Not Even Wrong – The Soulless Professional 9

October 2014
Stockholm – @ Valtech office

There are things that will awaken the warrior in me and spur me to take up arms and go to war. And break things. There are times when I want to tell people that they suck harder than a collapsing star. This happens when people I care about are not treated with the love, respect and care that I feel they deserve. There’s a reason why people are treated badly. So today, I will talk – or rant rather – about the root cause of that behavior. I will talk (with almost no structure at all) about professionalism.

Professionalism has everything to do with appearances. I’m quite certain you’ve come across situations where people have expressed irritation, or even anger, because something happened that made them “appear unprofessional”. Key word here being “appear”. For a professional what other professionals think of them is more important than anything else. Because how they are thought of is who they are. They accept that as a truth.

Professionalism then, is a mold into which we as individuals – with a varying degree – wish to fit. It comes as no surprise then, that the last thing a professional person wants, is surprises. As a professional, you will make your plans and forecasts and predictions. You’ll present them to people above you in your hierarchy – a hierarchy that you, by the way, see no problems with as your purpose in life is to climb that golden ladder. Eager to impress those above you, you make promises and assertions. In order to achieve your goals, you make threats and accusations. You instill fear, uncertainty and doubt in everyone “below” you on your golden ladder.

Obviously, for you, there’s no room for surprises. So when the fundamentally unsurprising reality still manages to both happen and surprise you, you will disregard the basic nature of things: existence is a complex, changing, chaotic and strange thing that you quite honestly don’t know frakk all about.

So, how do you handle this complexity of reality then? You don’t. You disregard it. And you do so either knowingly – which is evil – or unknowingly, which is ignorant.

The concept of professionalism hates surprises. When surprises happen it must have an explanation. The explanation closest at hand is that the other players who are involved in your game are simply “unprofessional”.

The concept of professionalism creates roles that you feel obligated to play. This causes a great disconnect between your authentic self and your work identity. This separation from wholeness causes tension. That’s why you’re a nervous, angry, frightened and neurotic a-hole towards anyone who can’t be of service to you in your climb towards the top.

The concept of professionalism promotes activity goals over outcomes. This is not only troublesome because of its alien mindset, it also causes a lot of old fashioned waste. A lot of stuff that shouldn’t really be done at all is done under the flag of professionalism. I call this “playing office”. You can easily tell when people are doing it. It truly resembles the games one played as a child, strangely imitating how grown ups behave.

The burden of being professional, coupled with the core belief that all it takes is hard work, also creates incentives to cheat, once one discovers that hard work is not enough, as anyone who is involved with complex work will soon realize. This is why projects can finish on time (activity), yet deliver no value whatsoever (outcome). This is also why so many products, services and experiences suck so very, very much. Because no one cares. It’s not professional to care about stuff that is not listed in the soulless, heartless manual of professional behavior. A professional will go above and beyond when it comes to keeping up appearances and reaching activity goals, but will not invest any passion in outcomes.

The concept of professionalism resists change, because change implies that there might not be anything for you at the end of that ladder that you’ve made it your life purpose to climb. And you’re right about that, by the way. There won’t be.

The concept of professionalism rewards acting and punishes thinking and questioning.
The concept of professionalism rewards conservatism and punishes risk taking.
The concept of professionalism promotes ego over teams.

For those of us who have chosen to embrace authenticity, this professional behavior causes other kinds of tension. The feeling for us is that we enter a theatre every time we find ourselves in such environments, and the show that these professionals put on feels both awkward and alien. We feel confused. Who the are these people? Why are they talking funny? Why are they trying so desperately to sound smart?

If we use the terminology of Frederic Laloux we might say that the mere notion of “professionalism” is a lingering leftover from “orange” organizations and the world view that persists there. If we believe that organizations over time move towards “higher” evolutionary stages – and we consider this a good thing – I put it to you that the concept of professionalism is an idea that slows evolution down and is basically holding the whole organization back.

In later posts we will examine the tension, the nervous and anxious behavior of “Green” organizations, which seems to me to be a direct result of these old concepts remaining as archaic mental models. If we view organizations as organic systems, professionalism is one of the concepts that the systems – driven by new values and ideas – is working hard to reject. The difficult process of discarding these concepts might very well be the change that has to be facilitated and endured. It won’t be pretty.

And you know, all this “new” stuff. Authenticity, passion, beauty, creativity, higher purpose and *gulp* talking about your feelings, hopes and dreams. Being human. It’s not what you signed up for. Because all you know how to do is be professional. But  you need to hear this: The current market value for “professional” is not at all what it used to be. And in the future of work – there won’t be a market at all. The clock is ticking.

In summary:

The concept of professionalism promotes faking in a world that craves authenticity. With the mask of professionalism to hide behind you can feel safe as long as you stick with the rules. Professionalism is often defined as “by the book” behavior. So basically, you’ll be rewarded for “playing office”, with the bonus opportunity to label those who find novel ways to pursue value as “unprofessional”. As such, the concept of professionalism legitimizes the confusion between activity and outcome.

And that’s #notevenwrong.

Earlier post on Not even Wrong

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