Seth Godin describes a Linchpin in his best selling book "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" as:

the person who is indispensable, because they refuse to become an interchangeable part, someone who merely follows the manual...the linchpins leverage something internal, not external, to create a position of power and value.”

In a way, it’s a paradox to be writing an article (or a book for that matter) about how to be a linchpin because, according to Godin’s definition, a real linchpin doesn’t follow instructions. Instead, they create them. Following instructions is for the proles and factory workers. Godin has support from Steve Jobs who says “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

However, as a counterpoint to Godin’s book is Michael Gerber, author of the best-selling "The E-Myth Enterprise." In his book the "E" stands for entrepreneurial and the myth is that to be a successful entrepreneur you need to work long hours, do everything yourself and be indispensable.

In fact, Gerber says, the opposite is true. To be a successful entrepreneur or business owner you need to become less indispensable. You need to put systems and processes in place so that anyone with the right training can operate the business while you are not there. McDonalds is the classic example of the Gerber style approach to business.

Godin vs. Gerber

So on the one hand you have Godin saying that to be indispensable, you need to become a linchpin and bring "humanity and connection and art" to an organization. And on the other hand, Gerber says that to be successful you should create systems and processes so that you don’t need to be there -- dispensable.

So who is right? From an organizational point of view, both are. (For more information about this interesting discussion, read Innovation Vs. Systems: Seth Godin’s Linchpin & Michael Gerber’s E-Myth).

Most organizations need a combination of both Godin (innovation) and Gerber (operations) type work. This ratio will vary however depending on the nature of the organization. For example, older established organizations may have a higher ratio of Gerber type systems in place while a newer business may be more innovative and have a higher ratio of the Godin type work (or "art" as Godin refers to it).

However, it would be fair to say most organizations need an ongoing supply of innovations, new ideas and continuous improvements; otherwise they are quickly left behind the competition (just ask Nokia). It would also be true to say that organizations also need to be producing and shipping products and services as effectively as they can following well defined systems or processes, otherwise they will also be quickly taken over by the competition.

So what can a communication or intranet manager do to help organizations become both more innovative and more efficient? And in the process become a linchpin themselves.

The Innovation-to-Operation Lifecycle

To understand how value can be added through better communication or a better intranet, there is a need to understand the innovation-to-operation lifecycle. The following diagram shows:

  • How an innovation, new idea or continuous improvement moves through the phases of collaboration, task and content development, and change management to eventually become operational, and
  • How effective communication or/and an effective intranet can contribute at each stage of this lifecycle.

The reason the phases are shown as a funnel is that not all new ideas or innovations will make it to the operational state. Some will be discarded as not profitable, others as not possible, some as ridiculous and many will just lose momentum. In fact, probably just a few ideas generated by an organization will make it to the operational state.

As Godin says in his book “Every creative person I know generates a slew of laughable ideas for every good one. Some people (like me) need to create two slews for every good one.”

And Steve Jobs has this to say, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”


Communication and intranet managers are in a unique position to support each of these important lifecycle phases. They have the ears and attention of the entire organization. From this position, the communication or intranet professional can:

1. Support collaboration

Collaboration will most likely be more important at the early phases of innovation as people work together to translate an idea into a reality. Working out whether the idea is any good, who can help implement the idea, what tasks need to be done to bring the idea to life, who will do them, what information is needed to support these tasks, how these tasks can be integrated in employee’s current job roles -- these are all challenges and decisions that will usually involve much discussion and collaboration. As Steve Jobs noted “Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”

Intranet and communication professionals can support collaboration through the facilitation of discussion forums, internal social media, comprehensive staff directories that identify skills and expertise, organized document sharing and version control, shared team sites, task lists and calendars.

2. Support the creation of tasks and associated content

As an idea comes closer to being operational, the development of tasks and content becomes more important. The diagram above, as well as the following two articles 9 intranet content types that add value to your organisation and Quick poll results: the most useful intranet content types provide a summary of the different types of content that an intranet can provide.

3. Support the implementation of change

It’s not enough to come up with an idea, identify the tasks and content needed to support these tasks. The integration of these tasks into business-as-usual activities is a crucial and often overlooked step. This can be a major reason why projects fail to deliver on their intended promise. My previous CMS Wire article, Why Intranet Governance is Overrated, makes this point.

Communication and intranet managers can support organizational change by providing ongoing communication through blogs and news stories. It’s also possible for the intranet to provide a schedule of business-as-usual tasks based on role and/or business unit. This makes it clear to everyone in the organization who needs to do which task and when. Online and web based training can also be provided through the intranet if necessary -- further supporting the change management effort.


Intranet and communication professionals are in a unique position to help ensure that good innovations or suggestions within an organization not only get discovered, but also become part of normal operations. The benefits of this are:

  • Increased opportunities for staff Given the chance and the right environment, most employees are full of ideas and suggestions about how an organization can be improved. Providing an approach to help manage these ideas and bring the good ones to the surface in a meaningful and productive way can be of immense value to an organization.
  • Systematic implementation of good ideas The chances of implementing a good idea are improved if the right tasks and supporting content are identified.
  • Operations are carried out more effectively Having the right tasks integrated into employee’s job descriptions and BAU makes routine task completion more effective. This can free up time for employees to spend on the higher potential value Godin-type innovative tasks.

What do you think? How can communication and intranet professionals help organizations turn innovations and ideas into operations?

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