Professional deformation: why all your problems look like nails

clous : ombres et lumière / nails : light and shadows

Thanks to Dave Stone for blogging about Déformation professionnelle – the expression that brilliantly describes:

a tendency to look at things from the point of view of one’s own profession and forget a broader perspective. It is a pun on the expression “formation professionnelle,” meaning “professional training.” The implication is that all (or most) professional training results to some extent in a distortion of the way the professional views the world.

I’m very conscious of this effect, so I seek out conflicting points of view and the opinions of people from other industries.

My awareness of déformation professionnelle encourages me to blog negative views of SEO (twice) and social media.

I love this quote from Wikipedia’s déformation professionnelle article:

When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Thanks Dave!


  1. That is really a good thought, the only tool is hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

    We use the hammer to fix the nail as we want, right?

    Comment by kitano — October 23, 2009 @ 7:34 am

  2. Well yes… we use the hammer to ‘fix’ the nail, but we often use the hammer to fix screws, staples, pins and things that aren’t even broken.

    Comment by Leif Kendall — October 23, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  3. Credit Sydney J. Harris, columnist for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun Times for coining the term ‘professional deformation’ in the late sixties. His was the earliest reference I know of to this concept of seeing the world through the blindered eyes of your particular professional training. He was a brilliant observer of human nature.

    Comment by Bethany Frasier — April 11, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  4. The comment made by Bethany Frasier is false, as is the the opening paragraphs of this blog. The phrase “professional deformation” is not derived from “formation professionelle”, meaning “professional training”. The term was first used in France (not the Chicago Daily News) as “deformacion professionelle” meaning “professional deformation” or “professional distortion”. It does not implicitly mean a distortion/deformation of perspective pertaining to a vocation. The word “professional” or “profession” means to “declare; profess; a public avowal or acknowledgement of ones sentiments or beliefs.”

    The phrase was introduced into the United States by existential philosopher William Barret in his book, Irrational Man in 1958. But even he dd not coin the term.

    Comment by Wesley Malvini — May 8, 2020 @ 9:44 am

  5. Thanks Wesley! That’s very interesting. However, I think the core message of this post still stands: Your professional training or toolkit can lead you to address every challenge with the same solution. And that’s a Bad Thing.

    TL;DR: Leif wins.

    Comment by Leif Kendall — May 18, 2020 @ 3:24 pm

  6. Déformation professionnelle means anything from job conditioning to professional bias or even professional hazard. Examples of “déformation professionelle” are: A race car driver who drives to the shopping mall at 200 miles an hour.
    A dentist who considers all women inferior to him because most of his life he has been working with young female hygienists who didn’t have his level of expertise, education, or self-confidence.
    A university professor ends up lecturing her husband and all her friends.
    Most of the time we are not aware of these skewed behaviors and they can jeopardize our personal relationships.

    Comment by Mimi — April 12, 2021 @ 6:42 pm

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