Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? is a 2010 book by Seth Godin. The book’s primary thesis is that in the modern world, you have to avoid being a conforming, replaceable assembly line worker, and instead be a linchpin, someone who is indispensible, someone who goes the extra mile, who invests emotional labor into his work and his art. The book covers topics such as the problems with the “old way” of working, what it means to be a linchpin, the resistance from your lizard brain, gift culture, connection, the importance of shipping, etc. He summarizes the book as:

All I wanted to do in this book was sell you on being the artist you already are. To make a difference. To stand for something. To get the respect and security you deserve.

The book is structured into chapters each of which are broken into 1 or 2 pages worth of discussion on one aspect of the chapter’s topics, each about as long as a blog post. Given that Seth Godin is a prolific blogger, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of this book evolved directly from his posts.

As someone who has mostly soured on late-stage capitalism, a lot of this is preaching to the choir. I don’t need to be told that something is wrong with the way our companies and labor are currently set up. Concepts like the resistance and the lizard brain aren’t new to me either. I did enjoy the chapters about gift culture and how being an artist means being willing to give a gift to the world, instead of having everything be a commercial transaction. And I do appreciate the overall message of avoiding being just another cog in the capitalist machine, of going above and beyond in whatever you do and gifting your talent to the world.

Here are some parts I highlighted from the book for whatever reason (yes, I just discovered the Kindle app lets you export your highlights!):


Go to a McDonald’s. Order a Big Mac. Order a chocolate milkshake. Drink half the milkshake. Eat half the Big Mac. Put the Big Mac into your milkshake and walk up to the counter. Say, “I can’t drink this milkshake . . . there’s a Big Mac in it.” The person at the counter will give you a refund. Why? Because it’s easier to give her a rule than it is to hire people with good judgment. The rule is, “When in doubt, give a refund.”


Donald Bradman was an Australian cricket player. He was also the best athlete who ever lived. By any statistical measure, he was comparatively the best at what he did. He was far better at cricket than Michael Jordan was at basketball or Jack Nicklaus was at golf.

(Okay, I highlighted this one only because I might be able to use it in a trivia question somewhere.)


The process of making the art and the results produced are solely aimed at the creator. Whistling as you walk through the woods is a form of art, but you’re not doing it hoping a squirrel will applaud.

The easier it is to quantify, the less it’s worth.


Shipping isn’t focused on producing a masterpiece (but all master-pieces get shipped). I’ve produced more than a hundred books (most didn’t sell very well), but if I hadn’t, I’d never have had the chance to write this one. Picasso painted more than a thousand paintings, and you can probably name three of them.

In difficult economic times, the resistance explains that we’d better get a steady job, because the world is fraught with uncertainty and this is no time to do something crazy like starting a company. And in great times, of course, the resistance persuades us not to start a company because competition is fierce and hey, salaries are high. “Don’t be stupid,” it says.

If shipping were easy, you would have done it already.

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