Linchpin by Seth Godin

This started out being a hard read, but now that I’m over halfway through I’m liking it.

The concept is simple. Imagine there are 3 circles around you. Inside the first circle are your friends and family. The second circle holds clients, and the third circle is everyone who likes what you do. Seth doesn’t talk about it, but obviously there is also a group outside the third circle.

The folks on the outside are those who don’t know about you, aren’t particularly interested, or who maybe want to throw stones. They are a pool of potential admirers and customers as well as a source of learning and growth. (I’ll come back to this.)

Seth’s proposition is that you grow the second circle – paying customers – by being generous to the first and third circles. Now, that’s the proposition. That’s different from the idea he’s sharing. The idea is all about why you’re being generous in the first place.

Because you’re also going to be generous to your paying customers.

There are two examples I want to share with you. One is positive, and the other is an example of being unable to receive a gift.

The first example involves a politician. Imagine that…a politician receiving a gift.  🙂

I do a lot of speaking engagements for local business owners in groups of 30 to 150. There’s no charge for me to be there, and half the money from books sold goes to any charity the group wants to support. The presentations are always 20 to 30 minutes with little or no time for questions at the end. So, I always stay afterward to answer questions, sign books and brainstorm ideas.

Oh, I almost forgot…the presentation is about social media and local business marketing.

You can see how everyone in the room is instantly in my 3rd circle. They’re listening because they have an interest in knowing how to use social media to grow their local business. (It’s local business because some of them are small, others medium and few rather large – while they all have a local base of customers.)

After one presentation, the fellow who invited me to speak wanted to chat a little more. It turned out he’s a politician, and wants to use social media to be more accessible. He wants to use it as a way for people to share ideas, brainstorm solutions and come together as a community.

That’s a good thing for a politician.

Okay. He obviously wants to move into my 2nd circle. And because he’s a nice guy, is clearly passionate about serving his community, and is the friend of a friend, he’ll probably also end up in my 1st circle. So that’s cool.

Being a responsible fellow, he also has a weather eye on how much my help is going to cost. We talked about that briefly. We also talked about another not-for-profit business that he runs, and this is tremendously important. Here’s why:

This fellow, let’s call him Bill. Bill runs a not-for-profit because he wants to help people. He understands that sometimes you do something without ever expecting to be repaid. This is where Seth and Linchpin come in.

Seth talks about creating art, and your art is a gift to the world around you.

Some of my art is the radio show Social Media: Cheap and Easy and this blog. I give away information for free because people need it to grow their businesses. Strong, healthy, local businesses mean we have strong communities and people with jobs. Just ask Scott Haskins, Connie J. Lewis or Laurie Cauthen how valuable my sharing and encouragement have been to them.

This is part of Seth’s point, too. Your art changes people. It naturally flows out of you to become part of your community, and it changes the people who come in contact with it.

So here’s the thing for Bill

  1. He already has a handle on the idea of doing things for people without expecting to be repaid.
  2. He knows he’s going to have to pay me to come work with him and build his community.
  3. I think he can grasp that he’ll pay me without ever being able to pay for the full value of what I do.

How do you “pay” someone for making a community stronger? Is there some amount of money that’s right for the person who opens communication, builds new relationships and is the lever that multiplies everyone’s effort? Folks, the reason I do what I do – whether it’s building houses, laying out high-rise buildings, or helping a business owner get her advertising working well – I do it for the same reason a father teaches his child to ride a bicycle.

There’s a warm glow in me when I pass a house I framed, or a building I worked on. It’s like a hug when my wife sends me an e-mail saying someone came into her office with one of my books, and it’s filled with sticky tabs and notes.

It’s funny…Tim is my accountant, and he’s always telling me to stop talking. He says I give away too much; that I should be charging people to sit down and talk for an hour. He doesn’t get it when I tell him most people simply can’t afford payment. Maybe you’re not getting it either…

Sure, they have the money to pay $200 for an hour of my time. But they never would. You see, they don’t really see value in community, or growth.

You can see it in their faces and their eyes. Someone picks your brain for an hour, and when they leave they’re like a thief in the night. They think they’re getting away with something, and never realise they’ve been given a gift – no payment was ever expected or wanted. Which leads me to the second example.

There was a client recently who just couldn’t receive a gift.

One of the things he wanted help with was writing a fundraising letter. This client is the Executive Director of a charity, and they’re in a bad way financially. So they asked me to help with several things related to building community and raising funds.

While we were working on the letter, I shared a lot of information about how letters are put together. There’s an incredible amount of craft and technique involved, as well as art and psychology.

At one point, I asked how many letters from other charities he had read. The answer was none. So I told him that, as the Executive Director, he has a responsibility to be on the mailing lists of other organisations and read their materials. He needs to understand what is working in his industry, and be familiar with what other charities are doing for fundraising.

His response was “If  I have to do all that legwork, what do I need you for?”

Wow. That blew me away. He’s responsible for fundraising, has final say over what gets sent out, and yet he sees no need to understand how a letter is put together. He was being given a gift, but didn’t want to receive it.

This is where we come back to the start of this article. Let me repeat what I wrote before:

The folks on the outside are those who don’t know about you, aren’t particularly interested, or who maybe want to throw stones. They are a pool of potential admirers and customers as well as a source of learning and growth. (I’ll come back to this.)

There is an art that you create. For me, art is telling people the truth, building community and growing strong businesses. One leads to the other. What is your art?

Because you have a 1st, 2nd and 3rd circle, too. And outside that are the people who don’t know about you, have an interest in what you’re doing, and some who will throw stones.

The person from the second example jumped into the 2nd circle, and now they’ve returned to being all the way outside. He didn’t want the gift, he wanted a slave to just keep doing the work for him. So how do you learn from that?

One way is to start thinking “I’ll be a lot more careful in choosing who I work with.” Can you see how that immediately works toward shrinking all the circles? You become fearful and protective of yourself. That makes most folks uncomfortable, and that means they’ll tend to leave your circles.

Another way to think is that you learned something about how people behave. You already know that I’ve run into people like this before – we all have. And every time we meet this type of person, we learn a little more about how to help them grow, how to communicate with them, and how to keep them from pulling us down. Or, more accurately, how to keep right on with making your art.

My art is to amplify what others do (tell the truth, build community and grow strong businesses).

These are the kinds of thoughts that Seth’s book – Linchpin – are stimulating in me. Have you read it? What is it doing for you?

What is your art?

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