Even if you’re a superstar entrepreneur you probably work for someone. It may be a boss inside the organization, an investor or even your end customer. There’s someone whom you’re accountable to and who directly impacts your career progression and success.
You might have already asked yourself any of these questions:
- Am I indispensable?
- What can I do to speed up my progress in the organisation?
- What would make me remarkable at delivering value to the customers?
- How can I deliver 10x the value the organisation invests in me? And–more importantly– how will I make sure I get rewarded for it?
Hopefully, these answers, informed by my own experience in the corporate world, will revolutionise how you perform in your day job. Note that the rewards don’t come immediately – they’re a byproduct of you delivering value to others. All clear? Then buckle up, and let’s see how we’ll drive your career forward.
7 principles to becoming indispensable
I recently read Linchpin, a book by the remarkable Seth Godin, which also advocates becoming irreplaceable as your way to success. Here are the 7 key principles from Seth on how you can actually become indispensable, i.e. how you can become the #1 in your organization who gets promoted and acknowledged for their efforts:
- Provide a unique interface between different members of the organization
- Deliver unique creativity
- Manage a situation of great complexity
- Lead customers
- Inspire staff
- Provide deep domain knowledge
- Possess a unique talent
Sounds easy… yet also too vague to action. Right? Especially if you’re not convinced yet that this approach works. Let’s dig deeper into what these 7 points convey.
Seth states that consumers crave only a few things: the unique, the remarkable and most importantly Human. That last one is what combines the 7 principles into a single wrapper – simply be more human in everything you do.
To be remarkable you need to be an artist
To be remarkable you need step outside of what is expected of you. You need to drop that old adage of working as a cog in a system instead do what is indispensable and do it the Human way. Do Art:
“The art is running a meeting, counselling a student, conducting an interview, and calming an angry customer. The art is raising capital, buying carpet at a souk, or managing a designer.”
All of these emphasise the human connection. Just imagine being great at it; you’d be an artist, a linchpin, an indispensable asset to any organization.
Seth also explains that:
“The future belongs to chefs, not to cooks or bottle washers. It’s easy to buy a cookbook (filled with instructions to follow) but really hard to find a chef book.“
Don’t be dismayed, this is a good thing. Otherwise the reality would be more like the movie Equilibrium, which shows a dystopian society where art is banned, emotions are suppressed by drugs, and the Linchpins who question the status quo are lynched and then burnt alive.
So the actual recipe to be remarkable in what you do is:
- Start with why & question the status quo. Remember, you are not in this job to follow a path others decided for you like an assembly line worker–anyone can do that. If your boss wants you to be remarkable, they hired you to solve problems and think, not to assemble. They expect you to innovate, to look for breakthroughs.
- Go beyond the doom between job description and automation. It’s more than okay to try to be better and to do more. Indispensable is extraordinary and the opposite of mediocrity. You don’t want to be mediocre because “mediocre is a failed attempt to be really good”.
- Make judgement calls and lead. As James Altucher says (and this is a really good book), you have to choose yourself! Take the right calls without permission. Don’t wait for someone to come to you to give you a raise or a permission to go and make some art. Everyone else is too busy trying to be remarkable themselves, and usually in all the wrong ways so that they too become part of the status quo.
- Connect and empower other people with ideas. Notably, ideas are now thought to be the currency of the 21st century. They transform, inspire and shape the world as we see it. Better yet is when different ideas from different sources collide (also called idea sex). So – give others room to express themselves and become remarkable, introduce contacts to each other to form relationships that matter, and lastly build a tribe around you filled only with people who will keep you on the rise.
- Learn and solve interesting problems. Just because you work as a clerk, doesn’t mean you cannot take a deep dive into your organization’s ins and outs. Every organization has its own business intelligence that you can get to know today.
- Ship on time – “Late is the first step to never”. I cannot overemphasize how important this is. Having managed multiple people in the past this is the only thing that would stand out in the long run. You are never expected to over-deliver, but you should absolutely never under deliver or ignore deadlines. Double down if necessary to ship things. This quality separates the exceptional, indispensable people from those who don’t actually want to take the wheel and drive their careers.
Regardless of your profession, you can take these points and apply them in your work right away. They apply to any discipline, product and organization.
Think of Van Gogh, Piccaso and Dali who were all revolutionary artists. To them, paint was just the medium used to ship their unique and creative ideas. Imagine a past in which they didn’t have paint… Do you think their indispensable, linchpin approach to life would have stopped them? No. They would have found a different medium to ship those remarkable and human experiences.
Face the Resistance
But Vytautas, you might say, if I do all this tomorrow, I could lose my job. My boss may not allow me such freedom. How can I can be an artist when I work at a coffee shop chain (corporate law firm, bank, hospital, animal shelter etc.). They will never allow it…
Of course they won’t, they don’t have to.
Your boss might have been conditioned to manage an army of cogs and expect them to form an assembly line in everything they do. Would this stop an artist dead-set on delivering the best they can? No, it wouldn’t.
Remarkable people deserve remarkable jobs. If your current organization isn’t an environment in which you can excel (and by the way, this is hardly ever true), then then find a boss who appreciates. One who is looking for remarkable employees, and who will expect you to overdeliver in creative ways. Great bosses hire highly motivated people and give them enough room to be remarkable.
The employees who break through and become remarkable are the ones who have nothing to lose. If you have a backup plan, you’re not making a big enough impact. That’s why the bigger the decision you have to make, the bigger the fear you face. This is normal and it’s primal. You’ll need to acknowledge it and then just go forward. The resistance, this fear is nowadays a prerequisite for success.
Where does being remarkable come from and how can you hone it?
It’s natural to give into feeling stuck and stay mediocre. This is an urge directed by your reptile brain which lacks self-control. It’s only purpose is to direct our fight or flight response, yet it can betray us in so many ways throughout the day. We forget about wanting to solve problems in a unique way and we don’t learn from failures. To forget about solving problems in a unique way and forgetting about learning from failures. We don’t even make the right mistakes in the first place – it’s much easier to avoid risk altogether. Unfortunately, this is also the path which will never lead to you becoming remarkable and claiming your (career) destiny.
To overcome these comfort urges, you’ll need to recognize when your inner lizard (the reptile brain) strikes. Seth doesn’t give many practical ideas to overcome the urges of the reptile brain, apart from plain self-awareness. Because remember: if you are aware of something, you can control it. You might also benefit from looking into the box breathing technique which I wrote about in the past – this technique is how Navy SEALs deal with extremely stressful combat situations.
That’s it. Now you have a simple list of what makes a remarkable, indispensable worker (i.e. a linchpin in his own right), how to become one and how to overcome the fear that will try to hold you back.
The next step is all yours.