How to Maintain Professionalism in an Innovative Culture
 Can innovation and professionalism cohabitate?

Innovation requires creative and divergent thinking, a fresh view, an ability to see new possibilities…

Professionalism, as we’ve come to know it, is about conforming to a socially defined standard. On the surface it would seem that innovation and professionalism are in direct conflict with each other. Can you expect people to innovate while maintaining the levels of professionalism you've come to define your culture by?

By definition they don’t seem apparently opposed:


1. the competence or skill expected of a professional.
— Oxford Dictionary

make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.
— Oxford Dictionary

The problem is that in application we generally don’t equate professionalism to a competence or skill. We measure it in far more shallow terms - manner of dress, writing style, hair length, language...

Many modern companies have cast aside outdated notions of ‘professionalism’ and would no more ask people to dress or talk a certain way than they would tell them what kind of car to drive.

But it is amazing how many hold on to the notion that a necktie is a sign of respect or a higher level of importance. Or promote language within the walls of the organisation that they wouldn’t expect to hear on the outside - how many people use ‘best practices’ to build their DIY deck?

Innovative organizations don’t constrain human capacity by enforcing archaic rules that deny individuality. They focus on skills and outcomes. In doing so, they promote true innovation. It's about the actual, rather than the perceived, meaning of professionalism. 

Innovation flows from an innovative culture. And an innovative culture doesn't demand pressed white shirts and polished loafers.

So, yes innovation and professionalism are complementary - it's just a matter of getting back to the true meaning of professionalism.