The new bling and the oldest profession (als)
02/11/2009 - "The new bling and the oldest profession (als)" by Donal Carroll
Last week I was invited to a 'Social Innovation Forum' where 'Camelot' sought to generate ideas to better 'engage their stakeholders'. It was organised by YouGovStone, an online market research agency and London's leading network organiser. They gathered around 50 'opinion formers' (us) unpaid, offering free breakfast, a bottle of champagne and unlimited networking. As an innovation forum it was successful, generating over one thousand ideas.

The age range was around 40-60 and (with, I guess, few of us actually using Camelot's services). The event organiser said that in terms of cultural capital, us 'professionals' with our awareness, experience, knowledge and willingness to share, are the new bling!

So how do we wear our bling?
Nice idea to see us as new ostentatious wealth but is that accurate? Much of my consultancy work consists of experienced staff –ie 'professionals' resisting change –in some cases justified, in many not.

Here's what I mean:
'little accountability... poor performers not removed but are moved around... brains are used brilliantly 24 hrs a day to prevent any new initiatives going forward (with no penalties for such behaviour)... the office is full of useless, oppositional 40/50 somethings who had once been highly intelligent and are now drifting listlessly and bitterly into retirement...' Which organisation is this?

My experience suggests an odd paradox: in many organisations there seems to be an inverse ratio between experience and excellence –that is, length of service (and resultant experience) does not mean better performance. Commonly the opposite.
What are the characteristics of modern professional working? Clearly, not all 'professions' are the same -bankers, auditors, estate agents, teachers, solicitors. But then not all professions have the same status and many ensure limited access to them by using a mirroring process: 'you're can enter only if you're like us'.

At an individual level, many professionals want neither to be led nor to be leaders. They are concerned with defending their own interests as a group, and their 'expertness', their holy ground, making them the sole traders of their 'subject'. This cuts right across the interdependence organisations require so they can create value for customers and colleagues for better, more effective, efficient working. The inward-facing loyalty many professionals have to their 'subject', regardless of the circumstances their organisations face, means they assume the 'freedom' that being a professional confers without recognising its obligations. For instance, in HE, having an 'I want to be alone' way of working (to get on with 'research' that nobody needs or reads) or in FE, teachers demanding the right to select their own teaching/learning methods (didactic, teacher-centred ones they used 20 years ago). I'd better not say anything about bankers or estate agents.

This kind of 'professionalism' denies broader use of the change-enabling properties many professionals could bring to other areas, as organisational change agents. It is a major barrier to improvement. In organisational terms it is learning-lite and lacks the crucial characteristic that animates the new bling -that 'willingness to share' across boundaries and purposes.

Notice the 'opinion formers' were invited to the Camelot event not as professionals but as good networkers. But then if many of today's 'professionals' were asked, they probably wouldn't come.

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