On being indispensable

Imagine 3 waiters. Two of them are excellent at their job. They are quick, don’t mix up orders, are always on time etc. The third one is almost as good as the other two. She is sometimes late and she’s slightly slower. Every now and then she mixes up someone’s order.

However, she is always smiling to customers, she asks if there’s anything that she could do for them, gives extra information about the food or drinks without being required to do so.

She does all that because she wants to. It’s not in her job description at all. However, the other waitresses don’t bother. After all, why would they spend all that extra effort if they are still paid the same amount?

Then comes a time the owner realizes that he doesn’t need 3 waitresses any more, so one of them needs to go. But which one? I have no idea if it’s one or the other of the two waitresses but I know it’s not our third one.

The reason is this: By socializing with customers and adding that extra value which is not easily copied by simply following instructions, she has become far more valuable to the cafe than the waitresses who simply follow the script. In fact it’s because of the third waiter and her caring nature, the cafe is loved by its customers. If she goes, the customers go.

This waiter has become indispensable in her organization. The owner realizes this and paradoxically she gets to keep her job because she did the things that were NOT her job.

Besides, no matter how good you are at your job, someone can do it faster, better or more efficiently. Always. Even if its a difficult job, it’s still something that can be replicated.

Doing something that is not possible to replicate by following a map is art. Art can be practiced anywhere. Even a job at McDonals enables that.

This is all in sad contrast to what they tell us in school. Shut up, pay attention, do what you’re told, be nice, don’t do anything risky or out of the line, get good grades and then you are taken care of.

You’re not. It was kind of true before but nowadays employees are in many companies treated as furniture. If we don’t like it any more or want a new one, we replace it. As said before, someone can always do your job better, cheaper etc. For this reason a diploma from a fancy school doesn’t guarantee anything either.

The solution is to think outside the box, do art, be creative. To add value in a way that is unique to you. So the organization has no choice but to have you. Or, you can have your own organization. One man organization.

In case you’re wondering why am I so vague, it’s because art can’t be explained in a step-by-step-do-this-then-apply-that manner. Remember, there is no map. This is why the road can be scary.

This article is heavily based on the book Linchpin by Seth Godin. I really recommend to check it out. It’s one of those books that has had a huge influence on my thinking.

Get better not bitter

KRISTJAN