Sunday, 6 January 2013


Linchpin, by Seth Godin, is essentially a book about people and their work. In particular, it focuses on what is important work in today's society, how individuals can make themselves valuable ("linchpins") and what typically restricts us from doing this important work.

What is important work?

What used to be important was being compliant, following instructions, being a cog in the system... This is what employers were looking for in the factory era, where the goal was ever-increasing productivity...
"For nearly three hundred years, that was the way work worked... Factories created productivity, and productivity produced profits."
But the relentless pursuit of productivity means an inevitable 'dumbing down' of the work: "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... first you have interchangeable parts, then you have interchangeable workers."
Once your skills are deemed "interchangeable", your work is not valuable and you are easily replaced.

What is valuable is that which is scarce... Nowadays, given our systematic training of people to be 'cogs in the system', what is scarce (and therefore valuable... ) is:

  • People who "exert emotional labor".
  • ie. Those that do the 'hard' thinking and the 'hard' relational work - think empathy, generosity and NOT avoidance...
  • People who "make a map".
  • ie. Those that are willing and able to 'blaze a trail' and lead others through the tackling and solving of challenging problems or circumstances.
  • People who deliver "unique creativity".
  • ie. People who generate new ways and ideas... People who don't 'rest' on the status quo or tradition.
  • People who can solve complex problems.
  • ie. People who don't need to refer to an instruction manual (or a line manager... ) for every professional hurdle they encounter...
  • People who have unique knowledge or talents.
  • ie. People who have something that is rare and difficult to replace - think the expert in their field, the sportsperson with a special talent...

It is those that are demonstrating these traits that will be doing the most important work (c/f those that are still operating in the 'factory' mindset... ).

The big obstacle.

Our "lizard brain" - the limbic system of our brains. This section is the evolutionary elder of the neocortex, which is the section that drives our creativity, our complex problem solving and our big-picture, future-oriented thinking.
Unfortunately, this more biologically-entrenched part of our brain tends to be difficult to overrule, even by the more rational thinking neocortex... This results in a "resistance" to that which is not familiar, that which is beyond the status quo, that which is new and different...

To be valuable, to do the important work, we need to overcome this resistance and unleash the natural strengths of the newer parts of our brain.

How do schools create an environment that develops "linchpins" and allows them to thrive?

In creating an environment that promotes the development of this new type of worker, schools would need to allow, indeed encourage, staff to utilise their creativity, their individual strengths, solve problems, etc. - conditions that allow teachers to separate themselves from being "a cog in the... machine". Teachers need opportunity to prove themselves as difficult to replace.
We have cause for optimism - all schools would already have these sorts of "linchpins" within their ranks. There are probably a myriad of creative ways to maximise the impact of these influential teachers and staff members, but a couple of basic tenets stand out for me:

  • Give them large amounts of autonomy - let them 'off the leash' to create, innovate, anticipate and solve problems, spread ideas and generally, 'do their thing'...
  • Feed their sense of purpose - prioritise and focus their roles on important work, not trivial, menial tasks that *anybody* could do.

People and their work - a changing relationship...

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