Milton Glaser on professionalism

“Early in my life, my aspiration was to become a professional because professionals seemed to know everything – not to mention that they got paid for doing their work.

Later, after working for a while, I discovered that that professionalism was itself a limitation that can discourage creativity. Keep in mind that the nature of professional life is to minimize risk. Minimizing risk is what you must do.

If you want to get your car repaired, you don’t want the repair guy to be ‘creative’ and invent a new way to repair your transmission. You want him to do it the way he’s always done it.

Or, if you need brain surgery, you wouldn’t want the doctor to experiment to find a new way to connect your nerve endings. You hope he will do it the way it has worked in the past.

Professionalism discourages transgression because transgression encompasses the possibility of failure and if you want to be a professional, your instinct is to not to fail. It is to repeat success.

So, you can see that, intrinsically, there’s a conflict between professionalism that calls for minimizing risk, while creativity encourages risk. Reconciling these contradictions is not easy.”

— Milton Glaser