Seth Godin, Linchpin

LinchpinI was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Seth Godin’s latest, Linchpin. I had a very hard time writing an appropriate review on Amazon.

What others reviewers are raving about is how this book is about doers . . . kind of, but not really. This book is about people who fancy themselves single-handedly able to change the world. Change being the operative word.

Which means they are discontent now, want things to be different and heretofore really haven’t done squat about it. You and I know them as whiners. If they’re just out of college they really want to travel Europe staying in youth hostels. They think the answer, the Change, is out there. Somewhere else. Away from here.

Is it?

The first 48 pages . . . Set. Me. Off.

Like reign of terror “set me off.”

Here’s what really gets my panties in a wad, he attacks the underpinnings of Mastery.

Even worse, he specifically attacks memorizing fractions….


You KNOW how I feel about fractions . . . and multiplication tables.

The reason you learn multiplication tables and fractions is for deeper domain understanding. You start to see the number 6 not as the visual 6 but as little chunks of 2s and 3s – you get understanding of the properties of numbers which is what leads you to discovery.

He later circles back to the concept of Mastery as a good thing, but …

He implies that the “always on Wikipedia” can get the answers we need when we need them. Really? What an incredibly shallow existence you must lead if Wikipedia can answer all of your questions. Can we thrive without domain knowledge?

FractionsWhy does a Violinist practice her chords? So she can know them to the point that the notes play through her. She cannot create art without first making simple things automatic.

Picasso didn’t start in his Cubist period. He started by learning the techniques of the masters before him. He started with rote painting.

Great art – the visual, the intellectual, the emotional – starts with expression of mastery. You must understand your materials before you can really give of yourself.

The other major issue I take with Linchpin is Godin’s perpetual reference to employers as huge faceless organizations. It is true that 64% of the population works for companies with >100 people. But that means 36% of us work for companies with less than 100 people. Half of those work for companies with less than 20 people (see Statistics of US Businesses at, link keeps moving). He refers to employees as wanting to contribute more, but being told to just fit in.

That hasn’t been my experience. How about yours?

He are some facts for your noodle:
1. 18% Americans are employed at companies with less than 20 people
2. 64% employed at companies with >100
3. Critical thinking skills + creative problem solving skills for those who do rote drills versus those who do not.

As for me, I’ve done different jobs at different times in life because that is my path. Despite my fussing with Godin’s Linchpin, I suspect he would agree, the change you need to seek is within you. The world “out there” changes when you change yourself.

So, reasonable people should skip the first 48 pages of the book.

Have you read it? What do you think?

**In all fairness, his attack on fractions, page 45, is more of a slight. But no one messes with my numbers.

Image courtesy of Steve Hodgson

2 thoughts on “Seth Godin, Linchpin”

  1. In reference to “employees as wanting to contribute more, but being told to just fit in”, I think this is an interesting point.

    In general, I do believe that a person makes their own job. You may have your set tasks, but there is always room to do more if you are truly motivated. The only thing is that our education system has done a great job of teaching us how to complete tasks, but NOT create them.

    So yes, I can see employees wanting to do more, but maybe what’s stopping them is the know-how how to do so and not so much the company.

    Then again, I’ve never worked at a larger company so my experiences have been different.

    • Excellent point Lisa, the current focus of a majority of the schools in our education system is to fit in, and that isn’t what leads to creative problem solving. And that is what Godin attacks, the lack of “leadership” training.

      He states that learning fractions won’t lead to leadership, and that’s where we disagree. If you have the necessary domain knowledge (multiplication tables, trig, biology,…), YOU have the foundation for understanding our knowledge to date and EXPANDING it! That is leadership.

      The good news is that plenty of individual schools teach the necessary domain knowledge and leave the kids on their own to figure out what to do with it. It helps to have active adult engagement and works best where parents are deeply committed to their child’s education.

      Smart, motivated folks will find a way to contribute more than they are required.

      You hit the nail on the head – employees may want to do more but simply do not have the knowledge to do so. And that is exactly the problem with the first 48 pages of Linchpin, Godin undermines the idea behind teaching that knowledge.

      Thanks for the insightful comment!

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