient workers, or one of (sometimes disobedient) linchpins.
  • Art by default has external benefits for those who haven’t purchased them. If I buy a painting and hang it at my house, anybody who visits can also enjoy it. Art is to be shared.
  • What people truly want is connection. To be seen.

So how do I apply this to my career as a songwriter, producer and music entrepreneur?

I often wonder what life would be like if I had other people to do all the non-musical tasks. The “genius sometimes” concept is a good reminder that it is acceptable, even normal, for a lot of my work to just be… work.

Now about thrashing… I have to admit that a number of songs at various recording stages are stuck in limbo. It is time to put in the emotional labor of going through, finalizing, releasing with inevitable imperfections, knowing a shipped piece is better than 20 shelved ones. Much easier said than done. But I will try.

As a songwriter/musician, I have submitted songs to various opportunities and most of them never pan out. By now, I am used to rejection. Write, record, pitch, rinse, repeat. I don’t take it personally. I know it’s a numbers’ game and that’s just the cost of doing business. That said, sometimes I just can’t help thinking “if I could just get a break”…

Well, it is time to reverse this rhetorical question and instead ask “how can I be someone else’s break? How can I find and serve a music consumer, solve their problem, and make their day, even if it is to refer them to a different musician?” The challenge to myself here is to go out and make those connections. That’s the part where I’ve honestly been slacking. As emotionally labor-intensive as it gets if you ask me.

Next, anxiety. It runs so strongly in the family that it’s anybody’s guess whether it’s nature or nurture. Probably both. If I don’t call home, it will be assumed that I am likely deathly ill, kidnapped, possibly murdered by a serial killer. It’s no wonder that to this day, I have nightmares of people dying. Next time I catch myself worrying about things I cannot control, I will have to remind myself of the fact that anxiety is merely practicing failure that hasn’t yet happened (and likely won’t). That said, please try not to die, thank you :-)

Last but not least, the gift. While the intention comes naturally to me, I don’t always execute. For example, I often think about sending cards, but then I put it off and forget. I also often have ideas for a blog with tips for fellow musicians, but then leave it 3/4 finished in the draft folder for a month. I’m going to try and clear out more time for this in the future. For starters, I’ll try to write a blog on every book I finish with the main points and how I can apply it to my own life. Hopefully it will help someone somewhere.

What’s your favorite take-away from the book? Let me know in the comments.

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