Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lizards and Linchpins

I recently read the getAbstract summary of Linchpin by Seth Godin.* According to the summary, Godin advises that, for professional success, we must overcome our most basic instincts in our resistance-driving "lizard brain"—the part of our minds that tells us to merely survive through risk-averse rule following—to exercise our “daemon”—a higher brain function that opposes resistance and drives creativity, love, determination, selflessness, and insight. Godin believes that the industry "artists" who exercise their daemons are "linchpins"—go-to people who are indispensable to an organization.

"…if you believe in yourself and your potential for greatness, kindle the creative spark within, embrace risk and seek the good in others, you can become an influential linchpin."

Hmm. Okay. (This feels like it is heading dangerously in the direction of the pseudoscientific law of attraction. Yikes.)

"You can either fit in or stand out. Not both. You are either defending the status quo or challenging it...Organizations will always strive to replace replaceable elements with cheaper substitutes. But generous artists aren't easily replaceable."

Again, okay. But what really plays out? Artists/linchpins may not be easily replaceable because they are rare. But they are not indispensable. Remember the adage:

"The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without."

It may injure a business to dispense of linchpins either by design or by lack of effort to retain them, but the remaining lizards will continue to do what they do best: SURVIVE. So will many businesses.

"Optimistic, successful individuals tune out their lizard brains. They don't take failure personally. They don't think of themselves as losers. They learn from their mistakes and take different approaches. They are strengthened, not weakened, by setbacks…You cannot truly embrace change until you decide that nothing is going to stand in your way. No amount of self-doubt or outside negativity is going to derail you. March ahead fearlessly."

In my experience, many lizards, like linchpins, don't take failure personally, either. They will fly under the radar, rationalize, play politics, game the system, blame others or the world, and a bunch of other possibilities, and generally emerge professionally, psychologically, and emotionally unscathed. Sure, some will be downsized, but if lizard-brain thinking is our natural instinct, it only stands to reason that lizards remain the vast majority in the workforce and in the world (including the executive suite).

Both lizards and linchpins will march ahead in their own ways. I've seen both find wild business success and both do just okay. Possibly, linchpins may feel genuinely happier about their plight and be liked by other people. But, lizards may believe the same about themselves. Either way, it works out on a personal level. Perception is reality.

So, if Godin is trying to say that being a linchpin will make your organization work harder to retain you or bring you greater professional success, I’m a skeptic. There are way too many variables in business to narrow success down to merit. I do not believe that there are robust meritocracies in the very subjective and political corporate world. If he's trying to say that linchpins have a better chance than lizards of leaving something good in the world (appreciated or not), well, that's possible.

Or, is Godin simply saying that you have choices about how you define and achieve personal and professional success, despite what is hard-wired in to your brain? With that, I definitely agree.

What do you think?

• How do you think lizards and linchpins compare in terms of professional success? Business impact? Value to your organization? Recognition and rewards?

• Do we need both types, or would it be best for business to have one type dominate?

• Which of these suits you? What do you do when someone you work with closely is the opposite? What do you do if you are expected to act in opposition to your preference?

• Are these the only two possibilities? Are there others? What about blends?

*Not having read the full book, I admit to the probability that I missed critical points. I’m a fan of Seth Godin, and I’m sure there’s brilliance in his book that couldn’t fit into the summary.

1 comment:

Julia said...

Though I clicked because of the reptile picture, you hooked me I to reading the whole shebang. I agree with you, insofar as this summary does smack of The Secret. Still, the passage about learning from failure has merit, even if I don't really agree with how it's couched. I think our education system trains us to avoid failure, and I for one never learned how to persevere either as a method of discovery or learning (if someone doesn't teach me how to do something, or I'm bad at it, I stop). This is a behavior I'd like to unlearn now, though I'll regret giving up the lizard totem. Reptiles rock.