August 28, 2023
One of my “beefs” with sports terms taking over business discussions is the annexation of perfectly good words. A few days ago a national sports talk show had a poll on how many teams a professional athlete had to play for to be considered a “journeyman.” The on-air discussion preceding the poll question, in my opinion, crossed the line from joking around to being derogatory. Putting aside the irony of a bunch of jock sniffers criticizing people who managed to get to the highest level of their sport, and to be competent enough at it to be employed by several teams, the term “journeyman” has a long and honorable history in the skilled trades that should not be trifled with. I say this as a certified journeyman draftsman and, by work experience, a journeyman gear engineer. In the thousand-plus-year history of the apprentice system, a journeyman is exactly what the name describes — one who journeys in pursuit of his livelihood and further knowledge of his craft. An apprentice learns from both his master and the journeymen his master employs. Traditionally, upon graduation from his initial training a journeyman would leave his master and travel to another location to start his professional career. There were very practical reasons for such a move, starting with the need for the new craftsman to be taken seriously by his coworkers and clients. If you ever started at a place on the lowest rung of the ladder and struggled to make people forget your youthful errors, you understand this motivation. A more important reason was to spread new technology and methods or to learn things your particular shop did not teach.If you apprenticed as a cabinet maker in a region that only had pine trees, how would you ever learn to work in oak? Being labeled a journeyman should not be an insult. My career has included work assignments at seven very different gear companies. There were important things to learn at each that were basically unknown at the others. At each stop I was both a student and a teacher. I gladly apply the lessons in both my consulting practice and here in this blog. Based upon the sports show’s poll result of “three,” playing for seven different teams makes me almost a “double” journeyman. Funny how the jokes about getting traded so often fade in later years when many “journeymen” become become hall of fame coaches.