5 September 2005 | Uncompleted

Extreme Professionalism

Strategic management under conditions of system collapse

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As the complexity of society increases, and the complexity of challenges that it faces, there is increasing evidence of system collapse. This currently takes concrete form as isolated instances: corporations downsizing or collapsing, incapacity of public services to deliver as foreseen, pollution of food chains or ecosystems, uncheckable spread of epidemics, inability to maintain infrastructure, failure of social safety nets, lack of coordination exacerbated by mismanagement, etc.

Such challenged sub-systems are typically managed by "professionals" whose skills are considered vital to conceiving and implementing remedial measures to prevent further degradation. It is however characteristic of any gradual process of degradation that the capacity of the professional to act, as conventionally understood, is itself further eroded. Funds are cut, trained personnel are cut (or effectively encouraged to leave by degrading working conditions), vital equipment becomes progressively more obsolete and prone to failure, demoralization of key personnel becomes more probable, formal support systems prove increasingly unreliable, etc.

This is an exploration of how it remains possible to act professionally despite progressive degradation of the system requiring professional expertise. It would seem that such insights are appropriate in anticipation of any more comprehensive system failure -- as foreseen by a range of studies.

* extreme accounting

What is professionalism?

Discipline / Expertise Know-how / Operacy

Varieties of professionalism and exemplars

Feyerabend: cook, midwife, gardener

surrogates Self-discipline Collective
Morale Information,
Culture Health Food Security,

Incarceration, Concentration
Tunnel digging Adaptation,
Chang Mai Lookouts
Economic sanctions Adaptation,
Cuba ballet Cuba
Social sanctions shunning
(Car repair)
Peace Corps Traditional healers
Survival conditions (disasters) Ray Mears,
Ray Mears
Urban shelter Salvation Army Soup kitchen Salvation Army
Joblessness Prostitution
Spiritual community
Intentional community
Chronic incapacity
Terminal incapacity

Challenging cases of "professionalism"

  • "Social acceptability"
    • Artist
  • "Social unacceptability"
    • Espionage
    • Executioner, Torturer
    • Prostitution
  • Leadership
    • Revolutionary: Gandhi
    • Military
    • Spiritual -- sufi
    • Political: Reagan, Schwarzenegar, Havel, Walecsa
  • Healer
    • Alternative healer
    • Shaman, Witchdoctor
  • Incapacity
    • Chronic incapacity
    • Terminally ill: professional whilst one is dying
  • Divinities
    • Jesus
    • Mohamet
    • God

Constraints on recognition of professionalism

  • youth (<20)
  • age (> 65)
  • experience
  • externally defined (recognized / accepted by others)
  • internally defined (self-discipline)
  • qualifications: foreign professionals
  • remuneration
  • "job maketh the man"
  • competence

Erosion of enabling resources

  • Funds, financial resources:
  • Property
  • Power
  • Responsibility
  • Human resources: people to whoml to delegate
  • Qualifications
  • Status-enhancing trappings (salry differential)
  • Recognized achievement / Rewards
  • Remuneration and perks
  • Experience
  • Infomation
  • Operacy
  • Comprehension (before his time; different drummer)


  • Abandonment
  • Context of lies and dishonour -- Lao Tzu
  • Strategic professionalism
  • Nonprofit associations with professional director

Strategic professionalism

  • Leadership
  • Strategic responsbilities
  • Man for all seasons: Ray Nagin vs FEMA man
  • Sacrifice
  • Risk Management
  • Direction of an ecosystem
    • a direction
    • a conductor
    • orchestra, jamming


  • (act irrespective of morlity or justice)
  • lawyer (Vargese)
  • contractor
  • bought research
  • security agent (body guard / mercenary)
  • image manager (negative campaigner)

Direction under system collapse

  • horse
  • lost sight of objective, redoubled our efforts
  • objective
    • linear / arrow objective
    • network obkective
    • ecosystem development
    • maintaining status quo / lead
    • working thru
    • suystaing hope
    • sustaining coherence

Professional vs Amateur

  • disparagement
  • exclusivist / protectionist
  • para-statal / reserved status
  • "health" -- homeopath

professor vs professional

confessor vs confessional

professional carer vs amateur carer

professionals in a triage situation -- lizards tails

prayer pattern -- Muslim / camel

clean mirror

compagnons / craftsmen

professional and integrity -- honour

secret society -- initiates

psychotherapist: does not buy into patient framework, however much they enter into its logic


  • fiat
  • ought (consulting professional)
  • like so (hands on demo)
  • how do you do it (to re-engineer)
  • empowering
  • entraining
  • embodying
  • enacting


  • what can no longer be held
    • tails
    • holding on to relative on a cliff -- when to let go to save others
    • euthanasia
  • kamikaze / suicide bomber
  • self-immolation

bear witness

  • Anne Frank diary
  • living witness
  • Cindy Sheehan
  • Houses of Parliament guy
  • Fathers for Justice
  • Greenpeace
  • Animal Rights
  • Black Sash

exemplar / stakhanovite

missionaries / mormon

"on your own"

Louie: be yourself in an unsupportive environment

making the best of circumstances

problem of walkins:

  • people in white 4x4s
  • people in white coasts
  • people with white collars
  • white people


professional questions assumptions


guardian exemplar

  • holy place
  • values

problem of international community

problem of any group

bad track record


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