Category Archives: Shiftwork

Shiftwork is the work we all have to do to survive and thrive in a world where shift happens

Slow shift, fast shift, deep shift – Keynote Presentation to International Coaching Congress, Manly, Australia 2012

Shift: Slow shift, fast shift, deep shift – Keynote Presentation to International Coaching Congress, Manly, Australia 2012

How coaches can enhance their practice using shift principles.

Fast Shift Slow Shift Deep Shift Coaching using the Chaos Theory of Careers presented by Dr Jim Bright

Coaching is about change and therefore we need to embrace the ideas of fast shift – sudden change; slow shift – slow change, and we might end up in deep shift  – up shift creek!  Coaching focused on shift sets up a powerful way to interact with clients to help them survive and thrive in a world where shift happens.  This is a one hour keynote presentation by Dr Jim Bright at a coaching conference in 2012.

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 11 – From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 11 – From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

There comes a point in all things that really matter in life when trying to exert control is not sufficient.  The complexities of the world  make it impossible to be any more planned or prepared, there will always be some loose ends, some possibilities that cannot be thought out in advance. When we reach these points, if we are to confront them effectively with imagination, creativity, optimism and hope, we need to shift our trust in the power of control and embrace trust in faith.

Trust as Control

Too often people misuse the word “trust” when what they really mean is control.  When they say “I trust you” or even “I trust myself”, they are actually saying “I control you so tightly you can only do what I expect” or “I control myself so tightly, I can guarantee the outcome”.  This can lead to some fairly predictable problems:

  • It over-estimates our ability to control others or ourselves, or indeed the environment.
  • It is a recipe for micro-management and a potent way of destroying openness, thinking or creativity
  • It is in bad faith – there is no trust, only control.

full steam trust as control

Trust as Faith

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of trust is “trust (noun): ‘confidence, strong belief in the goodness, strength, reliability of something or somebody’, ‘responsibility’
have trust in (verb): ‘believe in the honesty and reliability of someone of something’, ‘have confidence in’, ‘earnestly hope’ ”

Look at the key words there:

  • Confidence
  • Belief
  • Hope

Trust in fact has nothing to do with control, but has everything to do with faith.  It is about uncertainty not certainty – you do not need to be confident or hopeful about an outcome, if that outcome is assured.  Trust is about ambiguity, complexity and mystery. It is about the limits of what we know and indeed what is knowable.

When trust as control is not enough, or not desirable, we can shift to a stronger position of trust as Faith.

faith in self

Faith in Self

It is a commonly heard injunction “to believe in yourself”, “to back yourself” during times of duress.  Having faith in yourself is an important cornerstone of career development.  There is plenty of evidence for the importance of this idea from clinical psychology such as Albert Ellis’ work on unconditional self-acceptance.

A recent favorite of mine is Brené Brown and her work on shame. In her book the Gifts of Imperfection she talks about the importance of Courage, Connection and Compassion.  The last of these, Compassion, relates to compassion for ourselves as well as others.  It means accepting who we are, and appreciating that it is OK for us to be limited in our powers to control or change things. I have written more about Brené’s work here and here.

Strengths-based approaches to Career Development that aims to build on existing strengths rather than overcome perceived “weaknesses” is another positive way of working on faith in the self.  See this post on David Winter’s excellent blog Careers in Theory for more on this.

Faith in self also means recognizing that we are strong enough to confront whatever life throws at us.   When this belief is lacking, our exploration of our own potential and of the world is also lacking.  However this does not happen in isolation and our faith in ourselves is bolstered and also determines our faith in others.

 

Faith in Others

If you think having faith in self in hard enough, just wait until you have to put faith in others!  In fact we unwittingly put faith in others all the time.  Whether it is faith the builders did a good enough job to prevent your roof falling on you while you sleep, or faith in other drivers not to do something crazy, or faith in farmers not to poison us, we are steeped in faith for others.

It is fairly obvious that our actions become very self-limiting without this faith in others.  If we believe we cannot rely on others, we will fail to reach out to them, and try to fulfill our needs ourselves or not even try.   The result is self-limitation and social isolation. A potent recipe for depression.

Again, complexity is to blame.  When we are in the grip of “Control fever”, we demand certainty from others. It is an impossible demand because the world and people in it are too complex and too inter-connected to permit certainty of outcomes.  Trust as control here really means “I do not trust you”.  When we do not trust, we are cautious, slow to move, closed and self-limited.

Trust as faith means to accept that ultimately we accept our own imperfections and in turn that allows us to be accepting of the imperfections of others.  Thus we believe in ourselves and in others too.  Indeed as Brené Brown points out, our love of others is limited by our love for ourselves.  So too with faith.

Faith in the Universe

Wow! Why stop at faith in ourselves and others?  What about the bigger picture?  It strikes me that at some level, having faith in systems that our bigger than ourselves and our social circle is an empowering and transforming thing.  Having faith that we belong and take our own place in Universe is not only reassuring, but gives us a sense of ownership and responsibility that transcends daily hassles and doubts, and provides:

  • courage
  • connection and
  • contribution

We cannot predict and control everything in our lives, nor is it desirable to do so.  We and the world we inhabit are complex, open and changing.   Trust as control is a limited and potentially damaging response to those realities, it needs to be subsumed within trust as faith.  It is perhaps the most important shift of all the Shiftwork principles.

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), this was the final shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)
  • ninth shift from Normative thinking to Normative and Scaleable thinking (see here)
  • tenth shift from Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

What other shifts do you think we need to make?  What shifts do YOU need to make? Which of these shifts presents the biggest challenge to you? How are you going to SHIFT?

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 10 – From Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

Here is a spoiler alert – if you are likely to be going to the cinema or watching TV in the next while, you may want to skip the next paragraph.

Rosebud was his sledge.  They all did it.  The dog dies in the final reel.  The shark gets blown up with a scuba diving tank. Nixon resigns. She dies.  He dies. Dr Evil escapes.

In this time-poor world you can thank me for giving you the endings to some of the better films in cinema history thus saving you having to watch them.  Curiously not everyone I meet is thrilled when I tell them the ending to a movie.  Oddly they prefer to be surprised, and let the movie unfold for them.

However this attitude of going with the flow, seeing where it ends up, living with emergence rarely extends to our careers.  Here we are encouraged to plan thoroughly, to visualise or imagine how things will play out, to know in advance what are next steps, and indeed are foreseeable steps will be.

So why this disconnect? Why is surprise ok in the movies, but less in careers?  Maybe we are more personally invested in our careers. We believe we stand to lose more if we do not keep on top of our careers, and know in advance where we are going.

We often admire people who know where they are going.  But think about that statement for a second.  What does it mean to say you know where you are going?  Well about the only certainty (I think) is that we are going to be dead at some point, and even then, we are not certain what it means to be dead, or what “dead” is like, if anything, and if it is not like anything, what it is like?

“I know where I am going”. No you do not. Not entirely. Not certainly. Ok, I hear you say, that much is a given, but we can gain a lot from planning out a direction, and a good plan incorporates the possibility that it will not work.   From there it is but a short step into all of the popular planning tools out there – whether it is setting goals, developing strategies, or exploring the most likely outcomes.  All of these methods whether they use testing, imagination or narrative, work on the assumption that we need to narrow down a range of probable alternatives to explore more fully before finally deciding upon a course of action.

Such approaches can be useful and reassuring (especially they are reassuring to others, like parents, spouses, friends and teachers).   However the Chaos Theory of Careers characterises people as limited in their ability to fully know their own circumstances or indeed needs and wants.  It is a work in progress and over time these will change, sometimes trivially, and at others more dramatically or uncontrollably.

From this perspective, the planning model is also seen as limited.  There is no guarantee after our careful and rational deliberations that we will end up on a satisfying path.  The sense of confidence about our new found direction may ultimately serve only to send us focused and furiously up a blind alley. But hey, at least we exuded confidence as we ground to a halt.

An equally valid method of exploring our world is through living with emergence.  This is the suck and see approach, the curiosity driven approach, the experimental approach, the small steps approach, the planned failure approach.  Here the emphasis is constantly testing ones thinking, ones skills, or knowledge as well as the opportunity structures in the world.   It involves trying things out, not fully knowing how they will end up.  It is setting off on a journey and seeing where it takes you.

Such an approach involves not ever more focus, clarity and control, but continued curiosity, openness, flexibility, efficacy and optimism. It involves what Steve Jobs of Apple has referred to as “I do stuff, I respond to stuff” (Steve Jobs being interviewed by Stephen Fry in Time Magazine. Jobs responding to Fry’s question about his “career” said “”I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That’s not a career — it’s a life!”) (see this post).

Interestingly we are so conditioned to accept planning approach as superior, people often dismiss or worry about following the emergent approach.  “You must have a direction”, “You must make a choice” etc.  I think part of the problem is that people are less clear what the emergent approach really is, and perhaps confuse it with ideas like dropping out, drifting, being fatalistic, avoiding difficult choices, running away, being childlike etc.

However it is a mistake to equate an emergent approach with these kinds of notions.  An emergent approach is about continually engaging, gauging and engaging, often in lots of different directions simultaneously.  It is not about passively sitting back and waiting to see what happens. Rather it is about immersing oneself in a range of activities, and actively monitoring and reflecting on our attitudes to these, so we can modify, amplify, diminish or extinguish the activities as we see fit.  As Jobs puts it, it is about doing stuff and responding to stuff.

Ironically, it is more likely that the planning model with all of its assumptions that one can discover and think through in advance sensible options to move you in a good direction that can lead to inaction as people stall with fear lest they make the wrong choice, or choose to explore a dud option.

This is evident in situations where, for instance, a College student cannot choose a major.  The planning perspective is that there must be a correct decision.  Planners are likely to throw their arms up in despair at any suggestion that the student do anything other than think even more deeply about their situation and preferences.   There is money at stake here afterall!

For some students, this may be helpful if they have been partying so hard they almost forgot why they had gone to College in the first place.  However for most, this injunction to think harder or deeper serves only to frustrate – as though they haven’t already tried this.

Here it may well be better to suggest an emergent approach.  Simply go with one or other choice, but at the same time try out other things. Take other courses on the side, get more experience in a range of other things, see what comes of those endeavours.  It may well be the case that one of these avenues leads somewhere entirely different and more enjoyable than any of the original options.  However it may also be the case, that they would never have known this at the time.

But this is not optimal, and the student ends up with a degree (and a bill) in a subject area they are no longer interested in.  Well that is the point, and that is life.  We cannot always know these things in advance. However that student, if they followed the emergent approach will have been energetically exploring, doing and responding to stuff that will likely have sharpened their likes and dislikes and exposed them to things that are more likely to provide them with some satisfaction.

So the student ended up with a degree that they do not use directly. So what?  Tell that to the 60% of Engineers who end up in Business, or the vast majority of Psychology graduates that do not practice Psychology.  It is not a tragedy. It is only a tragedy if they are encouraged to see their choices as being sub-optimal failures, rather than in the context of ongoing exploration, self-awareness and environmental awareness.

One of the benefits of the Emergent approach is that in adopting it or recommending it, we are privileging ideas like flexibility, curiosity, openness, adaptability, opportunity awareness and skills of reinvention.   These ideas are actively downplayed or seen as weaknesses or problems in the planning approach.  However in a world that is increasingly unpredictable and chaotic, employers are crying out for flexible workforces, and the person who is able to re-invent themselves or be flexible in what they can offer is likely to be more gainfully employed, as well as more satisfied with what they do.   Emergent approaches are good approaches for the times we live in.

Ultimately, we all live with emergence whether we like it or not. It is our reactions to this fact that can lead us astray.  An over-reliance on planning, and on insisting on knowing in advance places unrealistic demands upon the world, and can have counter productive results.

Our careers are not like movies, we cannot know the end, even if we wanted to. They do not follow the script, even if we wanted them to.  And they are not best enjoyed as a viewer in the 2nd row with a box of popcorn.

Living with emergence, means just that. Living.

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 nine, and in this post, I addressed the tenth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)
  • ninth shift from Normative thinking to Normative and Scaleable thinking (see here)

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

When I was a child, I didn’t want to be with the other young kids in the shallow end of the pool, but I was also secretly too scared to want to be at the deep end where the cool kids hung out and dived in. So I settled for the middle of the pool, and I wasn’t the only one. In fact, that is where most of the kids were – in the middle, with some at the shallow end and some at the deep end.  It was normal to see the kids spread across the pool like this.

You see a similar pattern at the beach, some kids close to the shore, some way out beyond the breakers and most somewhere in the middle. In fact quite a few things in life seem to be arranged in this way: a few at each extreme, with lots in the middle. Think of weight, height, the length people wear their hair, length of movies, and political views.

Indeed it is tempting to think that all human behaviour and qualities conforms to this pattern, which of course is otherwise known as the normal curve, or the bell-shaped curve.  The trouble is that life is not always like that.

Thinking that things conform to a normal curve – normative thinking – can be quite misleading. One of the most common fallacies is to under-estimate the potential that outlier events have in transforming our world.  In a normative way of thinking, outliers are exceedingly rare events, and because of this, it is “safe” to act as though they really do not exist.   However such a view completely misconstrues the nature of things.

 

Bell shaped curve monster

Bell shaped curve monster

Nassim Taleb makes this point in his book Black Swans, by contrasting two imaginery worlds, Extremistan and Mediocristan.  Mediocristan is world that contains things that conform to the normative rules, where things change only in small increments.

Height is a good example of a mediocristan quality.  Imagine you had 99 people whose mean average height was 165cm.  Then imagine that Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever living person wandered in. Adding his 272cm height to the average, we find the average goes up to a whopping (wait for it), 166cm.  In other words, a once in human history event leads to a change in our height less pronounced that putting on a pair of Jimmy Choo’s or a pair of Dock Marten’s.

In Extremistan, things are different. In this world, things are scaleable.  This means that when change occurs it can be changes in the order of magnitude, change that changes everything.   Now imagine our 165cm 99 people had an average wealth of $500,000.   Now suppose instead of Wadlow, Warren Buffet walks into the room and in a philanthropic gesture offers to share his 62 billion dollar wealth equally with the others.  The average wealth in the room increases to: $620 million or enough for 413,000 pairs of Jimmy Choo’s (enough to shoe the entire population of the Assabet Sudbury & Concord rivers district of New England) or 3.12 million pairs of Docs.   In other words you could be a Rude Boy with a new pair of Docs every day of your life (assuming you lived to be 8500) or alternatively you and your life partner could have matching Docs every day of your life and still had enough to shod every man, woman and child in Madrid) .  That ladies and gentlemen of the jury is life changing.

Slipping into my comfortable, yet challenging and exciting career development slippers, the implications for career development planning are that careers too are subject to change that can change everything.   One management decision, one idea, one meeting, one workplace accident can change ones world in unimaginable ways – be it positive or negative.

Some scaleable events that occur in careers include:

  • the closure of a complete industry due to economic, legal or political factors
  • the impact of a war or terrorism
  • a chance meeting leading to a new career path
  • a conversion or enlightenment moment leading to a new path
  • the acceptance of a new philosophy or faith or world view
  • an exposure to a life experience that is transforming
  • an accident
  • an inheritance or lottery win
  • the invention of a new technology
  • the opening (or closure) of a new or old business nearby
  • a mistake or failure that exposed you to new unanticipated experiences
  • and on and on

If we think and encourage our clients to think in normative terms, then we will be encouraging them to think that the present is as it always will be, and any change will be small, incremental and largely controllable and predictable.  In other words we will be encouraging them to either be overly optimistic about their ability to predict and control their circumstances, or overly pessimistic about their ability to radically change their situation.

Recognising that Extremistan not only exists, but may account for most of the important moments in the history of mankind (Taleb), means to alter our approach to career counselling.  It means helping clients to understand these realities and to see the potential for reinvention within them. It also means helping them to understand that risk management strategies, like career plans can be sometimes be overwhelmed by change on a scale that was unthinkable.

It might seem easy to write about this idea having witnessed the madness that are the current global markets, but it is worth remembering that when Taleb started writing about these notions, the GFC was not upon us, and some commentators (like Standard and Poors) were predicting stock market growth in 2008.

Some things in life are normative – they are generally the rather boring and unimaginative things.  Whereas other events in life are scalable – their presence is sufficient to change everything.  Those break-through moments in counselling are not merely the slow movement toward to a new outlook, they tend to come suddenly and unexpextedly – like an “aha” moment, when things combine, a new possibility emerges, a new insight or direction becomes clear.
It is our job to help clients see the difference between normative and scaleable thinking, and when a scaleable event occurs, we want our clients to be ready with their bags packed, and a fresh pair of Jimmy Choos or Docs on their feet, ready to travel whatever pathway emerges from these sudden transformations.

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 eight, and in this post, I addressed the ninth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

Shift: Transform your career by shifting: Shift 8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

What is easier – working with a person to understand the limits and biases in their thinking and then helping them change their thinking, or giving them  leaflet?

Is it easier to listen to a person’s career story, and help that person discern the emerging fractal patterns in the story, or point them towards a list of occupations on a website?

Do careers professionals want to be seen as a carbon equivalent of this machine on the Embarcadero in San Francisco that dispenses copies of the Chronicle – is that all that is needed?

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 seven, and in this post, I address the eighth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)

 

Career counseling is the single most effective career intervention that produces the greatest gains for clients in the shortest time (Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, 2000). The superiority of career counseling over more constrained approaches such as workshops, classes and computer programs is due in no small part to the flexible, contingent and personal nature of the counseling process.

And yet, why is it, that it is much more likely that most people who have access to careers services are more likely to be given information as a substitute for counseling?

Part of the answer is that information provision is relatively easier and cheaper to provide than counselling.  The web is a perfect medium to provide accurate, easily updatable and localised information at next to zero cost per individual.  These are the sorts of benefits that get the attention of Politicians and funders.  And this in part explains the increasing trend toward information provision being seen as the be all and end all of career development services, at least for those populations dependent upon government-funded programs such as high school and college students, graduates, the unemployed, and to a lesser extent those in rehabilitation programs

Sadly there are also “practitioners” who through laziness, apathy, or circumstance are content to simply distribute leaflets, as it suits their workshy tendencies, or for the more enlightened, they reason, correctly, that they have not been adequately trained to do any significant counseling.

This reinforces social inequality as access to quality counseling tends to be reserved for the wealthy (Pryor & Bright, 2006).  Ironically, a fact that is often not addressed by those who seek to criticize the use of testing in career development claiming it to be expensive and driven by profit motives, is that testing can often be significantly cheaper to provide than counseling.  However both of these methods are significantly more expensive than information provision.

What is happening is that increasingly careers services are being encouraged or coerced into making career information their primary purpose.  This creates significant distortions because any other service, like counseling, then stands out as extremely resource instensive and expensive, making it vulnerable to cuts.  Staff get hired without the capacity or interest in counseling, and budgets are trimmed to a printing allowance and a few subscriptions to on-line information sources (for the well resourced centers!).

Information provision is implicitly being presented as a proxy or alternative to counseling. The implicit assumption is that most clients need only to access the correct information, and that through some process of “true reasoning” will synthesize this into a coherent and effective career decision.  It is almost as though there has been a process of transference of Parsons’ “true reasoning” from the counselor to the client over the last 100 years.

However little or no evidence is presented in support of the view that clients do process the information in an effective manner.  In other words it takes more to make an appropriate career decision than good or plentiful information.   For instance clients with self-limited self-views are likely to select limited information and then make limited decisions on the basis of that limited information. It is a recipe for failing to reach personal potential and continuing or exacerbating their underlying career issues.   It also represents lost economic capacity, social mobility and workforce flexibility when considered from a labor market (ie a Politician’s) perspective.

 

My concern is, increasingly the transformation element of the career development role is being cut, displaced and outsourced to our clients with no evidence to suggest that those clients or those that surround them like family and friends have the ability to do this aspect of the work effectively.

Career development is not solely about information and never has been.  Transformation is at the heart of what we do. Transformation is a not an automatic process. It is not something that all of our clients are able to do by themselves.  Indeed, as web access becomes close to being universal, it is information that is available to all, and as digital literacy improves, it is career information that most can access with little or no external support.   At a time when career services are being forced, encouraged or choosing to arrange themselves primarily around information provision, they risk offering a service that is less and less required as the information they convey is readily accessible directly at home via the web.   Careers services run the risk of trying to become a newspaper at a time when newspapers are going out of business for the very same reasons.

We need to make the shift to not only provide information, but to also provide transformation.  And that means investment in training and hiring qualified counselors. It means beefing up standards and training courses to offer much more in-depth counseling training than is currently available.  It means offering, in Dan Pink’s (2005) words, high-touch services, as well as high tech services.

 

There is still a role for information, hence the Shift to Informing AND transforming.  As Bright & Pryor (2008) point out, career information continues to be a vital element in career development, however career information is merely an ingredient in career transformation. Shiftwork eschews reifying information and recognises how new information technologies can free us up to be more effective. The counseling process itself can also benefit from the use of information technology and some such as Lewis and Coursol (2007), Chester and Glass (2006) and Gredge (2008) report on already
developed effective models that harness podcasting and email in career counseling. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are already
being used by job hunters to advance their credentials, and possibilities exist using these technologies and others such as Voice Over Internet Protocols to develop
internet-based individual and group counseling sessions for minimal costs. Such approaches may overcome some of the cost and distance barriers to accessing
affordable and effective career counseling.

 

References

Bright, JEH & Pryor, RGL. (2008). Shiftwork.  A Chaos Theory of Careers Agenda for Careers Counselling. Australian Journal of Career Development, (vol 17, Number 3, Spring 2008, 63-72.

Chester, A., & Glass, C. A. (2006). Online counselling: A descriptive analysis of therapy services on the internet. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 34(2). 145–160.

Gredge , R. (2008). Online counselling services at Australian universities. Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Student Services, 31, April, 4–22.

Lewis, J., & Coursol, D. (2007). Addressing career issues online: Perceptions of counselor education professionals. Journal of Employment Counseling, 44(4), 146–153.

Oliver, L. W., & Spokane, A. R. (1988). Career-intervention outcome: What contributes to client gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35, 447–462.

Pink. D. (2005).  A whole new mind. Allen & Unwin.

Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2006). Counselling the Australian Perspective.  Applied Psychology an International Review.

Whiston, S. C. (2000). Individual career counseling. In D. A. Luzzo (Ed.), Career Counseling of College Students. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

 

Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 7 From Goals, Roles And Routines To Meaning, Mattering, And Black Swans

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 six, and in this post, I address the seventh shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)

We live in a world that is complex, changing and therefore inherently uncertain. These fundamental features of our world apply to everything from cellular reproduction to operating the windscreen wipers on a car.   It is how we respond to the challenges that complexity, change and uncertainty pose that influences or determines how successfully and happily we live in this world.

Ironically, one of the most common responses to complexity, change and uncertainty is to act to reduce or eliminate them, or if we cannot do that, to pretend they do not exist.   We can cope with the idea that one factor causes or influences another thing – like heat turning bread into toast, and we are especially happy when the relationship is controllable – the longer in the toaster, the browner the toast.  However when there are nine different options to operate the windscreen wipers it is all too much.  I know someone who has just sold their car for a cheaper and simpler one for this reason!  If only the world and the people in it obeyed simple rules, life could be conquered, neatly bundled up and put in a box.

To be fair, this approach has been spectacularly successful in many regards.  Sit under an apple tree long enough and you will appreciate Newton’s insights about gravity and apples. Lots of things in the physical world do appear at the human scale to behave in predictable and lawful ways over reasonably long periods of time.  Stonehenge is still standing, Warwick Castle remains, the Pyramids are still around.

However, when it comes to humans and human interactions, simple models of behavior have proved to be less successful, humans and their interactions have proved to be less predictable, less controllable.  There are simply too many different influences coming to bear at any one time with a tendency to change from one moment to the next.

This has not stopped us from trying to account for behavior in the relatively simple terms of personality, star sign, gender, sexuality, head shape, body shape, political views, family history, birth place, birth order, early childhood experience, love of cats or dogs and many more.   In nearly all cases evidence can be found that suggests these factors do play a small part in our behavior. However the emphasis is on the small part they play, and even when combined there is still a very large amount of uncertainty in behavior remaining.

Nonetheless the desire for a predictable live leads us to implementing strategies that are predicated on the world being an unchanging, controllable and predictable place.  The three most common strategies are Goal Setting; Role Setting and Routine Setting.

Goal setting is the most popular behavior change strategy employed by individuals and organizations. It is almost uncritically accepted, a point I and several others have been making for some time (see this article and this one).

In complexity terms, goal setting involves reducing all of the complexity in a situation simply to the actor and the goal – from here to there.   The strength of goal setting is that it demands that we focus upon a clearly defined target, and very often it further demands that we move toward that target within a specific time frame.

As I’ve pointed out before (along with others) goal setting works well in psychology labs and in the short-term. Over longer periods (typically more than 3 – 6 months) the potential for things changing in our environments, or us changing is so great that the goal posts shift or are obliterated.

In situations where there is a lot of ambiguity and change, there is a danger that goal setting will lock us in too early to an objective that is ultimately undesirable.  Goals work best in simple situations in the short-term.  Goals can be useful, but to rely on them overly or exclusively runs the risk of missing opportunities that change brings, or becoming rigid, stereotyped and irrelevant in a complex changing situation.

Another way of simplifying the world is to think of ourselves and others as occupying roles.  We do this to ourselves when we think in terms of “worker”, “homemaker”, “parent”, “lover”, “child” etc.   Like goals these can be useful ways of making sense, but ultimately they are limited and too rigid to capture the complexity of a changing world.  The simplistic messages first adumbrated about work-life balance highlight the limitations of dividing the world into these categories.  The reality is messier, the boundaries are blurred.  In organizations in the past, the extensive application of roles in the workplace led to demarcation disputes, inflexibility and a lack of competitiveness.   Organizations with rigid structures have typically not fared well in the 21st century business environment.  Similarly those with an overly rigid sense of self, reinforced by a role label also struggle.

The third strategy is to impose routines as way of increasing predictability and reducing complexity.  Everyone knows where they are with a set of rules.  Funnily in sport, the most artificial of rule-governed environments, where doing the best within the rules is the whole raison d’etre, the rules often change from one season to the next. For instance check this site to see how the rules changed in baseball. Changes are made as players adapt and exploit loopholes or even as was the case in 1975, a shortage of horses meant they needed to find another type of hide to cover the balls!

The point is that there is always an exception to the rule.  Things change unpredictably requiring the rules or routines to change.  Rules and routines are always a response to complexity, they never lead or tame it.  Further because things are complex, the rules or routines will never be able to fully capture or anticipate that complexity.

We all have experienced the exasperation of dealing with “more than my job’s worth” little pedants – or their voice activated counter-parts, or sometimes whole bureaucracies that just cant or wont respond to your particular circumstances.   Rules, regulations, policies and the like are an essential part of life that provide a degree of certainty and consistency of expectation in human interaction, but like Goals and Roles, when applied rigidly, without finesse and wisdom, they can become rigid, inefficient, and sometimes damaging or even inhumane.

Shift 7 is about recognising the value and importance of these strategies, but seeks to add other approaches to life that transcend these attempts at trying to control and predict everything.   The move to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans underlines the fundamental importance of these things to the human condition.

Doing things that have personal or community meaning is an important but neglected consideration in our work and organizations.  Instead of jumping straight to the goal setting tool bag to solve our problems, time spent reflecting on what is the most meaningful thing that I or we could do, may provide a bigger guiding framework into which shorter-term goals or roles or routines begin to make sense.  Having this sense of meaningful work also provides a home for wisdom – the wisdom to recognize when goals are not appropriate or should be changed or abandoned.

Mattering is a related concept to meaning and it relates to doing work that matters to us and to others.  It means doing work that resonates with our sense of calling, purpose or vision, and work that has a tangible and important positive effect on others or society.  It is about social connection and doing something useful and worthwhile. It is work as social contribution.   Again mattering is superordinate concept to Goals, Roles and Routines.   It guides us as to their use and application.

Ironically Meaning and Mattering are the things that provide the motive force to maintain Goals, Roles and Routines.  It is when we start to question whether what we are doing is meaningless or feel that is does not matter to us or to others that we begin to waiver, before getting stuck.  Often a failure to think sufficiently and frequently about Meaning and Mattering risks us following Goals, Roles and Routines on autopilot, and in so doing we do not take into account the shifting sands of our lives and the result is we run aground and get stuck fast.   As Norm Amundson points out many people (and organizations) report feeling “stuck” when they hit a crisis point.

Finally, the Black Swans refers to the term I think was termed by Nassim Taleb in his eponymous book from 2007.  He makes the point that Europeans assumed that all swans were white until a black one was discovered in Western Australia.  The point is that in many situations (more than we tend to appreciate) it only takes one thing of which we were previously unaware to change everything.  Black Swans are a reminder that what we dont know we dont know has the greatest potential to impact our lives and they are things that we cannot predict with goals, or simplify into Roles or Routines.

The presence of Black Swans in our lives (that Taleb credits for every event of signifcance in human history!) is a potent reminder of the severe limitations on our ability to predict, control, goal-set, role-set or routinize our lives.  It is a reminder that if we want to be successful in our lives, we need to do what is meaningful, what matters and to be excited and content to live with the uncertainty of Black Swans.

 

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.