Sunday, March 2, 2008

Why is “Professional” a Dirty Word?

Since when did “professional” become a bad word? Since when did it mean unoriginal, uncreative, overpriced, inflexible and/or elitist? Why are professional methodologies so immediately rejected in today’s marketplaces, businesses and creative endeavors? If you undergo years of training or you have several years of experience-- that’s a bad thing? Being involved with a number of industries, I see it more and more. If a professional mentions industry standards, professional methods or structures or even accepted practices they get immediately rejected or even insulted. It's happened to me many, many times. Let’s say you own Cogswell Cogs. You want to design a new cog so, what’s the first thing you do? Create a computer model? Let’s go 3D, Wooo! Sorry, but when did the first step of problem solving become model a solution? HUFF! That tired, old, dusty, outdated, outmoded and certainly high-horsed ‘5 Steps to Problem Solving” can’t apply to our new, totally different, techno-world! To coin another ancient phrase, balderdash. Since you’ve admitted/found that there is a problem/need for this new cog, why wouldn’t the next thing be to define the problem? Why wouldn’t you talk about the need for this cog and what it should accomplish? Then perhaps you should use a low-cost method to envision the cog... perhaps even use... a... pencil. NOOOOOOO!! Graphite must be bad for the environment or something because no one seems willing to allow sketches anymore. The brain-pencil (or pen) connection is scientifically proven to engage the brain more fully than a keyboard and mouse. I’d wager even a tablet or other pen-like computer input device is still not as good as the real thing, but that’s me. Still, that’s not our focus here.

Let’s look at it a different way. A number of people have said to me that they’re proud of their success without training or experience and with less-than-professional tools. That’s great. I’m glad that anyone can pick up a tool and make something that allows them to express themselves and maybe even gives them a measure of success. That's freedom. I guess my problem is many of these people think their success means they’re suddenly da Vinci, a master at their craft. In many cases, they fail to realize the other factors that added into his or her success. Let’s say one of these folks is named Pat. Pat, who is without training or experience, has gathered a small team and together they’ve built a house using tools and materials afforded on a shoestring budget. A week after completion, the house is still standing and everyone in town loves it. It’s not totally level, but that’s okay. Genius! It doesn’t meet all the codes and standards, but that’s fine. Brilliant! Pat made it on a shoestring so, that sort of thing is understandable. A Marvel! Against these great odds, this house is a towering achievement of the layman who has conquered those terrible professionals! What Pat hasn’t told people, or doesn’t realize, is the team pulled all-nighters and worked for reduced rates without overtime or for free. Pat also doesn’t mention that some of them were actually trained carpenters who showed the team how to fill in the cracks when the pieces weren’t flush. Pat doesn’t admit that the project was a house of cards and at any moment, were it not for the kindness of others, the project would have failed. And, were it not for the vigilance of Pat’s team, someone could have been hurt or killed if the house of cards had fallen. Nope, Pat jumps from rooftop to rooftop yelling that s/he’s a visionary. Pat also doesn’t realize the ramifications his house has on the industry. Other folks in the town also want to make houses on a shoestring and complain when the (evil) professionals quote them prices ten times what Pat’s house cost. How DARE they! Soon, the professionals have to lower their rates to get any work and try to find ways to cut costs. The townspeople are unapologetic. They know you can cut costs because pros are SO overpaid and they saw that all you have to do is get cheap unskilled laborers like Pat did. And of course you don’t need to use quality tools or materials; you’re a pro and can work miracles! Wait, wait, wait. So pros are miracle workers and so they should be paid half and forced to work twice as hard? What is going on here?!

Folks, “professional” is not a bad word. Working your ass off through rigorous training doesn’t automatically mean you can’t think outside the box. Years of experience doesn’t mean you’re old and don’t apply anymore. Would you expect some untrained person to be as consistent as Norm Abrams? Just because Norm has been in the business for decades, does that mean he can no longer function? Have you watched This Old House? Mastery of one’s craft takes a lifetime. It doesn’t mean you have to know everything, but it does mean you know who to ask. And I don’t see why being good at what you do and knowing a solid, proven methodology is such a horrible concept-- to the point of insulting professionals for merely suggesting to Pat that s/he might want to look before leaping. And, being nice people who care about their craft and whose latest project is their calling card, they take it upon themselves to make it work. That my friends is eking by, not a mandate. Yes, it may work out in the end at least to an extent, but the means matter. The means matter because they always have longer lasting ramifications. Ramifications beyond that one project and perhaps even into our everyday lives.

This is not an attack on layman or on independent endeavors. I don’t think you need a huge corporation to do... well, much of anything. I’m actually a firm believer in partnerships and localizing. What I’m saying is there is a standard that should be sought and fought for. The standard is the challenge. If we keep lowering the standards and slapping down anyone who strives to exceed them, we hurt ourselves as a people. These habits bleed into the rest of our culture. This goes for high school math brains to musicians trying to share their music. It also goes for anti-social artist types and mighty athletes. It’s not the accolades that matter; it is the progression of the human race. Striving to be a pornstar college dropout Heroin addict? That’s a goal? Being the person with the most hits on Myspace or most friends on Facebook is a goal? Posting pics of your cleavage and of you and your friends getting drunk is bucking the system? As long as you have the latest cell phone, all is right with the world? What the crap is going on here? Would you want to go under the knife of a surgeon who believes a few mistakes here and there aren’t so bad? This devolution is occurring because people are lowering their standards for everything. This may be because a growing mass of people are becoming evermore lazy and wish to satisfy whimsical and shallow desires ASAP. I want, therefore I am. Is that what we're saying?! Perhaps I should have entitled this “Why is REALITY a Dirty Word?” Face up, anything good takes time and effort and you never do anything totally alone. If you want something really good, open your mind and heart and listen to a professional who might know a thing or two about what you’re trying to do. Even if that pro is a psychologist. And when you’re done, be realistic about what the final product is and strive to do better next time. And PLEASE strive to pay people an acceptable wage or make it worth everyone’s while somehow. All I ask is that you don’t use professionals as mindless tools, keep your promises and don’t ask anyone to sacrifice their integrity to complete your project. We’re all in this together. Making adjustments for safety, courtesy or quality doesn’t make it any less your baby. And lastly, give credit where credit is due. Not only make sure you have everyone’s name spelled correctly, but if someone on your staff was key to the completion of your project, let people know. Acting like you did it all alone will only harm you in the long run. If you can loosen up on the reigns a little, you’ll find you still stay on course and it’s a more rewarding ride.

That’s enough metaphor for one day! Thanks for reading. Please share your opinions and experiences. I mean that! Also, please take some time today to hug a professional. They need hugs, too.