Missing Mastery

The other day, I heard someone described as a “proper, old-school salesman”. It made me smile; I like the idea of being a ‘proper’ something.

It sparked a bit of nostalgia too. I grew up with ‘proper, old-school’ salesmen and women for whom selling was an art, a craft that used a neat and tested methodology to get results.
 

There’s some kind of implied weight to being proper. For instance, what mental image is brought to mind if someone is referred to as a ‘proper’ decorator or a ‘proper’ chef? It’s something that puts you at ease; it’s reassuring, positive – after all, if someone is ‘proper’ it is a given that they are trustworthy and competent, right?

Or how about a ‘proper’ graphic designer, a ‘proper’ marketer, a ‘proper’ accountant or a ‘proper’ consultant? I’d say it is of someone knowledgeable, confident and reliable. A person that gives sound advice, has proper controls and methods, takes their time and delivers quality work – The kind of person I want to work with!

So why do we make these associations? Well, it’s simple. To be ‘proper’ implies you know how things should be done, there’s mastery to what you do and an inference of:

  • Experience: You have developed and honed your skills over time and in response to a myriad of situations and circumstances. As a result, you possess the necessary expertise to get the job done and overcome challenges.
  • Understanding: This is a trade, a profession and not just a job. It is something long-studied for and will be long-lasting. Learning is, therefore, a continual process and something reflected in your specialist knowledge.
  • Talent: You have something extra, a natural flair, a passion for what you do that goes beyond textbook skills and knowledge.

 
When taken together, these qualities distinguish you as the real deal and signals to peers, partners, clients and prospects alike, ultimately that you’re not playing at it.

So, should we all be striving to be more proper?

Surely, the answer is yes? After all, the natural trajectory for anyone that wishes to be an authority and a go-to resource for information is the level of mastery one achieves by being ‘proper’.

Well… hold on…

There is a counter-argument, that ‘proper’ can be self-limiting, something that stifles innovation, a synonym for the traditional and even the outdated. Those who embody it are stuck in their ways, reluctant to diversify and flex in response to change. Woolworths was a proper shop, HMV was a proper music retailer, Kodak was your proper photography brand.

What’s my point? – Be careful how you interpret and implement your own proper. Even market disruptors like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb, who have consciously shunned the ‘proper’ business model for their industries, still operate their own version of proper. They’re not unplanned, or reckless. In fact, a common theme amongst pretty much all the sustainable, successful innovators that I have met is that they run perhaps the leanest and most disciplined businesses I have ever encountered. They have to be, or their scale would just create chaos!

Conclusion: As your marketplace becomes ever more competitive, fluid and complex, the kind of mastery and confidence that proper proper represents, will be the very thing that sets the professionals apart from the imitators.

Let’s face it, social media and easy PR allow anyone with a computer and access to the internet to create a profile and generate exposure and noise. There has to be some other way to differentiate yourself.

And, unlike many other credentials, this kind of mastery has tenure and weight and it cannot be faked.

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