Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amateurs do the things they want in the way they want to do them

The title of this post comes from a column by Kurt Andersen in the August 10, 2009 issue of Time magazine. The column is called "The Avenging Amateur." Andersen argues that an amateur "must throw himself into situations where he's uncertain and even ignorant, and therefore obliged to figure out new ways of seeing problems and fresh ways of solving them." Amateurs are people who "don't worry too much about breaking rules and aren't paralyzed by a fear of imperfection or even failure."

I first encountered a celebration of the amateur in the world of business when I read the original edition of Max dePree's Leadership Jazz. Since then, I've worked with many professionals who were brave enough to challenge their own sense of competence and decorum. They are working to reclaim the innovation and open-minds of amateurs.

Words are the frames we put around concepts, but each word is also framed by its context. Context has made 'professionalism' a hallmark of excellence and dependability for many decades. Now, context is shifting a little. We live in a world where the internet makes it hard to distinguish between professionals and amateurs. Often, the people who take the internet by storm are amateurs - brilliant minds and passionate hearts who work and communicate outside the structures of professionalism. Finding intrinsic value in your work is a concept embraced by those who have been stuck on the wrong side of demographics. Effectively shut out of the 'professional' roles they might otherwise have claimed, they make a virtue of necessity. They embrace their status as amateurs.

So. . . we have lots of reasons to consider a new frame - a frame in which people excel and thrive by committing themselves to both discipline and opportunity. We can look for models of this mixture in the arts: artists work hard and make money sometimes.

Artists and amateurs leading the way: is this what the world is coming too? I hope so.

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