Expendability Kills Value

You’re expendable.

This is a notion driven into your mind over and over, whether it’s because saying the wrong thing (or, horror of horrors: disagreeing!) can get you unfriended (I meant in real life; what were you thinking?), or because you have to abase and contort yourself at work to make sure your boss is happy, or because robots are taking over the world and are going to replace you.

Welcome to the future, where technology feeds us the illusion that anything of value can be replaced as quickly as you can click “Add Friend.” But, along with all of those aphorisms about a “friend” and “real friend” is the fact that true friends have a track record, a history of shared experiences and detailed knowledge that cannot be erased by a single comment. So, too, does every true employee have a track record that cannot be erased by a single failure or an insubordinate act. And even more so does every robot depend upon the track record of the true human beings whose collective knowledge made their existence possible.

Sure, you can find another person with the title “friend,” hire another “marketing manager,” and construct a metallic “factory worker.” But none of those so-called replacements have the track record of the people lost. They don’t have the implicit knowledge that comes from experience and forms the ties that bind. They cannot customize in the same way based on a history of learning preferences, desires, contradictions, and dialectics.

Rather, the easier things are to replace, the more we seek out deeper connection, higher quality, and detailed customization. In a sense, social media has made us more miserable because it highlights the rarity of true friends. A job market with a you’re-lucky-to-be-employed-at-all attitude makes the scarcity of talent, creativity, and loyalty an even starker picture. And instant coffee and insert-coin beverage dispensers make us only too aware of how delightful it is to have a fresh, handcrafted caffè latte just the way we like it with all the sound effects and steam.

Take a look at the irony: the more emphasis we place on instant gratification, the harder it is for us to be satisfied. Good friends, good employees, good goods and services are created over time, with human creativity, intention, and effort. To ignore that in life is to court loneliness, to dismiss it in business is to dull your competitive edge, and to eschew it in the accoutrements of life is to dissolve a unique identity.

What instant gratification incites us to do is think only of packaging and not what’s inside. Instead of being about sharing life, instant friendship is about sharing posts. In place of creative effort and unique value-added, expedient hiring is all about job titles. And notice how few “favorite things” we have in our lives since the advent of a clickable “Add to Cart.”

The notion of anything/anyone being part of us, being part of our company, or belonging to us, depends significantly upon the uniqueness of the subject and the value (s)he/it adds, both of which are directly connected to the time and energy expended to integrate them into our worlds. That is, it’s the track record of friends, employees, and even objects, that makes them so valuable to us. Though it may feel good in the moment to destroy things that aren’t perfect, and it may even be an expedient balm to pain, it is nowhere near as good as having and enhancing that history. So, when we encounter imperfections, we can see them as the impetus to destroy, or we can make them opportunities to learn, repair, strengthen, and grow.

“Expendable” is the long word for short value. “Growth” is the short word for long value.

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