It’s no secret I’m a big fan of author and change agent Seth Godin. I’ve been reading his books since my years in West Africa (2002-2006), and he continues to produce excellent work almost every day on his great blog.
I had the chance to speak to Seth’s “Alternative MBA” group last year, and when the invitation came, I rearranged my schedule and dropped everything to fly to New York. (Never pass up a major opportunity for personal growth.)
Today, Seth’s new book, Linchpin: Are you Indispensible?, launches out into the world. Instead of doing the usual media interviews, Seth decided to promote the book exclusively through the blogosphere. Together with his sidekick Ishita, he recruited a bunch of big-name bloggers – and then me – to publish a group of exclusive interviews today.
Let’s get started.
- Linchpin begins with the statement, “This time it’s personal.” This seems to be a departure for you. Among other things, you’re writing about love, binge drinking, urinals, and art. What led to this book?
I’m pretty sure I’m not writing about binge drinking. What I am writing about is the ability of each of us, without authority or permission, to do work that matters, to have an impact and to create a place for ourselves in a society that’s brainwashed us into doing something that’s an easily replaced commodity.
A big part of that is acting like an artist. Being personal, making change, communicating a vision.
I wrote this book for every single person who’s frustrated with the status quo and wants to do more and better work.
- “The system is a mess.” Which system? How does our art change that?
The system of factories churning out stuff we can no longer afford to buy, or to store in our houses overstuffed with junk. The system that turns out college grads who are eager to follow instructions, not blaze a path. The system that depends on spam or churn to grow a product or a brand. And the system that treats employees like disposable cogs in a giant machine.
You know what changes this? Humanity. Connection. Caring. Doing work that’s not easy to replicate. That’s what an artist does.
- According to Linchpin, how do I become an artist? (What if I don’t know what I’m really good at?)
You do art when you make change that matters, and do it via a connection with an individual. A great waitress or conductor or politician can make art. So can David, who cleans the tables at Dean and Deluca. Art isn’t the job, it’s the attitude you bring to the job and work you do when you’re there.
- Are we all really geniuses? If so, what do we do to stop choosing stability over genius?
Well, if a genius is someone who solves a problem in a new and original way, then sure, you’re a genius. And the first step to making that choice is to know it’s available.
- I liked the example of Thomas Hawk putting so much of his work in the Creative Commons. I know that you publish most of your writing for free, too, but what do you do when you run into issues of plagiarism or people otherwise directly stealing from you?
I ask them to stop, or to give readers a link so they can see where it comes from. Of course, if they’re selling it, that’s a different kind of theft, and I ask them them to stop, because then not only am I being ripped off, but so is the buyer.
- “Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” and “Art is a gift that changes the recipient.” — Would you say that if someone has a talent they keep to themselves, never sharing it with anyone, that they aren’t really making art?
That’s exactly right. According to my definition, doing private stuff doesn’t count… unless, and perhaps, you’re changing yourself.
- Can you tell us more about emotional labor?
Physical labor is digging a ditch. You don’t do it cause it’s fun, you do it because it’s your job. I don’t care if you’re in the mood for it.
Emotional labor is smiling or engaging with someone or bringing insight to your job. Sometimes you do it for fun, but you always do it because it’s your job. I don’t care if you’re in the mood for it.
“The second person to install a urinal wasn’t an artist, he was a plumber.” Aren’t most of us, in some fashion, plumbers building off each other’s work?
[A personal example: I read your books while I was in Africa. Now I'm getting ready for my own book launch. Editing the manuscript in December, I could see some artistry and some plumbing, building on the influence of you and other thought leaders. Am I an artist or a plumber?]
I think we surely build on each other. BUT, plumbers don’t really. They don’t strive for a better toilet install, or one that changes the recipient. They strive for a cheap, fast version of the standard and then they move on. Artists take it farther than that, much farther. That’s our assignment.
I wish Seth well with the launch of Linchpin. It’s a book that deserves wide attention — I received a free review copy, but I also paid full price for an additional copy that’s being sent out from Amazon today.
My work is better because of Seth’s influence and your readership. I’m grateful for both.