Last week, Seth Godin had a very interesting blog that he entitled “Sophisticates.” Take a look at his website to find this one and all the other interesting pieces he posts on a regular basis. Seth is one of those “must follow” marketing brains for those who are professionals in the area and for anyone who is just interested in some cutting edge thinking.
In this blog, Seth talks about the importance of being and acting like a professional or one of the insiders, which he feels may be just as important as doing a good job. He compares the professionals with amateurs, hacks and self-defeating noobs. Seth talks about all the things we learn in business school or medical school or through whatever training we have had that shows us how to act when on the inside and how to become part of the tribe. Yes, many of us learned a great deal of this from our parents, other elders in our lives and our mentors. Seth points out that the key is to not only be very good at what you do but also be able to demonstrate the skills necessary to be a part of the profession. Both are critical for success.
In a period where the media is quick to point out the individuals who succeed while refusing to become a part of the “game” the words from Seth offer some real sound advice. It is much easier to make change happen if you have a seat at the table and that requires that you act and are seen as an insider rather than an outsider. Are you able to do all the things required to earn a seat at the table? Do you dress and act like a professional? Do you understand how to contribute at meetings and on a team? Do you treat others with a high level of professionalism at all levels of the organization? Do you understand the foundational principles of the job? Do you complete work professionally and on time so that the corporate engine continues to work? These are just a few of the many things to consider when trying to evaluate if you are a sophisticate or not.
I would take Seth’s thinking one step further though. I don’t think Seth is saying that to be a professional you have to be from the “cookie cutter” mold. You don’t need to act and think exactly like everyone else. You should read and learn things to broaden your views well beyond your professional arena. You don’t need to have the same hobbies, spiritual beliefs, political thinking or family orientation as everyone else in order to be a professional or an insider. Your individualization is who you are and it is so critical to the vibrancy of any organization. The key is being able to put your individualization on top of your professionalism, not using it to replace the skills needed to remain on the inside.
This balancing act of professionalism, performance and being an insider while still being an individual, takes some careful consideration and work. The key really is how to be on both sides at the same time. It is easy to be a rebel and not fit in but that most likely will not allow you execute your thinking. You need to thoroughly understand the principles of the profession and be able to build from these if you are going to drive change and that is nearly impossible to do if you are not considered to be part of the profession. Maybe it is time to become more of a sophisticate.