Today is a turning point, once-in-a-lifetime moment in time when you get to make a choice. Every day, people like you are choosing to go It a less well-defined path, one in which they make choices and make a difference. It turns out that not only does this fulfill our potential as workers and citizens, it is also precisely what the marketplace demands. Instead of focusing on complying with management as a long-term strategy for getting more stuff and being more secure, we have a chance to describe a powerful vision for our future and actually make it happen. This dream isn't about obedience, it's about vision and engagement.
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For nearly three hundred years, that was the way work worked. What factory owners want is compliant, low-paid, replaceable cogs to run their efficient machines. Factories created productivity, and productivity produced profits. It was fun while it lasted (for the factory owners).
Our society is struggling because during times of change, the very last people you need on your team are well-paid bureaucrats, note takers, literalists, manual readers, TGIF laborers, map followers, and fearful employees. The compliant masses don't help much when you don't know what to do next.
What we want, what we need, what we must have are indispensable human beings. We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care. We need marketers who can lead, salespeople able to risk making a human connection, passionate change makers willing to be shunned if it is necessary for them to make a point. Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference. Some organizations haven't realized this yet, or haven't articulated it, but we need artists.
Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done. That would be you.
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Here is the problem, which you've already guessed. If you make your business possible to replicate, you're not going to be the one to replicate it. Others will. If you build a business filled with rules and procedures that are designed to allow you to hire cheap people, you will have to produce a product without humanity or personalization or connection. Which means that you'll have to lower your prices to compete. Which leads to a race to the bottom. Indispensable business race to the top instead.
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Just over a century ago, leaders of our society started building a system that is now so ingrained, most of us assume that it's always been here and always will be.
We continue to operate as if that system is still here, but every day we do that is a day wasted, dollars lost, and opportunity squandered. And you need to see why.
The system we grew up with is based on a simple formula. Do your job. Show up. Work hard. Listen to the boss. Stick it out. Be part of the system. You'll be rewarded.
That's the scam. Strong words, but true. You've been scammed. You traded years of life to be part of a giant con in which you are most definitely not the winner.
If you are playing that game, it's no wonder you're frustrated. The game is over.
There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.
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The white-collar job was supposed to save the middle class, because it was machineproof. A machine could replace a guy hauling widgets up a flight of stairs, but a machine could never replace someone answering the phone or running the fax machine.
Of course, machines have replaced those workers. Worse, much worse, is that competitive pressures (and greed) have encouraged more organizations to turn their workers into machines.
If we can measure it, we can do it faster.
If we can put it in a manual, we can outsource it.
If we can outsource it, we can get it cheaper.
The end results are legions of frustrated workers, wasted geniuses each and every one of them, working like automatons, racing against the clock to crank out another policy, get through another interaction, see another patient.
It doesn't have to be this way.
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Average Is Over
Our world no longer fairly compensates people who are cogs in a giant machine. There's stress because many of us, that's all we know. Schools and society have reinforced this approach for generations. It turns out that we need are gifts and connections and humanity—and the artists who create them.
Leaders don't get a map or set of rules. Living life without a map requires a different attitude. It requires you to be linchpin.
Linchpins are essential building blocks of tomorrow's high-value organizations. They don't bring capital or expensive machinery, nor do they blindly follow instructions and merely contribute labor. Linchpins are indispensable, the driving force of our future.
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The organizations they work for have a very low PERL (the percentage of easily replaced laborers). In fact, for solely owned organizations, there aren't any easily replaced laborers.
This idea is spreading, faster than most of us realize. Now, the thriving organization consists of well-organized linchpins doing their thing in concert, creating more value than any factory ever could. Instead of trying to build organizations filled with human automatons, we've realized we must go the other way.
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“Not my job”--three words can kill an entire organization.
In factory, doing a job that's not yours is dangerous. Now, if you are linchpin, doing a job that's not getting done is essential.
Schools expect that our best students will graduate to become trained trigonometricians. They'll be hired by people to compute the length of hypotenuse of a certain right triangle. What a waste. The only reason to learn trigonometry is because it is a momentarily interesting question, one worth sorting out. But then we should move on, relentlessly seeking out new problems, ones even more interesting than that one. The idea of doing it by rote, of relentlessly driving the method home, is a total waste of time.
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Organizing around the average, then, is too expensive. Organizing around average means that the organization has exchanged the high productivity of exceptional performance for the ease and security of an endless parade of average performers.
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Depth of knowledge is rarely sufficient, all by itself, to turn someone into a linchpin. There are three situations where an organization will reward and embrace someone with extraordinary depth of knowledge:
- When the knowledge is needed on a moment's notice and bringing in an outside source is too risky or time consuming.
- When the knowledge is needed on a constant basis and the cost of bringing in an outside source is too high.
- When depth of knowledge is also involved in decision making, and internal credibility and organizational knowledge go hand in hand with knowing the right answer.
If it wasn't a mystery, it would be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth much.
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As our economy has matured and mechanized, seeking out and adhering to the norm has become unprofitable. It's unproductive to establish a career around the idea of doing what the manual says.
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You must say, “But I'll get fired for breaking the rules.” The linchpin says, “If I lean enough, it's okay if I get fired, because I'll have demonstrated my value to the marketplace. If the rules are the only thing between me and becoming indispensable, I don't need the rules.”
It's easy to find a way to spend your entire day doing busywork. Trivial work doesn't require leaning. The challenge is to replace those tasks with rule-breaking activities instead.
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Shipping something out the door, doing it regularly, without hassle, emergency, or fear—this is a rare skill, something that makes you indispensable.
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The reason that start-ups almost always defeat large companies in the rush market is simple: start-ups have fewer people to coordinate, less thrashing, and more linchpins per square foot. They can't afford anything else and they have less to lose.
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The road to comfort is crowded and it rarely gets you there. Ironically, it's those who seek out discomfort that are able to make a difference and find their footing.
Inevitably, we exaggerate just how uncomfortable we are. An uncomfortable seat on a long airplane flight begins to feel like a open wound. This exaggeration makes it even more likely than embracing the discomfort that others fear is likely to deliver real rewards.
Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you're doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they're busy hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.
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Thomas Hawk is the most successful digital photographer in the world. He has taken tens of thousands of pictures, on his way to his goal of taking a million in his lifetime. The remarkable thing about Hawk's rise is that his pictures are licensed under the Creative Commons license and freely shared with anyone, with no permission required for personal use. Thomas is both an artist and a giver of gifts. The result is that he leads a tribe, he has plenty of paid work, and he is known for his talents. In short, he is indispensable.
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The magic of the gift system is that the gift is voluntary, not part of contract. The gift binds the recipient to the giver, and both of them to the community. A contract isolates individuals, with money as the connector. The gift binds them instead.
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When you walk into your boss's office and ask for advice, she doesn't charge you an hourly fee, even if she's a corporate coach or psycho-analyst, even if you want help with a personal problem. The gift of her time and attention and insight is just that—a gift. As a result, the bond between you strengthens.
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The Magic of Living Below Your Means
One of the reasons people give for not giving gifts is that they can't afford it. Gifts don't have to cost money, but they cost time and effort. If you're panic about money, those two things are hard to find. The reason these people believe they can't afford it, though, is that they've so bought into consumer culture that they're in debt or have monthly bills that make no sense at all.
When you cut down your expenses to the bone, you have a surplus. The surplus allows you to be generous, which mysteriously turns around and makes your surplus even bigger.
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How Does a Linchpin Work?
In a world with only a few indispensable people, the linchpin has three elegant choices:
- Hire plenty of factory workers. Scale like crazy. Take advantage of the fact that most people want a map, most people are willing to work cheaply, most people want to be the factory. You win because you extract the value of their labor, the labor they're surrendering too cheaply.
- Find a boss who can't live without a linchpin. Find a boss who adequately values your scarcity and your contribution, who will reward you with freedom and respect. Do the work. Make a difference.
- Start your own gig. Understand that an organization filled with linchpins is itself indispensable. Hire appropriately.
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Focus on making changes that work down, not up. Interacting with customers and employees is often easier than influencing bosses and investors. Over time, as you create an environment where your insight and generosity pay off, the people above you will notice, and you'll get more freedom and authority.
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