How To Be Invaluable in the Modern World

Linchpin by Seth Godin Book Summary & Review: How To Be Invaluable in the Modern World

Do you want to know how to stay successful in a competitive world? I’ve got just the book. I’ve heard a lot about this book from people in the business and self-help field.

It was recommended by people like Alex Ikonn, who makes 7 figures a year through his businesses. And he’s said that’s net profit after you pay for expenses, employees, and everything.

It’s definitely worth taking a look at, right?

By the way, be careful when people talk about 7 figure businesses. They may make 7 figures in sales, but might only make as little as $30,000 after they’ve paid for everything.

I want to share with you all the best insights I picked up from the book. Throughout this book summary, I will share advice from successful people and any thoughts I have to help you. I will especially look to warn you if he makes a point that isn’t well supported or cited.

Linchpin by Seth Godin Book Summary

Let’s start with the main theme of the book: be indispensable rather than replaceable in the modern world. 

That’s his point and he spends the book proving it.

You Can’t Depend On A Safe 9-to-5- Job Anymore.

There is no job security anymore.

With globalization, you are now competing with people all over the world who are willing to do your job for a fraction of the salary. Outsourcing has ended the era of being able to skate by doing average work.

You are now competing with people in India and the Philippines who will do virtual tasks for 5 dollars or less an hour. Stop striving to be average or work average labor.

Don’t Have A Business Model Based On Replaceable People and Low-level, Scalable Work.

In the past, businesses thrived by having people to easily, manual labor. Every worker was replaceable. This allowed things to scale and for the people at the top to make a ton of money.

Icons like Adam Smith and Henry Ford pioneered a way of doing things in business exceptionally more efficiently to get a lot more done. Rather than a specialist doing everything himself, you could split it up and get 10 times more done with a team of low-level workers.

Seth Godin argues that this model fails because people don’t like working long hours at a boring job and doing replaceable things leads to no job security or exceptional success for you and the business. He thinks you should hire irreplaceable superstars.

He has no shame calling out The E-Myth, one of the most read business advice books. I don’t think it’s a good book either. Michael Gerber, the author, was never a billionaire or incredibly successful businessman. He made his money through his books and training. I don’t think that’s a highly credible source of advice.

Even though it’s an old book, it’s still applauded and recommended frequently to this day by small business owners. Just because everyone else loves it doesn’t mean it’s good info.

Anyhow, Seth points to a passage in The E-Myth that says that the ideal business has to start and be made of the lowest level worker. It asserts that everyone should be replaceable in the organization to make systems more efficient.

Seth vehemently disagrees. He calls this out in the book. I applaud him. Seth states that finding a system and team of scalable, replaceable low-level workers is extremely cheap and efficient, which is why people do it.

The Industrial Age is a new thing in the grand scheme of things. It’s only a couple hundred years old compared to the tens of thousands of years humans have lived.

For most of human civilization, humans had plenty of free time after they hunted and most people had specialized skills passed down from the family craft (blacksmith, shoe maker, butcher, etc.). We’re genetically wired to not be used to doing low-level, replaceable work for long stretches of time.

I agree and disagree with his point. I agree that low-level work that our society is built on sucks. I’ve seen plenty of people who hate working at Starbucks, McDonald’s, JCPenney, or at a factory.  Many are stuck there or believe they’re stuck there when they could strive for better opportunities if they wanted to.

It’s not a good thing to base too much of your business on low-level work like that. Many people simply work there to make a living, but deep down, they don’t enjoy it. And your company won’t thrive as much as it can if your employees don’t enjoy their work.

In the past, people were happy to just have a job. Now, they want a more fulfilling and engaging life during work.

I disagree with the fact that this can be completely changed. Maybe I’m wrong and that would be great. But the backbone of many big businesses are these low-level workers even to this day. How could you have McDonald’s without the replaceable, easily trained cashiers? What would Starbucks be without baristas? Somebody has to clean the toilets, drive the delivery trucks, and sweep the floors. 

It’s actually a dilemma I’ve thought about in the past when I was younger. How can everyone be rich if somebody has to do these tasks?

Here’s what I have come to a conclusion on for now:

  • The real world is different from theory. Not everyone hates working jobs you might hate. Some find working at Starbucks quite enjoyable.
  • You can learn to love what you do over time according to an interview of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs. When fewer people are willing to do something, there’s less competition and more demand. People have made millions by running a garbage truck or pipe cleaning business.
  • I have no idea how to fix this issue on a global or national basis for really large companies. However, I have seen some small and mid-sized businesses who have accomplished this by hiring only superstars who clearly love what they do. They have a very essentialist team. A great example is Ramit Sethi’s team. Ramit runs an e-Learning company and there really are no “low-level workers.” Everyone he has from copywriter to developer is thoroughly screened and they love their job. From a course I took from him, I learned that even his secretary loves scheduling his calendar. In the real world, people have different interests and therefore can love things you might hate. 
  • Look at work you don’t enjoy as a stepping stone to move towards work you will love. Don’t fall into the trap that you’re stuck there. Do it to make ends meet for now. I have discovered so many success stories during my journey of self-development. Steve Harvey is now a multi-millionaire but he used to have a factory job he hated. Chris Gardner was homeless and didn’t have any education in the field that would one day make him millions. Brian Tracy didn’t finish high school and Tony Robbins used to work as a janitor full-time.

Be a bumblebee: The last to get fired

How to be indispensable

I was going through a career development course by Ramit Sethi and he made an interesting point. He had a friend who surprisingly didn’t get fired despite seeing all her coworkers get laid off.

When asked how, she said she was a bumblebee. She was always buzzing around and trying to help out.

You want to do this. You want to be so well networked, connected, useful, and irreplaceable that:

  • You are so valued and favored you would be the last person they would fire.
  • You are so irreplaceable in your unique skillset that you are a treasure that they want to protect. Other companies will throw offers at you because you are a rarity.
  • You have access and knowledge to the whole industry. You know it so well. You are very plugged in and invaluable.
  • You can easily find a great job if you do get fired because of your strong network and skills.

I was listening to an interview of the host of the Art of Charm podcast. It’s a podcast on self-help, social dynamics, and networking.

He told an interesting story about the boss of a law firm he used to work for. When this boss was asked why he was never in the office and always doing fun things, he said that he was out getting business. He was able to close million dollar deals because of his unique skills.

It made him indispensable, irreplaceable, and a rarity. All the other lawyers were commodities that stayed in the firm and could be replaced. He went out and got business.

You need to go above and beyond and do something that’s a rare, valued skill.

Develop your superpower

Find that specialized craft that you can be a master in.

Seth notes that most people settle with average skills. He observed most people believe that they didn’t have a incredible, superpower skill.

Seth argues that everyone does. He says that in a modern world, there are hundreds of different of ways to get ahead and no excuse.

He doesn’t go into detail on specific examples. But I assume he means that you might not have great tennis talent, for example, but you can work harder than others, network more, deliver more, motivate people, encourage them, and give more.

Be A Big Fish In A Small Pond

This one is more my own su and an article by Dorie Clark, a Duke professor who studied high performers at their companies.

You don’t have to be the best in the entire world at something. Find small ponds where you can be the top dog in.

Be the best at what you do in your company, town, or local community. In their eyes, you are the best at this task.

Conclusion & review

Release your full potential as an artist & live with no regrets

Seth’s main point is to live fully as an artist and do what you have the hidden potential to unleash. Live life with no regrets.

Specialize in order to succeed because the modern world is competitive and more globalized with the Internet.

My Book Review

There are some things I definitely don’t like about the book. There are long passages glorifying how amazing it is to be an artist. It’s clear Seth is enamored about being an artist.

Many of his points are so abstract that you can’t really prove or disprove them. Things like “an artist must give” are like this. Seth doesn’t really venture to even back up or support these claims with any scientific evidence or support.

A good portion of the book is spent talking about how you need to be an artist to succeed in the world. Seth Godin goes on to point out how every successful person from business to writing is an artist. He cherry picks a few people to broadly support his point.

I don’t agree.

I don’t think he made a firm argument at all. Any concrete reasoning or evidence is rare or anecdotal.

He’s clearly enthralled with being an artist himself and spends a good deal of time glorifying the term.

Throughout the book, I couldn’t help but get frustrated.

I constantly came up with holes to poke through Godin’s arguments.

His whole point about how you need to be an artist to thrive in modern times is questionable.

Vincent Van Gogh died broke and unhonored. Stieg Larsson recently died without any financial success or critical acclaim. It was only after their deaths that their art was valued at millions of dollars.

I’m sure there are plenty of starving musicians now who are “innovating” or “creating new ideas” like he said that will never succeed in the eyes of society.

It’s very easy to sit on your throne and give vague, broad principles about how you think life works which aren’t actually true. I was really curious as to why so many people raved about this book.

I did notice he was a good writer. He knew how to write in an artistic fashion that kept you reading.

He spaced his sentences well and made his words count.

Maybe that’s why the book did well. Maybe it was the enticing name of the book.

However, I don’t think he did a good job making a convincing case for any of his claims. He made very broad, high-level statements on macroeconomics and success in business and career.

There was very little scientific evidence, citation of studies, or evidence to back up his claims.

Many of his claims and opinions were so broad that they could evade being proven right or wrong.

Warren Buffett is an economics genius. He read every book on the stock market before he finished middle school. He spent over 50 years in the heat of business. Yet even to this day, he humbly says he can’t predict a single thing on the macro-economic level. There’s an infinite number of factors.

Yet Seth is making all these claims about how the factory system does not work anymore because of this and that.

Finally, there was one big point he made that really annoyed me. I still remember it clearly today even though I read it days ago. He said that you should push your points and ideas to your employers even to the point that they fire you if you they don’t agree.

He then goes on to say that if they fire you, then they just didn’t appreciate you as an artist.

Let’s explore that.

This seems to be like a very socially unintelligent thing to do. It sounds barbaric and suicidal to voice your opinions blindly and keep going if you sense that they don’t like it and may fire you.

There are some situations where this is OK. This would be when you are a visionary who wants to start a business or change the world. You don’t care about being broke or stressed for decades to achieve your goal. That’s a case where you’re willing to sacrifice in order to do this.

What if you love your job and love what you do? It just so happens that it wouldn’t be a tactful move to just blindly voice yourself “like an artist” and pushing people’s buttons unnecessarily?

I was curious as to why so many people talked about Seth Godin like he was some god. Many top business, entrepreneur, and self-help podcasts I listen to talk about him in this way.

Here’s what I see Wikipedia says about him:

He started a tech company called Yoyodyne that used contests to market companies. He sold it for $30 million in 1998 at the height of the tech bubble when stupid people were paying illogically large amounts to invest in companies.

In 2006, he launched Squidoo which sold products for charity. He sold it in 2014 to Hubpages for an undisclosed amount.

He is most known for his books Linchpin and Permission marketing.

Take this book and other books by Seth with a grain of salt. He obviously knows a thing or two about marketing, wealth, and writing. But no one could deny that there was definitely some luck in how he made his money.

He seems to have made most of his money through his books and the Yoyodyne deal.

I don’t know if that’s enough to trust his advice. I’d rather take marketing advice from people who are the best in the world and have consistently helped others to make more money with their advice on a daily basis. People like Dan Kennedy or Jay Abraham who are engrossed in businesses.

Some people say no one would ever take advice from someone who can’t prove he’s an expert in a field.

I think that’s only partially true. I see people take bad advice all the time in numerous topics from fitness to marketing.

Right now, I’m not sure if I should read his other books. I have read Free Prize Inside! already. I’ve heard a decent amount about his other books, but I’m thinking I’ll hold off for a while (or forever).

Despite all I’ve said, I do agree with his main point. You should be a Linchpin. A linchpin is someone who is irreplaceable to an organization. He or she holds everything together.

Seth argues that you can’t be this by doing average work to just get by.

Although, it is common sense. In the self-help world, one of the foundational pillars is to do more than you are asked. Average people are lazy. They don’t work hard.

Therefore, to get ahead, you do more. You’re obviously not going to get incredible results by just being average.

That being said, it’s still worth repeating. People sometimes forget the fundamentals, which are the most important. I understand that Godin is emphasizing that in the modern world, it’s even more important.

Seth argues that being average to get buy won’t cut it in this new world because when times get tough, you will get fired or replaced. They won’t need you.

It’s a simple point. It may be common sense to some of you already. But it’s true. You need to stay on your toes and keep developing your marketable skills.

When tough times hit, you need to be so good at what you do that you are a rarity. And that lack of supply and large demand will lead to you always having a source of income.

Seth still makes some good points in the book, which include:

  • Don’t just follow directions. Do more. Come up with ideas.
  • Be indispensable and irreplaceable.
  • The innovation and ideas you have set you apart.
  • The creative processes you do outside of work help you with work.

My favorite example mentioned is Richard Branson. He could have been like all the other customers who got angry and complained when his flight was canceled. Instead, he asked how much it was to charter a plane and got enough people to pay for a ticket to cover the costs. That’s how Virgin Airlines was born.


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