Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Professional

This post is not about the movie with that title, it’s about a rare breed of human beings. The word is often used for people who do some work, know how to do something well or often times do something for a living. The word is quite often used as a synonym for “Specialist”. The specialist is a person who masters a technique or craft. A specialist selects a domain, like any domain of knowledge, engineering, arts etc. and excels in it.

A specialist is good at something; can’t we just recall this person as a professional in that domain? This is the point and what a significant point this is, the answer is “No”. For someone to be a professional, the person has to be involved with other human beings. Professionals usually work on their domain as it relates to others, and this is exactly the key point here, relating to others. A professional artist as an example works on art which will eventually be used by others for a reason. A specialist in art, an artist, works on art without considering how it can be beneficial to others. A scientist who is only a specialist works any scientific matter as it pleases him without caring about how it can be used by others and whether it ever will.

The professional specialist would be a much more complex human being. The professional, needing to interact with others, not just the self, would require follow the guidelines of ethics. Ethics being the rules for human to human interactions in this case. In order for the system that the professional works in to succeed, the professional would need to play by the rules of the game. Systems, aka Companies, require a few basic rules for the games they run. These rules include truthfulness, commitment, collaboration and respecting promises/contracts. The professional knows these by heart.
Some people are neither specialists nor professional, well fine, they can just enjoy their time and hopefully try not to get engaged in serious interactions with others.

Some are not specialist but professionals, this is quite ok since the system they work in can very well find out what they are suited for, if they are suited for anything and much time will not be wasted.

Some are specialists but not professionals, now this is where the danger is. People tend to bind professionalism to a specialist by default which is really risky. The specialist can show some sparks, gain attention, make the system rely on her/him and then let the system down just when it is time to deliver something because of lack of professionalism and the absence of the basic traits I named above, the simple rules of the game. These people do excellent things but you see that only as long is every process for creating it is bounded to the individual alone without considering time, as soon as the creation process expands to more than the single self or you try to measure the time, problems start to arise.

The book “Smart and gets things done” by Joel Spolsky is another view for the same issue, it’s one thing to be smart and another to actually do useful things. An interesting negative loop can be observed here and that is a lot of times the more specialist an individual is, the more they feel they do not need to follow the simple rules and act like a professional, a false feeling of feeling special which has a tendency to contaminate their talent and reduce the opportunities that ironically would help them excel in the domain of their specialty.

Some are specialists and professionals, no need to mention that magic occurs around these people, leading to the success of themselves and those around them.

I wish there was at least ways for us to get educated and trained in professionalism, it is even more important than the knowledge and skills in the specific domain of specialty. on Specialist:

"One who is devoted to a particular occupation or branch of study or research"
on Professional:

"One who earns a living in a given or implied occupation"

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