Tag Archives: chaos theory of careers

The top 10 words of 2011 or of all time?

LinkedIn report the top 10 clichés found on LinkedIn profiles in 2011 (see here).  So how do these words stack up in terms of historic usage?  Using a relatively unknown google research feature called Ngram, we can see how often each of these words have appeared in books since the 1500s!  It is interesting to see how many of the words in career development have only recently become fashionable, but there are some that we might think are shiny and new that have been around before or forever.

Top of the LinkedIn list was “creative”.  Here is the Ngram result:

note: (the graphs show the results of analyzing up to 6000 books published each year from 1500-2008.  In the early years this represents all the books published, and in later years, a random selection of books.  The percentages on the y-axis represent the number of times the searched word appears as a proportion of all words published in the sample of books for that year)

This word didn’t really feature until the self-conscious C20th, and plateaued around the time of the Mad Men Madison Avenue advertising hey-dey in the 1960s.

Next up is the word “Organizational” – which is kind of embarrassing I was the National Chair of the College of Organizational Psychologists!

“Organizational” is definitely a post-war phenomenon and is there evidence it is on the way down perhaps? Time will tell.

At number 3, was “Effective” – a word that was popular in the renaissance, and is having, well, a renaissance now.

Number six on the list was “Motivated”.

My oh my!  It seems the C20th was all about getting up and getting on, but have we turned the corner in the C21st?  I just cant be bothered to find out!!

At number 10 was that old stalwart of the resume – “Dynamic”.

It seems that as we got progressively more motivated in the C20th we also decided to call ourselves “Dynamic” – the C20th really was an exhausting century!

But what about some other terms that we bandy around frequently in Career Development – like er, “Career”

The word shows a less dramatic rise in usage, having been used relatively often in the renaissance, but really started to build in the Victorian era and the industrial revolution. Interestingly, Parson’s seminal work “Choosing a vocation” was published at the historic peak usage of the term career, which promptly went into decline until the 1950s.  I’m not claiming causation here!

The term “plan” that is dear to the hearts of some in the Career Development world is an interesting one.  It exploded in popularity between 1750 and 1800 (when Napoleon had his mojo) and stayed relatively popular up until the end of world war 2.  Interestingly then it declined until about the 1980s, when the dreaded goal setting literature and Olivia Newton John turned us all into leg warmer wearing goal-focused gym junkies and office warriors – well perhaps!

The current popularity of the term narrative in career development, politics, well just about everywhere, is reflected in the graph below, showing exponential growth in usage since the second world war.

Another term we hear a lot at the moment “constructivism” rocketed to popularity in the 1970s, but by 2008 looks to be at the beginning of suffering an equally sharp decline.  So constructivists out there, get publishing more – or at least start thinking about it, if you believe thought is reality and see if by the power of thinking you can get the line to move upwards once again.  Just kiddin!! 🙂

Words close to my theoretical heart and a basis for the Chaos Theory of Careers is the word “Change”.  Ironically there has been little change in the growth rate in usage of the term change. It shows an almost perfect linear growth rate in C18 and C19 (funny that the Industrial “revolution” didn’t give it a kick along).  However C20th saw the growth rate in usage of the term increase markedly, but then it plateaued around 1970 – which is a little surprising to me.

The term “chance”  has a colorful history as the graph below shows. The Elizabethans were into it big time (as they were equally into “mutability” as Rob Pryor and I point out in our book – The Chaos Theory of Careers.  The term peaked in usage between the world wars, fell steadily in the era of “certainty” of the 1950s to 1980s, and rocked back into popularity in the last 10 years.

Finally “Chaos” is an interesting one. It appears that 1650 was total chaos!  I blame in on Frenchman Renee Descartes who said “I think therefore I am” in this year, well probably “Je pense donc, je suis”, but it is all French to me.  The term has taken centuries to recover from his method of doubt, but has shown steady and predictable (ie not chaotic!!) growth in usage, apparently recently returning to long term growth trends after a little flurry in the 1980s probably associated with the popularization of the science usage of the term by Gleick and others during this decade.

So what other words would be worth exploring?

The role of parents in career development and thoughts on my father

here is a link to my column in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers on parents and careers. The role of parents in career development is critical. Here I share some thoughts on the role of parents in career development and thought on my father.

Vale John Robert Bright 1925 – 2011

 

How to get luck on your side

Here is an article in the Australian Financial Review on Luck in Careers. How to get luck on your side in your career. It is about luck in careers, luck readiness, and luck and career success.

Click this link for the article.

Click this link if you want to take the Luck Readiness Inventory.

 

 

 

 

Inspiration – the first step into creativity

Inspiration – the first step into creativity

Inspiration is the starting point for creativity in the Beyond Personal Mastery® model.

The inspiration step is all about getting ideas and experiences.  People cannot be creative, change or reinvent themselves unless they have some ideas or experience.

The mind map below some ways in which people can boost their inspiration.

 

Beyond Personal Mastery ® Inspiration step

Beyond Personal Mastery ® Inspiration step © Jim Bright 2011

So the first step in boosting creativity is to get people actively engaged in the activities like the following.
Inspired people…
Read

  • Blogs
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Comic
  • Autobiography
  • Fiction
  • Biography

Watch

  • TV
  • Films
  • Other people
  • Nature

Turn up

  • Parties
  • Events
  • Conferences
  • Theater
  • Movies
  • Coffee
  • Clubs
  • Sporting Events

Join in

  • Conversation
  • Threads
  • Tweet
  • Blog
  • Email
  • Post
  • Converse
  • Connect

Try things

  • Think
  • Fail
  • Write
  • Blogs
  • Dreams
  • Diaries
  • Articles
  • Reflections
  • Ideas
  • Sports
  • Hobby
  • Arts
  • Travel

Feel

  • Confident
  • Energized
  • Connected
  • Relevant
  • Intrepid

The Psychology behind the idea – the lego metaphor and instance-based memory

In this step we are trying to lay down as many new memories as possible.   Imagine your memory like a large lego bucket.   Every new memory (experience you have) represents a new piece of lego to add to the bucket.   It stands to reason that the more pieces you have, and the more varied they are, the more different things you can ultimately make when you come to combine the pieces of lego.

This idea is consistent with instance-based models of memory like Hintzman’s MINERVA II model that was central to my PhD on implicit learning.

I have produced little animations and a short movie to illustrate these ideas. Inspiration – the first step into creativity.

Life Creativity – Applying Beyond Personal Mastery® to Life Changes

Life Creativity – Applying Beyond Personal Mastery® to Life Changes

I want to share with you my model of Creativity that provides practical steps to enhance Life and Career changes.  I will describe the model in this post, and in subsequent ones discuss each of the steps in greater detail.

Here is the Beyond Personal Mastery® model.

 

Beyond Personal Mastery® and its brother Beyond Corporate Mastery® are really two related models comprising Action and Mind steps.  The Action steps, as the name implies, describe the actions that lead to creativity.  The Mind steps are attitudes and dispositions that have been shown by research to support and promote the Action Steps and hence creativity.

The Action Steps model is based on the following ideas derived from the research into creativity:

  • Little “c” creativity involves combining ideas in a new way that has some amusement value, novelty, or modest utility for the person creating and perhaps their immediate circle
  • Big “c” creativity involves combining ideas in a new way that solves or contributes to solving a problem deemed important by others and society generally
  • Ideas are combined when previously stored knowledge is combined in a new way, or old knowledge and new experiences are combined to form a new idea
  • Innovation occurs when Strategies are developed and Implemented to put the creative idea into practice or practical use
  • Creativity starts with the Inspiration stage – meaning literally breathing in or taking in new ideas or experience. In my model this does not mean being impressed, excited or energized that comes later. The Inspiration stage is about taking in new information and experiences. There are a series of ways of improving your Inspiration. I’ll address these in another post.
  • The new information coming into the system is processed into Patterns.  This often happens automatically and unconsciously.  However consciously examining the new information for patterns will yield richer, more subtle and complex patterns.
  • Once the structure of the new information is understood in terms of patterns, the Learning stage classifies patterns into pre-existing categories, schema and mental models. or generates new categories for information deemed novel.   (The more rich the Patterns generated in the previous stage, the greater the chance of new categories being generated).  During this stage, new information can be rehearsed to ensure it is fully understood.  There are, of course, myriad different ways of enhancing learning. See future post.
  • Emulating or copying or leveraging is the stage where one has mastered the new information and can repeat it, play it, do it, understand it, explain it or use it.  Once this stage is reached, you have attained Mastery.  One of the biggest barriers to creativity is people trying to avoid Emulating, but it is an essential step. See later post.
  • Combining and Adding is the step when we go beyond mastery into creativity, hence the name of the model. It is in this stage that we take some mastered idea, knowledge or practice and combine it either with another previously mastered idea or with a current Inspiration.  When this happens – a solution or new pathway appears, often suddenly, and it gives rise to the “Aha” moment.  This is often the exciting and energizing time.  There are lots of techniques to help people with the combining and adding.
  • Once we have the new solution, it is the appropriate time to enter the Strategizing stage to develop plans and goals to implement the creation.  Nearly all personal and business change models start at this point and tend to neglect the previous steps that should now be quite obvious as being essential.  The solution/creation determines what can be a goal, a goal does not provide the solution. This is often misunderstood.  See a future post for more on how to do this.
  • Finally, we must execute our plans in the Doing Stage.   This again is non-negotiable.  Because inevitably given the complexity of the world, something will go not strictly according to the plan, and sometimes things will go very differently indeed.  These “failures” or “unexpected by products” provide new Inspirations, and so the cycle can start again.

The Action Steps explained in general terms. (click on the graphic to open in a new window where you can zoom in and enlarge image)

The Mind Steps model

The Mind Steps are likely to be more familiar to many people as the terms used here are commonly used and understood in counseling and coaching.  I will briefly explain here why they are included.  I will go into greater detail in future posts.

Optimism

The great contribution of the Positive Psychology movement, and its champions like Martin Seligman is that we now know that optimism can be learned, developed and enhanced.  Optimism is an important predictor of people’s willingness to change or an organization’s ability to change.  People who believe that things can be better in the futrure are more likely to be motivated to try to explore possible futures. The are ways of boosting optimism that I’ll cover in future posts.
Openness

Creative people and organizations are open systems.  That is they are curious about the world, and accept that there are always interesting things to learn, and different ways of doing things.  This mindset increases their chances of having new inspirations and patterning them in novel ways. It also increases their chances of combining and adding in novel ways.  Some of the ways you can increase openness will be covered in a later post.

Self-Efficacy

Is defined by Bandura as the degree to which a person believes that they are capable of achieving in a particular domain.  Self efficacy has been shown to be a strong predictor of success in a range of different areas such as completing training, preparing for a big event etc.  Increasing self-efficacy can be a useful way of fostering change.  Ways of increasing self-efficacy will be covered in a later post.

Vision

Vision refers to a collection of qualities such as Purpose, Spirituality, Connection, Limits, and Imperfection.  It is about fostering a sense of a bigger picture, and encouraging people to ask questions such as Why am I doing this?  To whom am I connected?  Whom do I serve? How can I be useful?  What place can I or do I occupy in society/family/friends? How can I serve others?   Do I have a choice? What matters to me? Research shows that fostering this type of thinking can sustain people and reduce stress. It can help people persist, or even try in the first place.

Playfulness & Risk

Increasingly research is showing that play is a potent form of learning, and that many western educational systems have under-valued its central importance.  Furthermore risk-taking is often misunderstood or characterized in pendulum attractor terms as
“risk-free or reckless”.   Nearly all creartivity has arisen from play, risk taking or both.  There are ways to develop appropriate playfulness and risk taking and I’ll show you how in a future post.

Flexibility

In a world that is rapidly changing, uncertain, complex and chaotic, the ability to be flexible is very important.  Flexibility of mind is centrally important for playfulness, inventiveness, creativity, overcoming barriers, seeking inspiration, combining and adding, strategizing and doing.

Persistence

The importance of keeping on going, in the face of adversity, loss of enthusiasm, boredom, obstacles, set-backs, criticism, despondency, ennui and the rest cannot be over-estimated.   Others prefer to capture some of these ideas under the term “Resilience”.  Much of what is done under this term would fit in the Persistence category.  I prefer the term Persistence because the word more strongly implies movement, and movement in a self-determined direction.  I’ll post more on how to develop resilience later.

And this is Life Creativity – Applying Beyond Personal Mastery® to Life Changes!

 

 

 

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.