A linchpin is an unassuming piece of hardware, something you can buy for sixty-nine cents at the local hardware store. It's not glamorous, but it's essential. It holds the wheel onto the wagon, the thinger onto the widget.
Every successful organisation has at least one linchpin; some have dozens or even thousands. The linchpin is the essential element, the person who holds part of the operation together. Without the linchpin, the thing falls apart.
Is there anyone in an organisation who is absolutely irreplaceable? Probably not. But the most essential people are so difficult to replace, so risky to lose, and so valuable that they might as well be irreplaceable. Entire corporations are built around a linchpin, or more likely, a scattering of them, essential individuals who are worth holding on to.
1. Your business needs more linchpins. It's scary to rely on a particular employee, but in a postindustrial economy, you have no choice.
2. You are capable of becoming a linchpin. And if you do, you'll discover that it's worth the effort.
The easiest linchpin examples to find are CEOs and entrepreneurs, because they're the ones who get all the press. Steve Jobs at Apple or Jeff Bezos at Amazon or Ben Zander at the Boston Philharmonic or Anne Jackson at flowerdust.net. We look at these leaders and say, "Of course they're the linchpin. That organisation wouldn't be the same without them."
But what about that great guy down at the vegetable stand? You know, the one who makes it worth a special trip past the (cheaper and more convenient) supermarket. If he left, the place would go downhill and you'd stop going. All the rent, all the inventory, all the investment — they're worthless if he leaves. As far as you, the customer, is concerned, he's indispensable.
Have you ever purchased a car or consulting services or a house because the person you worked with made a powerful connection with you? If so, then she was the linchpin in the entire process. If she had been replaced by a cheaper, by-the-book automaton, you'd have bought from someone else. Indispensable.
What about the way it makes you feel when you walk into an Anthropologie store, or unwrap a piece of Lake Champlain chocolate, or send a package using FedEx's website? The experience could have been merely ordinary, merely another bit of good-enough. But it's not. It's magical. It was created by someone who cared, who contributed, who did more than he was told. A linchpin.
Anthropologie has a buyer, Keith Johnson, who spends six months a year travelling the world, visiting flea markets and garage sales, looking for extraordinary things. Not to sell, perhaps, but to beautify a store. It's not easy to hire a Keith Johnson, which is precisely why his work is so essential to their success.
If your organisation would get out of the way, and if you would step up, there'd be a slot like that available. For anyone.