Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Be indispensible: Create art and give gifts

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? 

Be the artist they cannot fire
Author Seth Godin recommends we free our minds and use our brains to turn our tasks into art.


This may be Seth Godin's best book yet. It's also his most personal.

Rather than explain how marketing functions in this latest new, new era or bloviate and pontificate about the urgent need to be unique, or how to spread ideas or when to quit, the guru and blogger aims his message at the growing number of employees who wonder what lies ahead for them and their jobs.

The short answer is ``nothing.'' Not as long as commoditization, virtual outsourcing and the relentless race for lower costs continues -- and there's no reason to think it will stop. In fact, count on rapid acceleration. New technologies will catalyze the process, so what do you do? And if you're a manager, how can you motivate your people if they're on a virtual death march toward approaching extinction?

In the spirit of Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind, Godin says that right-brain activity -- creativity -- is the answer, but he takes it farther by declaring that to ensure job security, one must invest each position with ``art'' and make every effort a ``gift,'' rather than a chore. Sounds like HR BS, to be sure, but Godin places his message in the context of the diminishing stature and importance of the production line and its white-collar analogues. Cubicle denizens and other office workers, retail employees, service providers, technicians and craftsmen may wonder -- with good reason -- if there is a future for what they do or, equally importantly, if there's any hope for them to transcend the routine tasks and drudgery of their jobs.

There is, according to Godin, and he discusses ways we stifle our own creativity and how our brains work against us. This is the primary obstacle, he says. It's not cosmic slop or metaphysical psychobabble, but clear and simple explanatory prose.

Indeed, Godin gets accolades for his ideas but never receives appropriate props for his engaging and very readable writing; consistently intelligent, elegant and free of both ego and artifice.

Your definition of "art'' is likely different from his, but that's all right. What Godin really wants from us is emotional investment and a little risk taking: seizing initiative, human engagement, whimsy, exceeding expectations -- that sort of thing. It's the only way to make yourself so valuable that dismissal would be unthinkable. The value added goes far beyond what your actual gig is because you've imbued it with beauty and emotion.

Godin gives examples of people doing just that despite their job descriptions: executives at Google, store buyers, retail workers, flight attendants, Web designers, dot.com developers and others.

Godin's reasoning is impeccable and his prose persuasive, so much so that I've done something that I haven't even considered with any other book I've reviewed. I secured copies for my colleagues (in my "real'' job) in the hope that the message herein resonates with them as powerfully as it has with me.

It may not work with every organization and some bosses may not get it, but the alternative would be grim indeed.
Originally published 1/25/10 in The Miami Herald

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