Tag Archives: chance

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

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

How coaches can enhance their practice using shift principles.

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

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

Confront the complex!: The Career Challenge of 21st century complexity

The history of mankind can be understood through our reactions to complexity in the pre-machine, primitive machine, industrial and information technology eras.

In the the pre-machine era, complexity arose from our familiar surroundings and the challenge of feeding, nuturing and protecting ourselves and our groups.  The immediacy of these challenges and the limited opportunities or hazards for travel and communication.  Complexity asserted itself through the mysteries of illness, the vagaries of the weather, and other acts of God. Complexity was something accepted and tholed in equal measure and it was something that was not questioned.

In the primitive machine era – wheels, tools and similar simple machines offered opportunities, without greatly increasing the obvious presence of complexity at work. Machines simplified life in many respects.  Complexity was still considered in fatalistic terms as an occasional harbinger of trouble, or occasionally good fortune.

In the industrial era, automation, factories, the move from the land to the cities saw enormous change.  The machines of this era enormously increased the opportunities for many and changed the lives of all living in industrialized countries.  For the owners of these machines and those able to pay for the products and services arising from these machines, their benefits outweighed the increase in the complexity that accompanied them.   Work, for those tending these machines was routinized and predictable and relatively well paid. Indeed these jobs, especially those on conveyor belts were routinised to the point of monotony. Complexity was seen as being under our control and potentially tamed with the application of science, technology and engineering. Complexity could be reduced to simple building blocks and simple models of human behavior.  The clarion call was “Keep it simple”.

It has been the information technology era that has really made obvious the complexity that has always lurked in the shadows of life.  The rapid rise in communications technology allied to jet planes has made the notion of our group go from those we live close to, to practically anybody and everybody on the globe. The impacts of our decisions and the decisions of others can not so much ripple around the world, as to shake our world to its foundations.

An argument lost in a teleconference in Brussels can lead to a whole office of workers losing their jobs in Athens, Melbourne, or Detroit.  A technology developed in California can lead within months to the employment of hundreds of thousands in China.

The term “complexity” has been used increasingly over the last decade by theoreticians, politicians and practitioners to describe the world we live in. Complexity is now beginning to be seen once again as more inevitable and more regularly intrusive into our supposedly ordered existence.  Except increasingly people are beginning to appreciate the nature of complexity and how it is the very complex nature of things that provides opportunities and hope as well as being a source of unwanted influences.

The characteristics of complexity are set out in the Chaos Theory of Careers (e.g. Pryor and Bright, 2011) and include, inherent long term unpredictability, sudden and disproportional changes, and stability arising only from continual change.

The challenges of complexity for careers include: moving beyond a reliance on control and predict methodologies of planning and goal setting; a realization of the limits of our ability to control and predict the future; the development of personal strategies promoting opportunity awareness on one hand; and persistence and resilience on the other; the promotion of personal and corporate creativity and innovation to provide the momentum for the continual change that in turn permits a form of stability.

The greatest challenge confronting practitioners assisting individuals or organizations in developing successful working lives or businesses is to help them understand complexity and to thrive on complexity. The clarion today is “Confront the complex!”

 

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?

The Edge of Chaos Posters

I want to share a resource I’ve been working on over the last week called the Edge of Chaos Posters.   I’ve designed a couple of posters that try to illustrate the idea of the relationship between certainty and uncertainty.

I decided to select words that in some way illustrate the ideas of certainty and uncertainty, order and disorder.   I decided I wanted a complete A-Z of words which was something of a challenge.   I determined to put words redolent of certainty on the left hand side and words indicating uncertainty on the right hand side. I found it easier to think of or find words for certainty. It was more challenging to find words for uncertainty. In fact often, just like the word “uncertain” – the uncertain has to make do with a modification of a word about certainty.  This I find intriguing.

The poster above is the “Yellow” version. Click it to download a 6Mb PDF version.

The poster above is the black version. Click the poster to download an 8Mb PDF version. Note you may have to right-click to save these posters to your computer, or look in your downloads folders, or even look in Acrobat as different browsers do different things.

All the words on these posters will be familiar to you.  On the left there are words like Plans, Goal, Control, Prepared, Stuck. Similarly on the right there are words like Exploring, Change, Serendipity, Vulnerable and Magical.

The purpose of these posters is to help people appreciate that a full life needs all of these words.  However when we are feeling confused, sad, unsure or vulnerable we tend to retreat into what we often see, or are encouraged by others to see as reassuring, and somehow more legitimate, more proper left side words.  However, this can only provide short-term succor. Sometimes we believe that all we need are the right-hand side words, but these alone wont do either.

A full life requires all these words – order and disorder, chaos and certainty, strength and vulnerability.

There are lots of uses for this poster.  You can circle the words you identify with – are you more left or right sided?  You can use words on the left to help you strive toward words on the right. You can use words on the right to help you arrive at words on the left. You could even measure new ideas, initiatives and policies against these words – is a balance of left and right achieved?  The possibilities are endless.

You might be interested in this related post on Why people don’t get uncertainty

You can download low-res posters in yellow or black and white by clicking on their images above – they are 2381 x 1684 pixels, but they are still large files (6Mb and 8Mb).  If you want high-res versions, you’ll need to email me as these are very big high quality files suitable for making large posters.  I am happy for you to use them with acknowledgement. I’d love to know what you make of them.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Is the Chaos Theory of Careers doing Practitioners out of a job?

The Chaos Theory of Careers says its all down to chance right? So why do you need a career practitioner if it is all chance?  So the logic goes that gives rise to the question and title of this blog.  It is a question that I am told was asked at a recent CDAA meeting.

Let me give two answers to this question.  The first answer is “no, go read our book The Chaos Theory of Careers (Pryor and Bright 2011)”. Those who are convinced need not bother reading any further.  My second answer is no and I’ll try to explain why by using the Chaos Theory of Careers to counsel my questioner.

Firstly lets deal with the misapprehensions.  The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) DOES NOT say it “is all chance” see also this link.  The CTC states that there is inherent uncertainty in all actions of a complex dynamical system such as a person operating within and between other complex dynamical systems.   However, a feature of CTC is that over time a form of dynamic order emerges, that can be visually represented in a fractal pattern.

A good example of dynamic order is the physical appearance of your face over time.  Your face changes as you age, but remains self-similar over time.  If it didn’t we could never recognise ourselves in the mirror let alone other people.  So our faces are always changing but also maintaining a kind of stability over time.    In fact if our faces did not change over time through cell-reproduction, it would mean we have died (and even then it would change through decomposition).  Alternatively it means we have had disastrous plastic surgery. But I digress.

So the CTC certainly does suggest that chance events are to be expected and that they should not be considered rare or trivial.  One implication that flows from this is that it places severe constraints on rigid plans or goal setting. The CTC says that order and chance are not opposites but are composites. This means we cant live and plan as though everything is ordered and chance wont happen to me.  We need to acknowledge the chance in our lives and careers.  The question becomes how do we go about doing this?

My questioner has expressed a view of chance that is not uncommon.  They have implied that the appropriate response to chance is to give up and become fatalistic.  Both myself and co-author Robert Pryor have observed this response amongst some of those who have sustained a workplace injury. In effect they choose to see themselves as one of “luck’s victims”.

This response amounts to fatalism – the view that there is nothing one can do to influence the course of one’s life.   Such thinking is often a reflection of a person caught in Pendulum Attractor thinking. In the CTC, we set out 4 different “Attractors” which describe the varying amounts of constraints people place on their thoughts and behaviours.  Those who display Pendulum Attractor thinking tend to see things as being either black or white.  In this case, the questioner seems to construe life as Chance as equating to being all out of control, whereas Order implies control. I might even want to administer the Change Perception Index (Bright & Pryor, 2005 see this link to get a second opinion on this hypothesis as this is one of the things (amongst 9 others) that this psychometrically validated instrument measures.

The counselling challenge then is to help the questioner re-conceptualize chance events. Bright, Pryor, Chan & Rijanto (2009)  demonstrated that when considering chance events, people have a bias towards recalling events that are high impact and over which we have little or no control.  For instance being in a motor vehicle accident as a passenger and being severely injured.

However as Bright et al (2009) point out, there are other types of chance event.  Specifically there are two types of chance event that have high levels of personal control.  For instance, imagine you go to a party and a fellow guest you’ve just met, offers you a job and tells you to call their office the following day.   This is a chance event where you have as complete control as reasonably possible over whether you take up the invitation or not.   You also have more or less complete control over some more trivial chance events, such as noticing a $5 note on the pavement of an otherwise empty street.

The trouble is as Bright et al (2009) point out, we tend to forget these high control events more quickly than the low control ones.  This in turn fuels a tendency to construe chance events as being out of our control and it is a short step to fatalism from there.

The good news is that we experience far more of the high control chance events than the low control ones.   Clearly because there is a high degree of control in such events, there is a lot of scope for Practitioners to assist their clients with strategies and techniques to leverage such events.   This may include networking, social media, job application assistance, promotional or profile raising activies and so on.   In fact the sorts of thing that Practitioners routinely undertake with and on behalf of their clients.

Once I’ve discussed this perspective on chance events, I might use the Luck Readiness Index (Pryor & Bright, 2005) to gauge my client’s Flexibility, Strategy, Optimism, Persistence, Efficacy, Risk, Curiosity and Luckiness.   It should be fairly clear why helping my client develop a more Flexible, Optimistic, self efficacious and strategic approach to the complexities of an uncertain world could prove important.

Then I might work with my client in helping to develop their own creative solutions to their career dilemmas.  I might do this using the Creative Thinking Strategies Card sort (see this link) (Bright & Pryor, 2005).

The appropriate response to uncertainty in the world and in our careers is not simply to give up and become fatalistic.  Nor is it ideal to thole the uncertainty by merely trying to cope.  As Robert Pryor pointed out in a recent conference paper to the Society of Rehabilitation Counsellors, the CTC allows clients to go beyond coping into developing the skills of personal creativity to allow them to reinvent themselves or creatively re-arrange their transferable skills so that they can offer a more varied and changing proposition to a labour market increasingly demanding changing and variable skills.

In being adept at being personally creative, we learn to survive and thrive living on the edge of chaos, and in so doing allow ourselves a better opportunity to take opportunities that present themselves and to respond positively to both expected and unexpected change.

So far from Practitioners being made redundant by the Chaos Theory of Careers, quite the opposite is true. The CTC practitioner has a major role to play in assisting their clients confront and embrace the complexities of their lives.  When we formally evaluated the CTC counselling approach by comparing it to a more traditional interests-inventory and vocational recommendations type approach, not only did the CTC score higher on every success and satisfaction measure, it continued to do so 1 month later. The counselor doing the CTC counselling reported finding the CTC sessions far more engrossing and stimulating (McKay, Bright & Pryor, 2005).

The CTC is ultimately as much a theory about order as it is about disorder, because those elements of careers are composites.  The problem with theories that have gone before is that they have generally over-estimated the amount of control or agency that a person has, while simultaneously under-estimating the inevitability and impact of continuous and non-linear change.  The CTC provides a principled framework for understanding why and how change operates in careers, and we have also begun to provide a series of empirically evaluated and validated counselling techniques, concepts, card sorts and tests that can be usefully employed by practitioners to assist their clients in a more effective and relevant fashion that addresses the world as it is now.

The CTC will not do Practitioners out of their jobs, but it may for some provide an exciting opportunity to alter and expand their jobs in a way that is deeply satisfying, relevant and effective.

 

References

  1. Bright, JEH & Pryor, RGL (2005). The Complexity Perception Index. Bright & Associates/Congruence.
  2. Bright, Pryor, Chan, Rijanto.  (2009). The dimensions of chance career episodes. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 75(1), 14-25.
  3. McKay, H., Bright J.E.H. & Pryor R.G.L. (2005) Finding order and direction from Chaos: a comparison of complexity career counseling and trait matching counselling.  Journal of Employment Counseling. 42, (3) Sep 2005, 98-112
  4. Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH (2005). The Luck Readiness Index. Congruence/Bright & Associates.
  5. Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH. (2011).  The Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge.