Monday 19 October 2015

On Professionalism

A little rant: So, a friend just shared an AirBnB experience that went wrong and keeps going wrong-er, thanks to an unprofessional host. This fellow in question dropped the ball, and is now coming back with excuses that he is not a hotel professional. 

And, you know--he's actually right on that part. He's unprofessional in every sense, because even though he's signed himself up for the business of catering to guests' needs, he's actually just some schmoe who's making money off of a property he has access to, regardless of his lack of ability or expertise in the hospitality sector. 

He is not a professional. 

At the same time, I'm thinking about the black cabs in London. I love them. I don't give a damn if they're more expensive than Uber, they know where they're going, way better than I do. I give them an address, and they don't plug it into an iPhone--they reference their incredible bank of knowledge about the twists and turns, legalities and logjams of an ancient city. They are professionals. They come with training, knowledge, regulation and vehicles that are built like tanks to withstand the rigours of city driving. 

They are professionals, and they are precious to me. 

While I think there are some wonderful things about the "sharing economy," I approach it with a high degree of skepticism, because what things like Uber and AirBnB often do is create parallel markets for poor versions of services that used to be mostly fulfilled by professionals, but are more and more often done by people that don't necessarily know what they're doing. 

When this is obvious and part of the reason it's cheap, when you know you're getting no better than your mate doing you a favor in exchange for gas money, fine. But, as time goes on, we're losing both our lowered expectations and the notion of professional accountability, because "sharing" services increasingly encroach upon professional territory. And I think it's lame. 

Sure, there are some great, even professional, drivers on rideshare services, just as there are lovely folks running their bed and breakfasts via AirBnB. But, we should never forget that these are likely to be amateurs, playing at professional games. (And, I should add--things like taxis and hotel rooms have long been carefully regulated, in no small part because of the serious risks involved with insufficient responsibility around such services.) There's a good chance they don't really know what they're doing, that they lack communication or conflict resolution skills, and that they might be brand new to a game they shouldn't be playing. 

In bellydance, we talk about the line between being a professional and a hobbyist, what rates professionals should charge, and what professional conduct means to our business. We can easily identify the numerous ills that come from getting this wrong. There is a fundamental difference, and individuals may transition from one side to the other as their knowledge and commitment grow. It's the same for any profession, I think. 

While I salute the experimental nature of the "sharing economy," I mainly want to see those experiments stay small and push the real professionals to be better. While I don't resent anyone making a bit of money moonlighting in something new to them, they should be wary of impersonating an educated expert by stepping into the commercial shoes of someone who is actually expected to know what they're doing.