Titanic and professionalism

January 1, 0001

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.“While I completely agree with the idea of trying something new, I think we can find a better quote. I really dislike this one.

  • It’s not a true apples-to-oranges comparison. We don’t really know what the inside of the ark was like, but it was essentially a big box that had to do only one thing: preserve the lives of those inside it from sinking within a period of time.
  • We don’t know the actual skill level of Noah, in terms of construction. But based on the story it’s far more likely that he was provided whatever instruction he was required by God. It’s not like he was an amateur who tried a really big project on his own, without any help, and got it right the first time.
  • The ark likely didn’t encounter icebergs. If the Titanic had to do what the Ark did, it probably would have been just fine.
  • This quote points out the one “big” success of a boat, and the one “big” failure. It conveniently excludes the tens of thousands of boats (more?) built by professionals.
  • The biggest fear people have of trying something new is that they might fail. This quote suggests astronomical success is possible. The bigger challenge is being willing to try, fail, learn from failure, and try again. Professional boat-builders learn from the Titanic.

What I find really bad about this quote: it suggests amateurs can do things professionals can’t because they are amateurs. The implication is that amateurs will inevitably succeed while stuck-in-the-mud professionals will inevitably fail. Yes, one good thing about being an amateur in a situation is that you might see things differently - that you might see an out-of-the-box solution to a problem. But implementing that solution with excellence will, if you pursue it, likely make you into a professional, an expert. Professionals becomeprofessionals by training and experience - by learning and doing - by getting their 10,000 hours (or so) of experience. By earnestly seeking to be better. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.