Are you a plug and play component ?

Reading Michael Beirut’s post today, The Road to Hell, Part Two: That Elusive Silver Bullet, led me to Steve Portigal‘s comment, and his insightful yet fundamental questions,

I face these questions all the time: what do I do? What do I call it? What is special and unique? What does anyone do that I can no longer claim as an offering?

and since answering him in those comments seemed inappropriate to the topic on hand, I thought to bring it back to my own blog. Here are my own two rupees of pontification from my personal perspective. [whee, alliteration]

In response to my own contemplation of these selfsame questions, I found my answers were easier to develop when I began by asking another question: "Do I consider myself a plug and play component?"

By this phrase I mean, do I consider myself a commodity, a replaceable part, a universal joint – one that can be plugged into a particular phase of a task or project to play a preset part? The answer, is obviously, No. And this is an answer that any one of us would give, were we asked the same question.

But what I gather from reading the original post and the body of comments, is that when one aligns oneself with a particular title, one which could be held by numerous others, one is vulnerable to the thoughts that one can be replaced.

Imho, the irony is that design, by the very nature of its attributes, is a purely subjective field.  An electronics engineer following stringent design criteria may end up with a circuit diagram identical to another’s, and thus be replaced as a plug and play component. Hypothetically mind you, and only for the purpose of this discussion. But a graphic designer given a blank sheet of paper and asked to design the layout of a paragraph of text may only have the number of words used in common with another graphic designer given the same text and sheet of paper – oh and size of paper.

So while referring to oneself as a graphic designer may perchance cause one to feel that one can be replaced by another who bears the same title, the fact remains that the output would change accordingly.

Rather than constraining the use of the title, encourage the proliferation of it. How does it matter if the entire world consisted of graphic designers? They cannot be you. Only you can be you. And you are not a mass produced replaceable part in an assembly line.

And that is the value you bring to the table.

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2 Responses to Are you a plug and play component ?

  1. I met with a former colleague a few months after I started my own business. She had left earlier and was very busy and successful. She was doing usability testing, not out of any passion for it, but because of a strong belief that there was a need and it was an easy sell. She encouraged me strongly to choose what I do, and present it in a way, so that it would be a commodity. Being easy to buy was her thought. But that is also hard to differentiate. I’m sure she’s busier than I am, maybe makes more money, has more clients, whatever measure you want. I didn’t take her advice because really I can’t. I just can’t even figure out how to act like a commodity!

  2. niti bhan says:

    Exactly, I struggled with this issue till I found that this approach worked for me, particularly since ‘India’ seemed to be such a big deal and then I realized my PoV on INdia was not really going to be anyone elses. After all, I entered the country at 18. And while I may be a Bangalore trained Indian engineer like thousands and thousands of others, it was only on paper, right? That’s not the commodity I could ever be.

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