Seth Godin - LinchpinThe highest level of management I’ve reached in my career is Operations Manager. It was a tough job, but I was successful. I was good at it. And it was an eye-opening experience for me.

When I started, I had nothing to go on but instinct, and as it turns out my instincts were good. The owner of the company was old school, all numbers. He was cut-throat – making the employees “happy” and “motivated” was my job, no matter what dumb-ass rule or restriction he put into place.

In other words, he didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted people to comply, and if you didn’t, you were out. He’ll find someone else.

Why do I bring this up? I am reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. It is a life-changing book, and not just because it brings to light shit I’ve suspected and known for years. The premise is that American business has trained us to be factory workers; a cog in the wheel so to speak, and business wants it that way. Everything from the creation of Public Schools (in their current form) at the turn of the century on down to the Hierarchical command-and-control business model has been designed to turn us into compliant factory workers. Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down. Public School in particular, is one giant exercise in learning how to comply. Think about it.

I’ve never fit into that model. I have always had a rebellious spirit, always had a place in my heart for iconoclasts and provocateurs, titles I can only dream of applying to myself someday.

All too often business people “lead” using fear and intimidation, and all too often people are afraid and intimidated. I don’t play that game. I am no one’s puppet. I think for myself.

In my current job, I have fired off e-mails, made phone calls, sent IM’s asking for why some asshole in our company (an equal, no less) is saying “no” to our customers when they should be saying “yes”. I’ve sent countless e-mails at 2 AM suggesting better ways of doing things, some of which go against our current practices. I have had numerous conversations about staying ahead of all my peers in my career development. I ask countless questions to make sure that the delivery of my next assignment is nothing less than perfect. This is what Godin refers to as my “art”. Kind of a cheesy concept if you ask me, but I understand where he is going with it. I am an artist. Artists are passionate; they take risks. All good artists go against the grain.

One would think, after hearing what I just described, you might say, “Oh well, damn Bryan, I want you to come work for me!”

Not most of my bosses throughout my career. Usually, my bosses think I’m a pain in the ass. Why? Because they usually want me to just show up on time, do my work, keep my mouth shut, and keep my head down, because thinking and working outside the box is a risk. With risk brings attention and (deep breath in), the “R” word . . . responsibility. If I take risks, according to our command-and-control expectations, it means that if something goes wrong, my boss has to answer for it, so it’s this Domino cancer-effect of everyone in the chain not wanting to go against the top-dog. If I take a risk and get burned, it’s my ass, then my bosses’ ass for not “controlling” me, ad infinitum until everyone’s whipped into submission. . . .

Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down.

But, let me tell you this, bosses and company owners: You want a guy like me. Do you really want a carbon-copy asshole just like the last person in that slot?

If you do, it’s quite possible you could be in, what Seth Godin calls, “a race to the bottom”. If you are running a cookie-cutter business where you just have cogs in your company, you are attempting to provide an ordinary service, and you are competing with others who are also ordinary. The only way of competing at “ordinary” is to be more ordinary (read: inexpensive) than the next asshole offering the same shit as you are. You want to be remarkable (another Godin word), and to be remarkable you need to be different.