How to Be Indispensable

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I was recently talking to a COO at a public company about our comparative experiences hiring people. Him, on a giant scale. Me, on a micro-scale. And, what became clear to both of us was…

Scale aside…

There is a single quality that is so rare, when you find someone who has it, you’ll do pretty much anything to bring that person on board and keep them happy.

And, the thing is, some people cultivate it naturally. But, others, once they realize it’s power, may be able to build it into who they are and how they operate. So, what do we look for?

What is that single quality that makes someone precious and indispensable?

Beyond intelligence, loyalty, kindness, respect, discipline, pride, passion and compassion, it’s…

…the ability to create.

Sounds so simple. But truth is, the vast majority of people spend their lives learning how to follow then execute other peoples’ game plans. Fitting their skills, abilities and mindsets into the predefined responsibilities and tasks required by a predefined job. And, that’s fine. We need people like that in the world. If that’s you and you work with pride and add value and that makes you happy, rock on.

But, know too that you regardless of how “hard” you work, you will very likely never be toward the top of the “gotta keep ’em” food chain. Not because you’re bad at what you do, not because you don’t add value. Not because those around you don’t like or even love you. But because there will always be a sea of people lined up to take your job who can do what you do in a similar enough way to make your boss, partner, colleague or collaborator happy.

For every creator, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of operators.

Which is why, when you’re a creator, everything changes. Rather than being the one people ask to carry out a plan, people look to you to create a plan. To solve a problem, to innovate a new idea, product, service or campaign, to see opportunities where everyone else sees barriers, to blaze a new trail rather than follow a well grooved one.

And, the thing is, most often it’s not about radical departures from the norm or Earth-shattering breakthroughs.

What I’m talking about is the ability to create solutions on a daily basis. To understand we’re at point A and we need to get to point B, then tap your creative/problem-solving juices to conjure the best possible way to get there. As someone who’s steering the ship, that ability is immensely more valuable to me than someone who needs to be told every step from A to B (provided I also have skilled Operators in the pipeline). Because it frees up my own creative juices to focus on other projects, while trusting in another’s ability to figure out how to get done what needs to get done.

Truth be told, though, there’s one person who’s even more valuable than the pure creator/problem-solver.

And, that’s the Creator-Operator—the individual who can not only create anew, solve problems and map out innovative pathways, but also possesses the ability to execute, to bring those plans to life. People who can do both are extraordinarily rare finds, because creation and implementation are very different processes and almost always inhabit different brains and bodies, too. Most peoples’ minds just don’t function well on both levels. Which is why those folks tend to rise quickly up the ranks and often become entrepreneurs.

And, that leaves us with two important questions:

  • Are you a Creator, a Creator-Operator or an Operator? And…
  • If you’re an Operator and you’d like to become more of a Creator, is that “trainable?”

I’ll share some thoughts on both these questions in the comments in a bit.

But, right now, I’m curious…how would YOU answer these questions?

Let’s discuss…

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90 responses

90 responses to “How to Be Indispensable”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Jonathan Wells. Jonathan Wells said: RT @jonathanfields: How to be indispensable… http://bit.ly/X4IRc […]

  2. Charlotte says:

    I’m definitely a creator-operator. A little bit weighted towards the “creator” side, but I’m still able (and quite willing!) to do both.

    Your second question is much harder.

    In my experience, creators can be trained to operate. Operators cannot be trained to create.

    I’m not sure why this is, but if I had to guess I would point to the fact that creation is much more nebulous than operation. With enough instruction and practice, anyone can fit tab A into slot B. But it takes a very specific type of mind – and mindset – to dream up tab A and slot B.

    I’d love to hear your further thoughts. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      As a general rule, it is much easier to train the skills needed to be an operator or at least the approach is better defined. But, there are books like Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit that help lay out the straight forward practices that help clarify the Creator’s process. Still, there is something deeper down, maybe in the way the creative brain works, that’s hard to fully “install.”

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  4. Laura says:

    I consider myself to be a creator-operator, but resent the operator part of the equation. I need a good side-kick who leans toward the operator end of things.

  5. Great observations! We just need more hiring managers who know how spot creators. Many a creator is passed over because an HR rep. or hiring manager lacks the vision to see something/someone who can change the game.

  6. Creativity is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it loses tone and efficacy. I believe it is absolutely trainable. Can everyone learn to be a visionary entrepreneur? Probably not, and ugh, how terribly boring anyway – all those egos.

    But, we can all be taught (in fact I believe it’s re-taught – things we already knew as children) how to dream, and how to access who we really are and what our potential could be. We have to want to learn to think that way, we have to ask the hard questions and we have to put some time and effort and soul searching into the process. In other words, redirect some of a good operator’s key skills – planning and hard work – back into ourselves.

    I am a natural Operator. I know how to take a plan and make it happen. But I am also a self-taught Creator. I work hard at consciously deconstructing those plans and asking tough questions of myself and those around me to come up with something better. That makes for a kick butt problem solver on the days when I get it right. (And an annoying multi-tasker on the other days!). Choosing good mentors has been key for that process.

    You can also marry (either literally or in a professional sense) your natural state opposite. I married a Creator who was traditionally a little weak on detail and implementation. But after 10 years with me, he’s become an uber planner and make it happen kind of guy. He has also chosen bosses who have both skills sets and is a hard working and diligent student. He still generates a million ideas a day and I can hardly keep up. But now he makes the best ones really happen.

  7. Jay says:

    As a creator/innovator, I find that those who appreciate problem solving are usually at the very top of the food chain. Middle-management, in my experience, often have no idea of what to do with a creator. Perhaps they’re intimidated? They see that the creator has that special ability that they don’t? Or perhaps they’re simply afraid to ruffle feathers themselves, and don’t want their employees to ruffle feathers either?

    It’s good to hear that creators are appreciated. I wish people were less fearful of creativity.

  8. Chuck Frey says:

    Jonathan, you’re absolutely right. Creativity – and creative problem solving ability – is critically important to businesses these days. Paradoxically, it’s also a fairly rare quality, because so many corporate cultures (and school systems, for that matter) drive the creativity OUT of people by forcing them to conform to rigid expectations and results.

    Business owners want people who can develop creative solutions for what’s broken, envision new ideas for products, services and business models – and be able to execute them as well. That’s why I will soon release a new e-book called Creativity Hacks: Shortcuts to Help You to Crush Your Challenges & Live a Kick-Ass Life. I plan to publish it at the end of October. You can learn more here: http://hacks.innovationtools.com and in a 5-minute video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsHLcCOvgDA.

  9. Julie says:

    I’m a creator-operator and that’s why I find it hard to feel totally fulfilled in the corporate jobs I tried. Since I’m sill young – been out of university for 3 years, people expect me to be more of an operator. And in corporate world, hierarchy and bureaucraty just slow down the creative process and sometimes approvals come to late for implementation. My boyfriend has exactly the same profile as I do – we like to dream and make the dream come true –
    and we both feel the same at work. Something’s missing to allow us to “use” our full potential.

    I just can’t imagine being an operator only. I have to many ideas, I like to brainstorm, find solutions, implement them, try them, start again, be proactive, etc. That’s why I’m currently working on creating my own business. Reading your post puts words on how I feel – and makes me realize we have valuable assets and qualities. Thanks for the confidence boost!

    As for the 2nd question, I firmly believe that creativity can be developed. It appears to me to be closely related to confidence. To express ideas, think outside the box, we have to trust our abilities to do it, our instincts – and we also have to practice active thinking, analysis and problem solving – some have been doing it for a long time, but keeping quiet. They can work on voicing it in trusting themselves. Still, somepeople have been raised to follow the rules and directions of others and have been doing it forever – while being perfectly content. It can be hard for them to become enthusiast creators – as you said Jonathan, the world also needs super efficient operators.

  10. Deb Owen says:

    Do I think problem solving skills (and creativity) can be taught? Absolutely. I’ve been teaching it for years in corporate environments.

    All too often, however, even corporations that say they want to see this in their employees have built a culture that sends a strong signal that they really don’t. Many corporations, and many ‘at the top’, view people who bring problems to the surface as ‘negative’. They don’t encourage problem-solving because it’s politically incorrect to talk about problems to begin with.

    They design their structure so that decision-making and problem-solving can only truly come from the top. The structure then leads their workforce to only truly be allowed to be implementers and to do things the way they’re told to or the way they’ve always done them.

    This can be even more true in smaller organizations when a business owner has a need to always be right. (I’ve seen it out there.)

    Forward-thinking companies of any size, though, need people who can identify root causes of problems (not just the superficial symptoms) and come up with creative solutions to those problems. Companies that embrace and encourage this only become stronger and more sustainable.

    So yes. It can be taught.
    But first, it has to truly be viewed as a value-added skill that is encouraged within the culture.
    All the best!
    deb

    P.S. Creator/operators? It’s possible. But usually individuals are pre-disposed to one more than the other and do better work when they lean towards their strengths. If I were team-building, I’d look for two people who have both, but who have the opposite strength and pair them together.

    • Andy says:

      I agree with Deb’s comments that those “at the top” often see problems as a negative rather than a challenge. Nothing winds me up more than the person who says “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” as it’s so common that this phrase is used by people who are too lazy or stupid to understand. It’s also a way to pass responsibility by suggesting that the person who highlighted a problem in some how is the person who caused the problem.

    • Tracy says:

      Beautifully said! (original post and comment) I’m feeling encouraged and refreshed to bring a long-standing “problem” back up to the attention of my manager in a slightly different way. Thank you.

  11. Dawn says:

    Can you be a Creator who is still a lost puppy because you need to be backed up by a good opperations person? I’ve been working on my own for a long time. I’m frazzled. Good ideas I can’t get to implementing because the grunt work needs to happen before I can get paid.
    I wouldn’t call it grunt work but I didn’t go into biz to work with my hands and I’m stuck.
    If I haven’t found the solution, does that mean I’m not the creator I want to believe I am?

  12. Gina Batali-Brooks says:

    This was a great thought-provoking post!

    I am both a creator/operator but find it challenging to do both at the same time. I have a strong creative/strategic mind but it requires nurturing and time. Often it is easy to get buried in the operational aspects and forget to set up time for the creative components. I do best if I set aside time to tackle tough problems or creative projects (coffee shops seems to be my best venue) and then, time to focus on the operational activities.

    I also think there are different levels or types of creativity. Sometimes it’s the ability to design things, other times it’s the ability to see better ways to do something, and sometimes it’s the ability to brainstorm with people to improve on others ideas. All of these are valuable to a team.

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  14. Mneiae says:

    I’m a creator-operator in business school. I’m being trained to be a leader, while also being told that I need to fit into the existing corporate structure. There is a definite push towards making kids operators. Quite frankly, the existing corporate structure for many entry level jobs is horrifying, which is why I’ve considered striking out on my own once I have my degree. This is why I think that it’s so interesting to read about your renegade life.

  15. Natasha says:

    Wow, that made me think! So, now when I have figured out who I am, what is the next step? How do we train ourselves to become creator-operators?
    (It is obvious that I am an operator since I am not able to come up with a solution on my own ;=)

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  17. Srinivas Rao says:

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for sharing this post. I’m planning on going to Borders tomorrow and reading your book, especially after this post. If I were currently employed, I’d buy it :). This is interesting because I’m actually in the final stages for a job interview and the position is to create a channel for the company as the channel manager. If anything, this post confirms that it’s the right job for me if I’m offered this and the other position I interviewed for.

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  19. I don’t know if it’s trainable. I prefer to say that it’s releasable. That is, that every human brain has amazing potential to be creative. However, we need to recondition the brain, particularly the nonconscious brain to release our creativity.

  20. I wouldn’t label myself as one or the other. I simply look to provide value. Creating comes naturally when seeking to add value with every act. I do this throughout the course of my day. Every interaction with every person, every tweet, every backlink, every blog post. It’s doing things in a certain way which makes one indispensable.

    RB

  21. Alvin Lim says:

    There are people who prefer to be operator and not creator. They love doing the things they are told to do. But for me, I prefer to be the creator and don’t mind to be creator-operator.

    The thing is, whether one can become creator/creator-operator, it really depends on the environment in which you are working in. If you’re an entrepreneur, then it’s alright since you define that environment yourselves. However, if you are working for someone, it really depends on what kind of bosses you have. If your bosses only want their subordinates to be operators, then it’ll be very hard for you to move up and be the creator that you always wanted to do.

    Oh, and I also think that everyone in this world has that ‘creator’ trait in them. People just love to create…maybe not in their job but in some other areas.

  22. Lori Enos says:

    I’m definately a creator/operator with a leaning toward the creative side. I don’t think that operators can be trained to be creative. It’s one of those you are born with it or you are not things.

  23. Ha, of course I am a “Creator-Operator”:) But when it comes to hiring other people one other huge quality is to be proactive and now just sit around waiting to be told what to do but get on with things by yourself.

    Your article veered quite sharply from my expectations of the title How To Be Indispensable. What really makes me happy is when I can teach people things so they actually don’t need me anymore. Not very good for business probably but great to see people taking off and doing their own thing confident in their abilities.

  24. Patricia says:

    This is timely for me and journey I’ve been on this year. Earlier this year I took an operational assignment because I thought it would be good experience, and I have discovered as a result that I’m a Creator, no doubt about it… I am very interested in how operations will play out, and in my workplace I’m often flagging and brainstorming potential operational issues relating to the creative work we do (there I am, using my creativity!), but to actually be the Operator feels positively soul-sucking to me.

    And so I love the idea of the Creator being indispensable! My work experience bears that out too, as I’ve been in pretty high demand in recent years now that I’ve found my niche.

    As to whether Operators can be trained to be more of a Creator? I think there are some really interesting conversations taking place around “creative disciplines”, and so I think if the interest and commitment were there, you could could “train” for it. But I don’t know that it would ever come as naturally to an Operator, just like the Operations disciplines, which I am capable of *doing*, feel horribly unnatural and stressful to me…

  25. Brian says:

    @Dawn:

    I agree. I am an “idea guy” with several great ideas that I just cannot manage to make profitable because I’m not a good operations guy. i don’t like details or keeping records or hassling with sales, and I have yet to find the right (dependable) partner.

  26. I’m a Creator-Operator, and was schooled professionally to be more on the Operator side of things…until I quit my office job, moved to Liberia, West Africa and started my own mirco-enterprise NGO helping young people in Robertsport build businesses that lift them out of poverty and supporting environmental conservation of one of the last hardwood coastal forests on the continent. Now, I’m hiring: and looking for an exact mix of the same. Thanks for helping me conceptualize what we’re looking for!

  27. […] How to be indispensable: muy buena la entrada de Jonathan Fields sobre la indespensabilidad. Estoy muy de acuerdo con todo lo que dice, y es verdad que hay gente que destila ese algo que hace caer bien y que termina haciéndote indispensable. Él lo llama creatividad, pero yo no se como llamarlo: creatividad, motivación, visión… […]

  28. Patrick says:

    I am a Creator/Operator and can vouch for ‘trainability’. In my professional life I’ve always been an Operator. My overall life approach has always been that of a Creator. Meshing the two has become simply a matter of addressing a challenge/opportunity/problem/issue from two different perspectives.

  29. Andy says:

    I’m a creator with a helping of operator. We have project managers who are the opposite which makes for a good combination. The team can understand each other.

    Being creative is a combination of knowing what options are available and knowing which to apply when. This is partly about learning and partly about experience. I find that the ability to research a topic is also a major advantage as it’s rare that you are doing a task that no-one has ever done before. For example, I pointed a security chap at a website on medieval castles the other week.

  30. Bruce Flinn says:

    Jonathan, let me start out with a quote I found the other day – “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” – Coco Channel

    I am a Creator-Operator. Coming from an IT background and being self taught I have always pushed for adopting technology to solve existing problems and streamline operations. I am constantly reading books, magazines, blogs, newsletters and searching for answers to questions. I do not know all the answers off the top of my head – what really counts is that I know where to look for the answers and then I can formulate a plan and execute it to solve the problem. As the New Media Director for my company one would think I have a team to handle the day to day operations that come along with the websites, blogs, database work, email campaigns, PPC, SEO, SEM, social media interactions and tracking and a lot more – nope it’s just me.

    Great article Jonathan and with that I need to get back to work and do some coding, blogging, twittering, PPC analysis, website changes, email extractions and database design…

  31. Oleg Mokhov says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    The best way to be indispensable is to provide remarkable value.

    Don’t wait until asked to give. Give 10x as much as you take. Be great, not just ‘good enough’.

    Be an amplified version of yourself, so that not only is your value abundant and insanely great, it’s unique. After all, remarkable = unique + amazing.

    I Will Teach You To Be Rich posted a free ereport not too long ago related to this: How to Recession-Proof Your Career. Author Charlie Hoehn says how the best way to get hired is to give great value with no strings attached. Resume? Psh. How about sending the person/company value that they need and can use right away?

    Great reminder on how the best value is to create remarkable stuff. Actions speak louder than words ever could,
    Oleg

  32. Coach Lowell says:

    What came to mind for me was the distinction “Creator-Leader”. Having the experience and/or insight and, thus, the wisdom to create is extraordinary. To be an operator or “implementer” as well makes a truly rare combo. But to also be leader of a team or organization that implements well… now that is the ideal.

  33. Ralph says:

    I’m a creator-operator but I don’t intend on staying in this realm for long. I’m working towards full-time entrepreneurship and I like creating the ideas and then delegating them to my staff. Its a good feeling 🙂

  34. Jonathan Fields says:

    Love all the comments as always, gang. Some further thoughts…

    First, a bit of a fascinating observation – while true Creators are rare and Creator-Operators are even rarer, most of the folks in the comments identified themselves as one or the other. Which raises a pretty fascinating question, does the nature of our tribe just seem to attract people who are predominantly Creators or do large numbers of people misidentify themselves as Creators? Interesting question to ponder.

    Second, you guys have also picked up on something I’ve discovered, which is that many Creators can be trained to take on a certain amount of Operator role, but very often the tasks that fall under that part of the job are so much less intrinsically fulfilling for pure Creators, leading them to want to delegate out much of the Operator function as soon as they are able

    Three, I do think a substantial element of Creators’ innovation and problem solving can be trained or at a bare minimum substantially improved in people who are not naturally drawn to that approach…BUT, what I’ve seen as the major challenge is this. Natural Creators become so good at the process often because they have an innate love of the work that goes into getting really good at it. That love fuels thousands of hours of deliberate practice of the processes needed to be great at being a Creator. You can teach many of these processes, but it’s much harder, if not impossible, to install the love of the quest to become a great Creator that fuels the massive level of work needed to get there.

    So, what do you guys think of all this?

    • Tom says:

      There has been much discussion as to whether Operators can be trained to be Creators, but let me approach the discussion from a different direction.

      I assert that almost all people are BORN as Creators.

      If you doubt this, simply watch some kids at a park: young children are bristling with energy and creativity and imagination. But somehow during the process of growing up, the world continually imposes its message on children: The way you fit it in is by playing according to the rules, by doing what you are told, by being right, and by avoiding failure. Doing so might make for a world with less conflict, but it also suppresses the Creator in us.

      Children who are either lucky enough to have role models who encourage maintaining their Creativity or who are stubborn/bright enough hold onto it themselves become adults who are Creators or Creator-Operators. The rest of us become Operators.

      So instead of training adults to become Creators, an alternative approach may be to strip away some of the Operator self-limits that we have learned, and then let our suppressed internal Creators find their voices again. I have see this happen repeatedly during improvisation classes — people paralyzed by a fear of getting things “wrong” (even in a very supportive class where there essentially is no “wrong”), and then realizing it’s okay just to take a chance and go for it. Once their Creator side is re-released, it fundamentally changes the way they approach both work and life.

  35. I’m definitely a creator-operator. But of course I may be deluded – along with many of the other commenters.

    I think the reason there are few creators who are also operators is because each of the modes – creating and operating – access two incompatible mind-states.

    The key mind-state for creators is not-knowing. Whereas the key mind-state for operators is knowing.

    All of us who are creative know how unsettling, debilitating, un-nerving, and exhilarating not-knowing can be. And as creators, not only do we have to endure it, we actually need to embrace the darkness of unknowing. Because it’s only when we let go of what we think we know, that something new can emerge. So in this scenario not-knowing spells success.

    In contrast, operators hate not-knowing. When we are in the operator mode, we need to plan and execute. Not-knowing in this scenario spells failure.

    In order to inhabit both worlds, we need the ability to switch from one mode to the other – without being derailed by having both mind-states collide.

  36. I never really looked at my life in this way. I think that I’m a creator/operator. I believe that I am because I love to do both. I like to lead, but I also like to follow out a plan to completion. If I have to really break it down. I am 70% creator and 30% operator.

    I just asked my wife what she thought and she said I’m a creator. I guess I have a pretty good idea of who I am.

    That’s the key to being successful in our work. We have to know our strengths and be able to apply them on a regular basis.

  37. Doreen says:

    In my experience Creators who are not Operators spend an inordinate amount of time in frustration as they don’t get their ideas any further than their head. Operators who are not Creators spend time wishing they knew a better way or a different way and often go unfulfilled. To be truly fulfilled and successful you have to get good at both and both are definitely learnable. Creators who don’t make progress on their ideas in my experience of working with such people often lack the passion, stamina and persistance to make it happen. They often have great ideas, but they want someone else to make it happen. To observe someone with a great idea and the determination to make it happen is a joy to behold, they have fire in their belly, take the pitfalls in their stride, and never ever give up, they fall, they get up, learn and carry on a little wiser, but they never give up. For all you Creators out there if you haven’t realised your dreams, put your best asset to good use and start by getting absolute clarity around what it is you want to achieve. Take some time over this as its an important and often missed part of the process. Then and only then begin by asking yourself the first question which is: ‘whats the very first step I need to take in this?’ once you’ve got the answer to that, ask: ‘and what’s the next? and then the next? and so on…and then starting taking those baby steps towards your goal. Its amazing how momentum follows action exponentially.

    I realise I’ve gone off-piste here but its a subject I’m passionate about. So in a nutshell both can be learned but more importantly both have to be applied and thats the key difference between the high flyers and the mediocres.

    • Doreen, that’s the wisest and least egotistical comment of the lot of us! Thank you. You are absolutely on the money here. We can dream all we like but we also have to get off our butts and make it happen. Step, by step, by step. Your comment is a breath of inspiration.

  38. Dayne says:

    I’m ALL about creation. If I can’t create in my life (either blogging, creating a new online product, etc.) I feel dead and dull. I honestly like to believe I not only create, but I “operate my creation”…meaning, I am in the drivers seat of all things.

    Thank you for this great post!

    Cheers,
    Dayne

  39. Yosu Cadilla says:

    I am a creator/creator ;-), maybe a creator/communicator and I have to really make a serious effort to get things done by myself, not that I don’t know what exactly has to be done, I just get bored and distracted with new exciting and innovative ideas; yes I am a professional procrastinator too.

    Truly right, there is a special class over Creator/Operator. The top of the food chain.
    The Creator/Leader is probably out of this post because they just don’t work for anyone, they lead… and they lead with imagination. Many (if not all) Great man (and woman), the heroes of our civilization, those who are remembered, forever… are Creator/Leader type of people. And maybe it can be trained, well, is there anything in the world that you do worst with practice? but sorry, these are only imitations, you put yourself your thinking hat, your innovation hat, ok, but true creativity is scarce and can not be made of thin air; It is a meter of what part of your brain you use when doing things, and as far as I know, there is no way to change this.

  40. LisaNewton says:

    I totally agree with a few of these observations. I consider myself a creator, but came into my creativeness much later. Oh, I think it was always there, coming out at various times, but because of my website and the challenges it presented, I’ve discovered a very creative side. I’ve always been innovative in some form or fashion, sometimes in the role of Operator. But, now, for the most part, I just want to create. I totally believe all of us are creators at the beginning, but due to personal circumstances, of which run the gamet, most people lose it. It’s really a shame.

    I’m sorry I’m so behind on this comment, but the creative juices were flowing. 🙂

  41. Haider says:

    Wonderful post, Jonathan!

    The problem with developing creativity is the belief that it can NOT be developed.

    I’m a web developer, and I always thought that I’m no good at web design (or any sort of design). While sitting with a designer I began to give my own input in the design process: we need more whitespace here, these colors don’t match, etc.

    That’s when I realized that I have a touch of (web design) creativity, which I simply overlooked because I never knew it existed!

    Creativity in finding solutions without being told what to do also boils down to mindset and belief: do you believe you *can* come up with solutions on your own? Do you second-guess your ideas simply because you don’t see yourself as the creative type?

    Getting rid of the “I’m not the creative type” mindset is challenging, but doing so opens us up to the opportunity of being more creative.

  42. […] How to Be Indispensable The best way to be indispensable is to create things useful to others and pack the ideas with intelligence, loyalty, kindness, respect, discipline, pride, passion, and compassion. (@ jonathan fields) […]

  43. ThatGuy says:

    Jon,
    You really should take a look into the psychology of blog posts and how they affect readers’ views of themselves.

    In this post, your characters come across as this:
    Operator – Human
    Creator – Normal guy who does good deeds.
    Creator/Operator – Superman.

    Clearly, there is a perk to being a “Creator,” but you do state that just being an “Operator” (aka, just being human) is OK. Then the “Creator/Operator” character is painted as the holy one who can do no wrong.

    If you take a look at the comments you’ve gotten on this post, a great deal of the commenters state which character from the post that they think they are (you did ask, after all). I find it almost unreal that the majority of those commmenters said they were “creator/operators.” You even said that “people who can do both are extraordinarily rare finds.” How can that character be so rare, yet we’ve got at least a half-dozen of them right here?!

    My best guesses are as follows:
    A) People naturally want to associate themselves with good (or in this case, the best) traits. So, since the characters in the post were painted in their respective lights, people read about the C/O and think “Hell yeah, that’s me all the way! ARMY OF ONE!!” Or something sitmilar. If this is the case, realize that posts like this can make or break peoples’ self esteem for the day!

    B) Many of your target readers are already entrepreneurs or have already risen in the ranks where they work. Therefore, they can easily identify with the traits of the “creator/operator” that you listed. If THIS is the case, then realize that a good portion of your readers are either high-ups where they work, entrepreneurs/business owners, or both. Yay, demographics!

    Either way you look at it, these people either think they’re C/O’s and they really aren’t, OR the C/O isn’t as rare as you make them out to be =D

  44. […] How to Be Indispensable […]

  45. Cathy says:

    I think I’m a creator-operator. I like to find new ways of going about my daily business as well as implement those things myself. Sometimes I like to be the one to actually do the process, other times I’ll delegate. When I delegate, however, things tend to get done in a manner that I didn’t intend (I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, although I am learning to let others do it their way!). My question is…how do I sell this aspect of myself to a potential employer? My current employer knows that I am indespensable, but working for a small company, they can not pay me what they think I can be worth. Basically, today, my manager (also my mentor and friend) told me that I am not reaching my potential at my current job, and that she wished there was something she could do about it. She really thinks highly of me and feels that the company’s dependence on me has held me back from seeking other opportunities. I just don’t know how to let others see that in me. I know I can do any job that I want, as long as I put my full heart into it. I love my company and I hate to leave, but paying the student loans is becoming more important!

    Any advice?

    Thanks,

    Struggling MBA

  46. Jim Francis says:

    As several others have suggested, I believe creativity need not and probably should not be taught.

    We all come into this world as highly creative creatures (if you doubt this claim, I suggest you spend a little time observing preschoolers at play). Unfortunately, from the time we enter the school system at the ripe old age of 5 or 6, to the time we graduate, creativity is systematically beat out of us. For 12 to 18 years or so, we are told to “color between the lines”, “speak only when spoken to”,”do it this way”,”follow the rules”, and so on, and so on. And just to be absolutely sure there is not an ounce of creativity left in our now some hollow but highly compliant shells, this same process is repeated all over again as we enter the workforce.

    Those all too few that have somehow managed to slip through all of this and remain creative are indeed a mystery. I can only surmise that they weren’t listening for all those years, or they simply aren’t very good at following directions, or both. Either way, thank goodness they exist.

    But as per those creative-operators which Jonathon implies are even rarer and more valuable, I’m inclined to take an opposing view, at least on the value side. With creatives being so rare and operators so plentiful, why would any employer want someone with any creative abilities at all wasting even a minute of their precious time acting in the capacity of an operator? Besides, this whole subset sounds a bit schizophrenic to me.

    But I digress. What I really wanted to say was that if you want more creative people in your business, training is not the answer. You simply need to get rid of all your creativity stifling rules, give your employees permission and the latitude to be creative, and then encourage the behavior when they are.

    Alternatively, and perhaps a lot more fun, you could hire a bunch of 5 year olds.

    • Jim Francis says:

      (resubmitted with corrections)

      As several others have suggested, creativity need not and probably should not be taught.

      We all come into this world as highly creative creatures (if you doubt this claim, I suggest you spend a little time observing preschoolers at play). Unfortunately, from the time we enter the school system at the ripe old age of 5 or 6, to the time we graduate, that creativity is systematically beat out of us. We are told to “color between the lines”, “speak only when spoken to”, “follow the rules” and so on, and so on. And just to be absolutely sure there is not an ounce of creativity left in our now somewhat hollow but highly compliant shells, this same process is repeated all over again as we enter the workforce.

      Those all too few that have somehow managed to slip through all of this and remain creative are indeed a mystery. I can only surmise that they weren’t listening for all those years, or they simply aren’t very good at following directions, or both. Either way, thank goodness they exist.

      As per those creative-operators which Jonathon implies are even rarer and more valuable, I’m inclined to take an opposing view at least on the value side. With creatives being so rare and operators so plentiful, why would any employer want someone with any creative abilities wasting even a minute of their precious time acting in the capacity of an operator? Besides, this whole subset sounds a bit schizophrenic to me.

      But I digress. What I really wanted to say was that if you want more creative people in your business, training is not the answer. You simply need to get rid of all your creativity stifling rules, give your employees permission and the latitude to be creative, and then encourage the behavior when they are.

      Alternatively, and perhaps a lot more fun, you could hire a bunch of 5 year olds.

  47. Interesting discussion. One of the things that I say to people around me is: “learn how to be very good in asking for forgiveness in stead of asking for permission”. If memory serves me right it’s a quote I stole from Guy Kawasaki.

    For me the quote works in order to motivate operators to the creator side.

  48. HCM says:

    I am a headhunter that does some work globally at very high levels…my observations:

    Corporate execs generally need a job done (due to departing employee, new regulation, or open headcount)and want a “problem to go away” with the hire coming onboard. Ninety percent of them will hire creator operators, as those people shine in past experience and success. Creators are often seen as “don’t fit into culture” while Operators are a dime a dozen and rarely stand out. It is only secure senior execs who will hire strong creators or VERY strong creator operators. Why? most employees want their job secure and do not like people who could bring a negative spotlight and crack their illusion of security.

    A parallel I use is do you want to hire doers (they get it done/nothing more) problem solvers (could be a good creator operator OR the best who are generally PROBLEM FINDERS aka the creator you mentioned. A creator who thrives in a major organization (with political cover) is generally the one of the future top leaders in my experience.

  49. Dug says:

    Crikey, 54 people who are creator/operators?!?

    Either this blog is bang at the epicenter of global creativity or creatives aren’t as rare as we thought…

    In any case, off to tell my HR department this has to be the place to start looking for talent;-)

  50. Brian says:

    I’m curious if you think this is also a generational gap issue, in terms of the younger generation with their tech. aptitude (which much of the “older” generation, who do not grow up with wireless, etc) and how it is much easier for them to get into the “creator” mindset. I bring this up because I work in an organization where the average age is over 40 (I’m the youngest as I’m in my late 20s) and I have observed a steadfast refusal to “adapt” and create new solutions to problems that may not have been able to be solved ten years ago (all my co-workers remain tied to sending out burned data dvds via snail mail and had no clue as to FTP sites,etc…). I bring this up because with the new changes in technology, etc. it would appear this “creator” mindset may benefit the younger generation who can “create” various projects via social media, the internet, etc. because they are comfortable with the new technology that makes a lot of tasks a lot easier…I know this is slightly off topic, but curious to see what “generation” this “creator” mindset skews towards (and the impact technology has on it)…

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  53. […] How to Be Indispensable The best way to be indispensable is to create things useful to others and pack the ideas with intelligence, loyalty, kindness, respect, discipline, pride, passion, and compassion. (@ jonathan fields) Pay Yourself First In other words, the first thing that should come out of your paycheck is some sort of savings for the future. This is a very powerful approach, as it ensures your long term future while also teaching you to live on less. (@ get rich slowly) […]

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  57. Kate says:

    I’m not sure I agree that creators are rare. Might be my industry (consulting), but we have creators all OVER the place. Tons of great ideas, tons of wild flights of fancy, tons of creativity.

    I’m sure I do agree that creator/operators are rare… a lot more rare than the comments above might indicate. Dunno if it’s self-selection or self-delusion, but these proportions don’t reflect reality in the room with the blue ceiling.

    I’m quite sure I disagree that effective operators are commonplace. In my experience, there are tons of people who are able to execute what they are told to do, with various levels of supervision and detailed instruction. There are very, very few who can take a good idea without a full-blown plan and make it real.

    Planning and executing are hard. People who do those things best are themselves very creative (if not creators by your definition).

    Interesting discussion though.

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  59. ThatGuy says:

    @Kate, Oct 23:

    Oooh, excellent points!
    I would agree that “creators” and “creator/operators” aren’t as rare as JF’s post makes them out to be, but really that they’re *more rare in certain occupations.*

    Like you mentioned, there’s probably a lot of creators in marketing, but you might be hard pressed to find one working on an assembly line in a factory (that’s where your operators live).In fact, I would go so far as to just flat out generalize that all three “types” of people are drawn to certain work (or are at least *best suited for* certain types of work).

    I would imagine that the “creator/operator” crowd can probably be found in the middle/upper management positions in fields like Systems Analysis or Building & Construction. It’s these types of positions in these lines of work that require people to first analyze their situation, requirements, and goals, and then turn around and make it happen.

    RARE? Not so much.
    LOCALIZED? More likely.

  60. […] Jonathan Fields on how to be indispensable. […]

  61. To be indispensable is something which everybody wants to be. To be indispensable, it is very important to do something indispensable i.e. some good work which benefits other too. Try to ba a creator rather than an operator.

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  63. I believe that we are all creative to begin with and that the school system and society itself tries to kill our creativity very early on. What are we telling the child that is daydreaming? Don’t stand there doing nothing, do your homework or clean up your room!
    The thing is that in most cases creativity does not pay the rent. It is something you are in your spare time.
    I know many people, who have a dayjob, where they do what they are told to do, and in the evening they go home and write books or create computer animations or paint or take pictures or do pottery or make party tents and so on.
    I am a translator and have been for about 25 years, but sitting alone and doing the same thing over and over again kills my creativity. I have to meet new people and learn new things, so from time to time I find myself a new job in a new branche. So far I have worked as a cook, industrial baker, handyman, secretary, accountant, IT-supervisor, teacher and guide amongst others.
    Creativity by it self is also not enough. You always have to know the basics and to learn the basics takes a lot of work. Let’s say you want to knit the most beautiful sweater in the world: you have to know a lot about your material, you have to be able to knit and you have to have a lot of practice, and first then you have a chance to create what you wanted. The same is true for pretty much every other area. Your creative input is more likely to be valued, if you have the knowledge also.
    I am a creative idea person when it comes to things I do out of my own interest, and I highly appreciate help from doers and outsource as much as possible. On the other side, when I work for somebody else, I am a doer myself and I spend my time on learning new skills, being a good colleague and doing my work to every bodys satisfaction. It works for me.

  64. Awesome post, these are essential things to know to improve your value!

  65. […] How to Be Indispensable The best way to be indispensable is to create things useful to others and pack the ideas with intelligence, loyalty, kindness, respect, discipline, pride, passion, and compassion. (@ jonathan fields) […]

  66. David says:

    I definitely agree that society in general tries its best to drive creativity out of people. In general, I think this is because a lot of society operates on the basis of the known, consistent, status quo. Creativity works counter to this – you never know what is going to happen. Not that the wheels of society could not keep turning or maybe even turn a whole lot better with a high level of creativity and creatives around, but that experiment is scary enough that it likely won’t ever happen.

  67. […] Tweets that mention How to Be Indispensable | Jonathan Fields — Topsy.com says: Oct 15, 2009 at 1:22 pm […]

  68. […] How to Be Indispensable from Jonathon Fields. In this post, Fields talks about the difference between creators and operators and how to combine the best qualities of both. Not sure how much this contradicts 50 Cent’s message about owning all the work you do. […]

  69. life coach says:

    We just need more and more hire managers who know how spot creators. Many a creator is passed over while the manager lacks the vision to see someone who can change the game.

  70. […] How to Be Indispensable – I was recently talking to a COO at a public company about our comparative experiences hiring people. Him, on a giant scale. Me, on a micro-scale. And, what became clear to both of us was… Scale aside… There is a single quality that is so rare, when you find someone who has … […]

  71. I think I am more of a creator than operator. as I can start things and have so many ideas but really need to focus on being a creator and operator as to improve once self. I want to create things and earn online at the same time.

  72. Mroberts says:

    The following comment of yours really stood out for me, “there will always be a sea of people lined up to take your job who can do what you do in a similar enough way to make your boss, partner, colleague or collaborator happy.”

    I totally agree with this. There are alot more Operators in the world than there are Creators. Everyone needs to find a balance and not get lost in a sea of average people. Fight for your position people!

  73. […] How to be Indispensable – how do you stand out in a crowd of co-workers? Why it’s not enough to be good at your job. Written by Jonathan Fields of Awake @ The Wheel. […]

  74. […] you for as long as you want to work there? According to Jonathan Fields, author of Career Renegade, you need to be a creator-operator to be indispensable at work. You need to have the ability to create new solutions and innovations, […]

  75. […] if you’re not creating, your power is fleeting at best. You’re replaceable. Fungible. Dispensable. No matter what illusion of control you’ve come to believe you have, you’re not a power […]

  76. i need a job says:

    Yeah, I have to agree with the comment that I wish there were more hiring managers that recognize Creator qualities. Perhaps they are merely operators and therefore blind.

  77. Volin says:

    Nice post and comments here, you guys did a good job.

  78. […] rule: I will pay you to make my life better or easier or more exciting. #2 money making rule: Be Indispensable 60. Limit all emails to 5 sentences or less. Attention is a limited resource, treat it like gold. […]

  79. […] rule: I will pay you to make my life better or easier or more exciting. #2 money making rule: Be Indispensable 60. Limit all emails to 5 sentences or less. Attention is a limited resource, treat it like gold. […]

  80. […] To make money, add value to someone’s life. It’s that simple. #1 money making rule: I will pay you to make my life better or easier or more exciting. #2 money making rule: Be Indispensable […]

  81. […] rule: I will pay you to make my life better or easier or more exciting. #2 money making rule: Be Indispensable 60. Limit all emails to 5 sentences or less. Attention is a limited resource, treat it like gold. […]

  82. […] rule: I will pay you to make my life better or easier or more exciting. #2 money making rule: Be Indispensable 60. Limit all emails to 5 sentences or less. Attention is a limited resource, treat it like gold. […]