Guest Post from Chris Russell: Are You Untouchable at Work?

I can't come up with interesting work-related content as much as I'd like. There are others in the industry that have interesting things to say about managing ones career. So I invited one such person, Chris Russell, to write a guest post. Chris is founder and president of and blogs at

Here's Chris:

By that I mean are you an indispensable member of the team that would be lost without you? If you answered yes, then I congratulate you on your status. If you answered no, consider reading the rest of this post.


There is an important lesson for jobseekers in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat. He talks about how American workers need to make themselves "untouchable" so that they are always in demand. Consider this passage;

"The way I like to think about this for our society as a whole is that every person should figure out how to make himself or herself into an untouchable. That’s right. When the world goes flat, the caste system gets turned upside down. In India untouchables may be the lowest social class, but in a flat world everyone one should want to be an untouchable. Untouchables, in my lexicon, are people whose jobs cannot be outsourced."

He also has a great line that every parent should be telling their kids;

"My advice to them in this flat world is very brief and blunt: Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, Tom, finish your dinner--people in India and China are starving. My advice to you is: Girls finish your homework--people in China and India are starving for your jobs."

The bottom line for job seekers is that you need to take responsibility for your own career. You must constantly try and better yourself by learning new skills. Adaptability is the key. Those who can adapt and adjust to new challenges and situations will be the ones who always have job security.

I am reminded of my own career path as an example of 'adaptability'. I used to work for the IT advisory firm, Gartner, Inc. At age 27, I joined them as a Research Associate where I assisted their Analysts and clients. After a year and a half in that job I wanted to do something else so I joined the Help Desk in their IT dept. I didn't know a lot about computers but I was determined to do it. I learned quickly and after 6 months I was the senior member of the group (everyone I started with quit or moved laterally). During my year at the Help Desk I developed a curiosity for the web and I convinced their web site manager to let me work for him as a Web Author. There I learned HTML and my love affair with the web began.

Those early jobs at Gartner gave me the foundation for my career that has carried me to where I am today. Self-employed with my own ‘stable’ internet business.

By constantly learning and seeking new opportunities I developed new skills that enabled my career path. Today's job seeker needs to learn 'how to learn' so that each can be assured their skills will always be in demand.


Note from Heather: Another book for those interested in competing in the “flat” economy: Daniel Pink’s ‘A Whole New Mind”. I am reading it now and it discussed how those that are able to develop right-brain directed thinking will be more successful in the new economy. Interesting stuff.


Comments (7)

  1. Dave says:

    Shhh… don’t tell them the secret.  You want everyone to have nice jobs like us?

    Seriously, even though you’ve told the secret.  The chance that even 20% of the people who read this will act on it is very slim indeed.

    Great post.

  2. David Hayes says:

    I think Chris is wrong, I’ve spent my whole life ensuring I’m totally dispensable. Indispensable people rarely get promoted, after all you’re indispensable in your current role. I firmly believe that the first thing you should do when starting a new role is to pick your replacement and start training them otherwise you’re stuck where you are forever. In my experience indispensable people tend to achieve this status not by talent or hard work but by being obstructive and secretive.

    I do however agree that constant learning is essential in today’s job market.

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    DAve – some days I feel more dispensable than others 🙂

    David Hayes – good feedback. I’ll get Chris back over here to engage in the conversation. My input is that the culture of the company is a factor, for sure. If they value well-rounded people that can bring new thinking to areas where they have not worked before, I could see Chris’ advice really working for them.  But I see your point too.

  4. David it sounds like the companies you worked in weren’t exactly the ideal environment for career advancement.

    I wasnt crazy about Gartner at times, every year they did a re-org and the same ‘ol boys stayed in power but it was a big enough place where I could move around and get my feet wet in many areas. (I was in my late twenties so I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do)

    I guess my point is that careers are what you make of them. And be sure to seek out companies you think you will fit into. I’d rather work in a lesser role for place that values me and gives opportunity to learn that a high paying gig with no reward.

    Remember, always be learning.

  5. Rick Pennington says:

    Thats great advice.  In my current field (for one more day) of social work, I mademyself indespensible by coming in and assisting in increasing the efficiency of the organization (creating electronic filing systems, streamlining processes, etc.).  Now, as I move into the tech field (I am 28, so am in a similkar situation), I am looking for ways to make myself indespensibile around people who are probably much smarter than I am.

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Wow, Rick, that is quite a change but it sounds like you just illustrated Chris’ point!

  7. Rav Kumar says:

    Its true that knowledge is power.  

    I have come across many people in the IT world who know that if they leak too much information then they are at risk of losing a comfortable job.

    People play games by taking on other peoples tasks or challenging the inefficiencies etc.  

    I agree in many ways about being adaptable and an opportunist at the same time.  Some use bullying techniques, which I do not approve of, and some twist managements mind into thinking they carried out all the tasks themselves.  Its not just about knowing everything.

    At the end of the day its survival of the fittest, dog eats dog world.  Even the most promising person can be bullied into submission.

    So when you ask the question are you an untouchable at work, well it depends on what you know and who you know….

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