Seth Godin, a Single Strategy God

On the plane from Beijing to Amsterdam I read Linchpin by Seth Godin.

OK, I tried reading it.

I gave up after about 40 pages and 400 simplistic generalizations. I nearly choked on my salted almonds when reading that Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) and Karl Marx (Das Kapital) “said the same thing.” (Which is similar to the claim that both Barack Obama and Adolph Hitler had the same number of fingers.)

What bothered me most about Seth Godin’s book is the problem of the Single Strategy God. It is a literary style that many business books suffer from. (Though I’m afraid it’s often me, the reader, who is doing the real suffering.) The authors write from a divine perspective, and their books claim that if you want to be successful your strategy should be to “be a linchpin” or “find a blue ocean” or “lead a tribe” or "move from good to great" or “be a purple cow”.

But it’s all a load of purple crap.

If the Single Strategy God really existed He would have created all species to mimic the survival strategy of Antarctic krill. It is (measured in terms of biomass) the most successful species on our planet.

Side note: in Linchpin Seth Godin argues that workers should try and become indispensible by becoming super-specialists: different from other people, and the only ones who can do their jobs, because linchpins define and adapt jobs around themselves. He ignores that, in a complex system, generalization and specialization, scaling up and scaling out, are the effects of forces that keep adapting to each other in never-ending balancing feedback loops. If nearly everyone in an economy would follow Seth Godin’s advice and focus on specialization, and being different, then the few who would focus on generalization, and creating copies, could make a huge amount of money.

People love simplistic advice. It reduces their need to think for themselves. After all, it takes effort to understand that the world is far more complex than Seth Godin tries to make us believe. It takes brains to realize that ants, humans, and cyanobacteria are successful because their survival strategies differ from each other. Some species scale up, others scale out. Some are specialists, others are generalists. Some systems thrive in blue oceans, others in sandy deserts. Some people are great linchpins, others are superb army knives.

Any strategy that leads to success is a fine strategy.

Seth Godin’s strategy is to pad his ideas with as many stories, examples, anecdotes, and platitudes as possible, until every single idea can be published as a separate hardcover book in 200 pages, double-spaced. This strategy works brilliantly. If your name is Seth Godin.

But would it work if your name is Jurgen Appelo?

I don’t believe so.

p.s. I just returned from China, where many companies make money being unremarkable and copying/producing whatever the US and Europe want to procure, at the cheapest possible rate. It's a country of 1.3 billion army knives, not linchpins. I've heard this has helped sustain the global economy. Not such a bad strategy, it seems.

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