Indispensable

The phrase “No one is indispensable” has always made me curious. I’ve always questioned at the how and why individual people are not indispensable. If they are extremely passionate and excellent at what they do and were not there to do it then surely there would be a dramatic negative effect on things around them. I then become curious about who would replace them if they were not there, surely out of the billions of people on this earth there would be another person just as good who could come along and take their place, of course it may take some considerable time to find them but there are odds that you could bet on.

After the recent news about the possibility of Jonathan Ive leaving Apple and returning to the UK to spend time with his family, I became increasingly frustrated about the indispensable argument. If you take Microsoft for example, Bill Gates left Microsoft after you haven’t seen any huge changes in the way Microsoft operate, sales haven’t plummeted and they are still working on new products. Looking at Apple, if Steve Jobs was to finally take permanent leave from the company and step down there are only a hand full of people who could lead the company with a similar vision to Jobs. Jonathan Ive is one of those people, for him to leave is a gaping whole in the Apple product design line considering Ive is responsible for the iPod, iPhone and iPad product design.

Taking those two examples I thought more on the subject and came to the conclusion that in fact, no one is indispensable HOWEVER when you get a group of people together, what they create is what is indispensable. You CAN have one of the persons you thought was indispensable leave and it would only alter the dynamic of the indispensable team rather than crush it completely. Look at every great company that has fallen and you’ll most likely find that it wasn’t because of one person leaving the company that in the altering their successful trajectory but more because an indispensable team went their separate ways within that company.

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Gavin

Lead Interaction Designer at DigitalDWP. Organiser of Industry, The Practical Web Conference..

5 thoughts on “Indispensable”

  1. Great post Gavin,

    Regarding the post no person is indispensable, time and again people who have been so called “indispensable” to x company, have either stepped down or been forced out. This in turn has had an effect either way with pushing x company forward. Change has to happen in business.

  2. Awesome article, Gavin. From my point of view, I don’t see it as a person being indispensable, but their skill-set.

    Most professionals in the industry are multidisciplinary and subsiding one person for example should make no immediate difference to a product or company.

    For example, take a football team. You’ve got players at their physical and mental peak, but at sixty minutes one player may be fatigued, so we dispense his worn down skill-set with a player on the bench who’s got another sixty minutes worth of work in him.

    I hope that makes some sense, and I’m not just blathering and saying words.

    Tim

  3. The indispensable Mr Godin writes about this in his book ‘Linchpin’ (which is subtitled ‘Are You Indispensable?’) and it’s an interesting question.

    Having worked in this and a number of related industries for close to two decades now, I think your point – no one person is indispensable, it’s the greater team that counts – largely holds true. Whilst there’s no denying that certain people bring a unique vision and charisma to a team and can act as catalysts for that team, raising the collective game, the team – in my experience – is the critical part.

    A charismatic, indispensable individual working within a fragmented team that lacks passion can often struggle to deliver the goods, forever swimming against the current. On the other hand, a team of passionate and committed individuals working together can offer deliver far more than the sum of the individual parts. In the latter case, the collective is indispensable.

    The truth is that as people we’re complicated and within the messy mix of personas and skill sets is where the magic often lies. Find that charismatic leader and put him or her at the heart of a passionate team and you can work wonders, however, finding those individuals and getting the mix right can often prove the elusive part.

  4. Amazing article, Gavin.

    One thing that should occur with your team, if a particular person is the example of being indispensable: that person should bestow the values inherent by their nature onto the team; allowing that team to function with that ethos.

    The job of a great team is always to share tactic knowledge, so the team can grow. If that is done, even though that person where the battery to that creative ethos, if that person left, they should have caught the team it enough to take up the baton and run (or sense the gut feeling the void must be filled by hiring talent that enacts that same ethos, than just their skill set).

  5. Hi Gav,

    Interesting post as ever.

    I’d say I think “indispensability” depends partially on where the company is in its lifecycle. Sure, Gates’ departure recently has obviously affected Microsoft but if he’d left 25 years ago there’s a good chance Microsoft would never have achieved its current position in the industry.

    History shows us what happened to Apple after Jobs left and what happened when he returned. One gets the sense that if he left today it would impact Apple alot less.

    The other thing I’d say is “indispensability” will also depend on how essential the one person is to a company’s successful culture. Alot of successful companies do lose their way once the founder or other cultural leader goes. If they’ve been able to embed the company’s culture into its people and processes I think there’s a good chance the company can go on doing great things without the “dear Leader”.

    HK

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