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VideoBlog: Jim Durbin On Being Indispensable

I Want To Be Indispensable

I was 25 years old, and had spent two years at my first office job.  After years in catering, restaurant, and retail, I was working at a desk in an office with computers and printers and an undefined role. 

At the time, I was a marketing/IT/sales/management hybrid, developing a mapping project for outside salespeople to use in collecting leads while in new markets.  With the help of the 3rd fastest computer in the company, and a whopping 4 GB of memory, I redrew the United States into walkable sections based on business lists purchased from ABI. 

In addition, I handled special marketing projects, served as a liaison to other departments (shipping, sales, marketing, enterprise, customer service), served as a buffer between  my boss and the sales floor, and for a while, I sang in the choir. 

I was in a growing company, and had won my spurs in the first year, placing in the top 5 salespeople dialing 125 times a day setting up appointments with car dealers, mortgage companies, retail stories, and distributors on selling an incentive program. 

This is all brought up because I just noticed Seth Godin has a book called Linchpin, Are You Indispensable?

Indespensable.  At the age of 25, that's all I wanted.  I remember standing in a bar on a Friday explaining to a group of 8-10 people what I actually did.  The answer was everything.  Anything my boss wanted me to do. Anything I saw that needed to be done.  Anything other people wouldn't do.  From recruiting to admin to training to reporting functions to IT Help Desk to UX work - my job was simply to solve problems. 

And so when they asked, I told them my job was to be indispensable. 

One guy - a real stud, both in sales and in life, looked at me with sympathetic eyes and 10 more years of experience and said, "No one can ever be indispensable."

It's been 12 years since, and I'm now inclined to believe him. Companies move on, more often than not.  When they lack personnel or lose someone important, they move to different things.  Whether they fail aor succeed, they move on.  How can one man be indispensable in a system that adjusts itself through sheer inertia?  Whatever satisfaction you get from helping the company win or watching it lose, the result is temporary.  Indispensable simply doesn't last forever. 

That desire never left me, and so in 2006, I started my own company.  Ultimately the only way to truly be indispensable for any length of time was to do it all yourself.  To date, I'm still indispensable, but I'm actively working each day to make myself obsolete.  It will be a joy the day I can sit back for six months and watch the company work on its own.  How crazy is that?    

I'm out every day looking for employees that are indispensable.  I'm out every day looking, and not finding, because on thing is true - people who want to be indispensable can't reach their potential working for others.

Clearly I've yet to read Godin's book, but the title struck a memory chord, and a strong one.

Are you indispensable?  Is it even possible to be?