Category Archives: Leadership

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Finding Harmony in work: A strategy to re-soul your career

Harmony: Finding Harmony in work: A strategy to re-soul your career

In my earlier blog Resouling your career I defined harmony in the following terms: “Harmony is a joyful dance through and with life.” Here I want to expand on some practical ideas for finding harmony in your career. In part prompted by Ed Colozzi’s excellent comments on that blog, and in particular because I want to explore the idea of harmony because it has so much to offer to people in their careers.

Harmony is a metaphor derived from music to describe a fundamental aspect of nature where we respond strongly when some things are joined or blended.

In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. In some types of music like jazz chords can be altered with “tensions”. A tension is the addition of an element within the chord that sets up dissonance with the bass. Usually in music, this dissonant chord resolves into a consonant chord.  Harmony is the sense of balance between the dissonant and consonant chords – between the tension and the relaxation.

So to my mind, harmony is about a dynamic, an oscillation between tension (I mean this in the mild sense and NOT stress!) and relaxation, a repeating pattern that resonates with us.  It involves the interplay between two or more elements and involves the careful timing to ensure the blends happen at the right time.  In career terms, being “in sync” with others or events may provide a sense of harmony.  Pitching in with contributions or ideas at just the right time, responding intuitively and spontaneously to others – these are all examples of harmony.

Obviously harmony extends beyond music and can be found in all walks of life if we are attuned to seek it out.  Cezanne stated, “When paintings are done right, harmony appears by itself. The more numerous and varied they are, the more the effect is obtained and agreeable to the eye”.  Harmony is an arrangement of the elements or parts of the whole that creates a strong positive aesthetic reaction in us. All the elements seem to work together to create a pleasing order.

Art and music teach us that the common underlying theme of harmony is a sense of connection where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and creates an immediate positive response in us.   It is not only a sense of connection, rather those connections appear to be dictated by a sense of order and belonging – the elements combine in very specific ways – to create that pattern of tension and resolution.  You cannot simply throw any random elements together and expect to get harmony.

In Chaos Theory of Career terms, Harmony can be seen as an emergent property of the dynamic complex interconnected influences in our lives and careers.  It explains why the idea of “fit” between a person and job should not be construed in static terms, but as a dynamic dance.  Harmony is dynamic.

I like to think of harmony in terms of dance because it melds the musical and visual elements of harmony.  In dancing, getting your timing right so that you are in the right place to meet your partner, or doing the the thing that is consonant with the music makes the difference between a satisfying dance and an embarrassing display!

In career terms harmony involves understanding connection, knowing how and when to join in. It involves timing and rhythm.  It involves feeling part of something bigger but at the same time remaining a distinctive element in that bigger thing. Harmony is about blending in AND standing out, it is not about subjugating your voice, rather adding your voice.

Listening carefully, observing, appreciating that you are distinctive and bring unique qualities to work.  This requires acceptance of both your strengths and limitations. It requires respect and close observation of others and nature to understand as much as possible how things go together and to spot opportunities where the addition of your contribution will create harmony.

I also want to clarify my comment in that earlier blog that you can’t do harmony on your own.  What I mean by this, is not that you need other people to achieve harmony necessarily (but often this is where the most obvious or accessible harmony can be found) rather whether it is communing with nature, or meditating, harmony necessarily involves the blending of your self into something greater, something bigger (thanks Ed for making this point in your comments on the Re-souling blog!).

Harmony James

I included album cover for this artist, because I love her name!!

Here are a few suggestions about how you can achieve harmony in your career:

1.  Harmonize with your self. Find time and space in your life to reflect on who you are and what you have to offer

2. Harmonize with your spirit. Try meditation, prayer or silent time (perhaps immerse yourself in a long bath or sauna!) to remove the background noise to listen to the quiet signals and messages

3. Harmonize with others. Immerse yourself in projects and connections – do not expect to find harmony in all of these, but use them as learning opportunities to explore the nature of your strengths and the types of work and people where you experience harmony

4. Harmonize with nature.  Find times to immerse yourself in nature.  This might be a walk or bike ride through the country, a visit to a beach, or it could be appreciating a flower, a flower’s scent or a bird in your back yard. It could be a camping trip, or sitting atop a mountain sipping hot chocolate while taking in the view.  When fully immersed you feel that instantaneous connection as a distinctive part of a vibrant dynamic, complex and inter-connected world.

5. Harmonize with time. Be persistent, harmony requires timing, and in careers timing is not always under your control.  So do not give up if your fail to harmonize in your initial attempts.

6. Harmonize with difference. Seek out friends, colleagues or team members who bring harmony – not people who simply agree with everything you believe – a carbon copy, remember you need that pattern of tension & resolution for harmony – this is why diversity in teams is so essential – without moments of tension you simply have blind agreement – there is no movement, no oscillation, no harmony.

7. Harmonize with change – recognise you are change, are changing like the things around you and harmony needs the constant movement, the warp and weft, the alterations, to be maintained.

 

What is your idea of harmony? How do you find harmony in your work?

 

ps  check out this beautiful video posted via twitter just after I posted this – harmony!

Coaching and Leading for the short-term and authenticity

Coaching and Leading for the short-term and authenticity

The short term gets a bad press.  A short-term measure is frequently seen as superficial, a temporary band aid solution that fails to address the deeper underlying problem. This perspective fails to recognise the fact that the short term regularly turns out to be long term. The things that we do now can and often do have a major influence on things down the track (in the longer term).

You cannot get to the longer term without going through lots of short terms, it simply isn’t possible. However frequently Leaders are criticised for not taking a long-term view, coaches and counselors are enjoined to take a longer term perspective.  However anyone demanding a long-term view should be made to spell out how that view articulates in the short term.

I think people are reluctant to spell out the short-term implications of a long-term view, because they feel compelled to produce a “complete” solution.  Often an honest and legitimate short term implication is that little will appear to have changed.

Short term is not synonymous with simple. However it is often necessary to simplify in any one short term action, simply because we are human and there are limits to what we can think and do simultaneously.  However doing lots of simple things reasonably contemporarily can add up to complexity.  Lots of short term actions can address complexity.

The corollary of this is that short-term strategies do not have to be over-simplified and rigid.  This is how short-term actions get a bad name. In our preoccupation to be seen to be doing something tangible, we can miscontrue a situation in overly simple terms which in turn begets an overly narrow, simplistic set of actions that may give the appearance of addressing a problem, but in fact is not doing so particularly effectively.

Imagine someone pitching the idea of aging.  The long term view is that our hair will go grey or just go and our skin will become wrinkled (Joan Rivers excepted).  But what about now? What is the short term effect of aging.  The true answer is that tomorrow you’ll pretty much the same as today, notwithstanding any major life events or traumas. And the day after, and the day after that.  If you’re lucky and the year after that.

The key to embracing BOTH the short term and the long term is to recognise that in a complex and changing world, it is not always possible to get  clear line of sight between the short term and the long term.  It may not be clear why events happening now have any meaningful connection with outcomes then. This insight means we cannot control and predict, we cannot know all, we are indeed vulnerable as Brene Brown points out here and in this knowledge we can be authentic leaders, coaches or counsellors.

Being aware and comfortable in discussing that the short term may not offer a complete solution to the puzzle, and indeed that in reality, neither does the longer term, rather what we are trying to do is intentionally and intelligently explore the mystery, is an important step toward authenticity.

Once you have a stated (long term aim, purpose or calling) you can be liberated into attempting lots of short term experiments.  The danger lies in attempting to apply planning techniques that work well in a short term situation like goal setting that demands a specific result by a specific time.  Imposing such specificity on longer term outcomes has the tendency to stymie short term innovation and experimentation, because it is always being held to account against a rigid set of criteria.

Short term actions may not only fail to appear to be moving things along, it may even appear to be going in the wrong direction.  Within the Chaos Theory of Careers, the long term is an emergent pattern (or state) that results from many many repeated short-term events.

Taking action in the short term without a sense of purpose, intention or calling may result in good longer term outcomes, but it relies a lot on chance.  Following an intentional, purposeful path may not result in a desired or even desirable outcome (there are no guarantees in life) but it does at least mean you are more likely to be prepared to follow hunches, hear calling, try things out and take action in the first place.

Placing demands on yourself and on others to articulate tangible and specific outcomes in the short-term or the long-term may result in such a jaundiced view of the short term, that you don’t bother even trying.  It is a failure to appreciate that trying and striving now can and does lead to places then.  The short term is the birthplace of action, but dont waste your time anxiously looking for results.  For some things, and dare I say, the most important things, the outcome or result emerges over time, and in some cases, those patterns may not be evident within our lifetimes.  That fact should not deter us from trying and trying now.

see also this post on calling and re-souling your career

 

 

Transform your Career by Shifting: Shift 6 From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), so far I’ve addressed the first five, and in this post, I address the sixth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

 

Sometimes the best ideas come out of necessity.  It is Orlando Florida, in July 2005 and I am attending a session at the National Career Development Association Conference.  The presenters were two friends of mine Spencer (Skip) Niles and Norm Amundson – two of the most respected and accomplished Counselors in the business.  Unbeknown to me they are stuck for a topic for their joint session. Norm discusses with Skip an idea he has been kicking around about Probability Thinking and Possibility thinking and this becomes the topic for an engaging presentation.   So much so that I ended up writing a paper on the topic with Norm and Robert Pryor in the Career Development Quarterly (Pryor, Amundson & Bright, 2008). It also lead to the development of the Creative Thinking Strategy Card Sort (see this post).

Probability Thinking refers to our tendency to explore and privilege thinking about strategies that we judge to be the most likely to succeed in being implemented.  It refers to the most likely outcomes and rests on our ability to envisage such outcomes readily.

Probability thinking is both useful and seductive.  After all, it makes intuitive sense that we should focus on strategies or outcomes that are likely to happen, rather than wasting time considering “long-shots”. Probability thinking allows us to apply heuristic rules of thumb to situations rather than wasting valuable time considering each new situation in depth. Rather we can adopt a philosophy of past behaviour predicts future behaviour and this can get us a long way in solving our problems for little effort.  There is no point in re-inventing the wheel is there.

The probable is probable because it is probably going to happen. So Probability thinking can be a good strategy.

Well it turns out there are lots of reasons Probability thinking may not always be the most appropriate way of solving our problems, especially for those of us who are professional advisors, counsellors, coaches or guidance people.  The major problem with Probability thinking is that is encourages stereotyping of problems (lumping problems together under one banner) which leads to a stereotypical response (responding in the same manner to the same perceived class of problems).  However, given that people and the world are essentially chaotic in nature (Pryor & Bright, 2011) this means that a complex array of continually changing factors may undermine our assumptions that the problem we are facing is the same as one we faced in the past. Strategies that worked last time may not work this time.

The dangers of Probability Thinking for Professional Advisors is that many clients will hold off seeking assistance with their problems as they try to apply Probability Thinking strategies to their situation.  It is often when these fail that they seek our help.  Sure, sometimes, we can point out an obvious Probability-based thinking strategy that has been overlooked, but oftentimes the “obvious” solutions have already been considered or even tried. Offering more of the same is likely to frustrate the client, and not help them address their problem.

A good example of Probability Thinking in Career Development is the conventional use of interest inventories like the Self-Directed Search, or similar types of instrument.  These sorts of tests typically sample past behaviour or attributes (for instance skills that we believe we possess or have developed), or at least people tend to recall their past work, training and education when filling in these forms.  This can result in the vocational recommendations reflecting what a person has done in the past rather better than what they may want or be able to do in the future.   The vocational recommendations are based on what is probable given the person’s self-reported circumstances.  For instance it is not uncommon in Vocational Rehabilitation for a client who is prevented by injury from working in their lifelong occupation to complete one of these inventories only to have it recommend precisely the occupation that they are no longer able to pursue.

So Probability Thinking sometimes leads to unimaginative, uncreative, stereotypical solutions to problems.  It also can reinforce self-limited thinking.  Probable solutions to problems very typically reside within our realm of experience of the individual and are judged to be probable based on a self-estimate of ones capacity to implement the solution. It follows that if a person’s self-estimates are self-limited, they lack imagination or have limited experience, Probability thinking is likely to be limited in its effectiveness.

It is impossible for their to be a probable without a possible. If there is no possible, there cannot be a probable, it must be a certainty.  From a Chaos Theory of Careers Perspective (Pryor & Bright, 2011) certainties are few and far between. So we adopt the perspective that in nearly all situations there is a possible.  This is a fundamentally optimistic stance toward problem solving and this can help a client in of itself.

Possibility thinking is about thinking beyond the Probabilities to entertain more apparently distance, extreme and unrealistic options and strategies.  The word “apparently” reminds us that for many people, the block to their creative thinking is that they have a poorly calibrated rating mechanism for possibilities.  The negative and self-limited thinker is as quick to label strategies “unrealistic”  as the stereotyped and cautious thinker.

Possibility thinking brings in notions like wildest dreams, miracles, left-field thinking, Green Hat Thinking (DeBono), scaleable thinking (Taleb, 2007).   There are a range of ways of inducing Possibility thinking and the Creative Thinking Strategy Cards are a good way to help individuals and groups with their Possibility thinking.  The advantage of these cards is that it also addresses Possibility thinking as well, which allows individuals or groups to consider alternative strategies that vary in terms of their apparent plausibility, but also encourages people to plan out the Possibilities to turn them into Creative Strategies (see this post).

Creative thinking by using Possibility Thinking has the potential to both recognise andrealize the possibilities.  In so doing we can turn Possibilities into Probable Possibilities for implementation.

As Professional Advisors, I believe a lot of work could be profitably diverted to privilege Possibility Thinking supported by exercises like the Creative Strategies Card Sort, rather than too quickly being drawn into Probability Thinking.  The need for people to be strong Creative Problem solvers in their lives has never been stronger. Fortunately there are things we can do to help people in this quest.

References

Bright, JEH & Pryor, RGL. (2011). Creative Thinking Strategies Card Sort. Bright & Associates. (see this post)

Pryor, R & Bright, J. (2011). The Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge. UK & New York.

Pryor R.G.L., Amundson, N., & Bright, J. (2008). Possibilities and probabilities: the role of chaos theory.  Career Development Quarterly 56 (4), 309-318.

 

 

 

Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 2 From Plans To Plans And Planning

Shiftwork is the work we all have to do to manage, survive and thrive in the face of a world where Shift Happens.

I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here) and the first shift (see here) below I give a few tips about how to achieve the second one.

Shift 2: From Plans To Plans And Planning

We all like to make plans. They make us feel comfortable, they give and sense of direction and underline a sense of purpose.  However in a rapidly changing world that is so interconnected that decisions and actions taken by people we’ve never met in a country we’ve never visited can turn our own plans on their head, we need to be continually planning, not relying on a plan.  Add to that the forces of globalisation, technological advances, plus social changes and you have recipe for undermining our plans.

Having just one plan can lead to inflexibility and it may leave you stalled when conditions make your plan obsolete.  Military General and President Dwight Eisenhower said “In battle plans are useless but planning is indispensable”.  In other words learning how to do planning is just as important or more important than the plan itself.

Here are some suggestions to improve your planning skills:

  • engage in scenario planning – think of lots of different possible outcomes, no matter how improbable and work out what you’d do in those situations
  • Consider for each scenario what would need to happen for me to: quit the plan; stick with the plan; revise the plan
  • listen to  and be aware of small “insignificant signs” what might they be telling you?
  • look at your current plan on a daily basis – is there a better one out there? how can I change it/refine it/finesse it/fine tune it?
  • think about what you know you know; what you know you dont know; what you dont know you know and most importantly what you dont know you dont know
  • identify emergency resources that you have (skills; attitudes; support; finances)
  • make a liferaft plan and mentally equip it with survival items (where I can go for support or shelter – e.g. my family; my friends; my boss; my lawyer etc)
  • be open to new information/opportunities/ possibilities
  • go beyond probability thinking (considering what will probably happen) and always consider possibility thinking
  • devote part of each day to developing new plans
  • resist getting into SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities threats) thinking while developing plans – let the plans develop fully before doing this
  • adopt a wait and see policy to see what emerges
  • ask yourself what else am I missing here
  • step into the shoes of your fiercest critic – what would they say about your plans – try your hardest to make their arguments
  • consider that other people can have a point
  • follow WC Fields dictum – “if at first you dont succeed, try again and then give up, there’s no point being a damn fool about it”
  • develop mini plans for the very short term that have little realistic downside and put them into action
  • regularly test the boundaries and extremes of your plans – where does it lead you
  • implement several plans at once, even if they are contradictory or paradoxical and monitor them

  • consider the value of small steps and reducing the timelines for your plans
  • consider moving from SMART goals (Specific Measureable Attainable Realistic and Time-based) to fuzzy goals – non specific, not necessarily measurable, not necessarily attainable and not necessarily realistic)
  • get connected and listen to feedback (note listen not necessarily automatically acting on it)

What are your tips for developing planning skills as opposed to have a plan?

Oppositional Thoughts…Volume 4

Here is Volume 4 of my Oppositional Thoughts…They are designed to gently puncture some of the slightly precious life advice out there, and to complexify overly simplistic homilies, that make life appear a lot simpler than it is in reality.

You can find Volume 3 here and Volume 2 here and Volume 1 here

Oppositional thoughts…There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you..never read Dan Brown obviously….

Oppositional thoughts…if you enrol in a stunt academy do they put you on a decelerated learning program?

Oppositional thoughts…Life has no limitations, except the ones you make…so if I jumped off a building I could fly if I tried hard?

Oppositional thoughts…Letting go of your dreams results in mediocrity….not if you had the dreams I’ve been having….

Oppositional thoughts… Why do I feel like I need a stiff drink after hearing a “sobering account”?

Oppositional Thoughts.Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.sorry, what was that again?

Oppositional thoughts…Let go and it will be yours forever…I let one go and it’s true, it hung around forever…

Oppositional thoughts…Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter…unless they are the police or a judge….

Oppositional thoughts…”Arrogance, immaturity & lack of experience are unattractive at work”..so presumably save all that for your friends

Oppositional thoughts…procrastination explained…later, perhaps tomorrow

Oppositional thoughts…I don’t have a career story, actually it is just a sentence. I got life….

Oppositional thoughts… Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools. -Napoleon Bonaparte” ..before lose & Waterloo

Oppositional thoughts…flash mobs are all very entertaining, but I wish they would stop flash flooding

Oppositional thoughts..I was sitting in my underpants when I opened the job offer letter. I was so excited, they asked me to get off the bus

Oppositional thoughts…I saw this man with the worst wig ever, I was so helpless with laughter, that the panel terminated my interview

Oppositional thoughts…you know when a job interview is going badly when they tell you to put them back on….

Oppositional thoughts…when I read that reality is perception I could not believe my eyes

Oppositional thoughts…I was busy completing an online job application, when my supervisor interrupted to continue my 1st day induction…

Oppositional thoughts..I was doing a stress imagery exercise at work with my eyes shut. It failed when my fare grabbed the steering wheel

Oppositional thoughts…@davidawinter #question yourself..why does he want me to question myself, can’t he be bothered asking me questions?

Oppositional thoughts… After six hours of questioning myself I reluctantly had to let myself go due to a lack of evidence or witnesses

Oppositional thoughts… what if I did it all because the lady loves milk tray, and then I discover it was all a Twix?

Oppositional thoughts…after my marathon effort all I heard was snickers and wispas. It mars my efforts to Hershey said I was fruit and nut

Oppositional thoughts…only a fool tries to climb the corporate ladder.  Smarter folks take the stairs, and the smartest take the elevator

Oppositional thoughts…employee engagement is just intention, but employee marriage is commitment. Is your employer prepared to do it?

Oppositional Thoughts…In life you are either a passenger or a pilot, it’s your choice…but on a plane, one of those is called hijacking

Oppositional Thoughts…the harder it is to get into a school the better it is…Mine must have been brilliant, I needed a Judge to send me.

Oppositional thoughts…authenticity is essential for professional speakers and that goes double for the ghost writers of their books…

Oppositional thoughts…There are no mistakes in life, just lessons…but what if your life has been one long playtime (trans: recess)?

Oppositional thoughts…be thankful for what you have…but I have deeply ingrained ingratitude, should I be grateful for that?

Oppositional thoughts…Life is 2 short 4 U 2 B pulled down by negative, jealous, cynical people…so how long would be about right?

Oppositional thoughts…live badly today, for tomorrow it will become your past and make the present seem better than what went before…

Oppositional thoughts…there’s always a way if you are committed…Well first I got myself committed, but there was no way out after that

Oppositional thoughts…to succeed at work try something new each day, and if that fails you can always try actually working

Oppositional thoughts…I tried it out, but was told by a policeman to put it away or risk getting arrested…

Oppositonal thoughts… It is never a good idea to have your work spread over many fields lest people confuse it for manure….

Oppositional thoughts…I have been described as the superglue of our team..not to be trusted near lavatory seats and always the sticking PT

Oppositional thoughts…getting into medicine: careers seminar. . ? It is simple to get into medicine, just push down and twist the cap

Oppositional thoughts…I worked hard to get my team engaged, but now I am, having second thoughts about marrying them? Big of me or bigamy?

Oppositional thoughts..Work on what you love and it won’t feel like work.. I used my life partner as my desk, but the pens kept rolling off

Oppositional thoughts…Just because there is a screen between us doesn’t mean you, or I, are less human.. just that one of is incarcerated.

Oppositional thoughts…”If we don’t start, it’s certain we can’t finish.” Not True. I didn’t start and the boss said I was finished!

Oppositional thoughts..if you believe you can do it, the odds go way up..True.  I believe I can fly: odds of me being an idiot went way up

Oppositional thoughts…do you remember how unique you once were?…true everyone was unique once except me…..

Oppositional Thoughts…be nice to the people you meet on the way to the top…if you are not serious about getting to the top that is.

Oppositional Thoughts…SWOT – Silly Way Of Trying…to convince everyone that the future is less complex and more ordered than it really is

Oppositional thoughts…to be a good singer you need to be able to hold a note, but the only ones I held were to ransom….

Oppositional Thoughts…I finally found myself, but when I found out what I was doing, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

Oppositional Thoughts…I thought I’d found myself, but I was unable to pick myself out at the identity parade

Oppositional thoughts…Identity Parade…is that like a Mardi Gras parade for people with multiple personalities?

Web-based careers services 2: the bicycle, the bells and the whistles

I wanted to follow up on the very popular post on web-based career services to explore the usability of web-based career services. My recent experience of participating in webinars and similar e-meetings brought home to me just how much variation there is in the usability of the systems.  So to my two questions for this post:

  • Are we considering usability sufficiently in current generation web-based careers systems?
  • How can we best develop user friendly web-based career systems?

Are we considering usability sufficiently in current generation web-based careers systems?

To put it simply, many of the web-based careers systems currently available have a lot of work to do to get acceptable levels of usability.  With the increasing awareness and in some markets dominance of Apple products such as iPod, iPad, iPhone and Macs, the bar for usability has been set at a very high level.   We expect digital communication products that “just work”.  We expect to be able to have them just work straight out of the box.   This means we expect intuitive interfaces that we can use without reference to a training manual, even if we are naive I.T. users.  If the systems are not easily and intuitively usable by even the I.T. challenged, this significantly reduces adoption rates and raises equity issues for those who do not understand the systems.

The high levels of usability found in Apple products is consistently reflected in lower IT support costs and quicker resolution of issues.  For instance, Nucleus research conducted a survey of 1700 employees in a mixed PC and Mac environment and found there were 3 requests for PC technical support for every 2 for a Mac.  Furthermore the Mac requests were resolved 30% faster.  Summary of results here.

I do not want to get into the Mac/PC thing here, both are great platforms, rather the point is that Usability is directly linked to the costs of supporting the IT infrastructure and this has to be a relevant consideration for Policy makers and Purchasing Managers considering implementing web-based careers services.  Systems that rely on training and I.T. support are more expensive solutions and therefore present a greater risk as they are dependent on greater levels of on-going maintenance and funding.

Some of the current web-based systems are not that intuitive.  The current crop of webinar systems often require users to be trained prior to using them.  People get confused, and cannot easily interact with the systems.  The users also probably do not use all of the functions available to them.

Functionality is a hot topic when considering web-based systems.  Often in discussions of the potential of web-based systems the discussion focuses on the possibilities of such systems, highlighting the amazing features and potential of such systems to do incredible things.   Less often are the probable uses of the system considered sufficiently.  In other words what is more important, a reliable, comfortable, usable bicycle, or a bunch of fancy bells and whistles?  What do you do more often, pedal or ring the bell?

The reality is, if pedaling is difficult, it doesn’t matter if the horn plays Yankee Doodle Dandy, you ain’t gonna use that bike.  While it is exciting to be told of what these systems are capable of doing, the reality is, that outside of the geeko-sphere, people rarely use these functions.  And this is not an age-based thing either.  Do not assume that young/more tech savvy people use a fuller range of features – they probably use different features not a wider range.

For instance consider the world’s most popular word processor, Microsoft Word.  That program is packed with different commands, nearly all of which are rarely if ever used.  A survey by Microsoft (link to summary here) found that the top five most used commands in Word 2003 were:

  1. Paste
  2. Save
  3. Copy
  4. Undo
  5. Bold

Together, these five commands account for around 32% of the total command use in Word 2003. Paste itself accounts for more than 11% of all commands used, and has more than twice as much usage as the number 2 entry on the list, Save.

Paste is also far-and-away the number one command in Excel and PowerPoint, accounting for 15% and 12% of total command use, respectively.

Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably. The percentage difference in usage between the number 100 command (“Accept Change”) and the number 400 command (“Reset Picture”) is about the same in difference between number 1 and number 11 (“Change Font Size”).

My concern with discussions of web-based career services is that too much emphasis is placed upon the possibilities of the bells and whistles and insufficient attention is given to the banal topic of getting the basic mechanics – the pedaling system – right.

It may surprise some to know that Apple rarely produce products that have more features than their competitors.  Rather they take a less is more approach and only include those things that are most used and useful.   In this way the learning curve to use the technology is less steep, and the potential of the technology is more fully realized. Overburdening your bicycle makes it harder to pedal.

In recent months I have attended webinars where whole presentations failed to work and where participants could not hear or see what was going on.  These problems were not due to communications drop outs, quality of internet connections and so on. Rather they were related to computers not having the correct software or hardware installed, users failing to understand and/or follow the instructions, and users who did not understand how to use the interfaces.

All of these problems can be overcome (as they were in the instances above) with very patient, skilful and helpful technical assistants.  However this human intervention must be a limiting factor in terms of costs, time, and availability, if we are to maximise the potential of web-based services.

Maybe we need some usability studies to understand what features are really required and what are the bells and whistles, so we can then focus on getting the usability of these systems optimized.

Ease of use, and the “it just works” philosophy is also reflected in smartphone usage and the number and nature of apps downloaded to these phones.  Market research firm Nielsen surveyed over 2000 users and found some major differences in usage patterns.  the State of Mobile Apps report available here.  They report that:

  • 14% of mobile subscribers have downloaded an app in the last 30 days
  • Average number of apps downloaded in previous 30 days: Smartphone: 22, Feature phone: 10
    • BlackBerry: 10
    • iPhone:37
    • Android: 22
    • Palm: 14
    • Windows Mobile: 13

Despite the fact that Blackberry and Android phones have a large number of Apps available, iPhone users accounted for almost more downloaded apps in the previous 30 days than Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile combined.

One of the reasons for these differences is likely to be to usability factor.  iPhone has a “walled garden” policy so that the Apps available are appropriate, consistent and quality checked.  They just work.

Do we need to code our own discussion boards, video conferencing systems, online testing systems, instant chat systems and the like, is this the best use of our time and resources?

How can we best develop user friendly web-based career systems?

What is the career development community doing developing online careers systems? We all use computers in our work, but I’ve never heard of any of us going out and designing a new laptop computer especially for careers.  Why are we not piggybacking and leveraging off the mainstream commercially developed solutions where possible?

For instance those working with young people could leverage of Facebook and MySpace and Twitter. In an age where the Queen of England (and Australia and elsewhere!) has a facebook page, why not use this technology?  There are of course many careers professionals doing just that, but there are also many who do not, including a lot of schools that have policies blocking such sites.   The opportunities lost to harness the high levels of usability, stability and ease of access of these services are being lost.  Plus the development costs to keep these services up-to-date are borne entirely by the commercial concerns.

The cost of developing high quality web-based material is very high from a technical point of view (that is not including the content, articles, research, tests, training packages etc) and investment in these costs is on-going and probably rising as new tools and technologies become available.  Add on top of that the importance of usability and all the costs associated with getting that right, and it is easy to see the benefits of outsourcing this work to people who specialise in it, leaving us free to concentrate on what really matters and that is the nature, quality,  content and relevance of the material and services we want to provide.

Conclusions

Web-based career services are the future as well as the present.  It is timely to ask the question we ask a lot with our own clients – what do we want that future to look like?  Do we want to continue as we are in the present?  How can we improve these services and systems?  What developments should be focusing on?  How can we make these systems more usable and therefore more useful and available to everyone who stands to benefit from them?  What is the most appropriate use of our Professional time in working with these systems – in training people how to get on and use them, or being able to devote more of our time to complimenting and enhancing the services delivered by web-based systems? Who should be doing the development of these systems? Are we comfortable in leveraging commercially available products as the platforms for our services?  Are we seeing the birth of a new type of Careers Professional – the I.T. careers specialist – a Careers Professional who specialises in developing systems, delivering services and training other professionals in how to harness web-based careers services to maximal advantage.  Are we going to focus more on the pedaling, the journey and the destination, or more on the noise we can make with the bells and whistles? Over to you.

I also want to thank Tristam Hooley at ICEGs and Ed Colozzi for their thoughtful comments on the first article to be found here.

Working with a terminal illness

My late Aunt Sylvia Cox was an inspiration to me. She was not only my Aunt, she was a teacher at my High School.  Her enthusiasm for life and her naturally exclamatory style engendered a sense of fun and a sense of the possible in those around her.  Whether it was taking us for “puddle rides” in her ancient Morris Minor Traveller which involved swerving alarmingly across country lanes to hit puddles of water that would splash up through the hole in the floor of the car, or fitting 3 adults and 2 children into a Lancia Fulvia 2+2 sports car for a 3 hour drive to the Pleasure Beach at Blackpool, she was always innovative and fun.

When soon after retiring she was diagnosed with cancer she decided to keep in touch with her friends and family around the world using Skype.  She was the person who introduced Skype to me when she called me on it and told me!  She also used Skype to keep us all informed of her progress, which may have been difficult for her, but was something I was very grateful for. I am proud that a techboy like me was introduced to a new technology by his retired and ill Aunt.  It spoke volumes about her attitude to her terminal illness.

In many ways the passing of Steve Jobs reminded me of the similarities between my Aunt and the CEO of Apple.  They both faced questions of who to tell and when and how about their condition.  And they both used I.T. as part of that communication strategy.  I never thought my memories of my Aunt would be modified or linked in any way with Steve Jobs, which just goes to show how a person’s memory and life continues to grow and inspire one years after their passing.

For those still in the workplace living with a diagnosis of a terminal or chronic condition, not only do they have to deal with their emotional response to their condition, they have the very real dilemma of deciding what to tell their boss and work colleagues. Not everyone will want to be as open as my Aunt was with her colleagues, friends and family.

There are two ways of looking at this situation, the formal or legal one, and the career development approach. I have no ?legal training and so what I can say about this from a formal perspective is limited and readers are strongly advised to take advice from appropriately qualified independent legal advisors. If you are a member of a union, they should be able to assist.

The first point to make is that you have a duty to notify promptly your employer of your illness or incapacity and of the estimated duration of the absence as a condition of any sick leave you are going to take. Employers have a right to demand an explanation for unexplained absences from work, indeed I am told by lawyers that it could be argued that under Occupational Health and Safety laws employers who do not inquire into absences may be abdicating their duty of care to their employees. Consequently you should expect management to request information about any absences.

Ok, so much for the formalities, how in practice can you maximise the chances of keeping your job while at the same time dealing with the emotional shock and upheavals that accompany a diagnosis of a chronic or terminal condition??The first point hardly needs making it is so obvious, but you are likely to be in a highly emotionally charged state around the time of medical investigations and diagnosis. When under such stress, we do not make the best decisions, and understandably our focus is on ourselves, our well-being and our loved ones. The employer generally ranks very low?in our priority list, however the remuneration they provide may well rank as important. Consequently you need to give yourself the best chance possible of communicating clearly with your employer. Try writing out or talking out with a sensible friend, what you want to tell your employer. This will help you collect your thoughts and communicate?more coherently when the time comes. Take a little time to gather your thoughts about work and to decide on your strategy.

Do not be tempted to quit in an emotional state. Think through your actions. If you are going to require the financial support of a regular income during the course of your illness, the stresses of continuing to work need to be balanced against the stresses of being unemployed and being financially insecure. Even if you do not need to work?for the money, think very carefully about the sense of social support, recognition and social contribution that can accompany work. Do not throw away such things lightly.

Despite your personal circumstances, the reality is that work goes on for your employer, and they have a responsibility to their other employees, customers and shareholders. Consequently, you might want to consider framing your discussions with your employer in terms of how you are going to continue to meet performance expectations. Do not be tempted to personalise the situation or become resentful if the employer seems to be coldly indifferent to your circumstances. If your goal is to continue to make a professional contribution, then you need to behave professionally. You are likely to be treated a whole lot better if you maintain a dignified and supportive approach to your colleagues and boss, than if you simply “trade” on your illness.

Openness in communication with your manager is an essential for most people at work. Understand the nature and course of your diagnosis and ask your medical advisors about how your illness and treatment is likely to affect your performance at work. Test yourself so that you are fully confident you know as much about the impact of your illness as possible and remember there are no stupid questions if you do not know ask your doctor and ask again for clarification it is part of their job. When you fully understand the nature of your illness, plan out how you see this translating into your work situation. How long realistically will you be able to continue with your duties? What modifications to your duties or workplace will be required, when and for how long? What are the realistic best and worst case scenarios relating to?work? Once you have set out these parameters you are in a good position to have a meeting with your manager, where you can set out all of this information for them.

If your condition is one that is not likely to impact upon your work or your work colleagues, or not for a long time, then your condition is not a work-related issue at this stage and there is no obvious reason to inform your managers about it. However if your condition is going to impact upon your work, or is going to be plainly obvious to your managers and colleagues you should not delay in discussing the matter with your boss.

You need to decide on a preferred “communications policy”. In other words, you need to decide who you want to share?your diagnosis with. Some people will prefer to limit knowledge of their condition to a manager and no one else, whereas others will want the information disseminated more broadly. You need to discuss this with your manager and make it very clear what your preference is. Remember your manager may well have an obligation to report your case?to their superiors and so on.

Even if you have close friends in the workplace, your boss should still be the first (or a very close second) work colleague you inform. The last thing you want are rumours starting and your boss hearing second- hand. Your goal is to get your boss on-side as a supporter. Schedule a meeting at a quiet time, such as the end of the day or early morning when there is less chance of interruptions. Indicate that you want to discuss something of importance, and that you will need at least 30 mins to an hour. Indicate that you need to see them reasonably urgently. After the meeting, follow up with an email, or a note (keep copies of either), politely thanking them for their time and setting out briefly your understanding of what was discussed and what was agreed.

My golden rule of all communications is to get it in writing. Keep a dated written record of all meetings, and communications with people at work. Write up notes as soon as possible after face-to-face meetings or even?corridor conversations, and date them. Keep the records up to date and limit your entry to the facts of what occurred do not include any defamatory opinions or reflections. If someone reduced you to tears, say so, but do not write down a lot of personal attacks about the other person. Why go to all this trouble? Simply to cover yourself in the?event that the employer becomes unreasonable or reneges on an agreement.

If you fear that being open with your boss is likely to result in your sacking, it is likely that your boss would also sack you for any regular or long absences for treatment, so unless the impact of your illness is not going to impact on your work, you have little to lose in informing your boss (and lots to gain, because you are actually helping your boss to manage you better).

Finally, I have known cases where the most irritating, anti-establishment employees who were convinced their boss hated their guts, found after diagnosis of a terminal illness that the boss became their greatest supporter. Most people (and that includes most bosses!) are compassionate, reasonable people, but like most people, they can be cold-hearted or unreasonable if approached in the wrong way. Be honest, be proud and be positive. Nobody and no employer could ask for more.

(Dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Sylvia Cox)