Certifications – Mania or Reasonable? – I

More and more technological disciplines now force people to spend more and more time certifying things, even in areas where social competence and responsible behaviour are extremely important. Mind you, we are not just talking well-organized supervision by experienced coaches, either. What we are talking here is systemic formalisms based on a mixture of “multiple choice tests” and “credit points”. This is all about putting your cross somewhere and playing “Payback” for the career.

The ingenious business started with technology concerns that created dominant knowledge with super-complicated products, wishing to profit twice by selling them. Associations and clubs followed this egomaniac example.

Having initially been founded as a professional institution or as a platform for shared interests and for exchanging knowledge and experience, they now – on their way to power – become institutions that define “reality“. Using approaches of “best practice”, standards that are supposed to simplify complexity are developed. Since this does not work, the standards are then further developed theoretically and based on speculation, until they are totally detached from reality.

The entire affair grows more and more out of hand. Complex tools are created and often extended by absurd functions. To be sure, nobody likes them, but at least they constitute the basis for yet more certificates.

As soon as an institution has acquired a certain amount of power, its certificates will be compulsory and have to be bought at a high price. Since everything is moving fast these days, the time of validity is limited. You get an extension through “credit points”. More often than not, the association supports its own interests when issuing certificates. You have to attend the right kinds of events, pay a mostly quite significant fee and then you get a new licence.

Many are glad to participate in this game. A certificate is the easiest way to prove your knowledge and competence without actually having said knowledge and competence.

However, certification primarily helps those who issue the certificates. These enterprises and institutions will become rich and powerful. They determine what is right and wrong. Even for very abstract activities that actually require a lot of experience, courage and responsibility. They, too, are simplified, standardized and certified. Of course, it is mostly not a success.

Consequently, the “certified party” usually has nothing but one advantage on his side: he gets a licence. That has a soothing effect on potential customers. So the service provider has a certificate. Consequently, we can assume that he has the required qualities. It makes for sleeping soundly at night – before you are totally surprised at how many projects fail.

Basically, all the certificate tells you is that the owner of said certificate attended some course or other and accumulated enough points. And that he is capable of filling in a multiple choice test and sometimes a little more than that successfully.

It used to be different.

Machines (like cars) were certified. Initially, only the TÜV was permitted to issue the certificates.

Humans were not certified. For them, we had education and professional training. At school and university, in dual educational systems.

Humans had to learn and practice. They gained experience. After the apprenticeship, they were made craftsmen. They learned with a master craftsman and later became master craftsmen themselves. By writing a final thesis or manufacturing a master-piece, they proved their competence and skill.

Then they had the responsibility to constantly keep their craftsmanship up to the latest standard by experience, additional learning and openness. For those craftsmen, the pride in their own work and the desire to remain competitive were motivation enough to never stop learning.

But what happens today?

Schools and universities fail more and more often. Our traditional and by no means worse educational systems suffer greatly. The doctorial title is nothing but a humorous title. As soon as you are passing the Australian “immigration desk”, you will see an “immigration officer” smile benignly. The black belt worn by the project manager is worth twice as much as your doctorial title.

Certification is a way of privatizing education and training – with the logical consequences. Standards will see to it that we have uniformity and commercialization. Education will become “convenient” and “fast food”.

The consequence is that people will be satisfied with just functioning in a closed system. If you “obey”, you will be rewarded. Generative and creative aspects will be pushed aside.

This suggests that you can simplify existing complexity. Like you can make up for knowledge and experience with a simple “cooking recipy” and replace it with a little “best practice”. Problems are no longer found and looked into – they are just solved. Except I have no idea how that is supposed to work.

All you have to do is get a licence. In the same way as you acquire a driver’s licence, a hunter’s licence or a fisherman’s licence. And then you are what it says on the licence. Except – even with simple things like driving a car, it does not really work, does it?

So how is it supposed to work with complex leadership responsibilities?

Maybe it is more mania than reasonable?

(Translated by EG)

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