You’re not a commodity

OpsVantage - You're Not A Commodity

Last week I met three people who all asked for advice on essentially the same question: How do I make a smart career move?

Two of the three people are considering leaving the corporate world for consulting, the third thinks it may be time to take the next step in her career. All of them want to grow their career, but they all have a huge risk in common…being seen as a commodity.

You already understand what commodities are, but I like the definition from Investopedia: “A basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type”.

“Interchangeable”, becoming someone who is not seen as providing a unique benefit to the organization…a cog to be replaced with another cog when it becomes convenient.

Commodity players don’t get career growth projects, know they are working below their potential, and feel like their contribution is not valued.


Yes, a business can continue even without key individuals, Apple is one of many companies that have proven it, but the question to ask yourself is if you are providing unique value to your employer or clients so that you are not easily interchangeable.

Here are 3 tips to make sure you are not a commodity:

Start strong: Not being a commodity is important at any point in your career, but it’s especially important when you start with a new organization. The role you start in can easily become the role you are typecast in, so be careful to not hire in at a position below what you are capable of, just to “get your foot in the door”. Also be sure to make a great impression when you start, a mediocre first impression is a sure fire way to be considered a commodity player.

Be great at something: The iconic motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says, “Don’t be a wandering generality, be a meaningful specific”. When you are amazingly great at something important to your industry, you are not a commodity, you will be known for that special something you do better than anyone else and valued for it.

Know when to say yes: We all understand the importance of saying “no” from time to time. If we say yes to everything, nothing will get done well. Saying no is important, but think about this…if you are clear about what you would love to say “yes” to, you can proactively find opportunities that support your objectives and those of your company.

Here’s an example that ties all three tips together. You just started a new job in marketing at a SaaS provider, and during the interview process you were clear that your specialty is branding work. There is not a branding project on the agenda at your new company, so in addition to your regular marketing role, you go talk to the professional services, account management, and customer service team about developing a complementary branding strategy for their team that will improve sales and customer perception. Assuming the project makes business sense, you have:

  • Started out strong by being clear about how you can provide unique value
  • Continued to develop skills and experience with your differentiated skill
  • Created yourself a “Yes!” project.


When you look for the right opportunities, are intentional about your specialty, and proactively find ways to add value, you will never run the risk of being a commodity.

You can follow me on twitter at @jackson_matt and find more operationally focused blog posts at

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