Category Archives: Shiftwork

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

Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 5 From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour

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

Shift 5 is from Risk as Failure to Risk as Endeavour.

Career Development tends to be focussed on career “success” and rarely is failure mentioned, written about or researched.  This tends to create an atmosphere where success is seen as something to be desired and achieved above all else.  Generally this is accompanied by the obverse message that failure is to be avoided, minimised, despised or feared. It is summed up in that popular motivational injunction that “Failure is not an option”.

Characterising failure in such resolutely negative terms is actually quite odd, given that we are surrounded and immersed in failures almost all of the time.  Most predictions such as economic ones, or pretty much all others in fact, usually fail (at least to some degree). Most restaurants fail, most businesses fail, most people are rejected during an application or promotion process.  Most of us fail to win the lottery or the raffle, our favourite players or teams fail to win every game, our favoured political parties fail to win government about half of the time (or a lot more!), our favourite films fail to win the Oscar, and so it goes.

Seeing failure only in terms of the risk it poses to our beloved pursuit of success is actually a very self-limiting perspective.  For one thing it immediately rules out the possibility that failure may actually contribute significantly or even be the major reason for later success.  It also rules out the possibility that valuable learning occurs when failure is appropriately reflected upon.

In a forthcoming paper (Pryor & Bright, 2011) we have identified 4 benefits of failure. These are:

  1. An Opportunity to Learn
  2. Encouraging Creativity
  3. Builds Strategy
  4. Personal/Spiritual Development

Opportunity to Learn

Put simply, Learning requires trial and error. Without the error, we never learn.  It seems odd to say it, but we learn less from success that success and failure combined. For instance suppose there was a machine that delivered gold coins if you put yellow tokens into it, but gave you nothing if you put blue tokens into it.    If you had 10 yellow tokens in your possession, you’d get 10 gold pieces and might conclude that putting tokens into the machine resulted in gold coins.  However if you had 10 yellow and 10 blue tokens you’d learn more, that not only do you have to put a token in, but it needs to be yellow.  You’ve learned more.

Failing early on in a process before too much time or effort is expended, maximises the time and resources left to leverage the learning that has taken place.  Aim to fail well and early for more rapid success.

Encouraging Creativity

The way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.  This general principle seems to be widely accepted in discussions of creativity. It practice it means establishing the conditions where people are encouraged to generate as many ideas as possible without paying attention to their value.  It is thought that such brainstorming type approaches is like panning for gold, you sift a lot of rock to get the gold.  In career development, as a general rule, the more strategies you try to land the job or promotion, the greater the likelihood of achieving this.

Builds Strategy

Once we accept that we might fail, it is easier to move forward and implement a strategy. By following Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice “that nothing will be achieved if first all objections must be overcome”, we can explore possibilities, despite the fact we might fail. If fear of failure is very strong, then we do not endeavour, and by so doing, we ultimately fail anyway in most circumstances.

Failing also helps to reveal the hidden contingencies in a situation that allows us to revise and improve our assumptions or models.

Personal / Spiritual Development

Failure is a great advertisement for our limitations to fully control, predict and know the world.  Not all failures can be sheeted home to a lack of effort, support or planning. Some “failures” are simply beyond our control.  For instance when we fail to get a job, it doesn’t always mean we made a mistake, rather it could simply be that there was an outstanding candidate up against us on this occasion.  We can be the safest of drivers, yet still get injured when another driver loses control, or a large animal jumps out in front of us.

Such a perspective allows us to appreciate the limits of our power and knowledge, and indeed of what is controllable and knowable. It can help us toward a greater degree of humility.

Risk, Endeavour and Chaos Theory of Careers

The case for the Shift from Risk as Failure to Risk as Endeavour, rests on the fact that we live in a highly complex and interconnected world where we simply cannot work out in advance all of the possible contingencies, and therefore cannot plan, prepare or control for every outcome, or even imagine every possible outcome.  This is the Chaos Theory of Careers (Pryor & Bright, 2011) perspective, and for this reason, failure needs to be seen as both inevitable but also desirable.


Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH (2011). The Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge. UK & USA.

Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH (in press). There’s no success like failure and failure is no success at all”:  The value of failing in career development. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance.


Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 4 From Control To Controlled Flexibility

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) and the first shift (see here) and second shift (see here) and I provide some tips about how to achieve the third one here.  Below I address the fourth shift.

From Control to Controlled Flexibility

We like to believe that life is controlled. We need to believe that life is controllable, but we know that there are severe limits on our ability to control our lives. I write this in the aftermath of the second Christchurch Earthquake in New Zealand, the aftermath of the devasting floods in Queensland, Australia, the lethal mudslides in Brazil, and of course the ongoing human and nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

All of these tragic events are sombre reminders of our inability to fully predict and control our lives.  Norm Amundson and Gray Poehnell in their books Active Engagement and Hope Filled Engagement talk about the “crisis of imagination” that causes us to become stuck in our careers.  This crisis of limitation of imagination is also partly responsible for us failing to anticipate the impact of the natural disasters so many have experienced in 2011.

At the time of writing, it appears that the Japanese nuclear reactors had insufficient safety mechanisms to handle the tsunami.  Nobody had imagined an emergency on that scale.  This is not unusual.  On Nov 4th 2010 flight QF32 flying from Singapore to Sydney suffered massive engine failure on the brand new A380 super-jumbo.   Apparently pilots had been trained to deal with 2 systems failures occurring at the same time on this new plane.  The pilots on the day had to contend with 60 system failures and failures of some form or other in every system on the plane.  Apparently nobody had imagined that this could happen.

These stories point to the fact that very often our plans are confounded by events that are beyond are imagination, what Nassim Taleb terms “Black Swan” events in his eponymously titled book, events that arise from “what we do not know we do not know”.   Career planning is no less susceptible to this problem, and consequently we need to make the Shift from Control to Controlled Flexibility.

Controlled Flexibility means being able to address a situation in a flexible manner, but not one that is so flexible that there is no structure or one where the response becomes essentially random. Confronting the unexpected by taking random actions is  sure sign of panic. Rarely is such an approach effective, and if it is, it is due to pure “dumb” luck.

Controlled Flexibility requires us to understand that our plans are likely to need to be altered to a greater or lesser degree as we embark on our course and discover hidden contingencies along the way, or meet with completely unexpected challenges.  Armed with this understanding from the outset we can implement two general strategies: insurance plans and pro-active problem solving skills.

Insurance plans , the oft-mentioned “Plan B” is a very common approach to dealing with fluid or ambiguous situations. However the Plan B approach tends to work best in fairly simple and slow moving situations.  Too often, Plan B becomes irrelevant or ineffective as events develop.

Plan Bs too often are remarkably similar to the primary plan, meaning that they are only likely to apply if conditions change in only a small way.  Change of any significance renders the Plan Bs redundant.

Plan Bs can induce a sense of complacency in the individual or group who feel secure or insured against the worst outcome. This complacency reduces motivation to continue to develop plans or ideas about other courses of action.

A more sophisticated version of the Insurance Plan is Scenario Planning.  Scenario Planning involves the regular and in-depth exploration and simulation of different complex situations that may confront an individual, group or organisation.

A Scenario Planning session begins with imagining a problem.  Then the problem is explored to understand its structure, implications, severity and opportunities it affords.  Then personal or group resources are reviewed to understand what is available to address the problem.  The problem is most likely then broken down into logical components driven either by the structure of the problem or the availability of resources to address it. Then action steps are proposed and implemented to address the problem.

A key aspect of Scenario Planning is that it is dynamic and simulated.  This means that the initial consideration of the problem, the perception of the resources available and the initial responses to the problem have an impact on what happens next.  It allows the Scenario Planners to understand the impact of their initial thoughts and actions.   This information informs a second round of responses and so on, until the problem is fully explored and an effective strategy emerges.

All of this information, each step and decision, is debated and documented, so at the end of the exercise a complete record of the decision-making processes, decisions, outcomes and the final strategy are all stored ready for future potential use.

A critical feature of Scenario Planning is the importance of regularity.  Successful Scenario Planners schedule regular Scenario Planning sessions to explore new problems.   This is important because it builds up a library of explored and solved problems that become a resource to consult when confronted by problems in the future.

Regular Scenario Planning is also a potent way to develop the problem solving and planning skills of those involved.  For groups and organisations, it allows teams to learn from each other, and for corporate knowledge capture, enhancement, transfer and preservation. For individuals it helps to maintain an awareness of the need to be able to address complex issues in their careers at any time and without notice.

Shell Oil is a company that many business schools cite as a good example of the effectiveness of Scenario Planning.  Shell weathered the Oil crisis of 1973 when world oil prices spiked far better than many of their larger competitors.  One reason for their performance at the time was attributed to their management being able to draw on their Scenario Planning experience. They had already worked through a similar scenario and therefore were able to address the issue with more agility than their competitors.  Shell moved from being a middle-ranking to a world leading firm on the back of this.

The second Controlled Flexibility strategy is to develop Pro-active Problem Solving skills.  As we’ve seen Scenario Planning is a potent way to develop these skills, but there are many other methods available such as using DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats (White, Red, Black, Green, Yellow and Blue), or considering Sternberg’s (2003) Analytical, Creative and Practical Intelligence, or Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Spatial, Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic).

What De Bono, Gardner and Sternberg are getting at, is that we need to pay attention to different, or in De Bono’s terms “parallel” ways of thinking if we are going to boost imagination and creative problem solving.  Their models give us some frameworks to encourage a broader engagement with a problem than simply falling into “argumentative thinking” (De Bono) or relying on Analytical (Sternberg) or Logical-mathematical (Gardner) thinking.

One final point to make here, is that I am not promoting a view that career problems are a jigsaw puzzle that can be solved, rather I like the metaphor I read Dave Snowden using that we should see complex problems as mysteries.  We are NOT going to get THE correct solution, or THE complete picture. Rather we are going to see fragments of structure, and from these we can start to implement strategies and plans knowing that we are inevitably going to have to modify these strategies or develop completely new ones as things inevitably and unpredictably change.


So for career success, the first step is to appreciate the limitations of what we can control and predict.  The second step is not to respond by falling into helplessness or fatalism.  Nor should we settle for simple insurance plans like the Plan B strategy, but rather we need to commence and maintain a program of scenario planning, and secondly to work actively on developing problem solving skills.  Through these mechanisms we can develop controlled flexibility.



Amundson, N. (2009). Active Engagement. 3rd Edition. Ergon Press.

Bright, Jim (2008) Beyond Personal Mastery®

Bright, Jim (2008). Beyond Corporate Mastery®

De Bono, E. (1999) Six Thinking Hats. Back Bay Books.

Gardner, H. (1993).   Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. Basic Books.

Poehnell, G. & Amundson, N. (2011). Hope-filled Engagement. Ergon Press.

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

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 3 From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness

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) and second shift (see here) below I give a few tips about how to achieve the third one.

Shift 3: From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness

When trying to make a decision it is easy to become overwhelmed by the choices and so it makes sense to narrow down those choices to a couple of alternatives or even better to one option.  This strategy is useful when:

  • making the wrong choice doesn’t matter much
  • when the situation is simple and you can think through all the implications of your various options
  • when all the alternatives are obvious and easy to understand in advance
  • when things are not not changing or not changing rapidly and can be predicted accurately
  • when you can reverse the decision and start over with the same alternatives still available to you

However many decisions, and many career-related decisions are not like this.  Often things are changing and changing unpredictably.  There are many complex factors bearing on the decision, and because of this uncertainty, changeability and unpredictability, it may not be possible to “undo” a decision.  Under these circumstances being too focused on one course or action of goal may mean failing to spot a better one along the way. Bright & Pryor (2007, Career Planning & Adult Development Journal) call this Luck Readiness (a term coined by my friend from Life Strategies Roberta Neault), or opportunity awareness.

Ways in which you can focus on openness include:

  • engaging in possibility thinking
  • entertaining “wildest dreams”
  • reading lots
  • reading material and attending meetings addressing topics outside of what you think of as your area
  • go to a gallery
  • go to a museum
  • see a music gig
  • talk to friends
  • talk to enemies
  • listen without talking
  • look for 10 reasons why someone else has got a point
  • see other ideas as gifts not threats
  • hold opinions but never be sure
  • be oppositional with your own ideas and open with others ideas
  • change your viewing/reading/learning/cultural habits
  • using the “I’m feeling lucky” link on google
  • read blogs
  • follow links on twitter
  • accept invitations
  • make invitations
  • vary your social life
  • sit in a different chair

  • rearrange your office
  • talk a walk in the woods/high street/mall/in your mind
  • travel
  • look at a scene, turn away, look again and see something different. Repeat 10 times
  • when things go wrong dont curse, instead say how curious I wonder why?
  • never conclude
  • appreciate quitting is often success – like smoking, drugs, reckless driving, make quitting work for you
  • network by giving and sharing yourself, your ideas and tips
  • if you must set goals set fuzzy ones
  • see yourself as lucky
  • experiment with everything
  • take things apart
  • be curious, especially about what you take for granted

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?

Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 1 From Prediction to Pattern Making

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 below I give a few tips about how to achieve the first one.

Shift 1: From Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making

The world is changing to quickly and it is too interconnected and complex to make accurate predictions.  For instance

  • Most economic models are hopelessly inaccurate.
  • Most commentators didn’t pick the global financial crisis or credit crunch – some of the most respected commentators were predicting shares to go up 8% in the year they crashed.
  • Weather forecasts are rarely good for more than a few days (and even then they often get it wrong for exactly where you are living).
  • 80%-100% of people report chance events impacting their careers. Take my survey on the homepage of this blog to add your say and see current results (I’ve done more “scientific” research on this and published it if you want more rigor!)

Instead of trying to zoom in and focus on one or two things in our life and predicting what will happen (this is essentially what goal setting tries to achieve), try instead taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture. Do this by:

  • deliberately looking for patterns in your life
  • in your surroundings
  • in new experiences
  • Look for things that repeat or are self-similar – like habits, routines, recurring themes
  • be patient and let things emerge over time – take a wait and see approach
  • look for how things fit together
  • walk around your ideas or life and see it from a different perspective
  • change the metaphor you are using to consider your life, career or other problems
  • use as many different ways of understanding what you are experiencing

Some ways of seeing patterns include:

  • patterns of thoughts
  • patterns of emotions
  • patterns of situations or context
  • patterns of reactions
  • patterns of other people’s views and opinions
  • cyclical or seasonal patterns
  • looking for similarities
  • looking for symmetries
  • looking for symmetries of scale – for instance same thing at every level of behaviour – individual, group, community
  • look for patterns, themes and plots in stories
  • look for irregular but sort of like old patterns

And remember that the patterns will never be complete, often are in the process of emerging and they will change themselves over time. Within the Chaos Theory of Careers, I argue that many patterns are fractals – patterns that repeat in self-similar but not identical manner and that are subject to unpredictable change.

Shift: Transform you career by SHIFTING

The world is changing, you are changing, change is inevitable (except from a vending machine). So the question is what are you doing about it?  Maybe you need to get into SHIFTWORK.  I have re-defined the term “Shiftwork”.

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

It derives from our Chaos Theory of Careers (Bright & Pryor, 2005, 2007;Pryor & Bright, 2003, 2007, 2011) that explicitly incorporates the concept of change in its account of careers in terms of complex dynamical systems.

Essentially the chaos theory of careers characterizes the world as a continually changing, complex and highly interconnected place, and humans living within this world are also highly complex and continually changing open systems which mean they are also highly interconnected.  This leads to many different implications including that change is a consistent feature of our lives and that the nature of this change will often not be easily predicted or controlled and may be sudden and disproportionate.

I have identified the first XI shifts we all need to make.  You can find a fuller paper on these ideas here.  These are

1: From Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making

2: From Plans To Plans And Planning

3: From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness

4: From Control To Controlled Flexibility

5: From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour

6: From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities

7: From Goals, Roles And Routines To Meaning, Mattering, And Black Swans

8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

10: From Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

11: From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

Want to read more? This is an extract of a paper called

SHIFTWORK: A CHAOS THEORY OF CAREERS AGENDA FOR CHANGE IN CAREER COUNSELLING by JIM E. H. BRIGHT and ROBERT. G. L. PRYOR. It appeared in the Australian Journal of Career Development Volume 1 7 , Numb e r 3 , S p r i n g 2 0 0 8

get it here


How do you see change in your life and career? How confident are you in your ability to change or adapt and thrive in a changing world?  If you help others work on their transitions, what techniques or approaches do you use to help others understand, survive and capitalize on change?