Irreplaceable & the inconvenience scale

We all want to be irreplaceable. In an organisational context we worry about how needed we really are. It’s an omnipresent reality in a world of agricultural mastery and excess capacity. This is true for white collar desk jockeys, CEO’s and entrepreneurs alike. The more they need us, the safer and happier we feel. The truth is that everyone of us is replaceable. Even Steve Jobs. And the ultimate proof of this is human death. It happens, and we continue on with whatever it was we were doing.

I heard a good way to conceptualize on how ‘replaceable’ we are recently. The idea is that all of us can be replaced, and that the key question was how ‘inconvenient’ our loss would be to the cohort we belonged to. Where are we on the ‘inconvenience scale’ if we need to be replaced?Are we very high like Steve Jobs, or are we very low like a supermarket cashier? The more inconvenient it is, the more utility we are providing. It’s also quite likely that we have greater power of choice in actually placing ourselves elsewhere. One mistake we often make is equating how much we earn, with where we sit on this scale. Higher pay does not necessarily make us less replaceable, it often means the opposite. The real questions in understanding where we are on the scale are these:

  • How important is what I do to the people who pay me to do it?
  • Will the people who pay me lose money (or systems break) if I’m no longer there to do it?
  • How many other people can do what I do?
  • Will the other people who can do it, do it for the same price or a lower price than me?
  • Are these others easy to get?

If we answer these questions honestly we can get a fair assessment of the value we are creating, for our own business or one we work for. Everything we do in a given week doesn’t have to matter. It may just be that thing you do for 1 hour per week that no one else can. And the thing that we should be working on, is that one thing that only we can do. The stuff we are already great at, not our weaknesses. If we invest time working our our weaknesses, we simply make ourselves ‘more average’ and in turn we fall down the inconvenience scale.

The best way to be be high in the ‘inconvenience scale’ is to become a close to the money expert. By doing this, our potential loss becomes far more inconvenient.



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  2. Ned Dwyer · February 10, 2011

    It’s a fine line I think.

    I know people in organisations who want to make sure they’re indispensable. So they hoard knowledge and build systems around themselves so that if they are removed the system breaks.

    This is counterproductive for everyone. The hoarder has no reason to improve, the company can’t easily replace them.

    Be indispensable by providing unequivocable value. Build systems that don’t need you to be there for them to work. Get better by working harder, be the best in your own game.

    • Steve Sammartino · February 10, 2011

      Ned, you flipped my view with the ‘hoarder’ addition. This wasn’t my focus of attention, but it is a valid view which I agree with 100%. In truth I reckon these hoarders are building a ‘broken system’.

      Thanks for the addition to this entry.

  3. primarysuspect · February 10, 2011

    Nice post Steve.

    “The thing that we should be working on, is that one thing that only we can do. The stuff we are already great at, not our weaknesses.”

    Alot like the 80/20 principle.

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