Are You Indispensable? An Interview with Seth Godin
Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, comes out today. As with all of Seth’s books, it’s a quick and inspiring read – if you aspire to make a difference in the world, you’ll find this book thought-provoking.
I recently caught up with Seth to ask him a few questions about the book – I think you’ll find our conversation quite interesting…
First, let’s discuss the essence of the idea: what does it mean to be indispensable?
So, to be indispensable is to do work your boss couldn’t imagine. It means that you’re human, an independent actor, an artist, someone who connects and makes a difference. These people have genuine job security, because what they do is scarce.
It seems like there are a million ways a person could potentially be indispensable. Are some forms of indispensability better or more valuable than others?
Can you figure out whether or not you’re already indispensable in some way? If so, how? Are there clues or characteristics to look for?
The world is a big place – if you’re not already indispensable to someone or some group of people, do you have any recommendations about who or what to focus on serving?
Is becoming indispensable an achievement, an ongoing process, a little of both, or something else entirely?
It appears to be far easier to become indispensable if you choose to walk your own path and consciously break away from the norms of large systems that seek stability and predictability, like schools, governments, and big companies. Is that true? Can “cogs in the machine” become indispensable?
As you note in the book, our ancient “lizard brain” is always instinctively searching for pleasure, safety, and security. The process of becoming indispensable is often uncomfortable and feels quite risky. Do you recommend ignoring these instincts, or is there some way to use them to our advantage?
Generosity seems to be a major theme in the book. The general approach to becoming indispensable seems to be giving away significant value; the more you give, the more indispensable you become. At the same time, the defining moment of every self-supporting business is the transaction – no sales, no business. At what point do you transition from giving to trading?
I love the connection you make between businesses that matter and art, which you define as “a personal gift that changes the recipient.” What do the most successful businesspeople and artists have in common?
Craftsmen and artists, more often than not, hate to compromise – even when their vision requires working with others, who may have different values or priorities. For example, changes to a building’s budget may impact an architect’s vision for the space. When is it better to walk away from situations that compromise your ideals? Is there a time and place for making tradeoffs to ensure the work becomes real? Does accepting tradeoffs make you any less of an artist or craftsman?
A strong mental association many people have related to the idea of art is the image of the “starving artist” – a person who chooses to live a life of material want in favor of living their ideals, which are often anti-commercial. Does commerce cheapen art? Is the business artisan destined to live a life of relative poverty?
In the book, you say that art is the product of “emotional labor,” which is always difficult and guaranteed to provoke inner resistance. How can you tell the difference between something that’s difficult because it’s important and something that’s difficult because your plan isn’t working? Where does “The Dip” fit into the picture?
Self-education and self-improvement are subjects that are near and dear to both of us. What encouragement or advice would you give to someone who is determined to become indispensable and make the most of their life without the benefits (and detriments) of formal schooling or advanced certification?
Don’t pick a job that insists on advanced degrees.
Don’t look for safety.
Fail in public.
Try to find things people will criticize.
Learn from your mistakes, with eagerness.
Do difficult emotional labor that others fear.