Tag Archives: authenticity

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)

The Strange Strength of Vulnerability

The Strange Strength of Vulnerability

Here is a paradox – the strongest systems are those that are most susceptible to change. They are the ones that have a lot of connections.   The more connected a person is, the more sources of support they can draw upon when they are struggling. The more people in a person’s network, the more likely that they can recover rapidly from a career reversal and find something else to do.

Yet, each time we make a connection to another person we must overcome the hurdle of vulnerability.  We are putting ourselves out there for tacit judgement by the person we are attempting to connect to – will they accept us or not?  If fear gets the better of us, rejection can be internalised as confirmation of our own worst fears about our worth.  Or worse, we never get to the rejection, because fear makes us get in first and blocks us even reaching out in the first place.

Le Cyclop - La Tête Maquette 1970

It is tempting (and common) to believe that self-sufficiency is the best way of building strength and resilience.  As Paul Simon wrote “I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain and an island never cries”.   However real islands are very vulnerable. If the resources on the island run out, they are dependent upon outside links for their survival, and if the link to the outside world is cut, the result can be catastrophic.
It turns out that the most resilient systems are the most interconnected.  The island connected to land by many bridges, an air service, a tunnel and many ferry services is far more likely to be able to withstand any degradation or removal of one or several of these links.   It is what is called graceful degradation and not catastrophe!

The idea of there being strength in vulnerability is not new, you do not need to go back much further than the Corinthians to appreciate the fundamental and deep seated logic of this idea.  However, just because it is true doesn’t mean we should stop trying to understand the idea and communicate it.

In my previous post I celebrated the work of Brené Brown and her book the Gifts of Imperfection, and it was my reading of this that has caused me to think more deeply about the connection between her ideas and the Chaos Theory of Careers.

One way of approaching the Chaos Theory of Careers is to think about ourselves as systems and that these systems are governed or limited by Attractors.

The first three Attractors describe systems that are closed, that is no new or outside influences can alter behaviour of the system – they have the effect of making people into little islands.   When people become completely focused on a goal the rest of the world is shut out. When people see the world in exclusively black or white terms, all the colours in between are lost. When people stick rigidly to routines or rules, the exceptions and outliers no longer have a home.   The last Attractor – the Strange Attractor – is the signature of Chaos, because it is an Open System.   This means that it allows external connections or influences and these can change, sometimes radically the system, in fact the system is continually changing, only most of the time the change is not very noticeable.

So the Strange Attractor is vulnerable because it allows connections, and those connections serve to change how the system behaves.  However it is this very dynamic, this habit of continually learning, being open and adapting that gives the Strange Attractor its resilience.  If the environment radically changes, the Strange Attractor naturally modifies its behavior too, because it is connected to that environment.   The resilience or strength is a dynamic resilience or strength. It does not act to keep things as they are, rather it acts to keeps thing going, which is why I prefer the term persistence – too keep going, rather than resilience – to bounce back (to the same place).

Making connections to others means letting them into your life and being open to changing.  As Mark Savickas is prone to say, To Live is to Move.  If life is about movement, it is about continual change, and continual change happens only in the Strange Attractor – being an open system. In human terms continually reaching out to others, and allowing yourself to be reached by others.

To see strength as the ability to withstand, to maintain the same, to effectively stop time is an error, because it is not possible in anything other than the very short-term.

Jean Tiguely from Tinguely Musuem

Méta-mécanique Méta-mechanische Skulptur 1955

I prefer to see strength as the ability to be vulnerable and open to change, and so (in the words of my favourite artist Jean Tinguely) to become Static in Movement.  When I hear and read Brené Brown’s ideas about vulnerability and strength, I hear echoes of not only the Corinthians, but also artists like Jean Tinguely and theories like Robert Pryor’s and my Chaos Theory of Careers. When you’ve got the Corinthians, a Texan, a Swiss, an Englishman/Naturalised Australian and a born and bred Australian on the same song sheet it makes for dynamic, sweet, vulnerable, and strong music!

So the key in Counseling is not to encourage clients into yet more goal setting – or at least not until – they have explored and appreciate their Strange Attractor – the complex pattern of stability and change, of Identity and Transformation, of Dividual and Individual.  It is not so much that people need to change, rather it is the understanding that living is change and to live authentically is to accept, embrace, invite and instigate change.

 

 

 

 

The imperfect career and a gift from Brene Brown

I got a gift from Brené Brown the other day.  Actually you could call it a gift squared, because the gift was The Gifts of Imperfection, her popular and really very very good book. Brené, unbeknownst to me, offers prizes for contributions of comments to her blog. My name came out of her Houston Hat, or however names get picked in Texas, and her book arrived soon after.  A gift squared in Brené’s thinking is quite fine, because being squared is a lot better than holding onto being cool and in control.

Gifts of Imperfection

Brene Brown Gifts of Imperfection

 

Having seen her Ted talk I was eager to read more, and avid readers will know I have referred to her ideas in my blogs about living on the edge of chaos.

I want here to share my reaction to her book, and how I feel that it has plenty to offer to people considering their career development, or those professionals that are helping such people.  Indeed, Brené includes a chapter on Cultivating Meaningful work.

What has struck me about a lot of her work here is how it provides a complimentary and reinforcing perspective on many of the key themes in the Chaos Theory of Careers.   For instance, in her chapter on Intuition and Faith, she writes: “In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty.  Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees so much that we dont pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process”. (p.88). It is a theme of the CTC that uncertainty is inherent in all that we do, and therefore learning to live with, or in Brené’s terms learning to “lean into” uncertainty is an important thing to do.

There is a theme in much of her work about insecurity, lack of self-efficacy, anxiety and worry.  Brené researches Shame and more recently what she terms “Wholeheartedness” which she argues is a process we cultivate through Courage, Compassion and Connection.

Now interestingly I misread this, changing “Compassion” to “Conviction” when I was playing around with triangles and her ideas on my iPad (see first figure below).  What caused me to do this? It was not a lack of thought about the triangle – I carefully chose red- the colour of the heart to represent Courage – a word that comes from the Latin “cor” meaning heart. Connection I saw as green, a colour used to denote the environment – so green is about connection to those around us.  I put Conviction in yellow – a colour representing the heat of a flame – a standout light, beacon, intensity.

By why did I mistake Conviction for Compassion? I suspect because I am drawn to and have been trained to privilege the cognitive over the emotive, and conviction to me is more closely related to ideas, and compassion is more closely related to emotion, but Brené would probably want to say it is also a process, and I think that is correct.  What it means is that I have to work hard on being wholehearted, and that Compassion is a key component of that that perhaps I need to work on more.

And this is the kind of thinking that Brené Brown’s book provoked in me.

So here is my “correct” triangle (above) of the 3 processes in being Wholehearted and I am happy to share my mistake – no shame thoughts there! This time I chose blue.  A synesthite I know (a person who has a condition whereby they “see” numbers and words as colours) told me that “Compassion” is “black”, but I decided on Blue.  This is because I have recently become reacquainted with Southern Blues music, and in my life more generally I have begun to welcome and like exploring the blues and blue moments.  It is ok and indeed normal to be blue from time to time.  It is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.  Compassion for Brené Brown means not only showing that compassion to others, but also, and especially to yourself.

Each of these processes are intimately linked with Career Development.  I have written and spoken before about continually summoning courage to try things out, take risks, live with uncertainty, be bold enough to fail, to reach out and connect or network.  All of these activities also require self-compassion.  Whether it is the overwhelming majority who fail to put achievement statements on resumes because they feel they haven’t achieved anything, the job seeker who writes cover letters that start by pointing out what attributes they do not have, or the perpetually scared and frustrated person who dares not take a risk because they feel that are not good enough to do so, or too weak to deal with any failure – all these people are being too hard on themselves, and not living wholeheartedly.

Perhaps for some, Brené’s message that our love for others is limited by our love for ourselves, may be confronting, but I like her quote (p61) from Leonard Cohen “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” (from “Anthem”).  I found myself relating her concept to that of fractal patterns, the self-repeating pattern at every level.  If there is no repeating pattern of love in our patterns of ourselves, then how can love patterns be repeated in our patterns toward others? There is a disconnect, a break in the pattern. Those external patterns of love are not wholehearted, not fully authentic expressions because they do not fully belong with those inner patterns.  To produce that scalable pattern of love, love has to be in the internal or self-referential patterns.

With a nod to Koch’s Snowflakes (fractal patterns of snowflakes, see the example in my youtube movie Where will you be?) I produced this kind of like a fractal picture of triangles within triangles – the outer one, the limiting one being self-love, and the inner ones (and they can be infinite, are love for others).

Again what I love about Brené’s ideas are that she stresses that dynamic nature of these processes.  It is the practice of connection, belonging and relationship, the practice of love that matters.

Again I see the very obvious links to career development and the Chaos Theory of Careers in particular in this formulation.  The CTC states that we are intimately and massively inter-connected to others. It is the acknowledgement of this that is crucial for effective career behaviour. It has obvious links to relationship, and all work is relationship.  Put simply you cannot work without others.  Even an assassin needs other people!

There is also an obvious theme of limitation and how we can live within and be stronger for acknowledging our limitations, such as limits in our ability to control, predict, surpass, achieve, know and do.  In the CTC, the first three attractors (Point, Pendulum and Torus) describe varying forms of self-limitation in the pursuit of control, prediction and perfection, whereas the last – the Strange Attractor, describes an open system that is paradoxically vulnerable to transformation and change yet at the same time more authentically resilient. It is also more dynamic.  These ideas work well with Brené’s outlook, and I like that.

The aspect of Belonging resonated strongly with me.  A good friend of mine, the jazz musician James Morrison who is accustomed to performing in front of large audiences, once had to perform live in front of a billion people to open the Sydney Olympic games with a spectacular fanfare.  I asked him about that experience, I was curious to know whether he was nervous about playing a bum note.  His answer was “when you have a strong feeling that you belong where you are, the anxiety recedes and there is no question of playing a bum note”.   I have personally found that idea extremely powerful when it has come to moments in my life where in the past I might have succumbed to a panic attack, such as addressing large audiences.  If you have a strong sense of belonging, then the worry about “I’m an imposter, get me out of here” can be replaced with “they have entrusted me to do this, I can do this, so the questions that remain are what will I do and how will I do it”.

Having a sense of belonging allows you to focus your energy on doing your best.  The same goes for a job interview.  The employer has invited you to the interview, so they have given you a strong signal saying “you belong in this interview”.  It then becomes not a question of being found out or examined, but rather mutually exploring a subject of mutual interest – they want to fill a position and so do you!

In Career Development, a lot of our work as career coaches is around helping people to appreciate their sense of belonging. It is also about helping people recognise the signs that they belong and being able to use that data to inform their decisions about career direction.  Finding a job that you love can be informed by considering Belonging, Connection and Relationship.

Connection, Compassion and Courage strike me as the appropriate responses to both ourselves and a world that is characterised as per the Chaos Theory of Careers as Complexly Connected, Changing, and Uncertain.  We cannot fully control and predict our careers or lives.  We are not perfect and no career or job is either, but we can make the most of our gifts of imperfection.

Having the courage to live authentically on the edge of chaos

The most common way of dealing with uncertainty is to close our minds and limit our options and behaviors.  The trouble is that the world and the people in it are uncertain, and our typical response to that risks us not exploring that world or ourselves.   If you believe the world is flat and that you could fall off the edge of it, then it makes sense never to explore too close to the edge.

In effect, limiting our options and closing our minds means failing to acknowledge, appreciate or explore who we really authentically are.   We know ourselves a little less if we choose to stick to the one path, think only in black or white – either/or terms or stick rigidly to well worn routines.  The only challenge we pose for ourselves in doing this is to be persistent in stubbornly refusing to be deflected from these self-limited patterns. We are limiting are own systems to operate in predictable and controllable ways.  We try to avoid the challenge of the novel, new or different, and live in ignorance of how novelty or difference might alter our lives and therefore we miss out on understanding our hidden potential (and weaknesses). We lose out on insight and growth.

Within the Chaos Theory of Careers, there are 4 Attractors that describe different states of imposed limitation on how our systems operate.  The first is called the Point Attractor, which is seen to operate when people try to direct all of their behavior and thoughts toward a single point or goal.  The second is called the Pendulum Attractor which is in operation when people seek to reduce all situations and thinking to an either or choice. The third Attractor is called the Torus Attractor and is in operation when people try to limit their lives by following a highly predictable repeating routine, or choose to live completely within a set of limited rules.

It should be obvious that if people are successful in imposing these Attractors on their behavior, everything becomes highly predictable and controllable. They are all closed-systems for closed minds.  There is no room for growth, novelty, uncertainty or creativity.

While acting in these ways can be useful or even necessary from time to time, in the longer term, behaving as though the world can be tamed into a narrow goal, a simple binary choice or a set of rules or routines is going to be confounded by the complexity and chaos of the world (and the people in it).  The goal posts will shift, the either or decision suddenly has more (or less!) choices, and exceptions to the rule emerge.

Nonetheless living within these Attractors is attractive for many people, because you do not typically need the courage of embracing uncertainty to live within such self-limiting approaches.

The fourth Attractor which is the hallmark of Chaos is called the Strange Attractor.  It describes people as the genuinely are – a dynamic mixture of stability and predictability laced with continual change and with the potential for dramatic and unpredictable change as well.  Over time, the Strange Attractor leaves its mark with an emergent pattern of behavior that shows a complex mix of self-similar trait-like behavior in the context of continual variation and change – we call such Patterns Fractals and they are the unit of analysis in the Chaos Theory of Careers.

Within the Strange Attractor is a place called the edge of Chaos – this is the point where you (the system) is sufficiently closed to permit some stability and continuity, but also sufficiently open to new ideas, ways of doing things, new experiences etc, that there is the potential for quite radical transformation.  The edge of chaos is an exciting but uncertain place to be, and it is a place from where all change comes. It is a place that requires courage to live there.

The forces of complexity and hence change will affect us whether we like it or not.  Our attempts at making ourselves closed off will over time break down.  For those who doggedly pursue closed approaches to their lives, they will be unprepared for change, and may even try to deny its presence.   Those who have the courage to live on the Edge of Chaos are continually learning about and adding to their own resilience and learning more about who they are as a person.

Brene Brown talks persuasively about having the courage to be authentic (link) and acknowledging our vulnerability. I see this in Chaos Theory of Careers terms as living on the Edge of Chaos – by being an open system we are acknowledging that we are vulnerable and subject to unpredictable change.  It takes courage as Brene so eloquently expresses to live like that. Ironically, the more we attempt to deny our vulnerability by trying to live within the closed system Point, Pendulum and Torus attractors, the more vulnerable we really are when that change comes.

Finding the courage to live on the edge of chaos provides us with a way to be who we really are, to explore our potentials, to take chances, to be open to change and to recognize our vulnerability.

 

 

 

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