The Business of Surveying, Part III

September 1, 2005
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It's hard to identify the principles that make up a true professional-and harder yet to make these identified principles our own...



If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got; change makes change.

This saying has been around for a long time, but it says it all regarding the choice to stay the same or to teach oneself to become a success-and a successful professional. It's usually easy to notice characteristics in others that aren't professional, such as poor character, unethical behavior and shoddy appearance. But it's harder to identify the principles that make up a true professional-and harder yet to make these identified principles our own. However, there are a number of proven techniques to developing any skill. The first requirement is always the willingness to change. And the subsequent process of applying these values is important to reaching the goal of professionalism.

Outside Influences

This world molds us into who we are. If our parents worked for the government for 30 years and raised three kids, chances are in many cases, we will too. We often mimic what we experience, and even more so with what we repeatedly experience. There is a plethora of evidence to support this. For example, have you ever been in trouble by association? Did your parents tell you to stay away from so-and-so or you'll get into trouble? And sure enough, even if you didn't actually do anything wrong, if you were around those causing trouble, you usually caught some of the blame. Well, this rule of life works in the opposite way, too. If we expose ourselves to successful people, they'll eventually rub off on us. Our environment has more influence on us than we realize. The next time you enter a group, cross your arms and then observe the others. Usually one person or more will cross their arms, too. Keeping social influences in mind, how important do you think it is to have a qualified mentor?

When seeking mentors, however, beware of the person who seeks to give advice without a proven track record of his own. Often this type of person can do more damage than good for your personal growth. If you wish to grow in a specific area, you must find an expert and spend as much time with that person as possible. This person will help you to develop a clear plan to get you where you want. Check in with your mentor on a regular basis to talk about your progress-or your stumbling blocks.

Creating Habits from Lessons

While possibly not as impacting to growth as a mentor can be, written and recorded resources are plentiful today and can be beneficial to the budding professional. Bookstore shelves are filled with books and audio recordings from experts teaching methodologies for personal growth. Again, the process of developing solid principles is key to becoming a professional. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to reach this goal. Many people identify a problematic area in their life, develop a quick fix, then work hard on it for a few weeks. They may change for a while, but sooner or later they return to their old habits. That's why it's important to make professional growth a habit. It is believed that it only takes 21 days of repetition for a human to develop a habit. If we dedicate even a half-hour a day to reading a book by, or listening to, professional experts we will most likely begin to change. Buy an iPod and listen to Dr. John Maxwell at lunch, or buy a CD or cassette and listen to Steven Covey on the way to and from work. Napoleon Hill dedicated much of his life to studying the differences between successful professional people and the rest. Buy his book and learn in a few days what it took Hill a lifetime to learn.

Defining Yourself

Today's marketplace is technologically advanced and aggressive. Coasting along in the private sector is no longer an option for many. Firms must find the best and brightest to succeed, and there is a shortage of this type of person. Professionals are needed more than ever before. The skill of "thinking outside the box" is now cliché yet more important than ever. And the coming generation of professionals is of a different mentality than those before it. Many of today's generation X and Y employees think the world should be handed to them when they merely have the credentials and technical skills to adequately perform each day. They are baffled when someone with less education or experience is selected for promotion and they aren't; in reality, it is usually that the other person simply had the characteristics of a professional.

How do you think the gold medal athletes of today compare to those of the past? Do the runners run faster? Do the throwers throw farther? These professionals have improved through better diets, vitamins, and intense, focused training schedules. They continue to achieve higher levels; thus, only the best succeed. Surveying is no different. If surveyors don't develop professional characteristics, it is entirely possible that the surveying profession will approach its end. The collection of coordinate data may be swallowed whole by IT (information technology) specialists wielding the latest in GPS, LiDAR and RADAR technology. Some argue that construction surveying could be eliminated by machine control as long as there are competent field engineers to provide adequate QA (quality assurance). And will surveyors be needed to establish control? The world is now populated by CORS (continuously operating reference stations), which provide adequate control for most needs. This leaves surveyors with the job of establishing boundaries. What if the courts adjudicated occupation lines as final? It would simplify things tremendously. What if engineers were allowed to establish new lot lines in subdivisions? All that would be left would be the surveyors of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to maintain the Public Land Survey System.

Yet all of these fields could be dominated by surveying professionals. Our best and brightest could lead us into an era where dedicated, successful, professional surveyors control all of the above. Fresh new professionals could understand that collecting GPS coordinates in the correct datum will ensure that the fire truck using onboard GIS actually reaches the correct house-and also have the professional nature to competently communicate the importance of this to GIS specialists. Other professions will realize that it could be important to have a professional surveyor onboard to catch the fact that a designer used NAVD88 elevations as if they were the same as the NGVD29 elevations shown on most flood study maps, thus keeping a bridge from being constructed in the floodway. But a truly respected professional surveyor will be able to communicate-in understandable terms-the difference between the vertical datums. All the technical understanding in the world won't gain us a thing without the professional skills to show the world the importance of what we do. And to achieve these skills requires change. Just as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: "Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

This is the third part in a six-part series to be published in future issues. Click to read Part I and Part II.

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