The life cycle of a new profession
I've been lucky enough to be intimately involved in the births of five different professional categories, over the years. Two of them "stuck" and three ended up as professional footnotes.
I also have been lucky enough to have had a lot of organizational development coursework in school, and to have had jobs that placed me within earshot of some fairly famous CEOs, boards of directors, O.D. researchers, creative geniuses, business gurus, and O.D. gurus. I didn't appreciate at the time how lucky I was to be sitting across the table from people like ... ah, no name dropping. Sorry.
And, finally, I have been lucky enough to have had some superb professional opportunities lately that have caused me to think long and hard about professional growth, both personal and, well, for the profession.
Here, based on my vast experience and knowledge, is my private mental list of signs of a startup professional specialty that is beginning to run hot. Some are essential for a profession to thrive but others contribute to an eventual fade to an interest area.
- Increasing numbers of press articles and the beginning of awareness of the field, on the part of laypeople. For example, our parents now "get" what we do to the point of wanting to explaining it to their friends.
- In the press coverage, a perception that [profession] is new, exciting, and possibly the source of business miracles ... and that it's pretty easy and simple.
- CEO's saying "we are focusing on this" with, between the lines, "this will rescue us"
- Quick expansion of, or establishment of, internal staffs to do whatever the profession is supposed to do. Accompanying this may be a senior executive who has decided to head it up, and who is likely to not know much about it except that it's cool, essential, or whatever.
- A very small number of companies that really and truly are building amazing internal capabilities ... usually quietly
- New names for existing methodologies and models, and wide ignorance of the fact that these are, really, just new names for proven stuff
- A lot of recruitment action and job hopping among the established professionals
- A glut of job postings in general
- People with perfectly good "other" jobs thinking that the field looks lots more interesting and profitable and fun than what they do now, wanting to switch careers
- Ditto for people in grad schools
- Academic people thinking that the field is a source of funding, starting courses and maybe even institutes and "centers"
- Established consultants thinking that now's the time to jump from being excellent to being a guru ... or a mogul
- A very small group of true profession-builders
- Hero worship of the gurus, moguls, or profession-builders, most evident at conferences
- Established publishers thinking now's the time to bring out the definitive book, followed later by trying to bring out a book with a new angle, either a compatible or a diverging one
- The startup of a professional association followed later by a 2nd competing one
- Talk about professional certification, followed later by talk about grandfathering for said certification
- National or international meetings where the same people seem to always be the speakers and where attendees focus on (and post photos of etc) the people and cool events as much as the information. (The phenomenon of the same people always being the speakers is a fascinating phenom worthy of its own list of bullet points!)
- Vendors coming out of the woodwork, followed by waves of shakeouts (this, too, is very complicated and interesting and a major topic in org dev and biz studies)
- Vendors bringing out new features without repairing the old ones, including before their own tech support or documentation are ready
- Vendors starting their own pseudo-academic institutes
- Much of the above happening during a period of economic expansion, when organizations can be open to having unproven entities around.
- When the tolerance for unproven entities starts to wane due to economic tightening, the profession heats up further for a while, but this time it's a different kind of heat - it's under pressure. There will be an urgency to prove or differentiate in order to be allowed to persist. Most of the above points will become pressure-driven rather than opportunity-driven.
At the top of the list I used the phrase "beginning to run hot." The metaphor feels right to me. When you have a machine or a organism that speeds up and generates heat, you're in a process that can have a good or a bad ending. There are a few things along that way that influence the outcome, in my humble opinion, and I will follow up on this topic later.