By Richard Marinucci
Every so often I run across a word or something else that grabs my interest. I was recently reading a newspaper article, and the word “dilettante” was used to refer to someone who “dabbled” in the business being discussed. I ended up looking up the definition to get more information and understanding. One of the definitions was: “a person having a superficial interest in an art or branch of knowledge.” Another was: “a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without a real commitment to knowledge.” How does this apply to our profession you ask? Think about those you know in the service and how they commit to the profession. We could agree that perhaps everyone is not quite as dedicated as others. But, we probably wouldn’t agree who is who.
We should be able to establish some basic criteria that separate the professionals from the pretenders. There has to be some level of continual development, practice, training, and education that contributes to a true professional. It also means staying current with all the latest developments in a chosen profession. Individuals and organizations must be able to take a critical look at themselves to ascertain their commitment and willingness to put forth the necessary effort.
One approach is to view other professions and professionals to see how they commit to the pursuing their vocations. Those examples would probably reveal that they work continually, almost daily, at their trade. They not only look for ways to improve by studying, but they also do “sets and reps” of the job’s basics so they have an unconscious competence. They know that to be really good they need to “practice, practice, practice!” They are also self-motivated and pursue excellence with minimal prodding. There is no doubt that this is just a start, and we can learn a lot more by observing others.
Of course, there are obstacles to overcome. One is another phenomenon I recently became reacquainted with. It is the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is a study which simply states that incompetent people don’t know they are incompetent. The two men who developed this theory came to the conclusion that many people who think they are really good at something are not as good as they think when they are objectively evaluated. I can relate to this at times. I may think I am pretty good at something until I actually take the test. Then I find out if I am at a point where I can prove my competence, not just say I am capable. We all know of folks who are experts in everything and believe they are great in all they do. We also know through our observations that this is not true. One way to address this is to have a mentor or coach who can be completely honest and forthright without putting you on the defensive. We all need someone who can deliver the straight scoop and help overcome weaknesses and deficiencies.
There are some measurements in the fire service but to be really good, you have to look beyond the surface and evaluate the commitment of your organization and you. It is more than a simple comparison. There needs to be a realistic appraisal of the energies expended to meet the expectations. There are ways to keep score. But to reach higher goals, one has to commit the time. It takes effort to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect and avoid being a dilettante! Of course, that is only important if that is your goal. If you are content to dabble in this profession, then you can put forth the effort to just get by. But in the fire service, where we know the consequences of inadequate preparation can be horrible, we need to strive to pursue professionalism continually. When all is said and done, I hope I don’t suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect and become known as a dilettante.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.