Michael Klein* writes,
“[B]y the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” – Bill Gates
Realizing that you are replaceable is hard for individuals and organizations to come to terms with. Yet, the reality is that 99.9% of the time we are completely interchangeable. Accepting this is the first step to increasing your odds of success.
When businesses (industries) fail it’s because they ignored the fact they were replaceable.
This is largely true because we have allowed the human dimension in society to become commoditized. You see as older workers are exchanged for younger less costly ones.
In a conversation last week with Ty Hallock and Duncan Work, I referred to Ron Burt's theory of structural holes. Burt's idea is that the person who knows two people who do not know each other has a competitive advantage over the other two. Duncan pointed out that is probably less so today as networks have grown through the mediums of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
I believe Duncan is correct, and the implication is as I wrote about here, that crowdsourcing is a function of the commoditization of professional services. In other words, we are all replaceable by someone who can provide the same or better services at a lower price.
How, then, do we individually develop a competitive advantage that makes us irreplaceable?
That is one of the questions of the day.
My own sense is that it comes from two sources.
In the future development of networks.
There is a tug-of-war taking place between the value and importance of quantity versus quality in networks. You may have ten thousand Twitter followers. Can you get 10% of them to buy a book? Can you get a hundred to donate to a charity? Can you get them to do anything? That is the difference between quantity and quality.
If you can convert followers to actors, then you have a competitive advantage over the person who has ten times the numbers, but not the influence to make a difference.
The character of the networks.
Proximity, which is the same thing as numbers, doesn't mean you have a competitive advantage. The character of a network goes beyond the numbers to the values that unite a network to action. Outside of network conversation, we are talking about collaboration.
A network that collaborates is a network whose character is more like a community than a phone system.
I'm convinced that it is the second of these sources of competitive advantage that will dictate whether you are a commodity or a valued service.
The key to this second source is the person or persons who intentionally take initiative to take the network beyond its map to being a collaborative group of people engaged in work together.
The ebook, Managing Morale in times of change, was a project that came about because the network of relations was more than just a place to post opinion. It was a place of engagement where each individual's contribution mattered to the discussion.
To be a human resource commodity means that you are no different than the next person. There is no competitive advantage. The character of the individual and the character of their network is the counter force that will dictate value in the future.
How Networks subvert Commoditization.
So what are you to do?
How do you push away from being a commodity, and become a value-added, asset-rich resource to others.
First ask, "What do I have to offer that matters to people and organizations?"
Think in terms of leverage. A lever is a tool or skill that makes another task easier.
For example, in group meetings, you might be the one who knows how to jump to the flip chart and lead the discussion to more quickly define a problem or reach an agreement. You are a faciliator of group thought.
The reality is that this ability is something someone else can do as well, possibly even better. So, the second key matters.
Second ask, "How can I describe what I have to offer as assets that solve other people's problems?"
In other words, the focus is on meeting another person's needs, not your own.
Recently, I wrote about Starting with a Client's Perceived Need. When services are commoditized, it is the person relationship that is the value-added distinguishing mark which matters. I find that the perceived need is often not the real need. But the perceived one is the one that is most pressing and must be resolved in order to get to the deeper ones.
As a result this means our relationships matter, leading to the third key.
Third ask, "Who do I know already who may know others who need my help?"
If you network does not know that you are offering a service, then how can they utilize what you have to offer?
I find the way to work within a network is not direct sales, but rather seeding the network with information and engagement that shows rather than tells of your value.
When you are a human commodity, no one sees YOU. They are only looking at cost and output.
For this reason, I practice a lot of giving away, of sharing my strengths in small, but generous ways. I am also always seeking to understand the stresses and pressures that are affecting people at any one moment. I'm engaged and listening for the opportunity to offer my help. Some times the offer is for free, sometimes for pay. But that is my approach.
Whatever you do, your network must trust you and have confidence that what you bring to the relationship matters beyond the mere accomplishment of the task.
Sure, we are all replaceable. Which means that someone can replace me, as they have, and I replace others as I have. The point is see one's competitive advantage as as a set of assets that one offers to a network of relationships who value you the person, and not merely the service. This is the future that is before us all.
*- Post deleted