Do you ever think about what would happen if a team replaced their star player with an average one? The team would obviously be worse off, but how much worse? In baseball, they created a stat for this. It is called WAR, wins above replacement. It measures a player’s contribution to their team in wins.
WAR offers an estimate to answer the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a freely available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?”
Baseball has obvious good and bad measures. Scoring is good, getting out is bad. It is also individual; one person pitches, and one person bats at a time. This makes it simpler to understand one player’s contribution to their team’s performance. Score more runs and you will help your team win more games.
An MVP caliber player contributes 6+ wins to their team per season. Mike Trout, last year’s AL MVP, had a WAR of 8.2. This means if he was replaced with a bench player, his team would have lost 8.2 more games over the year.
WAR is a measure of replaceability. The higher the WAR, the harder it is to replace a player. The players with the highest WAR are irreplaceable, teams will pay anything to acquire and keep them (sometimes that isn’t enough).
Not every task has as well defined measures as baseball. What about your life and career? WAR can still be a useful concept because it forces us to think about replaceability. We don’t just want to be above replacement, we want to be irreplaceable.
For nearly every job in the world, you could be replaced. Your company could hire someone else. You could spend your time doing something else. You can tell yourself the person they hire cannot be as good as you, but do you believe that? What makes you think it is true?
I’m sure you know people who couldn’t be replaced. They are core to an organization. Without them, nothing would work. The gap between them and the next best person is massive. They have made themselves irreplaceable.
To protect yourself from being replaced, you have to make yourself irreplaceable. Compare yourself to the replacement version of you. Aim to beat them as bad as possible.
Think about what makes someone irreplaceable. It comes from specific knowledge. Work only you could do. Business relationships only you have. Being irreplaceable means being unique.
If you can’t find something that makes you unique, find something you can do much better than other people. Know things other people don’t know. Create a valuable mix of skills. Know more about an organization. Be able to navigate the bureaucracy. Have a better network. There is always something you can do to make yourself more irreplaceable.
Being irreplaceable creates job security. No one gets rid of an MVP. If suddenly you are out of a job, you are competing against replacement-level performers. Show how you are better than the rest, and you’ll quickly find work. If you are irreplaceable in one organization, there is a good chance a competing organization would also want you.
Think about the measures that are important for you and compare them against replacement. Work towards what makes you more irreplaceable. Think about what an irreplaceable version of someone in your role and strive to be that person.
Remember: everyone can be replaced. You want the gap between you and a replacement to be as large as possible. Only you can make it happen.