Tag Archives: career counselling

The Day my Dog became a Triangle

The Day my Dog became a Triangle

Dogs are not triangles.  Any fool knows this.  They don’t even bother assessing this knowledge when they issue you with a dog license.  So it was very awkward indeed when my dog became a triangle. For a start her name is Chloe. This is less embarrassing to call out at our local dog park compared to “Pythagoras”, even if people called Chloe do get offended when I point out it is a dog’s name.  Equilateral would be a very inappropriate name for a Welsh Springer Spaniel.  Scalene sounds like a skin disease or a song by Dolly Parton.  Isosceles, well now we are getting just a tad pretentious.

triangle dogNow you might be wondering why my dog became a triangle.  Did she decide one day that our social construction of welsh springer spaniels was way too limiting for this pooch?  Had I been at the green chartreuse again?  The answer is simpler and more complex at the same time.  I decided it was time to have a look around me.  And I mean really look.  To look at things in a way I’d never looked at things before.

Looking at things newly is a lot harder than it sounds.  Try telling someone to look at things differently and generally all they will do is look at you in a very familiar and unoriginal questioning manner.  Or they will punch you in the face.  Or both.

The trick is give yourself or another some parameters. Some limits.  Presumably you are reading this blog on some form of screen.  Look at the screen and everything around you in only one of the following ways:

  • as a series of circles
  • as blotches of color
  • as a series of triangles
  • as a swatch of textures
  • as a stormy sea
  • as a part of a basketball
  • as the head of a flower
  • from the front and the side at the same time

 

 

 

 

chloe welsh springer spaniel in trianglesHow did you go?  Could you manage it?  Could you draw what you saw?  For those who managed successfully, you have very probably been creative.  Who knows some might even have been Creative (little c creative is what I term small personal wins, amusements or provocations. Little nudges that prompt our thinking.  Big C creative is the type that Csikzentmihalyi (1996) sees as solving a problem in a new and useful way that is recognized by others.

We could try the same exercise using poetry.  Stephen Fry in the Ode Less Travelled, points out that the limitation of Iambic Pentameter (having five feet to each line of verse followjng a “tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum” structure) actually fosters creativity as one has to fit meaning into this structure.  For instance, he cites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73

“That time of year; thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”

As Fry points out, it is the limitations that we impose on our attempts at expression and the tension that these create that often lead to great creative expression “Painters paint within a canvas, composers within a structure. It is often the feeling of the human spirit trying to break free of constrictions that gives art its power and its correspondence to our lives, hedged in as ours are by laws and restrictions” (p24).

The idea of Creativity arising from constraints is commonly understood in creative circles and those that study creativity (e.g. Stokes, Creativity from Constraints, 2006). Related to this idea is US painter and jazz musician Larry Rivers, who used a musical metaphor in describing the material we use for the basis of our creativity as the “first chorus”.

I love the idea of the first chorus.  In jazz, the first chorus is often played “straight” to give the audience the structure of the piece, and from there the musicians can improvise (though like Fry’s poetry the improvisation is limited by the chords and chord changes).

The idea of the first chorus is the point at which one has mastered some domain, become familiar or expert.  Rivers says that creativity is the variation on history – on all the stored ideas in ones memory. The first chorus is merely a repetition and is not creative.  This is why experts often get bored because they master the first chorus and then are engaged to endlessly repeat it. They are interested in adding and combining – improvising – and therefore being creative.  This fits well with my model of creativity, creative people want to go beyond mastery, hence the title for my model.

The importance of limitation to creativity is a valuable reminder that when working with individuals looking to change their lives, or looking to change our own, an important first step is to acknowledge the limitations.  Then we we have something tangible to work with, something that allows us to be creative as we look for ways to improvise in our lives, to find solutions by combining the pieces we have or we can obtain, to get a new hand by shuffling the deck of cards we already have or could obtain.

It seems as though everything I am saying here about limitation goes against counseling injunctions to focus on strengths, or to be optimistic but that misses the point.   A true understanding of strengths only comes in the context of knowledge of the limitations, optimism is most powerful when directed at the attainable. Nor does this mean we should overly encourage people to limit themselves, we should not.  Too often people who are looking for solutions in their life are “stuck” (Amundson, 2007).  However in unsticking other people or ourselves, getting people to improvise and strategize using the materials they have and those readily to hand around them is likely to result in more inventive, creative and positive solutions to their own problems than simply asking them to be more creative.  Our limitations are our strengths.

As I’ve said before, each of us is like a beautiful song.  We are limited by the melody and chord structures.  However those limitations are the very things that give us our uniqueness, our identity.  It is those limitations that allows us to strain against them by being creative in rearranging and improvising so our song can be played in an infinite number of ways.   We cannot be anything we want to be, but there are an infinite number of ways of being us.

Often in counseling or coaching for change we encourage others to take a different perspective on a situation.  Changing metaphors, re-writing the story, re-framing, reality checking, skills audits, values lists, interests are all examples of encouraging people to take a new look.

However what I am talking about is fundamentally deeper and that is to see something familiar, something mastered not from a different perspective, but through new eyes.  To hold multiple stories at the same time, to have multiple metaphors simultaneously, to find new solutions using the materials of your history and what is readily available to you in terms of supports, resources, and ideas. Good career development gives you a new perspective. Great career development has you seeing differently.

Sadly for me and my thinking it didn’t stop with the triangular dog.  The cat become a crescent, my kids become trapezoids, trees become oblongs. And this sentence became a full stop.

References

Amundson, N. (2007). Active Engagement 3rd Edition.BC. Canada Ergon Communications.

Csikzentmihalyi M. (1996). Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial.

Fry, S. (2005). The Ode Less Travelled.  London. Hutchinson.

Stokes. P. (2006). Creativity from Constraints. New York, NY. Springer.

 

Embracing Uncertainty in Life and Careers

What does uncertainty mean to you?  To many uncertainty is a threat to be avoided or overcome. To others it offers surprise and opportunity.  For some it is both of these things depending upon the context.

Uncertainty has a love-hate relationship with planning.  On the one hand uncertainty is one of the major reasons people make plans in the first place (if there was no uncertainty plans become redundant – what is going to happen will happen), but on the other hand uncertainty represents a threat to those plans.  Uncertainty has the potential to undermine the plan. See this link

It is not contentious that uncertainty exists in the world, and it is well established that uncertainty affects the careers of almost everybody.  We know that between 80%-100% of people report that an unplanned event has significantly altered their career plans for better or worse.

So the way people respond to uncertainty is likely to be an important factor in their success or well-being.   And this is where people do not get uncertainty.

Here is a graphic that I am going to use to illustrate why people often don’t get uncertainty.

Three Models of Uncertainty

Broadly speaking there are three different ideas about uncertainty:

1. Uncertainty is an occasionally present feature in otherwise predictable and well planned lives.  This model assumes that certainty can be attained for significant periods of time, and can be achieved through traditional planning methods like goal setting. Certainty and uncertainty are treated as polar opposites. I’ll call this the Traditional Planning model.

2. Uncertainty is rampant, extensive and ever-present. This model assumes that despite our best attempts, all plans are illusions of control.  This approach suggests we should give up on all planning and resign ourselves to whatever happens.  I’ll call this approach the Fatalistic Anarchy model.

3. Uncertainty is a constant and inevitable feature of all situations. It is wrong to think of Uncertainty and Certainty as opposites, rather they are composites – everything is comprised of a mixture of order and disorder.  Further the nature of uncertainty is non-linear and scalable. This means that sometimes very small, seemingly banal or trivial changes that have had little or no meaningful impact in the past suddenly change everything out of all proportion, or enormous changes can have surprisingly little or no lasting impact.  And every combination in between. This is the Chaos Theory of Careers account of uncertainty.See this link for more on Chaos Theory of Careers.

Depending upon which of these models of uncertainty people are using, they are likely to have different reactions to uncertainty.

Model 1 Traditional Planning Model reactions to uncertainty

Uncertainty is dealt with primarily with planning techniques, typically focused on goal-setting activities.  It is claimed the plan will provide certainty, motivation and reduce anxiety.  When uncertainty raises its head, it is assumed that people will be readily aware that circumstances have changed, and once aware they simply enter another planning circle to navigate them away from the uncertainty back onto their original course, or onto a new course of their choosing. This thinking is reflected in the idea that we going throiugh a planning phase. Then let it settle down, while we follow the plan, and then we go through another planning phase later on.  Turmoil-plan-calm-certainty-turmoil-plan-calm-certianty is the way the world is envisaged.  The diagram below illustrates this point.

 

Typically Model 1 thinkers claim that failure to plan will inevitably result in adopting Model 2 behavior.

Model 2 Fatalistic Anarchy Model

Everything is random and out of our control. The best course of action is to simply react and act in the world with little regard for the future, because the future is too unpredictable.  We are so limited in our abilities to plan, it is a waste of time and we are better off pursuing pleasure seeking, living in the moment, going with the flow.  Direction is a meaningless concept.

Model 3 Chaos Theory of Careers

Control and self-regulation comes from being aware that we are all living on the Edge of Chaos.  This is a place where there is order (and predictability) but there is also disorder (uncertainty).   These two components are ever present, meaning that self-determined action is best achieved through having a repertoire of approaches that help establish a direction but at the same time maintain openness to uncertainty and responsiveness to change.  Like any other skill, this needs continual use and practice.  Too much Model 1 type planning runs the risk that the person will unable or slow to spot when uncertainty has made their plans nonviable or is presenting a better opportunity.  They will also be less able to deal with unexpected change as they are less practiced at considering it and engaging with strategies to cope with it.

Critically, it is not a case of continually swinging between order and disorder, certainty and anarchy. Rather both certainty and uncertainty is considered, held and explored continuously and simultaneously. This is illustrated in the figure below.

Is this model more complex? Yes unashamedly.  Is this model closer to reality? Yes I believe so (and argue extensively for this position in our book, The Chaos Theory of Careers, Robert Pryor & Jim Bright).

From the Model 3 (Chaos Theory of Careers) perspective, the fact that we are limited in our ability to plan, predict and control (and therefore that implies that goal setting is a limited technique) does not automatically mean that everything is chaotic in the vulgar sense of that word. To argue that is to see the world solely in Terms of Type 1 and Type 2 models.  Rather our plans need to be dynamic, truly continually monitored and blend of green band open (e.g. exploration) and red band closed (e.g. goal setting) strategies.

Another concern is that such an approach means abandoning a sense of direction.  Again this is to see the world solely in Terms of Type 1 and Type 2 models. A sense of direction can be achieved (within limits) and the more people are taught and practice skills aroun responsiveness, awareness and reinvention the greater the sense of self-determination they will have.

A final concern I’ll address here, is that Model 3 thinking will create or exacerbate anxiety as it so clearly acknowledges uncertainty.  There are several responses to this.  Firstly, there are many examples in life where we point out sources of uncertainty including: safety demonstrations on flights; fire drills; rockfall/landslip warning signs; cattle on the road warning signs; low battery indicator; low fuel indicator; exhortations to look both ways when crossing the road etc.   For most people most of the time, these actually serve to reduce anxiety because they allow us an opportunity enrich our planning to include the possibility of uncertainty and a range of strategies for dealing with it.

Furthermore, in our own research, we have found in career planning, that exposure to uncertainty actually increases self-efficacy (see McKay, Bright & Pryor, 2005; Davey, Bright, Pryor & Levin, 2005).

Most people don’t get uncertainty and continue to see it in Model 1 terms.  From this perspective anything that challenges that certainty and the planning tools like goal-setting that are imagined to provide it are seen as threats and often assumed to be advocating the anarchy of Model 2 thinking.

Uncertainty, planning and life are more complex than that.  We can do better than that. We can embrace uncertainty in life and careers!.

If you’d like a high quality version of the Edge of Chaos poster, get them here.

 

 

 

Is goal setting past its peak? Some new data.

How long has there been serious interest in goal setting?  You might be forgiven for thinking it has always been a key approach to changing human behavior.  However according to PsycInfo (the largest and most authoritative database on published psychological research), between 1900 and 1980, a search of this data base on the terms “goal setting” yielded only 39 publications.  The first being in Harry Spillman’s chapter Tides of Life in Personality: Studies in Personal Development. New York: Gregg Publishing US.

The 1980s were not much better, in fact they were worse than the average of 0.5 a year, with only 2 publications (both in 1986).

The 1990s were when goal setting really started, well, kicking goals. A whopping 335 publications turned up in the search – more that the previous 90 years combined.

But it was the 2000s when we became totally obsessed with goal setting as the answer to just about everything, a whopping 1168 publications came out about goal setting.

However, something interesting may be happening.  Have a look at the graph below that shows the search results for “goal setting” across all types of publications by year.

It seems that goal setting publications peaked in 2008 and have been in decline ever since.  (Note the figure for 2011 has been adjusted by taking the figure produced at the end of September, dividing it  by 9 to get a monthly figure and multiplying that by 12 to get a comparable annual number – given the dramatic drop off, this probably over-estimates the true figure for 20110.)

There are a few intriguing things here.  Firstly, are we over goal setting?   Regular readers will appreciate that from my theoretical perspective of the Chaos Theory of Careers, goal setting can be seen to be limited in its efficacy, especially for longer-term behavioral change (because complexity and change serve to move or obliterate the goal posts) this is not an unwelcome thing if it turns out to be true.

Secondly, is it the case that goal setting has been in decline since the GFC?  The GFC really hit in mid to late 2008 (see graph below of S&P 500 since 2006).  2008 was the peak year for goal setting papers, and 2009 was not far behind.  However journals and other forms of academic publications and outputs (like theses) tend to reflect work that was done or submitted 2 or 3 years earlier.  So there is likely a lag effect in operation here.  And sure enough if you look at 2009, and 2010 and almost certainly 2011, we see an exponential drop off in papers on goal setting.

So, is it a little like the financial markets, that people are beginning to appreciate that the world is more uncertain and changeable than we realised, and that maybe we need techniques that are not so firmly rooted in the idea that the future (goal) is relatively unchanging and predictable.

It is truly fascinating, and reminds me of the Peak Oil debate, have goals reached their zenith – have we reached a tipping point on goal setting? Is this just a temporary blip? Is goal setting so accepted there is nothing more to say, or is it the case as I am hypothesizing that we are beginning to appreciate goal setting as useful, but an over-simplified response to complex and changing problems?  Or is it simply turbulence in the numbers?

Who knows for sure, but this graph certainly makes interesting reading to me.  I guess we must wait to see how it emerge over time, and on that chaotic and complexity-laden bombshell, I shall leave it to you to ponder!

 

 

Note: Psycinfo is “Unrivaled in its depth of psychological coverage and respected worldwide for its high quality, the database is enriched with literature from an array of disciplines related to psychology such as psychiatry, education, business, medicine, nursing, pharmacology, law, linguistics, and social work” according to Proquest.

Make or Break Moments in Careers and Life

Make or Break Moments in Careers and Life

Are there moments in life that are make or break?  In Chaos Theory of Careers Terms, tipping points, where everything changes? Can we predict them, how do we deal with them?

This link here takes you to an ABC broadcast “Life Matters” where I was interviewed alongside Peter Fitzsimons, an ex Australian Rugby player, and now a prolific journalist and writer.  We discuss the nature of these events and how linear thinking and narrative can sometimes contribute to these events.

About midway through Sharelle McMahon a champion netballer shares her dramatic make or break story.

In the second half of the program, Dr Andrew Martin, a leading Educational Psychologist picks up on these ideas in relation to the make or break of final school year exams.

Sadly in the photograph below I was not given a box to stand on when surrounded by the giants of Dr Martin on my right, and Peter FitzSimons on my left!!!

 

 

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 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.

 

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.