Linchpin and B is for Bad Poetry

by

Most readers know that I have no love for Seth Godin‘s books. I am not in Godin’s demographic. His books don’t appeal to me.

Godin’s work speaks to a segment of the population that feels guilty about their love of capitalism and NPR. I don’t feel guilty about my duality. I like Barack Obama and money, although I don’t like NPR jazz or folksy bluegrass. Maybe I’m not liberal enough.

So I bristled when a reader sent an email and asked me to open my mind, get a copy of Linchpin, and read the book without prejudice or cynicism. I wasn’t sure I could do it, and as a compromise, I asked the reader to send me his copy. I didn’t want to spend $19.95 on a book that I would probably hate.

The reader said, “No, you’ll need your own copy. Trust me.”

Right. Fine. I hauled my ass to the local Barnes & Noble and bought Linchpin and another book called B is for Bad Poetry. I need more love in my life, and I couldn’t justify buying a book about business and capitalism without satisfying a part of my brain that craves truth, beauty, and art.

This was last Thursday.

I started reading Linchpin and fell asleep on the porch before reaching page 10. This is my fault, I thought. It’s a beautiful day, the birds are chirping, and I’m not committed enough to reading this book with an open mind.

I went to bed on Thursday night and grabbed B is for Bad Poetry. I fell in love. Couldn’t put it down. Read the whole thing in one night. I read it a second time on the following night. I cried — hard — which is what I always do after finishing a great book. It is so good.

Unfortunately, I had to make up for lost time. I spent the weekend opening my mind and focusing on Linchpin. It was Easter, after all, and even Godin deserves some forgiveness for his previous books.

*

After finishing Linchpin, I’ve decided that I really don’t want to write a traditional review. Kris Dunn does a great job of deconstructing the book and assessing its value in the marketplace. Go check out his blog for a thoughtful review from a guy who is a VP of HR. That’s the Godin demographic.

I will tell you this much, though: I am glad I read the book. Reading the book changed my life, even in a small way, because it gave me an opportunity to think about my beliefs and my positions in new ways. There are parts of the book that are really good. Buddhist principles. Therapy 101. Self-actualization. Validation. Tough talk. It’s all in there, and unlike self-help books in the genre of The Secret and The Rules, Godin isn’t fluffy. I respect that.

That being said, I just didn’t enjoy the book.

I tried. Really hard.

I will concede that Godin is a great writer. I’m so jealous. He provokes important questions. He doesn’t blog about his cats. He has credibility. So maybe I’m an idiot. Maybe I have no vision. Maybe I’m a cynic. I don’t know what it is, but the book gave me hives.

  • I can’t argue that the nature of work is changing;
  • I can’t dispute that factory work is an outdated way of operating;
  • and I certainly won’t disagree that schools are failing and produce nothing but a class of consumers who can’t think for themselves.

I just have some fundamental questions for Godin that remain unanswered, and the book fails at offering more than just a witty thesis and some interesting examples of ‘linchpins’ in modern organizations. Godin says that he won’t offer a map. I said in my head, no shit you didn’t offer solutions because that’s the difficult part.

Here are a few of my (modified) notes as I read through the book.

  • Is it dishonest to say that everyone has the potential for great art? Is art always the answer?
  • Does everyone have the potential to be amazing and do amazing things?
  • Doesn’t all of human history point to a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers?
  • If we want to move beyond a consumer-driven culture that trains our children to be factory workers, do we need to start thinking about moving art into the political sphere?
  • Do linchpins have a responsibility to highlight the misuse of religion? Religion is a major force in our economy and shapes the way we feel about fertility, capitalism, and consumerism.
  • Is it bad that I want kids to know data and facts? Is it wrong to ask our kids when the War of 1812 started and who fought in that war?
  • Aren’t facts a gateway to critical thinking?
  • How do we create schools that teach facts and foster leadership?
  • Why don’t more of us choose to stamp out mediocrity?
  • Aren’t there examples in art and science of how anxiety was used as a force for good?
  • Does mediocrity have an important and meaningful role in art and life?
  • Without mediocrity, can art exist?

I have another problem with the book. Godin writes that artists have a chance to make things better and other people choose to be victims. Do we really blame victims in 2010? What responsibilities do linchpins have to those who cannot (or choose not to) operate differently in the new economy?

Godin also writes, “You don’t need to be an outlier to be an artist.” I wonder — even though Godin tells me I’m foolish to wonder this — could this book be written by someone else? A woman? A Latino? Someone from a developing country? Or is this book, and all of Godin’s ideas, a product of the embedded privilege (intentional or not) that comes from being white, male, and American?

*

The book got me thinking about big issues, and I’ll always accept the opportunity to think differently as if it’s a gift, but Linchpin feels like run of the mill self-help book that is dressed up as art and grand philosophy.

There’s nothing worse than sententious advice that is skimmed from ancient religious practices and pawned off as cutting-edge thinking and art. In that sense, The Secret or The Rules may be more authentic than Linchpin. You know what you’re buying when you read a traditional self-help book. I’m not sure Godin knows that Linchpin isn’t art.

So please do me a favor and consider reading B is for Bad Poetry instead of Linchpin. Read it with an open mind — and no, you can’t have my copy. Trust me. You’ll need your own.

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