Seth Godin offers a pretty good definition of amateur, professional and hack in a recent post. While I haven’t fully considered all the implications of his definition, I feel like it makes the best distinction between professional and amateur I have come across because it avoids explicit or implicit comparisons of quality, dedication, training/education that are often present in discussing these terms.
The amateur contributes with unfiltered joy. There’s really no other upside–create your work because you can, because it helps someone else, because it makes you feel good.
The professional shows up even when she doesn’t feel like it. The professional understands the market, the customer and the price to be paid for work that’s worth paying for. But the professional isn’t a hack.
A hack is a professional who doesn’t care.
If I have one quibble, it is that his definition of professional is tied to economic value of a product. Granted, the classic definition is that amateurs do things for the love of it and professionals get paid, but we all know that often professionals are asked to do things for exposure or told they shouldn’t expect payment for something they enjoy, and that doesn’t make them any less of a professional.
At the same time, I appreciate the way the definition of a professional includes a sense of dedication that goes beyond the love of the creative process and implies the professional has done the work to educate themselves about external factors surrounding their work. There is the idea that one’s work has market value and all the complicated discussions we have about the quality of work having no relation to market price, but also the sense that the professional knows when their work is being devalued.
Godin’s distinction between hacks and both amateurs and professionals is that the latter two groups have a longer view about the role and value of their work in the greater ecosystem:
Serviceable is for hacks. Memorable and remarkable belong to professionals and hard-working amateurs.
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