On holiday I read a book that was given to me as a gift – Linchpin by Seth Godin. I like his books, with their ‘manifesto’ like writing style. Linchpin is written as a challenge to people with one central theme: “Be different”. I saw the teachings of a few of my best mentors in his writing. My favourite quotes:
- On busy work – the notion that being busy does not mean success:
“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”
- On investing in yourself, reading self-help books, focusing on your development and really trying to improve day in, day out:
“Getting Things Done could actually help you get things done. A Whack on the Side of the Head could help you be creative. Sales training could in fact help you make more sales. There are books and classes that can teach you how to do most of the things discussed in this book. And while many copies are sold and many classes attended, the failure rate is astonishingly high.
It’s not because the books and classes aren’t good. It’s because the resistance is stronger. Few people have the guts to point this out. Instead, we turn up our noses at the entire genre of self-help. We cynically ridicule the brownnosers who set out to better themselves. We marginalize the teachers who are unaccredited or not affiliated with Harvard, et al. It’s a brilliant plan by the resistance, and it usually works. Don’t listen to the cynics. They’re cynics for a reason. For them, the resistance won a long time ago. When the resistance tells you not to listen to something, read something, or attend something, go. Do it. It’s not an accident that successful people read more book”
- On expending energy in non-productive ways, reacting to that person who cut you off in traffic:
“Shenpa is a Tibetan word that roughly means “scratching the itch.” I think of it as a spiral of pain, something that is triggered by a small event and immediately takes you totally off the ranch. A small itch gets scratched, which makes it itch more, so you scratch more and more until you’re literally in pain.
You’re on a sales call and it seems to be going well. This is your particular trigger. It might lead to a sale and that would expose you to all sorts of danger, says the lizard. So you say something stupid as a defense mechanism, which leads to a stumble in the rhythm of the meeting. You say something else stupid and suddenly, as you expected, it all begins to unravel. This is your shenpa, the one you invented for yourself.”
- On the curse of reciprocity .. this one really made me think. It is sad, but when someone gives me something – I often fall into this trap:
“It’s human nature. If someone gives you a gift, you need to reciprocate. If someone invites you over for dinner, you bring cookies. If people give you a Christmas gift, you can’t rest until you give them one back. It’s reciprocity that turned the gift system into the gift economy. Suddenly, giving a gift becomes an obligation, one demanding payment, not a gift at all. So marketers use the reciprocity impulse against us, using gifts as a come-on.”
- On our perceptions as our reality:
“No one has a transparent view of the world. In fact, we all carry around a personal worldview—the biases and experiences and expectations that color the way we perceive the world”
- On how to manage your stakeholders:
“The cornerstone of your job is selling your boss on your plans, behaving in a way that gives her cover with her boss, being unpredictable in predictable ways. You can’t go from being a junior account exec to flying the company’s biggest client to Cannes in a private jet and expensing it a month later. You don’t start with the confidence of the company; you earn it”
- On change:
“1. Understand that there’s a difference between the right answer and the answer you can sell. Too often, heretical ideas in organizations are shot down. They’re not refused because they’re wrong; they’re refused because the person doing the selling doesn’t have the stature or track record to sell it. Your boss has a worldview, too. When you propose something that triggers his resistance, what do you expect will happen?
2. 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”
Throughout the book he centers on being different. If you really want to be successful it is no longer enough to work hard, do a good job, fit in. Break-out performance comes from different thinking, from standing out in the crowd, taking risks and pushing into a whole new realm. A few notable quotes:
“Lots of people can lift. That’s not paying off anymore. A few people can sell. Almost no one puts in the work to create or invent. Up to you. Great bosses and world-class organizations hire motivated people, set high expectations, and give their people room to become remarkable. There are countless people waiting to tell you how to fit in, waiting to correct you, advise you, show you what you are doing wrong. And no one pushing you to stand out.”
That last point says it all, being different is not always appreciated.
I remember having a active discussion with someone on the topic of being different over a coffee last summer. The topic was rather inconsequential, but it makes the point well enough. While members at a tennis club in England, we came to notice a dual standard. The club made it clear that they supported the Wimbledon standard of attire on the court. This was translated into women wearing all manner of attire and men being held to the standard of collared shirts. Contrary to popular belief, it can get quite hot in the greater London area.We would watch the women enjoy the sun in tank shirts while our boys ran the courts in full, heavy shirts. So we inquired about the process to change the rules, which involved requests being approved by a council of members. We then assembled photos of the top 10 male tennis players at Wimbledon in attire other than collared shirts (Most never wear a collared shirt) and submitted the request with a recommendation of change.
It was rejected by the member council, who we learned were long standing members (decades) and not interested in change. We also found out that one of the most prominent and talented male members had been waging this battle for a couple of years. Over that coffee, I made the point that progress is hard and people do not like change. The counterpoint was made “why rock the boat?”, in terms of ‘Why must you press it. Rules are rules”. Right there it struck me .. so many people just want to fit in, as Seth points out.
The only problem is, progress is only made with change. Progress is often painful, many will push against it and mistakes will be made, but in the end if it is worthwhile, someone has to have the courage to do it. The road less travelled …..