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My top 10 career development books

My top 10 career development books

It is an almost impossible task to come up with a definitive list of my top ten career development books. However I set myself the task of choosing a list of books that met my following criteria.

My top ten career development books:

  1. I have personally found them useful and inspirational and I continue to draw upon them in my practice or
  2. They reflect my practice as I have had a hand in writing them
  3. They are evidence-based how-to guides                                                                                            or
  4. They provide insights into how the world operates that we need to understand to assist our clients
  5. They are well written, based on research and reflect the realities of career development work in the C21st – which means they are compatible with my Chaos Theory of Careers.
  6. Between them they need to cover: theory, practice, counselling and coaching techniques, job application preparation advice including social media and the web generally.
  7. They need to have been published in the C21st.

These are books that I recommend for anyone working in career development coaching, or the educated client, looking for self-directed learning. They are drawn from organisational coaching, counselling, self-help, economics, general science, and psychology.

So my top ten career development books are:

10. Luck is no accident. Al Levin and John Krumboltz.

This is a great and readable account of John Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning theory.  The book sets out practical strategies to take advantage of and to make your own luck.  John has argued for many years that a lot of career development is down to lucky breaks, and I agree we need to take more account of luck in careers.

Career Development Books

 

9. A perfect Mess. The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. Eric Abrahamsson and David Freedman

I love this book. The authors provide a series of compelling cases studies showing how over-planning and over-organising can lead to worse performance than being open to opportunities. From highly successful book stores that don’t bother arranging their books into subject sections to successful companies that don’t bother with strategic plans, this book provides an antidote to a lot of the received (and untested) wisdom found in career planning ideas.

Career Development Books

 

 

8. Why most things fail.  Paul Ormerod

This is a fascinating insight into, why amongst other things nearly all brands fail and most do so rapidly. That alone is worth the price of the book, when considered against the heavy emphasis placed on the idea of a personal brand in career development. The analysis further reinforces the notion that centralised planning does not work well for companies or economies and that at the individual level, failure is not only inevitable but it helps to rejuvenate the whole system.

Career Development Books

 

7. Beyond Goals. Susan David, David Clutterbuck and David Megginson

This is an edited collection of writings by some of the leading coaching practitioners and researchers in the world today.  The book’s premise as reflected in its title is to examine the role of goal setting in coaching.   This is a critical examination, and the chapter authors do not always agree with each other.  Some, for instance, Tony Grant, see all human activity as intrinsically goal-directed, others argue this is a too inclusive definition to be useful. Whatever your position, this book is likely to challenge your thinking about goal setting, and again it is one of those books that challenge much of the conventional wisdom in career development, coaching and planning.

Career Development Books

 

6. Chaos Theory of Careers. Robert Pryor and Jim Bright

This book represents a summary of the first decade of work on the Chaos Theory of Careers. The theory that we developed was based on the principles of change, complexity, chance and constructedness. It provides the most comprehensive coverage of our theory, the evidence for it and counselling and assessment tools and techniques.  This theory is being adopted all over the world and attracting an increasing amount of research interest (and support).

Career Development Books

 

5. The Cunning of Uncertainty. Helga Nowotny

This is a wonderful musing on the inevitable and changing nature of uncertainty. This is a wonderful adventure of a book that takes us into scientific enquiry, big data and the arts to make the point that uncertainty is ever-present, elusive and ultimately never to be tamed. It sets the scene for progressive career development work and challenges conventional notions in our field.

Career Development Books

 

4. Hope Filled Engagement. Gary Poehnell and Norman Amundson

This is a lovely book and companion to Active Engagement. This volume makes the cut in this particular list, mainly because it is newer and captures more of their recent thinking. It is an excellent career counselling book, that is written in a very engaging, clear, almost folksy style, but don’t let that fool you, as you are in the hands of two very sharp minds indeed.   Their gift for developing counselling and educational techniques to illustrate key points and to move clients towards a positive outcome is remarkable.  You will pick up many tips and techniques of value.  I have said before that most if not all of the counselling techniques presented are entirely compatible with the Chaos Theory of Careers.

Career Development Books

 

3. The Black Swan. Nassim Taleb

Taleb is a provocative writer.  His tone puts one in mind of the insistent Manhattanites asking (demanding?) in no uncertain terms that you get out of their way as they are coming through on the sidewalk!  His take no prisoners approach, I personally find amusing and persuasive.  He has a fierce intellect allied to an even fiercer distrust of many academics – particularly in Economics, and he makes a strong case that models of risk based on the normal curve fail to appreciate the true nature of risk, and therefore all of our so-called risk-management strategies are dubious or wrong-headed.  This is directly relevant to approaches to career development that very often appear to be predicated on reducing risk and uncertainty as if we understood what these things are and can control them.

Career Development Books

 

2. How to write a Brilliant CV. Jim Bright, Jo Earl and David Winter

I am very proud of this book.  It is now in its 5th edition for Pearson, not counting the three Australian versions (it was published there between 2000 and 2009 as Resumes that get shortlisted) and the two US versions (Amazing Resumes).  This is the single version we are keeping up to date, with the welcome addition of David Winter as co-author.  Why does it continue to sell and sell? Because it remains the only book on the market that is extensively based on evidence – quite a bit of it from behavioural studies conducted by Jo Earl, myself and others in the team.   If you want  proven strategies as opposed to opinions, this is the book on which to based your job application advising.

Career Development Books

 

1. You’re Hired! Job Hunting Online. The Complete Guide. Tristram Hooley, Jim Bright and David Winter.

Here it is!  Hot off the press published on April 21st 2016!  This is my latest book with my friends and colleagues Tristram Hooley, Professor at the International Centre for Education and Guidance Studies at the University of Derby and David Winter, Head of the Careers Group at the University of London.  I am very excited about this book as it provides a really thorough coverage of the skills required to have an effective online presence to get the job you want. Covers all the major platforms. It is appropriate that the authors met online before we met IRL!

Check it out now on Amazon and of course if you like it, we’d be thrilled if you could provide a positive review on Amazon. These reviews really do matter and we’d be very grateful if you are so minded and get give some of your time to writing a positive review!  I hope you enjoy our new book!

10 steps to develop your online brand

 

 

So that is my top 10 career development books. What have I missed out?  What are your favourites using the same criteria? What do you think of my top 10 career development books?

Goals are not enough for success in a Chaotic world

Goals are promoted as the way to success in many coaching, counseling and training situations. Goals are not enough for success in a Chaotic world is the title of my latest youtube video embedded here.

The world changes, you change, change is inevitable except from a vending machine.  The point of this video is to overcome the concerns some have when I point out the shortcomings of goal setting.  There is an assumption that I am automatically advocating anarchy and that the only alternative to setting goals is mindless wandering, meandering and fatalistic acceptance of whatever comes our way.

However there is a more optimistic and practical view.  That is that it is unreasonable to expect or demand the world to stay still as we attempt to reach a goal, but that doesn’t mean we give up, rather that we should not think about goal setting as something we do early in the planning stage which is then followed by execution.  It is not a linear goal-setting – planning type process, rather it is cyclical, or in reality probably more like a DNA double helix of intertwined plans (or goals) and continually planning and revision.

I think that there is not enough emphasis put on the continual planning part of the process and this is why I have coined the term “planmanship” or planfulness if you prefer a less sexist label – to describe the continual process of devising plans, revising plans, copying plans, amending, freezing, recalling, nuancing, nudging and pushing plans.   All of these skills are assumed to be intact for the goal-setter, but rarely are these skills taught to people.  Nearly always, training involves telling people what they think a goal is (usually the awful Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based variety), and then getting people to articulate their goals.  Then it is straight off to implementation with lots of encouragement and injunctions to stay focused and to be persistent.  All of which are attempts to pretend that change doesn’t happen, and that sometimes SMART goals are very dumb and the smart person is better advised to abandon the smart goal, and instead get good at planmanship.

There is more on goals limiting the imagination here and on over-prescribing goals here and on goals and happiness here

What are you doing in your coaching to promote planmanship? How can we increase a person’s planmanship capacity?

22 effective Coaching Questions: Pixar’s 22 Rules of Story Telling Applied to Coaching

Coaching can benefit from animation company Pixar and their rules of story telling.  Pixar has 22 rules of story telling, according to David Price, the author of Pixar Touch – see his blog here. He gleaned these rules from the tweets of Emma Coats, a Pixar storyboard artist. I think they can be usefully applied in coaching. See what you think.

pixar

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Coaching Question: How can you recognize and celebrate the energy and effort you are applying to your projects?

2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

Coaching Question: How can you keep your client/customer/stakeholder firmly in mind in developing your plans and actions?

3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Coaching Question: How can you take action right now and stop worrying about how things will turn out?

4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Coaching Question: How many different ways can you describe your history using the formula above?  How are the different versions similar? How do they differ? Which is your favorite version and why? How can this help motivate your next steps?

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Coaching Question: What aspects of the patterns you see in your situation are pretty similar? What things are you going to leave unexplored or unanswered in the service of action?

6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

Coaching Question: If you faced challenges in areas that you feel the least capable, how could you meet those challenges and succeed?

7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Coaching Question: Working backwards from where you need to get, what are the foreseeable next steps?

8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

Coaching Question: How can you get a positive outcome and closure in this situation even if it is not the most desirable or perfect outcome?

9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Coaching Question: What are the most obvious things that would not work in this situation? What does that leave over that might just work?

10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

Coaching Question: Thinking about the people you admire, what specific characteristics or achievements do you admire? How does that reflect on you as a person and your priorities?

11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Coaching Question: How can you best articulate this to trusted others without delay so you can get to work on refining and implementing your idea?

12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Coaching Question: What are the most obvious solutions to my problem? What would be the most surprising solutions to my problem?

13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Coaching Question: What are your real opinions about this situation?  What would a strong supporter say? What about a critic what would they say?

14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

Coaching Question: Why does this course of action matter so much to you? What meaning does it have for you?  How can you use this meaning and mattering to maintain motivation and persistence?

15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

Coaching Question: If you were a member of your team, how would you feel about the proposed action?

16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Coaching Question: What is riding on this decision?  How can you use that to motivate you?

17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Coaching Question: How can you switch your attention to projects where there is a greater liklihood of success? How can you ensure that you are able to transfer what you’ve learned to new projects?

18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Coaching Question: How can you identify when you have finished something and when you are unproductively fiddling with a successful solution? What are the signs?

19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Coaching Question: How can you leverage chance events to your advantage?  How can you be ready to take opportunities when they present themselves?

20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

Coaching Question: Thinking about a recent outcome you did not like, how could you have done things differently that would have yielded a better outcome?

21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

Coaching Question: Imagine you are the gatekeeper, what things would make you open those gates and remove the barrier?

22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Coaching Question: What are the essential repeating themes, the values and behaviors you want to express in your next actions?

This post was the result of multiple tweets.  First Emma Coats tweets these rules, then David Price blogs on it, then Joshua Cohen blogs on it and then David Winter tweets it and now I blog on it. Social media in action!

Creating creative coaching sessions – Keyhole coaching

Are we stuck in rather unimaginative approaches to how we deliver coaching or counseling sessions?  How can we start creating creative coaching sessions? This post is prompted by Madeline Paterson who commented on my post Act before you think as follows:

“I would be interested in hearing more about your thoughts on the tendency of our profession to ‘deliver’ in a session or block of sessions and moving beyond this in new ways. Although many career coaches offer support-on-demand between sessions (eg by email or tel-call), the ‘session’ approach dominates much of what career coaches do when working with individuals….Life’s uncertainties do bring unexpected moments of choice and opportunity: a single word can change everything. …how do you think we might shape services that are more responsive to clients’ life events?”

The idea that we might be limiting our effectiveness by sticking with traditional 20, 40 or 60 minute sessions is not new. Norm Amundson in his excellent book Active Engagement discusses this very point.

I’m not sure how we arrived at the hourly session, but I suspect it has more to do with administrative convenience than anything to do with maximal efficacy for the client.  As Madeline points out in her unedited comments, now that coaches are armed with technologies like mobile phones, SMS messages, Skype, Facetime, email, twitter and facebook, there are many options to communicate quickly, immediately and cheaply with clients.   This should give us the freedom to loosen our attachment to the hour and the hourly rate.

It raises the possibility that we can deliver our services in 2 – 10 minute sessions.  Short, sharp to the point sessions have many benefits including:

  • coaching when the client needs it
  • providing advice within the currently experienced context
  • providing advice when the client is receptive to it
  • providing what I call Keyhole coaching – minimally invasive or disruptive procedures in contrast with the more traditional “open heart” coaching
  • wrapping coaching more naturally around actions taken by the client
  • promoting client’s to take actions that are supported and coached “live” or “online” rather than relying solely on after the fact or “off line” reflection
  • leverages psychology of learning principles around reinforcement and rapid reacquisition of skills (in laymen’s terms revision and prompting)

key hole coaching Dr Jim Bright

These advantages are all client-focused but with technology comes the opportunity for us to be more responsive to client needs to deliver services when the client needs them, not when it suits out billing models.  What other advantages do you see in Keyhole coaching?

 

 

Coaching Fractal Action for Personal Development

We get frustrated when we are unsure how to act, and feel disheartened when we voluntarily or involuntarily act in ways that are not true ourselves.  We can get lost while searching for the sweet spot that lies between pattern and surprise, consistency and spontaneity, security and risk, familiarity and freedom, and order and disorder. We can use the idea of fractals, described in the Chaos Theory of Careers, to guide us into satisfying action that is spontaneous and consistent.

When I suggested in my previous post that people act before they think one common concern is that this means acting in an entirely random manner. Indeed I did suggest “committing random acts of contribution”. However underpinning these supposedly random acts is a thread of continuity. The random acts I advocated were not totally random, they were constrained to being acts of contribution.

What I am advocating is to repeatedly apply the same rule “to contribute” over and over again in many different contexts and in many different ways.  Through these acts, a pattern of contribution emerges – or in the words of the Chaos Theory of Careers a Fractal pattern emerges.

A Wikipedia definition of a Fractal captures what we need for our purposes. ‘Fractals are typically self-similar patterns, where self-similar means they are “the same from near as from far”…. The definition of fractal goes beyond self-similarity per se to exclude trivial self-similarity and include the idea of a detailed pattern repeating itself.’

So repeatedly applying the value “to make a contribution” whenever and wherever leads to a beautiful fractal of contribution.

We can use Fractals as a way of motivating us to action, in a manner that is consistent but not totally predictable; novel but similar; sort of like old, but new; trait-like, but changing; or in the words of H.B. Gelatt, focused AND flexible.

There are four steps to Fractal Action

Step 1  Define your value rule

This is the rule you are going to apply over and over again. It should be specified in one sentence and should NOT be over-specified. It needs to be self-evidently clear, but not limiting, and it is NOT time-based.

Here are some GOOD examples:

  • helping people less well off
  • reducing costs by 10%
  • providing motivational feedback
  • learning one new thing
  • trying one new thing
  • eating a new food
  • listening to a new song
  • meeting one more person
  • improving my grade score/sales performance/feedback ratings
  • all of the above
  • improving my performance
  • being polite

These are BAD examples

  • reaching 100K in sales by August
  • getting to 10,000 twitter followers
  • helping people by supplying them with more umbrellas
  • getting promoted to Senior Management

(You can see that the good “rules” are akin to values or higher order/fuzzy goals, whereas the bad examples more closely resemble the increasingly discredited SMART goals.)

Step 2 Apply your Fractal value to your next action

For any given situation, bring to mind your fractal rule and ask yourself:

“How can I apply this rule in this situation right now?” and then do it!

This step requires Courage, opportunity awareness and creativity to see how your rules are linked to the current situation.

Step 3 Repeat

The key to this process is to repeat the process continually and regularly, in as many situations, if not all the situations you find yourself in.

Step 4 Step back and understand the pattern that is emerging

Look to see patterns emerging over time, consider the outcomes of your actions and also the underlying process.  You should see developing a complex, changing, unpredictable pattern that nevertheless has a thread of continuity reflecting how you, your values and skills have connected with the world, and how you have emerged into yourself.

As Aristotle wrote “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”. And that is coaching fractal action for personal development – it’s simple but its complex!

Act before you think: In coaching and careers

“Nothing will be achieved if first all objections must be overcome” said the wise Eleanor Roosevelt.   Objections prevent action.  Objections to our own actions are ultimately authored by ourselves.  Others may advise caution or object, but it takes us to take on board and own those objections to prevent us from acting.  It is our thoughts prior to action that can ultimately present a formidable barrier to action.

Thinking before you act is what we’ve been all brought up to do.  We are taught to think a failure to think first must ultimately result in reckless disregard for our own or others’ well-being. The trouble is,  thinking before you act is not a fail safe process, because it is impossible to think through all the possible outcomes of a proposed action.

We cannot work out all the possibilities in advance, not only because there are too many, but also because our current vantage point may not reveal the complete picture.  I live near the coast, and if I am standing on one beach I cannot see the other one around the headland.  Even if I stand on that headland, where I can see both beaches, I cannot see around the next headland and what may be on offer there.  In other words, I might be missing out on a fantastic beach and I’ll never discover it unless I am prepared to act.

For people stuck in their careers, there is every likelihood that their heads are full of confusion, cautionary thoughts and frustration.   Clarifying their thoughts as a lot of coaching and counseling aims to do, may be doing no more than giving them a sharper picture of the beach they are on.   They will never fully appreciate the other great beaches until they are prepared to act and move to a new vantage point. Act before you think!

I am more and more convinced that we’ve got our priorities wrong by so strongly privileging thinking before you act in career coaching. I become even more convinced when I hear the countless stories from clients who “fell into” satisfying careers, or got there by being in the right place at the right time. These people (and I think they are the majority) got where they are as much by acting before you think, than thinking before you act.

So in your own coaching practice, take action, and resolve to encourage your clients to action first, and then collectively reflect after.  Encourage lots of small steps and little experiments, encourage turning up to things, encourage connection with others without any clear agenda, encourage random acts of contribution to others, encourage your clients to go forth.

 

The role of parents in career development and thoughts on my father

here is a link to my column in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers on parents and careers. The role of parents in career development is critical. Here I share some thoughts on the role of parents in career development and thought on my father.

Vale John Robert Bright 1925 – 2011