Eliminate Your Own Job

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for all jobs drops to zero.

“I need to keep my job relevant or I’ll be out of work.” You’ve heard it, seen other people’s faces when they are thinking it, and probably had this exact thought yourself. This instinctual thought process is the biggest reason organizations innovate slowly (or sometimes not at all). When they do innovate, it involves painful layoffs. The cycle feeds on itself: employees continuously find ways to avoid participating in change in the name of self-preservation.

It works for a while, but then ends with self-annihilation.

If you’re thinking that’s not me, think again. Even rock stars fear the type of change that is truly self-preserving: eliminating your own job.

Everyone can claim that they embrace change because everyone does to some degree. But self-preserving change is not change around the edges of what you personally do. Making changes that only make you yourself more productive helps you win the short-term race. You can persevere through short-term scares like cost-cutting layoffs, and even get modest raises and receive incremental promotions. You will still be devoured by the disruptive change that will eventually hit your space, though. This is the change that doesn’t do what you do better, it replaces what you do entirely.

Think Fight Club: on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for every job drops to zero. There are people and companies out there designing substitutes for what you do, and they are going to succeed at some point. The situation is ever more urgent because innovation cycles are getting shorter.

You have the advantage, though. No one knows your space as well as you, which means you are in the best position to innovate it. For the outsiders, they have to spend a lot of time figuring out your value chain. If you keep on fighting them to preserve your job, you will eventually lose. But if you create a substitute that eliminates your job, you will beat them to the punch every time. You win because you control your own destiny.

You are invincible.

When you are the leader of the innovation that eliminates your job, you are in a leadership position for the new space you’ve just created. Your new job isn’t an incremental promotion with a modest raise, it is a jump to a whole new curve. This is the leap from being a rock star to being a disrupter. With it, your success stories of value that have built your legacy pay off and you never lack confidence in the relevance of your job again.

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  1. Samuel Regrettus says:

    What kind of training best prepares someone for a market so fickle that it cannot tolerate their job function/description long enough to afford them a spouse, a big house, a couple cars, and two kids? A lawyer cannot eliminate his/her job every two to five years without taking a buzzcut on their formal education. Or can they?

    • Phil Martie says:

      Samuel –

      This is the big question for a lot of people. I think the first step is to look at formal education as a great tool to do something truly valuable, not as a means to ‘get a job’ long enough to have a family & lifestyle. If a lawyer can view his career as being valuable in law as opposed to “being a lawyer”, then these changes aren’t such a big deal. Same with doctors, etc.

      • Samuel Regrettus says:

        I’m not sure I follow. It would seem to me that “being a lawyer” and “being valuable in law” are not mutually exclusive states. How can a highly trained professional have zero value to a company that needs the skills and training that the professional possesses? Is this post even about skills/training/experience? Some intangible attitude about job functions that you believe is superior? Or perhaps even some further inanimate wherewithal that someone develops only after hitting rock bottom in life? In short, I’d love to hear more about what qualities, if you will, the author believes are “truly valuable” in the job market presently.

      • Phil Martie says:

        I didn’t say they were mutually exclusive, and they aren’t. They are two different perspectives, though. One of them will make you rigid to change, the other makes you an agent of change.

      • Samuel Regrettus says:

        But I want money, and I don’t want that to change!

  2. This is really fascinating, You are a skilled
    blogger. I have joined your feed!

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