Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Godin, S. (2010) Linchpin. New York: Penguin Group.

Be an artist.
Look at what is there.
Consider what could be.
Do something about it.

This is what Seth Godin’s linchpin does. It is an indispensible book for those on the cusp of becoming leaders and at the risk of succombing to “the resistance” and becoming “cogs.”

Godin, an entrepreneurial marketer, writer, and speaker nutshells his idea of the linchpin within the fourteen chapters of his “penultimate text.” Within each chapter, he breaks down his ideas into smaller nuggets that resemble his daily blog.
According to Godin, a cog is the equivalent of a factory worker: someone who does what she is told. This alleviates her from making decisions, taking ownership, but previously provided one with the tenure of the American Dream.
This is no longer the case.
Godin gives the reader a clear understanding of how our desire for stability and contentedness is an inherited ideal from previous generations. It used to be that the American Dream would be fulfilled if we ducked our heads down and performed the functions that maximized production in the age of the Industrial Revolution. The good news is that we learned to maximize our outputs. The bad news is... um, now what?
Godin contends that we can’t go cheaper, faster, or leaner. Instead, we must lean in. We need linchpins who coat their deliverables with authentic personal care. We must create gifts for one another, and not for a price or the guarantee of reciprocity, but for the sake of producing art.

Mr. Godin seems to think we know this, but are simply afraid. We fear and fight “the resistance” which satiates our lizard brains (the instinctual part that compels us to flee in the face of danger). He dedicates the heftiest part of his book (almost 50 of 230 pages) to the various forms in which the resistance may surface and bulwark our beautiful ideas. At the forefront is our inability to “ship,” or produce, the art we envision. Once we look clearly at what is causing us to resist--usually our fear that once shipped, our idea will prove to be not-so-glorious--we can free ourselves to look back at our failures and remark, “Isn’t that interesting?” rather than cowering in a factory corner of resistance.

What does this have to do with school?
EVERYTHING. We mustn’t stamp out factory workers. Instead, we need to encourage students to take risks, get to know, and the know-how to defeat, the resistance, find their “superpowers” and SHIP.

PBL offers this experience so long as we aren’t using the project to push kids through a pre-designed system of manufacture. Otherwise, it’s the same old factory. I’d love to bring this book into my students’ brains and help them to see school as not a factory, but as their laboratory. They should feel at home as scientists who take risks to determine what might work. In order to create the space for students to learn to do this, we must allow them to feel safe, acknowledge what they contribute, and applaud their efforts to ship: the beautiful, as well as the less-beautiful artifacts of learning forward.

Otherwise, we have DONE school to them. When they cross the stage, they will wonder why that carrot of a diploma doesn’t make them feel any different. It’s the act--the art--of what they can explore at our schools that will create the linchpins that I agree we need.  

Godin’s book is inspiring. He has hit the nerves of my resistance as a lizard-brained teacher leader and gives me no way to duck out. I think my seniors need this reminder, as well. I want them to feel that when they ship off, they’ve learned not just how to work within a system, but to be a linchpins: . As I research the effects of co-designing projects with my students, I need to be mindful of how much I need to work to develop their own awareness of what it means to contribute to a project and a group of people working to make change. I’m wondering how much resistance I will face.
“Our world no longer fairly compensates people who are cogs in a giant machine. There’s stress because for many of us, that’s all we know. Schools and society have reinforced this approach for generations. It turns out that what we need are gifts and connections and humanity--and the artists who create them. Living life without a map requires a different attitude. It requires you to be a linchpin” (p.19).

“There are fewer and fewer good jobs where you can get paid merely for showing up” (p. 23).

“... the people who work for you, the ones you freed to be artists, will rise to a level you can’t even imagine. When people realize they are not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, they take the challenge and grow....  Because everyone is a person, and people crave connection and respect” (p.36).

“The launch of a universal (public and free) education was a profound change in the way our society works, and it was a deliberate attempt to transform our culture. And it worked. We trained millions of factory workers: (p. 41).
“The sign in front of your local public school could say:

Maplemere Public School
It’s almost impossible to imagine a school with a sign that said:
‘We teach people to take initiative and become remarkable artists, to question the status quo, and to 
interact with transparency. And our graduates understand that consumption is not the answer to social  
And yet that might be exactly what we need” (p.42).
“Studies show us that things learned in frightening circumstances are sticky. We remember what we learn on the battlefield, or when we burn a finger on a hot tea kettle. We remember that we learn in situations where successful action avoids a threat.
Schools have figured this out. They need shortcuts in order to successfully process millions of students a year, and they’ve discovered that fear is a great shortcut on the way to teaching compliance. Classrooms become fear-based, test-based battlefields, when they could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical though we so badly need... Decades of school have drilled that into us--fear, fear, and more fear...Teaching people to produce innovative work, off-the-charts insights and yes, art is time-consuming and unpredictable. Drill and practice and fear, on the other hand, are powerful tools for teaching facts and figures and obedience... The thing is that we need a school organized around teaching people to believe, and teachers who are rewarded for doing their best work, not the most predictable work” (pp.44-5).
“‘I am good at school.’ This is a fundamentally different statement from, ‘I did well in school and therefore I will do a great job working for you.’...Being good at school is a fine school if you intend to do school forever” (p.47).
“While schools provide outlets for natural-born leaders, they don’t teach it” (p.48).
“Organizations obey Newton’s laws. A team at rest tends to stay at rest. Forward motion isn’t the default state of any group of people, particularly groups with lots of people. Cynics and politics and coordination kick in and everything grinds to a halt... Most modern organizations... Responsibility isn’t as clear, deliverables aren’t as measurable, and goals aren’t as cut and dried. So things slow down.

The linchpin changes that. Understanding that your job is to make something happen changes what you do all day. If you can only cajole, not force, if you can only lead, not push, then you make different choices” (p.221) .
“It’s our desire to be treated like individuals that will end this cycle. Our passion for contribution and possibility, the passion we’ve drowned out in school and in the corporate world--that’s the only way out... All these interactions are art. Art isn’t a painting; it’s anything that changes someone for the better... Art can’t be bought or sold. It must contain an element that’s a gift, that brings the artist closer to the viewer, not something that insulates us from one another. So, we need to remember how to be artists...
Artists, at least the great ones, see the world more clearly than the rest of us. They have prajna, a sense of what actually is, not simply the artist’s take on it. That honest sight allows them to see the future over the cloudy horizon. As our world changes faster and faster, it is these honest artists who will describe our future, and lead use there” (p. 235).

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