Are you cog or a linchpin?

December 20, 2014

Cog vs. Linchpin

Picture this. There is a large piece of machinery with multiple moving parts. Some parts in the machine are used abundantly. They are of the same configuration. No difference between one or the other. If it breaks you easily replace it. You can even interchange their place and they would work just fine. Introducing the cog. In the business world there are cogs too. People who do the same mundane, repetitive tasks. Be it a factory, an accounts department or even IT. There was a time when this was OK to do. The world was like that. This was known as the Industrial Age. It was a time when efficiency was supreme. Ford revolutionized this world with their assembly line. It was a world that thrived on cogs. But then something happened. The world changed.

Thomas Friedman describes this as a world gone flat. An era of nations that had become an era of corporations had now evolved again to become an era of individuals. Daniel Pink described this as the birth of the ‘Conceptual Age’. The key driver to this change? Technology. It turned the corporate world upside down. The impact was radical. And this meant the role of an individual in the business world needed a major rethink. It demanded us to evolve from a replaceable ‘Mechanical Turk’ to something more. From just a cog to something of a Linchpin.

So what is a Linchpin? It is an apparently just a small part but it is crucial to the working of the entire machinery. There maybe many cogs but there maybe only a few, if not just one, linchpin in a machine. If it breaks down the damage can be detrimental. From an organization perspective a linchpin is a bit of a rebel. The individual who doesn’t just fit in like a cog. They are unique in more ways than one. So what makes them unique and why are they important in today’s world?

For one technology has replaced the need for labor. More and more work is being automized. There are very few aspects of business that can’t be better handled a by a machine or a program. With technology freeing us up from the mechanical stuff. With algorithms taking care of repetitive tasks. What’s left for humanity is to truly do the stuff which maximizes human potential. And that is to create, connect and make art. Linchpins in the business world are artists who take their work to a whole new level. It is about emotional labor. Labor that inspires, moves, connects and changes the world. When the iPhone came out it was not just a piece of mechanical genius. It was a work of art, something that took more than just an assembly line to put together. It was a product of emotional labor and therefore it moved us. Apple created art with something cold and mechanical like technology. This is what the world needs. This is the era we live in. The opportunities to create art and to move people with it are abundant. But it needs application. And this is what a Linchpin does.

So the question is! Are you a cog or a linchpin? Are you doing the mundane that can one day be automated? Or are you creating art, inspiring humanity with the labor of love? If you are then kudos to you. If not then it’s time to jump ship and swim the open seas. There is a risk that you may drown but if you cross the chasm you may find unknown treasures that will take you places you had not imagined you could go. Enough poetry. But seriously. This is not a joke. I am not quite there yet myself but I am certainly swimming the open seas!

This blog has been inspired by Seth Godin’s amazing book “Linchpin”. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. 
Feature image by Ximeg used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

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