Mar 30, 2010

Lincphin by Seth Godin, A Review - Part II

Using the model that Seth Godin outlines in Linchpin, I will tackle some current issues in climbing.

Climbing Media

Every month I flip through a couple climbing magazines (I don't have a subscription any more). Their page count is less and less every month. Even the photo issues, which should be the benchmark issue, is a thin volume. Magazines are being replaced with online media. Seth sees a similar pattern in conventional newspapers. He wonders what business are newspapers in. Are newspapers in the business of publishing on actual paper or in the business of serving the community, regardless of medium? Once you answer that question, you can decide which direction to go. If magazines are married to the physical medium then create content that is engaging only in that medium, long narratives and big glossy photos. If they are in the business of serving the climbing community then move in the direction the community is moving. Climbing magazines are trudging along with same type of content for far too long. I don't want to read about sends that happened 3 months ago. I would like to see a photospread from someplace I might actually go. Many years ago, magazines would print mini-guides for developing areas. That is acting like a linchpin by supporting the community. Currently, they are playing it safe and losing.

The fall of climbing magazines can be contrasted with the rise of climbing films. Professional climbing films are doing better than ever, even in the face of a free internet video avalanche. Why are these two different platforms fairing so differently in the current landscape? The answer could be linchpins. When I think climbing films, I think Big Up Productions, Chuck Fryberger, and Uncle Somebody. They are acting like linchpins. Each one of them is pushing the envelope in a different way. Each new production is better than the previous one. On the other hand, magazines are losing their linchpins, e.g. Matt Sament leaving Climbing Magazine.

Climbing Industry

Most of the climbing industry focuses on selling widgets, e.g. cams, carabiners, and shoes. This is in contrast to other sport industries like skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing. They sell an image or a lifestyle. Climbing industry sells “blend-in clothes.” How many shades of dirt-brown and grass-green do I need in my wardrobe? I think the climbing lifestyle is just as engaging as a skateboarding/snowboarding/surfing lifestyle. Climbing takes place in beautiful natural environment with elements of danger. That is an easy sell. I don't see why approach shoes can't be as popular as skateshoes.

Climbing Grades

There are grading linchpins, e.g. Dave Graham, Daniel Woods, and Nalle Hukkataival. They are artists either by sending new problems or proposing new grades. They take risks and run against The Resistance. Seth talks mostly about The Resistance being an internal force. It can also be external, people who are dominated by their lizard's brain. In this case, anonymous trolls that have never sent (or even touched) the climb in question.

Climbing Gyms

There is a continuing rise in indoor climbing gyms. In the not so recent past, each town had one climbing gym (maybe two). Boulder, CO now has four. Climbing gyms could get by with being dirty, have poor customer service, and greasy, mistaped routes. That won't work in the future. People will seek out the gym with the best routes, the most routes, or the most knowledge staff. Merely being present is no longer a sufficient business model.


Paralleling the rise in indoor climbing, there is a rise in the importance of routesetting. There is no routesetting manual. There can't be one. To be a linchpin setter, each route has to be different. That is the opposite of what a manual does – make everything the same. Setting a ladder, i.e. left, right, left, right..., is factory work.


CrossFit is based on a factory model. The mainsite or an affiliate makes the workout you consume. Everyone gets approximately the same thing, regardless of history or goals. They don't even offer the tools to accomplish your personal goals. For example, they don't have a long-term programming seminar, like Mountain Athlete's Seminar. CrossFit's model keeps you dependent and quiet. People are shot down quickly and vehemently if they ask the wrong questions. Other people are ostracized because they deviate from the party line too much. CrossFit is designed to make people average at everything. Seth argues that the world doesn't reward being average at everything.


I would unequivocally recommend Linchpin to anyone. It is challenging but assessable. It is a manual for a new world. A new world you can create in your own life.