Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Linchpin by Seth Godin

The following is a review I posted on Amazon, but wrote for both audiences:

I really wanted to like this book.  After all, who wouldn’t feel good when someone tells them that they could be - should be and are - an artist or a genius?  Such is the premise of Linchpin.  Beginning with that as a premise, Mr. Godin spins an argument for all of us to become indispensable in our chosen fields.  

Personally, I favor books with a strong research base and primarily inductive reasoning.  Given a relatively large number of studies, certain generalizations can be made with a reasonable level of confidence.  As a retired teacher, still committed to better understand all the factors which bear on achievement in life, Mr. Godin’s book attracted me.  Sadly, what I found was a deductive work with sometimes seriously lacking scholarship.

If we are all geniuses under the skin, Mr. Godin, postulates, then there must be some evil forces conspiring to prevent us from achieving our potential.  In the case of Linchpin, those forces are several:  the “old” American creed of hard work without complaining, a mind-numbing educational system, and our limbic brain.  Readers are even told that if they disagree with the major argument here, it’s the resistance of our “lizard” brain.  This made me think of the emperor’s new clothes.

The problem I have with many inspirational works is that they fail to recognize the complexity of people’s interactions with the outside world.  The educational system, my area of particular interest, for example, is not nearly as constricting as Mr. Grodin would have you to believe.  The individual’s interaction with the world at large is quite complex and depends heavily on traits possessed both through birth and early development, circumstances like family social class and community, and chance events.  Even Mr. Godin recognizes that some individuals who shouldn’t end up expressing their genius in powerful ways.

Though I agree that there is indeed genius in each of us waiting to be realized, I would urge individuals to do their homework before rushing out to show the world their artistic brilliance.  As a teacher, I’d certainly urge teachers to do their best to learn what actions on their part have the greatest impact on showing students that they are capable of great achievement.  There’s a very low likelihood that telling individuals that they’re capable of great things, but guiding them toward expressing it has potential… and a research base that can be learned.

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