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Big Ideas

Checkpoints: Professionalism

Professionalism is often at lagerheads with passion in the creative world, but we must balance the two carefully--both are key for our ideas' success.


Professionalism helps others relate to your ideas. To raise funds, engage different people, and develop partnerships, your ideas must gain traction with a broader audience. You need people to be receptive to you. To ensure maximum receptivity, productive creative professionals are flexible with how they present their work.

In many cases, life as a creative brings with it a level of informality not found in other vocations. However, casual work environments can (and should) be professional ones as well. Being professional is not the same as being stuffy or uptight, it’s presenting yourself in the way you want to be seen, and presenting your product in a way that reflects the effort behind it.

Professionalism is about much more than manners. It is about the expectations you set, the standards you maintain, and how you make decisions and manage conflict.

Whether it’s the way you conduct yourself in meetings, on the phone, or over email, a well-composed tone is a key component in the way others will perceive you. This is critical in situations involving potential and existing clients, collaborators, partners and financiers; your livelihood and business depend on it.

Professionalism becomes difficult in work fueled by passion because passion is an emotion. Emotion generates energy, but it also impairs judgment.

Maintaining appropriate composure relies on an ability to separate emotion from work at the appropriate juncture. The inherent nature of a creative is to pour all of him or herself into a project, but there is a difference between believing strongly in the product you’ve created and being completely blinded by the investment you feel you’ve made in it. Knowing that difference is key to presenting yourself in a positive, professional manner.

Ultimately, professionalism is evaluated under extreme circumstances that test one’s patience, flexibility, receptivity, and tolerance. As your ideas gain traction with a broader audience, be prepared for repeated questions and unanticipated demands. Without compromising your passion and integrity, professionalism will enable you to be respected, better understood,  develop partnerships, and raise funds to further your work.

Unforeseen situations and requests are enough to catch anyone off-guard. Maintaining your daily routine with an adequate and appropriate level of decorum, self-presentation and professionalism will ensure your work, relationships and business continue to thrive in the way they deserve to do so.

Explore more tips, and check out Behance’s guest postings for small businesses trying to make ideas happen, hosted at American Express’ OpenForum.

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Comments (4)
  • orangetiki

    I’d recommend this twice if I could.

  • nicklausdeyring

    What I would love to see is the translation of professionalism into a tangible representation of action. What does it really look like in the design environment?

  • number13design

    Yes, but Professionalism should also extend to doing the job you’ve been tasked with well. When a colleague tests my patience, flexibility & tolerance with their own mediocrity, who is to blame me for getting emotional?

  • Delia

    In the intro – it should be “loggerheads,” I think “lagerheads” are people who really like light beers. . . 🙂

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