When to Curb Your Enthusiam

In this month’s feature article about the surveyor’s role in the creation of a national land parcel database, Dr. Frank Derby, professor of surveying and GIS, Pennsylvania State University, states, “Oftentimes, surveyors, including myself, tend to focus on the legal applications of parcel data and are quick to emphasize positional accuracy, thereby losing sight of non-legal aspects.”  

As a group, the surveyors I’ve met over my career have seemed to be more enthusiastic about their chosen profession than individuals in other fields with whom they interact in the course of their work. This often expresses itself in the number of surveyors who participate in the activities of their local surveying societies. Events such as the re-monumenting of historical corners stand out as an example because the benefit to those involved is rarely financial (usually the opposite is quite true); instead surveyors flock to these events for the perceived good of the profession.

However, this enthusiasm can come at a price. All too often the best surveyors tend to see things through what can, at best, be called “surveyor’s tunnel vision.” And ironically, this affects those who many of us would consider the "best" surveyors among our peers, those for whom surveying is truly a calling or passion rather than a career.

A few weeks ago I heard a surveyor complaining about a set of architectural plans: “Don’t they teach the concept of closure in architecture school?” The answer, of course, is no. Not only do they not teach the concept of closure, the idea is going to be somewhat foreign to them. With the exception of large buildings where the design architect works in conjunction with a structural or architectural engineer, the architect is preparing plans that can be constructed by the tradesmen on the site.  Surveyors who will readily accept the concept that all measurements contain some error and that exact measurements between property corners aren’t repeatable will turn around and call an architect a moron because his plans don’t close by 0.04’.

It’s not just architects.  Get a group of surveyors together and ask them about the problems they have dealing with engineers, attorneys, planners, etc. and the answers will be varied.  Those other guys just don’t understand closure, accuracy versus precision, the inherent errors in measurement, or the long-term legal ramifications of what they’re asking for.  But when you distill the perceived failings of the other professions we have to work alongside, you get one common problem: they’re not surveyors.

Good.  If other design and land-use professionals have the same knowledge that I do, I become irrelevant.  It’s been written that the product of every professional service and consulting business is the same: solving someone’s problem.  To solve someone’s problem you need to be able to see that problem not only from your perspective, but also from his or hers. If left untempered, the enthusiasm for our chosen profession can become a detriment to our business practices.  Emerson wrote that “Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring.” Don’t let the blinders of your passion for surveying keep you from seeing the problems your clients hired you to solve.
—James Fleming, LS

About the Author

  • James Fleming, LS
    James Fleming, LS
    James Fleming, LS, owns Antietam Land Surveying in Hagerstown, Maryland.

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