There’s a popular saying, in business particularly, which goes like this:

“No one is indispensable.”

This means that you are not special; that you can be easily replaced by anyone we (somewhat carefully) pick off the street.

In all likelihood, this mentality originated in the factory and migrated inside as we put suits on assembly line workers and gave them cubicles instead of a spot on the line. We changed locations and clothes, but not the mindset. On an assembly line, of course, people are there for their hands… and that’s about it. They are organic robots. They are the most efficient way to get something done.

Of course, most of our work doesn’t feel anything like working on an assembly line. Not anymore.

And this “easy and instant replacement” mentality doesn’t feel right anymore, either.

The truth is, everyone is indispensable.

No one thinks like you.
No one has your background.
No one has had the experiences you’ve had.
No one has your unique talents.

There’s no one like you.

Which means there’s exactly no one who can do something exactly like you can.

Even if it’s been pounded into your head that “everyone can be replaced,” you instinctively know this is bullshit. You know how I know this? Because everyone feels the differences which happen when a group changes people. A small group loses one person and it can drastically change the dynamic, right?

Everyone is indispensable.

Business leaders just didn’t want this to be true, so some clever swindler started the “no one is indispensable” lie.

An “everyone is indispensable” type of thinking creates an organizational problem, though, doesn’t it? If everyone were indispensable, we’d have to start treating people differently. We’d have to care about them a little more. We’d have to think about them more deeply. We’d have to see them more three-dimensionally. We wouldn’t be able to be quite so calloused or disillusioned.

In all likelihood, this mindset would mean we’d probably have to completely re-think the way we design an organization.

If we can’t just “insert” any person into a position like a pair of hands on an assembly line — and we know we can’t — we’d probably have to completely throw out the idea of a job description (they just wouldn’t make sense as they are bound to the last person, not the next).

We’d probably have to recruit for completely different things. Instead of looking to “plug a hole” when someone leaves, we’d have to look for (and expect) a person who can, and will, add value in a new way, unique to them.

We’d probably have to think more about individual strengths and less about universal “competencies.”

We’d probably have to spend a lot more time letting people grow and evolve within their positions (tasks may forever stay the same, but people certainly don’t).

We’d probably have to develop a completely different organizational strategy for how we deal with people, in every way.

But isn’t it time for all these things, anyway?


5 Replies to “Everyone Is Indispensable”

  1. […] Designing An Organization That Doesn’t Suck”, will be released in early 2012. Connect with him online. Follow Josh on Twitter![…]

  2. ron says:

    i love what you wrote, it’s exactly how i feel ..makes people feel more human .

  3. C A says:

    nice article, but to me it’s about humility. It shows that everbody has to put in effort, and that without effort one can be replaced. by saying nobody is indispensible shows that we need to be on our A-game all the time, and this is ultimately the only reason we are valuable as employees. I guess though it’s a matter of interpretation.

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