How to Practice Contrarian Thinking (Charlie Munger)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Linchpin" by Seth Godin. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Want to know how to stand out at work in any job? What advice do leadership experts offer?

According to entrepreneur and leadership expert Seth Godin, if you want to stand out at work, you must adopt a “linchpin” mindset. In his book Linchpin, he offers tips to help you stand out from your colleagues, based on the linchpin mindset.

Keep reading to learn how to stand out at work, according to Godin’s four tips.

How to Stand Out at Work

Do you dream of making a positive impact at work but doubt that you’re good enough to do so? According to leadership expert Seth Godin, anyone can choose to create impactful work by becoming a “linchpin”—an employee whose unique skills hold their organization together. If you want to learn how to stand out at work, Godin asserts that becoming a linchpin is the best way to achieve this goal, and he even claims it’s a necessary step for career security in today’s tumultuous job market.

In this article, we’ll explain Godin’s four tips for standing out at work, no matter what kind of job you have, according to his book Linchpin.

#1: Innovate

Godin explains that if you want to know how to stand out at work, it’s important to learn how to innovate. Because linchpins are intrinsically motivated and take the initiative to discover new ways to solve problems, they’re continuously innovating: They regularly solve problems in new ways, as well as problems that no one else has thought to solve. By doing things no one has done before, linchpins create exponentially more value than if they were trying to get better at doing what’s already been done.

For example, the laser printer was invented by an employee at Xerox named Gary Starkweather. Despite his managers urging him to abandon his research on lasers, which they deemed were too impractical to use in printers, Starkweather continued to innovate because he cared more about the work he was doing than following directions. If Starkweather had followed directions and merely invented a faster photocopier, it wouldn’t have had much of an impact. Instead, the laser printer transformed the industry and became immensely profitable for Xerox.

According to Godin, the innovative nature of a linchpin’s work makes them exceptionally valuable employees that are difficult or impossible to replace. A linchpin’s work involves solving countless unpredictable problems, so it can’t be summed up in a job description or quantitatively measured. Thus, finding a replacement for a linchpin is next to impossible, and bosses will often do whatever they can to retain their one-of-a-kind employee. In contrast, a non-linchpin who works to become the best in their field at only one specific task will find it more difficult to outcompete others who specialize in that same task.

The Real Secret to Innovation?

In Range, David Epstein argues that the key to innovation is to be a generalist. If you want to be a linchpin, it may be worth your while to cultivate experience in a diverse array of skills and activities—a trait that Godin doesn’t mention.

According to Epstein, although many people worry about “starting too late” when switching careers, newcomers to any given field typically have unique life experience that gives them an advantage over those who have stuck with the same career for life. This is because the heart of innovation is coming up with new connections between existing ideas. The more unusual and wide-ranging your background is, the more unique combinations of ideas you come up with, and the more valuable innovations you produce.

If many linchpins are generalists, as Epstein argues, this would also explain why the most innovative linchpins are difficult or impossible to replace. If the reason you’re such a good marketing director is that you’re drawing from past experience as a graphic designer and playwright, it makes sense that there are few people in the job market who can come up with the kinds of ideas that you can.

#2: Build Emotional Relationships

Linchpins also stand out at work by building emotional relationships. Godin explains that by giving gifts and being authentically themselves, linchpins earn the trust of coworkers, clientele, and anyone else they come into contact with. When you embody the linchpin mindset, the people around you sense that you have their best interests at heart—because, as we’ve established, you truly do. 

This trust-building results in genuine friendships that are valuable to the organization. Customers will be loyal to an organization for life if they’re friends with the team. Other employees will enjoy and care more about the job if they’re friends with a linchpin coworker who’s emotionally invested in the work. These valuable relationships are inexorably tied to the linchpin—if you’re a coder, and all you do is write code, your boss could easily replace you with someone of equal skill. But if your friendship inspires all the other coders to work hard and genuinely care about the final product (and they’d be sad and unmotivated if you left), your boss will do everything possible to keep you on the team.

Building Emotional Relationships as a Boss

In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek also advocates building trusting relationships in the workplace. While Godin emphasizes how important it is that you build emotional relationships as an employee, Sinek focuses on the importance of building relationships as a boss.

According to Sinek, empathetic emotional relationships are necessary for your employees to feel safe, which helps them perform their best work. If they see you, their boss, as a fellow human who has their best interests in mind, they’ll feel comfortable taking risks at work without worrying about being punished for making mistakes. This leads to innovation, which, as we discussed earlier, is the most profitable kind of work.

Although valuable inter-employee relationships rely on the linchpins holding them together, as Godin explains, Sinek argues that such camaraderie among coworkers can only exist if the boss has already built solid relationships with the employees. When you form empathetic relationships with your employees, they don’t have to worry about earning your approval and support—you’ve already given it to them. In contrast, if you see your employees as machines and make your approval and support strictly conditional on their performance, your employees will see each other as competitors, and you’ll sow distrust and deprive your organization of valuable collaboration.

While Godin claims that you can build relationships just by being authentic at work, Sinek asserts that to build trusting relationships, leaders must regularly put their subordinates’ needs before their own.

#3: Force Yourself to Finish Imperfect Work

According to Godin, to stand out at work you should learn one of the rarest job skills: The ability to regularly finish projects and present them to the world on a predetermined schedule, no matter how “good” they turn out to be. Set a deadline for every single project you set out to create. Then, even if your work doesn’t turn out how you wanted it to or it doesn’t feel finished, release it into the world when the deadline arrives.

This skill is vital because most people are afraid of presenting imperfect projects. Consequently, they spend too long working on their projects and usually never finish them at all. Regularly sending out imperfect work is surprisingly effective, as imperfect projects often unexpectedly turn out to be a complete success despite their flaws. The proof of this process’s efficacy is all around us: We can see that people who create truly influential work typically do so only after publishing a massive amount of other work.

#4: Calmly Embrace Negative Outcomes

According to Godin, linchpins stand out at work because they see their work as a gift and become emotionally invested in the effect it has on others. However, Godin also offers the paradoxical advice to remain emotionally indifferent if your work is rejected by those around you or fails at positively impacting others. 

If you’re only emotionally invested in a single positive outcome while you work, you’re preparing to be upset if it doesn’t happen. This emotional lens warps your perception of the world and causes you to make harmful mistakes. Often, people who hope for a specific outcome deny the unpleasant realities in front of them to avoid negative emotions, causing them to ignore problems that they normally would be able to solve. For example, if you really want to believe that your boss has you in mind for a promotion, you may convince yourself that they’re more impressed with your work than they really are and neglect to put in the effort needed to get their attention.

Additionally, Godin argues that if you’ve already failed and there’s nothing you can do to fix it, spending time and energy worrying about that fact will only make it harder for you to work on your next project. To cultivate indifference in the face of failure, remind yourself that accepting what you can’t change and moving on is both the rational and productive thing to do.

How to Stand Out at Work: 4 Tips From Seth Godin

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Seth Godin's "Linchpin" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Linchpin summary:

  • Why you must become a "linchpin" if you want to create work that changes the world
  • The steps you can take to become a linchpin
  • How bosses can nurture and manage linchpin employees

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *