More than two years ago, I committed to producing one small book per quarter for the next 25 years—or 100 quarters. For each book, our talented cartoonist, Hamish MacDonald, creates drawings that help illustrate the book’s concepts.
Around the time that we would have started work on the eighth book, Hamish had an unfortunate bike-riding accident and fractured both of his wrists and his right arm. As you can imagine, this did not bode well for his cartooning that quarter.
The situation might have appeared to be a big problem for us, but it actually ended up being a good thing (although, not entirely for Hamish!). We transformed the setback into an opportunity. Since we couldn’t have cartoons in the eighth book, we decided to instead release it in an ebook format, making it more accessible and shareable, and we added video content to further increase the value.
We never considered replacing Hamish on the project because Hamish is irreplaceable. His talent is unique, and our teamwork is unique.
Overcoming the fear of irreplaceability.
After I shared this story with clients and friends, many entrepreneurs said to me, “He kind of holds you hostage with his capability. Why do you allow yourself to be in a situation where someone is irreplaceable?” It’s an interesting question, and I can see how a certain type of entrepreneur would be terrified of being so dependent on someone else’s skill.
A business owner who’s just using their company as a vehicle to achieve social status and make a lot of money, and whose endgame is to retire, wouldn’t connect with this irreplaceable team member idea at all.
But someone whose goal is to create value and accomplish big goals is more focused on the uniqueness each team member brings to the table and how they can contribute toward achieving those goals.
“I want as many of my team members as possible to be irreplaceable.” – Dan Sullivan
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Why I value unique talents.
I personally have no plans whatsoever to retire. When I think about the future, whether it’s ten years from now or 25 years from now, I see myself doing the same things, only bigger and better. I want to continually grow until the lights go out.
For me and other entrepreneurs who think in this way, irreplaceable employees are the only kind of employees we want to have. Surrounding yourself with individuals who provide unique value is what allows you to operate at increasingly higher levels.
Is your goal to be a bigger and better version of yourself in the future? If so, you want as many team members as possible in all areas of your business to be irreplaceable. You want every team member to be so good at what they do that they produce unique results you can’t get anywhere else. The way to get them there is to do the opposite of treating them like robots; you want to bring out the most human and creative aspects in each individual.
If you treat people like they’re replaceable, they’ll shut down their originality, creativity, and engagement level. On the other hand, and to take things back to that question I’ve been asked, if you make employees irreplaceable, they won’t hold you hostage. If anything, you’ll actually end up holding each other hostage. Think about it: You’ll be giving them the power and freedom to operate within their best abilities for a lifetime. That situation will be irreplaceable in their lives just as they’re irreplaceable in your business.