What’s the single biggest thing you can do to make yourself completely indispensable? Automate yourself out of a job. It seems counter-intuitive, but the truth is, unless you are a famous cardio-thoracic surgeon, a Soyuz Pilot, or Marilyn vos Savant, there are at least 250 other people in your city who can probably do what you do, better, faster, cheaper, and without complaining as much. In case you were wondering, anyone can write these blog posts, and probably make them more interesting than I can.
To a large extent, employers keep knowledge workers around to extract marginal utility from them, whether it is in marketing communication, C++ programming, or quality assurance, with the understanding that rank and file employees will get their job done, meet or slightly exceed expectations, and stay out of trouble. Most people at the center of the bell curve will not excel beyond their job duties, and that’s ok, because they don’t feel as passionately about the business as its founders or equity stakeholders.
Why is it good to automate your job away? For the same reason that a good sales person can sell anything. A good efficiency expert can optimize any job process or work flow, not just their own, and those are good people to have around.
When I was a kid, growing up in the Upper Midwest, there were still cars being manufactured in Detroit on a large scale, and things were assembled by hand. The jobs paid very well, until robotics became commonplace and more and more dangerous occupations got replaced by servos, motors, and embedded systems.
Not very many people got out ahead of the automation, and sadly a lot of them lost their jobs and never re-adjusted. The simple fact is, if it can be automated, it will be, and if it can improve the bottom line, and it’s good for the business, it will happen.
In the 1970s, the US went from being a labor intensive to capital intensive economy. Because labor is relatively scarce compared to capital, anything that a knowledge worker can do to reduce labor costs will be recognized by good management, and if they are working for a company that is unable to recognize that, then their job and the job of the CEO will come to an end eventually, and that’s usually for the better.
Automate yourself out of a job, and if you are working for a company that is worth working for, they will give you more responsibilities and reward you with a bigger paycheck.