Monday, January 4, 2016

On Being a Linchpin

First, to all Happy New Year.  My hope is to bring you many more posts this year!

I recently read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin Are You Indispensable.  I thought it was an interesting read.  It hit on a lot of items that bother me with today’s society – how people are replaceable, how schooling spits out compliant individuals that have lost their creativity and ability to think and create. When I was young I think there was still this idea that if you worked hard (doing what you were told) that you would be taken care of in return.  That isn’t true.  When I was young I worked at a lot of small theatres, many of which paid poorly. But they also operated almost like a family.  There was a community.  Once I hot larger theatres, and corporate theatre, the factory model became much more apparent. 
Godin claims that most people around us are “bureaucrats, note takes, literalists, manual readers, TGIF laborers, map followers and fearful employees.”  I want to think that I don’t see it in the places I have been in theatre, but I do.  It’s there lurking. Yes, certain individuals create – designers, directors.  Theoretically the rest of us have opportunities, but either we don’t exercise them, or they are minimized by the organization. 
When I left the world of theatre, I went to education then to corporate work.  Every place I went to I thought the grass would be greener in terms of experimentation, testing, and R&D.  What’s the difference between the 20 different ways that I know of to cover foam (foam coat, super 88, muslin cover, sculptor coat, urethane hardcoat, and so forth).  What is cheapest, what is most durable?  What is best for rocks versus trees?  Many there is no right answer.  But if you don’t look at things like this, then how do you discover something innovative, new and different?
I often hear discussions about shop standards.  I don’t necessarily disagree that these should not be developed.  I think sometime that once you have a functioning wheel, and you know how and when it works, then using it in the situations in which it applies should be done.  But that doesn’t mean that you should think about a better wheel.  But that costs money.  And it is easier for your folks to just follow instructions on using the first wheel.
At the same time as reading Seth Godin’s book, I read an article on facebook about suicides rates for kids in the Silicon Valley.  Their parents are rich.  They can afford to give the kids everything to give them a good life – lessons and schooling, and connections to give them a leg up.  But they can’t necessarily get them a job, or make sure that they are successful in the future.  So there is stress, and the kids are literally opting out at an alarming rate.
At this point, for decent paying work, you can’t just show up.  There is no miracle job.  You need to contribute and make a difference. Godin asks you to “be remarkable, be generous, create art, make judgement calls, connect people and ideas”.  I’m not good at doing this all the time, but I would like to.  I think that Godin has a lot of good things to say about stepping up.  I think there are parts where (and perhaps it is my own insecurity) that he indicates that the reader could be the next Steve Jobs, or some other similar famous entrepreneur.  But that’s beside the point. 
I also read an article on Forbes Called “Seth Godin’s Linchpin Theory: Sound advice or Career Suicide”.
It was an interesting comparison.  This article, to me over states the idea that to be a linchpin the entire company pivots around you – and that you are in a position in the company that is not at perhaps the CEO level (since at that point most entrepreneurial businesses often revolve around the creator, at least for a time).  The key, that this article makes that is very important (and very important theatrically) is that organizations need a way to manage knowledge.  When person A creates something, what happens with the knowledge that they have learned?  Without managing that knowledge, and somehow sharing it with others, that individual becomes valuable, but also problematic.  Historically that person doesn’t want to share information because that makes his job less stable.  But sharing that knowledge, is to me, pivotal with moving forward in our industry, as well as many other industries. 
Excel is a typical program to be using as a TD.  I am surrounded by users who have all used it for over a decade.  In the past month – I have had at least 4 moments where I or someone else learned a random things that you can do in excel by watching someone else.  All of us (in my example) thought of ourselves as pretty decent users of the program – but there is always something to learn.

Knowledge management, allowing people to share information, and providing space to experiment and test ideas, techniques, and so forth are critical things that I believe are necessary to cultivate in our world today.

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