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Amateurs by Max De Pree

Max De Pree was a former Chairman and CEO of HermanMiller



from Leadership Jazz by Max  De Pree.

If this is helpful, you should buy his book. By itself this is not strategically critical to society, economy, or polity, but he helps us focus on areas that may improve the quality of some individual lives. More powerful ideas can be found in Peter Drucker's work.

A physician friend of mine once told me a story. As a young man, he had a patient, the owner of a small business, for whom he had performed beyond the call on more than one occasion. Physicians will often do that. The grateful patient invited the physician and his wife to the symphony and dinner as a small way of expressing his appreciation. At the concert, the conductor announced that the orchestra would perform for the first time a new composition by an American composer, and so it did. After the applause, much to my friend's surprise, the conductor looked at the young businessman, asked him to stand, and introduced him to the audience as the composer.

Was this young person an amateur composer and a professional businessman? Or was he a professional composer who ran a business for the love of it? Did his experience with balance sheets help his orchestration? Or did his knowledge of harmony enable him to listen for the music in a well-run organization? (if you have read Leadership Is an Art, you will remember similar questions about the millwright.) The answers to these questions can dazzle you with the especially bright light of human worth and human diversity.

I had the good fortune to hear Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, speak to a design conference about amateurs and professionals. He calls himself, by the way, an amateur. And he includes among the ranks of amateurs true leaders. "The leader," he said, "is by definition an amateur open to new vistas that training precludes from the professional." Perhaps he is right about leaders. I do know that leaders understand the important contributions that amateurs can make in organizations. Leaders make it possible for these sometimes difficult people to thrive and do their best.

Everyone relies on amateurs from time to time. When the official, professional channels clog up with bureaucratic sediment, people turn to amateurs for results. You go underground to get something done quickly and effectively. More often than not, if you go to the right amateur with the right problem, the action will be not only quick but effective.

For many reasons, some of them unarguable, organizations are by their nature antipathetic to amateurs. Only leaders can make it possible for amateurs to survive in organizations. They can do so by creating an attitude and environment that seeks out, empowers, and recognizes good ideas, no matter what the source. A leader makes it possible for a business person to be a composer. Leaders can make a college, a business, or any organization hospitable to the person without the usual credentials. The trick is simply to look at merit naked. Learn to hear the tune despite the noise.

To be an amateur means literally that you do something for the love of it. A love, a true love, of what you're doing results in real competence and real intimacy. An amateur is likely to forget about financial rewards; money for an amateur is more likely to be a result than a goal. In fact, money may even be an inappropriate reward. It's up to the real leaders in organizations to discover the right rewards for amateurs, an opportunity or a new challenge.

See the book for the remainder of the chapter


“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker

The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure

Managing Oneself is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities: Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life), and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context




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