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To succeed in today’s world, you must dare to matter

Aug 07, 2011 Success, Sunday Nation

“We are surrounded by Bureaucrats, Note Takers, Literalists, Manual Readers, TGIF Labourers, Map Followers, and Fearful Employees.”

That’s Seth Godin describing what most people in the world do. Last week, I asked you all whether you are “Godfreys” – just a random name I chose for all the people described above.

So look at the list and answer: isn’t that what you do? Exercise brainless bureaucracy created by others? Take notes while others tell you the answers? Take everything literally as you see it on the page? Read manuals to work out what to do in your world? Follow maps, rather than strike out into uncharted territory? Sit in fear at your workplace, because you know you could be laid off on someone’s whim?

It’s a frightening list, and unfortunately it covers most of us. Even high-powered lawyers, marketers, doctors, accountants, engineers, and architects are not spared. If you are generally following someone else’s instructions; doing brainless cut-and-paste work; following the rules laid down by long-dead people; just living for your weekends and your holidays – then you are in some trouble.

As Seth pointed out when he was in Nairobi, that world is over. The old contract, where you did what you were told and the system looked after you by giving you job security, health care and a pension is irredeemably broken. Ask the 30,000 bankers that global banking giant HSBC has just announced it will be laying off (while declaring bumper profits). Those are all ‘Godfreys’ who followed orders – until they were ordered out of the door.

For a while, the contract worked. If you obeyed, you were looked after. That’s gone, and it’s been blown away by technology, connectivity, and ferocious competition. Now, if you (or your child) are planning to just play the game, you are in for some serious shocks.

So what are you going to do? The answer, dear reader, is to become a ‘linchpin’ – someone who can’t just be tossed casually out of something. Whether you have a job or run your own business, you must become indispensable. The people around you – employers, colleagues, customers – must value you greatly. You must bring something unusual, something original, something valuable to the party. You must MATTER. If you’re just a face in the crowd, you might be dispersed along with that crowd anytime.

Now this has always been true. It’s just that it became a whole lot more true in recent years. The challenge for us all is HOW to matter. And that requires a whole new mindset. Instead of looking to blend in, we need to stand out. Instead of being part of the conventional wisdom, we need to be part of the uncommon sagacity. As I have written here before, the future is about artists, not artisans. Step one is to believe it. Do you dare to matter?

Step two is to make concrete steps to stand out. If you are in a job, give it an extra shot of enthusiasm. Do your work better than anyone else. Step back and rethink – why is it done this way? What would make it better? Solve and resolve things, don’t just complain about them. Give everything your best shot. What do you have to lose? Either you’ll become indispensable to your current organization; or you’ll get the hell out and do your unusual thing somewhere else, where you can be allowed to matter. Either way, you win.

You lose if you don’t try something different, it’s as simple as that.

Look at your own work-life, and ask yourself how distinctive and meaningful it is. And look afresh at your children and their education – are they being trained to think for themselves, or just take notes and wait for Friday?

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