No One Is Indispensable

I know it's a cliche, but it's also a fact that some folks seem to forget.

We forget it because, while in some cosmic sense it's always true, in a particular office of a particular company on a particular job there nearly always is someone who, if they aren't actually indispensable are as close to it as makes no difference. It shouldn't be that way, but it so often is.

Remember, even the "Leader of the Free World" can get s**t-canned every four years.

Even though indispensability seems binary, it seem to me more of a continuous function of time-frame and breadth of perspective. The sun will shine and the earth rotate without any people at all. Many organizations have collapsed when their key person suddenly became unavailable. That may not be important - it is unlikely that similar organizations will not come into existence eventually - but it is probably important to somebody. Probably most organizations could be significantly disrupted if a key person disappeared at a crucial time, but most would probably recover eventually. If the driver of the bus you are riding in suddenly has a heart attack, you may be in serious trouble, but if he succumbs before you leave the station, they'll find another driver - maybe you'll be a little late. The greater the disruption, and the longer the timeframe, the more indispensable.

I don't understand how this is true. We all know the statistics about the order-of-magnitude productivity difference between coders; which means the next best thing to not hiring a crappy coder in the first place is firing them once you've recognized their craptitude. And if you're a middle manager in my position, firing's usually all you can do; hiring happens in HR and then the results get handed to you. -JamieFristrom
This cuts both ways: when you know you aren't indispensable, you can cheerfully JustLeave with a clear conscience.

Ode to the Indispensable Man

Sometime, When you're feeling important
Sometime, When your ego's in bloom
Sometime, When you take it for granted
That you're the best qualified in the room

Sometime, When you feel that your going
would leave an unfillable hole
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how it humbles your soul

Take a bucket and fill it with water
Put your hand in it up to the wrist
Pull it out and the hole that's remaining
Is the measure of how you'll be missed.

The moral in this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can
Be proud of yourself but remember

(I don't know who wrote this) Saxon White Kessinger

There are various versions of the above found by Google. One site attributes the ode to Ogden Nash, and includes the following verse:

You may splash all you please when you enter
You can stir up the water galore
But stop, and you'll find in a minute
That it looks quite the same as before.

See for a version with a pleasant musical background!

Just remember, you are a unique individual. Just like the 6 billion other people on this planet.

Even if you're a one-in-a-million kind of guy, there are 6,000 exactly like you.

Imagine you are at the 99.9 percentile of intelligence. That means you're more intelligent than virtually everyone you meet. You feel like a genius. You feel like any company would just love to hire you, because you're so smart.

Now if we consider that only 1 in 1000 people are smarter than you, and there are 285,000,000 people in America (sorry for the AmericanCulturalAssumption - it's just an example), then there are 285,000 people smarter than you. That's an entire city!

"You are all individuals!" -- Brian
"We're all individuals!" -- Crowd
"I'm not!" -- Dissenter.

I think in some cases this is a management myth. I have participated in projects where there was in fact one indispensable person who kept the vision alive. If and when that person left, sometimes due to the NoOneIsIndispensable slogan, the vision died.

Sometimes the indispensable individuals are not noticed by management who mistakenly fire them and then throw the whole project to the scrapheap.

This term seems to have a relation to TruckNumber. For endeavors having a TruckNumber of 1, while no one may die, and while the overall enterprise may not crumble, the endeavor (project) may well succumb to a "TruckEvent?" (reducing the TruckNumber to 0). The guy wearing the number "1" is your "most indispensable" member. If there are more of him, success may only be expensive. If he is unique (for all practical purposes) then success may either never happen, or may have to be delayed to the extent that it becomes a different project.

Ouch, I think I just bit my tongue. But for a live example:

FedericoFaggin wore the number "1" in a number of projects. He was responsible for the (engineering) success of the 8080/8085 and, when Intel wouldn't pay attention, the creation of Zilog and the success of the Z80 design. When he left Zilog (yet another disagreement), the Z8000 project almost completely derailed. The Z8000 chip was eventually successfully released, but the damage was done. He wasn't "truly" indispensable, but proving it was a very expensive exercise for Zilog.

-- GarryHamilton

I was indispensable. But then they fired me.

Don't be indispensable. If you cannot be fired, then you cannot be promoted. -- AuthorUnknown

If you truly want to be indispensable to your employers, then become self-employed. In general, you're more valuable to the company (and good managers should recognise this) when the effect of you doing a job for a while is that no-one needs to do it again...

See also TheyCanFireMe, SuccessionPlanning, OrganizationTrumpsAbility, WhyIsDomainKnowledgeNotValued


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