In the current age of massive technological disruption, the path to success as a knowledge worker is not to work to become indispensable, but to work to become dispensable.
In the long run a robot or even just an algorithm is probably going to come along and make us all completely dispensable, but until then, here’s a few things we can do as knowledge workers to stave off deskilling in our increasingly automated world, and also manage the ever increasing amount of information available.
We all want to be needed. It feels good. But sometimes we go about becoming indispensable in scarcity-driven ways.
It’s maybe trying to look busy and important, or being involved with everything or across everything. Maybe micromanaging. Maybe not bothering to fix the root cause, because we know how to do the fire fighting when it comes up. Maybe leaving that long tedious processes in place that only we know how to maintain. Maybe not commenting code or documenting systems and processes. Maybe hoarding knowledge instead of sharing it with others.
This is scarcity driven behaviour, and yes we can all probably recall scenarios where being indispensable in this way has been rewarded. But as a knowledge worker in this age of technology, working to be dispensable is a better strategy.
1. Ignore Low Yield Tasks
Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
The 80:20 or Pareto principle tells us that 20% of the inputs produce 80% of the outputs — meaning 20% of the inputs are very high yield. Applying this to knowledge work means choosing the right things to do. Often these activities lie in the upper right “non-urgent but important” area of the Eisenhower Quadrants (popularized by the late Stephen Covey). In the modern information-overloaded world of work, ignoring the low yield tasks, (which are often then the “urgent yet non important” 80%), and focusing on the high yield activities is more useful than ever.
2. Multiply Knowledge
Share the knowledge you have with others.
Ask yourself — am I a “diminisher”? Do I try to be the one who has the “right” answer all the time?
Or are you a “multiplier”? Do I share knowledge freely and acknowledge when I don’t know or am wrong?
This time has also been called the Information Age, and now more than ever, hoarding information is a weak strategy. Make yourself dispensable by sharing what you know freely with others, to multiply knowledge.
3. Replace Yourself
This is probably the most important thing you can do. Always be on the lookout for ways to automate your job further, or to make things more efficient.
If you aren’t looking for ways to automate your job, you can be absolutely sure that someone else in your organization, or something else (technology!), is going to find a way to do it for you!
Replacing yourself — making yourself dispensable in your current role via the use of technology or more efficient process — not only helps your organization improve, but also allows you to be redeployed for other work, making you an asset more indispensable than ever.
To be truly indispensable, make yourself dispensable…