Make Yourself Irreplaceable – Again – Every Day (reflecting on Godin’s Linchpin) – with update

From the script for the movie Titanic:

Andrews - before hitting the iceberg

Five compartments. She can stay afloat with the first four compartments
breached. But not five. Not five. As she goes down by the head the water
will spill over the tops of the bulkheads… at E Deck… from one to the
next… back and back. There’s no stopping it.

The pumps–

The pumps buy you time… but minutes only. From this moment, no matter
what we do, Titanic will founder.

But this ship can’t sink!

She is made of iron, sir. I assure you, she can. And she will. It is a
mathematical certainty.
(Smith looks like he has been gutpunched).


It has all disappeared.

The way we worked, the way we organized work, the way we climbed within a company or organization in the logical and steady advancement of our careers – it is pretty much gone.  And it is not coming back.

Maybe not for everybody.  Not yet.  But – it is already a done deal.  The world has changed.  “It is a mathematical certainty.”

I remember hearing an interview years ago with a factory worker.   He had been laid off, and his job was not coming back.  He had done nothing wrong.  He was a hard worker, he showed up everyday, he kept getting promotions.  But, the factory itself was not up-to-date, and the company was closing it.  He was simply out of work.  And not just out of work. He was lost.  He sounded lost.  You felt for him.  He had spent his life as  a conscientious worker.  And now…nothing.

Seth Godin writes about this in Linchpin, and he warns us that no one is safe.  No one.

Here’s a quote from the book:

Many white-collar workers wear white collars, but they’re still working in the factory…
It’s factory work because it’s planned, controlled, and measured.  It’s factory work because you can optimize for productivity.  These workers know what they’re going to do all day – and it’s still morning.
The white-collar job was supposed to save the middle class, because it was machineproof.  A machine could replace a guy hauling widgets up a flight or stirs, but a machine could never replace someone answering the phone or running the fax machine.
Of course, machines have replaced those workers…  Worse, much worse, is that competitive pressures and greed have encouraged most organizations to turn their workers in to machines…
Our world no longer fairly compensates people who are cogs in a giant machine.

He then includes a simple drawing that illustrates that if your job description can be automated — and someone is trying to automate it right now! — you are doomed.

I’m reading Linchpin and feeling sad – challenged – invigorated – anxious.  The sad part is that I know he is right, and a whole lot of people are in for it.  The challenged and invigorated part is because it tells me why I have to keep moving, changing, growing.  The anxious part — well, I don’t have to tell you.  Every day, I have to keep finding new ways to make myself valuable to somebody.  And that is…  exhausting.

In Switch, the Heath brothers tell us that any time we have to think about doing something, anytime that what we are about to do is not on automatic pilot (i.e., needing supervision, where we have to pay attention to and supervise our actions), then we are faced with an emotional and physical energy drain.  It takes little energy, especially emotional energy, to accomplish a task that is on automatic pilot.  They put it this way:

Self-control is an exhaustible resource…  Much of our daily behavior is more automatic than supervised, and that’s a good thing because the supervised behavior is the hard stuff.  It’s draining.

Godin says that now, practically all work is going to have to be off of automatic pilot.

The quote above:
These workers know what they’re going to do all day – and it’s still morning.

The reality:
Everybody now has a “job” in which he/she does not yet know what to do all day each day.  You make it up/discover it/learn it as you go.  And if you can’t do that, you can be replaced with some form of automation.

Update: please read the comments for some back and forth discussion and my attempt at clarification.

2 thoughts on “Make Yourself Irreplaceable – Again – Every Day (reflecting on Godin’s Linchpin) – with update

  1. Randy Mayeux Post author

    Bob, I think you are right in all of your comments. So — I think I miscommunicated (not the first time). The Titanic example should have been explained: I was trying to use a quote that says that “the world of work has changed” — that that is a certainty. I was not referring to the specific kind of problem dealt with by the Titanic story.

    And the phrase “you make it up/discover it/learn it as you go” was intended to elaborate on Godin’s idea that if a worker knows exactly what he/she has to do, all the time (“in the morning” – Godin), then some kind of automation stands as a real threat to replace that worker.

    So — I don’t disagree with your criticism of the article — I think that you misunderstood me, which means I did not communicate clearly.

    I may, of course, still be wrong.

    Anyway, thanks for the reflection.


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