Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Concept Vocabulary: Déformation Professionnelle

Gnocci with fried sage & summer veggies

If I love the German language for its ability to make up a term about pretty much everything into one long word, I appreciate the French language for capturing a whole concept that may be elusive otherwise, with a certain… “je ne sais quoi” quality to it, like “espirit d’escalier“.  That’s right. French phrases we have adopted range beyond phrases about food (à la mode), fashion (haute couture) and good living (joie de vivre).

An aside: I noticed quite a bit of French phrases used in English to the point that one evening, my friends and I thought it was a good idea to attempt to hold a conversation using as many French terms as possible. Too bad it was before the age of Wikipedia, because we could have tossed out a phrase randomly from their long list of French expressions in English, nod at each other approvingly, sipped a Bordeaux, then repeat.

Déformation professionnelle, often translated as job distortion, it speaks to a tendency to view one’s world within the context of one’s profession rather than a broader perspective. It’s related to the adage, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The word professionnelle is misleading because for some of us, it isn’t the occupational perspective that we most identify but our upbringing, our ethnicity, or the health condition we suffer from.

The word déformation (deformation or distortion) implies a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be. If we can remember that we have multiple identities within ourselves, and to remember to honor them in our profession and beyond, we can enrich our perspectives.

The déformation professionelle can be used to our advantage when forming a team: bringing people from diverse backgrounds will naturally add to diverse view points and perspectives, leading to creative solutions overlooked by a homogeneous team.

Another facet of this phenomenon is that people often assign a profession (a task) to an object, and don’t see what else that object might come in handy for.

The Candle Problem demonstrates this tendency, where when people are asked to place a lit candle on a wall with a box of tacks, and a book of matches, they saw the box as merely something that contained the tacks. The solution required the participants to realize that the box of tacks can be emptied, pinned on the wall with a tack and then place the lit candle in the box. When the participants were shown the items separately, as a box, group of tacks, matchbox and a candle, they were able to solve the problem faster because they saw the box as a generic container.  Check out the video above to also learn the effects of incentives when solving problems that require a perspective shift and ones that don’t.

Embrace our déformation, I say!

Photo: French style gnocchi at Bouchon in Yountville, CA


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