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Are You Indispensable?

By Seth Godin
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin explains why you should stop being a mindless drone at work and instead become a linchpin – someone who pours their energy into work and is indispensable to the company. It is not only better for your career but it also makes work far more enjoyable and rewarding.

Key idea 1 of 8

Today, if your job involves just following instructions, you are replaceable.

Hector has it tough. As a day laborer, he and many others wait on a street corner in Queens every morning for contractors to drive by and choose a few of them to do a day’s work at minimum wage. From the contractors’ point of view, all these workers are the same – they have no differentiating skills – so there is no special reason to pick Hector over any of the other laborers there. Hence, Hector will be lucky to get chosen.

The industrial revolution was sparked by the discovery that highly skilled people are not necessarily needed to manufacture complicated products. Instead, almost any production process can be split into steps so simple that relatively unskilled workers can do them. Adam Smith wrote that ten barely trained – and hence poorly paid – factory workers could produce a thousand times more pins than one highly skilled pin maker.

This is why many manufacturing jobs are simple, requiring only that employees show up and follow instructions precisely – like cogs in a machine. If you are such a worker, the problem is that you are easily replaceable and certainly in no position to negotiate a raise. Consider how manufacturing jobs in the West are being outsourced to China and India, where people are equally capable of following instructions but for a fraction of the cost.

Today, even supposedly outsourcing-proof, white-collar jobs are under threat. Stock brokers, travel agents, secretaries and other professionals who were used to just showing up at work and doing what they were told are all finding themselves more and more replaceable and outsourceable. Jobs that involve purely following instructions can be done by anyone, anywhere.

Today, if your job involves just following instructions, you are replaceable.

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