Thursday, April 1, 2010

Being a Linchpin

I just finished listening to Seth Godin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?  I found this book to be full of permissions worthy of everyone's consideration but especially relevant to young people and their parents, who need help in understanding how the world has changed and what the young person must do to be a successful member of society.

The first section that ignited my enthusiasm was Godin's assertion that you should give yourself permission to get a D.  He adds the caveat that permission to get a D does not mean that one may be a slacker.  In fact, the opposite may be true.  Godin says it is acceptable to get a D if getting an A means subverting one's original thinking for the sake of appeasing a professor, or "the system."  Getting a D and standing on principle or creating a new way of looking at a problem is far more important and satisfying than regurgitating the necessary data to get the A.  I wish all students, all parents and all teachers could realize and celebrate that the grade is not the most important thing.  Many of the most important lessons one will ever learn are unassessed.  Personally, I have received maybe two Ds in my life, and in the occasion of one of those occurrences, it was in a class where I felt I had exhibited the most personal and pre-professional growth.  The D was a shocking result, but somehow I could not feel defeated or inadequate.  I felt more successful in this class than I did in any of the others in which I  had "phoned in" an A.

Reiterating the warning that the promise of the old economy - get a job, do your best, and your will be taken care of - is dead, Godin suggests that the only possible way to achieve any type of security in this throw-away economy is to become a linchpin, someone so indispensable to his company that he cannot be replaced.  Godin says that in order to become a linchpin we must create an art that cannot be replicated and that we must freely give of our art without any hopes of compensation.  Art, by Godin's definition, is not limited to a canvas or composition but is any kind of passionate work.   If we are compensated for art, it becomes a commodity, something that can be replicated or at the very least assigned a value.  To give away your art freely with no expectation of compensation seems senseless to someone who has a "what's in it for me?" attitude toward his job.  However, those who go beyond their job expectations, who add new dimensions to their workplace, who do things differently seem to be genuinely much happier at their jobs.  They give away their art and receive joy in return..

Godin talked about three strata or layers of connectedness around all individuals.  The innermost stratus consists of people who you know professionally and personally who are your friends and colleagues.  The outermost stratus consists of strangers that you can reach and influence as a result of giving your art on the Internet or other public forums.  I don't remember the name of the middle stratus, but it seems this one is the least important.  It is comprised of people who pay for your services.  While important to your economic well-being, these people are not as important as those in the inner and outer strata.  Those in the middle status view you as a commodity, something that can be replaced.  To those in the inner and outer strata, when you give away your art, you become indispensable, a linchpin.

For me, and the teaching profession in general, Godin's work challenges us to continue that which good teachers have always done: go the extra mile for the satisfaction it brings you and your students.  We won't be rewarded extrinsically,  for this, but the intrinsic rewards are immeasurable.  If you are not one of the teachers who go the extra mile, who teaches for art, then perhaps Godin's work will inspire you to think differently about your profession or perhaps find a new avocation that will be a joyful arena to share your art. If you are one of the teachers who believes in his work, share your story and art with the world.  The more you share the more indispensable you will be.

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