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The Entrepreneur vs The Linchpin: Which Type of Designer Are You?

In this guest post by Eugene Burndam, we explore two distinct paths designers can follow in their careers. Read on to find out which type of designer you are meant to be.

For us humans, it’s very easy to project our future with thoughts and mind experiments. Our big brains can think in terms of the here and now and futuristic five year plans both separately and simultaneously.

There are two distinctive paths we get to choose within the melee of society’s design tastes and trends.

As designers, we are constantly thinking about what our career path looks like and developing a body of work. Creating our plans also comes with a heightened awareness for adapting to client needs and the socio-economic landscape. Pandemics require us to adopt remote work applications and evolve from the daily commute. Magazines sound like an awesome idea, but a blog can suit almost any budget for the ubiquitous Internet. In-house team collaboration or outsourced freelance project? The adaptations throughout a designer’s time are many and constant.

But there are two distinctive paths we get to choose within the melee of society’s design tastes and trends. We can choose to be a Linchpin or an Entrepreneur. Which type of designer will you become? Let’s dig into the two types of roles to help uncover your career path.

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The Linchpin Designer

The term ‘Linchpin’ is coined by the marketer and author Seth Godin who defines it as a person who is indispensable to an organization. They are the individuals who are able to leapfrog the other team members in terms of progressive ideas to increase the value and contribution of a company. They are awarded the responsibility of managing a sector or team within the organization because of their energy, ambition to learn, and dexterity to adapt. But the most poignant trait of the Linchpin is their ability to offer perspective and clarity to the director or CEO. This is the individual who consistently gives the owner up-to-date lenses so they’re able to navigate the company’s future with twenty-twenty vision.

The greatest Linchpin knows how to manage the boss’s personality, learning style, and weaknesses. But they have also built such a degree of success and goodwill with their application and skill that they are able to be direct and confident with expressing bold ideas and experimental plans for the organization. With enough forgiveness built from their previous contributions, any concept that is dismissed or considered a failure from the Linchpin is a soft landing for them to try again.

The most poignant trait of the Linchpin is their ability to offer perspective and clarity to the director or CEO.

These brilliant minds are exceptional at taking a task and turning it into a work of art very few could imagine. They’ve learned to think outside the box and without any preconceived notions. But the Linchpin doesn’t want to create an entire organization or community—that’s too messy for their independent thinking. Instead, these individuals will have to find more challenging tasks and inspiring managers. But most importantly, they must find team members who share their common core values as they enhance society and repurpose its problems.

Many designers reach the point where the seemingly obvious next step is to be a director. When actually, because of their nature, the goal is to find more intriguing and more complex puzzles to solve. This means changing environments, getting comfortable not knowing the tools and tasks, and being a beginner again.

Being a linchpin, knowing yourself, and knowing your role provides confidence in every step you take. If this is you, then your self assured mindset will allow you to say no to being the lead singer of the band. When you’re the quirky and talented lead guitarist, your unique style enhances the harmony of the other players and they realize your sound unequivocally represents who they are and what the band is about. You are indispensable.

The Entrepreneurial Designer

Entrepreneur is a French term that is tricky to categorize because the term, just like with other languages, doesn’t seamlessly translate for the majority of westerners who speak English. A friend or family member who expresses a foreign joke but through literal English translation will usually be met with blank stares—“If you spoke French, you would get it”, they say. A literal supplant is used to translate the true essence of the word entrepreneur. In western culture, we spin a generalized replacement for the term into many abstractions and misconceptions.

Entrepreneurship is…

  • Living a vacation lifestyle
  • Making lots of money
  • Power suit and power tie
  • Owning multiple businesses

From what I’ve observed, the clearest definition for entrepreneur is simply a business owner. This individual creates the definition of a company, curates what it sells, and what market the organization falls into. The scale of the company in relation to how many team members help produce its product or service can be small, medium, or large. Some business pursuits require two employees, others two thousand.

This savvy individual has the desire to create a story much greater than themselves with the help of others to make society better.

This savvy individual has the desire to create a story much greater than themselves with the help of others to make society better. He or she produces opportunities for the future that redefine the status quo for a culture used to doing things this way in the present. The business creator has learned they can no longer fulfill the role of technician or artist because the experiment of bringing a new customer experience is too enticing not to try.

Those choosing to create businesses will have to fail a lot, get comfortable with not getting it right the first time, and overcome the naivety that comes from being a self-starter. They’ll have to make sure they don’t bet the house on ideas and believe in the incremental development of starting with a little cash and a website. When dreams turn into the reality of harsh facts and dystopian thoughts, they will have to balance their mindset with opportunism, learning, and courage.

When all nine ideas have failed but the tenth one succeeds, their industry will lavish praise which contradicts the real story of climbing that arduous mountain with their team. The entrepreneur will be the one who redefines communication and marketing for the world of tomorrow. They will be the ones creating unique software indispensable to society. We will imagine our helplessness if the tools they created didn’t exist, and we will realize, in that moment, the culture has changed forever.

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Which type of designer will you become?

The path of being a designer is a long and challenging one where our best work breeds progress and opportunity—opportunities that give us two roads to choose from. So the question is: Are you able to identify who you are and who you will become? A linchpin or an entrepreneur?

About Eugene: Hi! I’m a blogger and designer based in London, England. I enjoy topics on marketing, learning, and branding. I also relish building community amongst graphic designers and understanding how we can all Think. Design. Educate and Play better with the great tools at our disposal. Find me on Instagram.

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