Professer, Professional or Playuh?

Determining whether someone is a Professor, Professional or just another Playuh is a tough task. Countless books, blogs and articles have been written about the topic in regards to Social Media, with a plethora of consultants professing expertise in the new social sciences. Yet, trained professionals in other fields are becoming increasingly skeptical of these ‘gurus’ easy answers and questionable value. The same doubt permeates other fields as well, like the ongoing debate about what makes a good analyst. So my question is this: what constitutes an expert from a practitioner in any field and how do you tell the posers from the real playuhs?

Recently, I attended a Social Media Breakfast event with 50-60 other people, many of whom list Marketing as their profession, and include social media as part of their job role. The speaker, Dave Fleet, VP of Edelman Digital, provided an insightful presentation on 20 Social Media Trends for 2011, and demonstrated his expertise well during the Q & A portion of the session. His knowledge value was not in question, but I was stunned to note how many of these professionals in the room scrambled to quickly write or type away when Dave defined ‘taxonomy’. Give me a break! How can these folks be successful in Social Media?

I immediately, (and unfairly), dumped the lot of them in the poser pile. But given a few days to percolate, it became clear that there is a big difference between a person’s profession, their occupation and perhaps even their vocation. While these folks may be accredited as marketing professionals, they may have to do social media as a new part of their growing job role, and it might not even be something they want to do.

As a successful PR and marketing professional, Dave Fleet rose to the status of Professor able to teach Social Media because he’d ‘lived to learn’, expanding his knowledge and skills in the new social sciences because communication is his passion. By contrast, some of the attendees are stuck in their fixed traditional marketing box, and have just ‘learned to live’ with the new tasks foisted upon them, but don’t study to up their a-game, as it isn’t where their true interests lie.

Just like any profession, you have those who live and breathe their work, others who are equally great and devoted to their craft but treat it like a job, and everything in between.

To understand how some people become high value professors and real players, we must first examine the classifications of profession, occupation and vocation. Simply put – your profession is what you know, your occupation is what you do as your job, and vocation is what you are meant to do – your calling.

  • A profession is usually designated by some sort of accreditation or certification that legitimizes one’s knowledge after extensive study. A professional is paid to share this domain knowledge and are expected to do so within a framework of standards, guidelines, statutes and ethics.
  • Persons engaged in an occupation are not paid for their knowledge, but what they produce as tangible outputs. Occupations may or may not require specialized knowledge and accreditation. Often, it is what you do to pay the bills, while you dream of doing what you’d really like to.
  • A vocation suggests a grand calling. Some driving passion or purpose that acts as a summons to perform with enthusiasm.

Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish the experts from the plodders and players is by studying how they apply their professional knowledge within an occupation, and maybe even as a vocation?  Let’s use Dr. Sanjay Gupta as an example.

Dr. Gupta’s profession is medicine, his occupations are neurosurgery and he holds down another job as the Senior Medical Correspondent for CNN, but what makes him a bit more unique than some of his colleagues is his calling to communicate and educate a broader audience. He’s leveraged his learned skills, using his voice to influence public support for the Haiti crisis, or adding practical insight to Health Care Reform studies. This makes Dr. Sanjay both a professor and a real player.

Pros and Playuhs follow a path of continual study with highly qualified teachers. It is through eliminating as many technical issues as possible, having unbiased critiques of your skills and values via debates and publications, as well as putting in an enormous amount of time and effort that elevates a certain few people with the requisite inherent ability to reach the heights of their profession.

When trying to discern the true professional advisors from rogues, scoundrels and plodders, beware these gotchas:

  1. Part Time Experts – they might have a vocation for whatever they’re pitching, but if their day job is in another field entirely, run for the hills.
  2. The Emporer Has No Clothes – if they can’t ‘show you’ versus ‘tell you’ what they’re trying to sell you, then they haven’t applied their professional knowledge in any tangible way deserving of your money. Leave them buck nekkid out in the cold while you look for professionals with current client references and frequent activity in their peer groups.
  3. Boardroom Table Chasers – most professionals at the top of their game haven’t done a cold call in years. If the professional is racing after you aggressively in desperation like dogs on a hunt, then they’re probably hungry for a reason.
  4. Bargain Basement Sales – you get what you pay for. True expertise doesn’t come cheaply.  Better to pay a higher rate for a 30 minute consultation for a professional who can provide solutions and answers than to pay $50 an hour for someone who will fake it until you realize they can’t make it.

There are some extremely talented individuals who offer quality professional services. Just vet them carefully with an understanding of their profession, their occupation and their vocation as described above and you should have a very good chance of avoiding the pain and costs associated with having an incompetent cut their teeth on your on your time with your dime.

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