Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 11, 2010 9:12 AM

How Indispensable Are You?

The economy is still pretty sucky.

Even as certain industries and sectors claw their way back to some sort of semblance of normalcy, some of your peers are still being laid off, budgets are being slashed and businesses are still grappling with how to do more with less.

In all of this, those individuals still on top of their game seem to be doing just fine. Some have even been thriving.

When the recession was in full throttle, I found myself in a conversation with one of the head talent recruiters for an exclusive fashion retail chain. As we were discussing the economy and its impact on the luxury industry, I asked how it was affecting staffing and if it was hard to see so many people being let go from the team. The individual took a deep breath, looked me in the eyes and said: "The top performers are doing just fine. Their jobs were never in jeopardy. They're still making lots of money and performing exceedingly well."

Here's a translation of that: people who make themselves indispensable are indispensable.

The challenge is in making the statement tangible and actionable. The truth behind that message is that not everyone has the strategy, tools and tactics to get themselves to the point where they are indispensable - until now.

Seth Godin was making himself indispensable long before he earned his MBA in marketing from Stanford Business School in the mid-'80s. Along with a track record that includes stints as an entrepreneur who sold one of his companies to Yahoo!, where he became vice- president of direct marketing, he is also known as one of the top-rated marketing presenters on the speaking circuit and a best-selling author. From his classic, Permission Marketing to All Marketers Are Liars, Godin's work is rooted in simple messages that every businessperson can relate to.

His latest book, Linchpin - Are You Indispensable? (Portfolio), came out in late January.

Already a New York Times best-seller, the book is about individuals who have made themselves "linchpins" - people an organization can't be without. Linchpin could well be the definitive book on career management (even life management). In his seminal book, Purple Cow - Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (Portfolio, 2003), Godin pleaded with businesses to not produce and distribute mediocre products and services. Godin describes Linchpin as, "Purple Cow for people."

"There used to be a gatekeeper. A legitimate, real keeper of a real gate," Godin said in a recent interview. "If you wanted to get a job at Ford, the gatekeeper needed to let you in. If you wanted to get a job at a newspaper, the gatekeeper let you in. Either you were 'out' or you were 'in.' We organized our schools and businesses around this dichotomy of 'insiders' and 'outsiders.' I am trying to teach people that these gatekeepers are now all gone. If you want to make something in China and sell it at your local store, all you need is an email account and you're 'in.' If you want to be a blogger, all you need is a computer and you're 'in.' This means that you can be 'in' something in about a day or less. It doesn't mean that you're going to be good or successful at it, it just means that you're in it. Once we have a world like that, it raises the bar for what it means to be good, because there are so many people who are in it. There are lots of things you can do now. Go ahead and pick one ... just do it."

And while that may come off as "easier said than done," Godin believes we don't have the choice anymore. You can't just sit back and go about your job hoping others will take you to your personal promised land. The evolution of technology, connectivity and the economy have changed everything. Individuals are using these changes to their personal advantage and growth.

"You don't win by being more average than other people in your industry," Godin continues. "You don't win by being more compliant than your fellow co-workers. Being more obedient at what you do every day is not going to make you more indispensable. What makes someone indispensable is that they do something that other people can't do. ...We go to work every day trying to not do that. We go to work trying to be just like everyone else, because that feels safe. In today's economy, and for the foreseeable future, that's the riskiest thing we can do."

Godin pushes the linchpin concept even farther, encouraging individuals to explore what their "art" is. "(It) has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we're doing when we do our best work."

When was the last time you defined yourself as an artist when it comes to describing your work?

"It's the people who aren't like everybody else that always do better," Godin concludes.

If that doesn't get you thinking about your career, where it's headed and how to become a linchpin, what will?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
- Montreal Gazette - Making yourself indispensable at work is, yes, indispensable
- Vancouver Sun - In this shaky economy, you must make yourself indispensable.

By Mitch Joel