Certification is Protectionism. Are we a Banana Republic?

It’s interesting that, as a society, we have moved through education to certification as the measure of an individual’s ability to contribute to said society. 

I had always thought that society’s primary objective was ‘progress’ – with all the beneficial change that implies, realised.

Certification, I would suggest, works to prevent such progress.

Certification promotes consistent compliance with someone’s proven way of doing stuff. The problem with this is that the ‘proven way’ may not be the best way – it is more likely to be ‘the way we’ve always done it’. Hardly progress?

Historically (i.e since the 1990’s) technology companies sought to recruit the often creative, technically oriented/proficient self-trained individual ‘enthusiast’ to their particular product offering – in the hope of them becoming unwitting promoters. This was a remarkably effective strategy that made the likes of Microsoft and Cisco into household names (and gave them multi billion $ turnovers). To achieve this Microsoft ran their MCSE (Microsoft Certified Software Engineer)  whilst Cisco had their even more powerful CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) programs.

 These programs effectively crushed innovative competition from companies such as Lotus, Novell, Cabletron, Bay Networks and Case Communications – even Apple had a struggle to survive against Microsoft’s WinTel platform (and were saved only by innovating via the iPod and other consumer devices).

 Now, I don’t want to turn this into an argument about the relative merits of various technologies but merely to point out how, when faced with a plethora of choice, we tend to listen to those we consider ‘expert’ – i.e. those who know stuff (very often the very self-trained ‘enthusiasts’ mentioned above) who nevertheless appear to enjoy acquiring swathes of vendor certifications – perhaps as a way of showing just how smart they are. Microsoft and Cisco were particularly adroit at exploiting this basic human need for recognition.

 It appears that many other industries and governments saw this as a model they too would like to adopt. And they, apparently without further consideration, launched on a certification binge – to the extent that without ‘required’ certifications one is considered ‘unemployable’.  Go back to my initial point: i.e. that certification = compliance = end of progress; and you might be able to see how this may end up.

Will Australia’s current fixation with certification turn out as the ‘tariff-protectionism’ of the 21st Century? Remember Paul Keating’s reference to Australia becoming a “Banana Republic”?

Published by Malcolm Duffield

Malcolm Duffield provides advanced high-level sales coaching, ‘basic sales training’ and sales training for pre-sales and post-sales engineering staff. In ways markedly different to the typical classroom lecture approach. Like the game of ‘Go’ – selling is strategically complex, nuanced and more dependent on intuition than process. Sales – process alone is no guarantee of success because customers are humans, are fiendishly complex, intuitive and need to be met on their terms. Humans need to interact rather than merely transact. They have many needs, wants and aspirations – not all clearly stated. Having a proposal that is a good fit to the stated need is a start. Having a price that’s in the ball park will also help – but what will invariably make the difference between success and failure will be our ability to understand, connect with and provide value to the customer as a person. Focused primarily on IT sales, where solution and value, but above all human connection through respect, integrity and empathy, have to be brought together to win high-value deals - it would appear that other 'capital acquisitions' benefit from a similar approach. I have 30 years experience in such sales, and know what works and what doesn't work.