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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.

 

 

 

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)

Being spokesman for a generation is the worst job I ever had: Gen Y myths dispelled

Redundancy is generally a bad thing but there are plenty of people who should be made redundant without delay: Kim Jong Il of North Korea, and Omar Al Bashir of Sudan spring to mind.  They should be joined by the self-proclaimed spokespersons for a generation.  Especially the Gen Y spokespeople because of the widespread disservice that they have done to the reputation of their own.  It is time for Gen Y to reclaim their own identity and set the record straight.

It is beyond me why anyone would want to develop a career as a generational spokesperson, a job that has a finite shelf life.  The Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland was the spokesperson for Generation X after publication of his novel in 1991. Yet by 2006 Coupland was admitting in his New York Times blog that he was now occupying his time in Vancouver chewing up his own books (literally) while watching Law and Order on television.  This does not bode well for the aspiring generational spokesperson.  A quick search on the internet failed to unearth any current Gen X spokespeople, and only a handful of Baby Boomer spokespeople. Most of those were authors of books about how sex and sciatica can be bedfellows, or how to retire.  By contrast, the Internet is heaving with apparent authorities on the topic of how to talk to 18 to 28 year olds. Qualification for this role? Being aged between 18 and 28.  It also helps if you can claim that you have spoken to someone older aside from saying “I wont go to bed it’s not my bedtime”.

 

Being a successful generational spokesperson falls into the get in quickly, make a quid and then get out category of occupations. Therefore it can be safely grouped together with con-artists, Senators (but I repeat myself), and boy bands.

 

It is time to make these chancers redundant because there is now a lot of good evidence that casts serious doubts on most of the central claims made about the Gen Y generation.  On the off chance that you have managed to avoid to breathless claims made about this generation, and at the risk of perpetuating untruths, the claims are broadly that Gen Y’s (born late 1970s to late 1990s) are: technologically savvy having grown up with it; socially highly inter-connected; impatient for career responsibility, consultation and advancement and quick to quit if their needs are not meet.  It is claimed that these (and other) characteristics differ from previous generations.

 

Late last year the Journal of Managerial Psychology devoted a whole edition to examining these claims for a generation.   The editors open the examination with the statement that “rarely do such generalisations seem to be challenged, or even the basic assumption that there are generational differences questioned…”. The existing evidence they did unearth was hardly promising either.  One study they cite found that Gen Ys and Gen Xs “were identical” in ratings of their top six work motivators as were Baby Boomers and Pre-Boomers.  That study found that steady employment was the top motivator for Gen Ys. In a further four studies cited, all of them found little or no differences, or trivially small differences that were contrary to the generational stereotypes.

 

The special edition of the journal presents a further series of evidence that draws on very often large samples from the USA, Australia New Zealand and Europe.  To sum up the results, the editors, Auckland-based academics and consultants Keith Macky, Dianne Gardner and Stewart Forsyth  conclude that “many of the empirical findings are less strong and consistent than popular sentiment suggests. Indeed, there may be more variation among members within a generation than there is between generations”. (pp860)

 

Perhaps the most relevant study was one conducted by staff at SHL Australia, a company that for many years has specialised in objective assessment in the workplace. Melissa Wong and Leah Coulon from SHL teamed up with Whitney Lang at Deakin University and Ellirona Gardiner at the University of Queensland to examine whether personality and motivational driver differences exist across Baby Boomers, Gen Xs and Gen Ys.  They examined the profiles of 3929 professionals who had completed the SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire and the Motivation Questionnaire. They did find a couple of differences between the generations but these were not supportive of the popular view of Gen Y. They summarised their results in the following terms: “In practical interpretation terms, these differences are almost negligible. More importantly, even where differences exist (even where there are moderate to large effect sizes), the direction of the differences is often contrary to the differences suggested in popular management literature.” 

 

What other evidence is presented in this special edition?  A similar pattern emerged in a study of 1422 employees across 8 organisations in New Zealand with the authors concluding “The Baby Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y had some differences in work values but fewer than expected”.  Data from 1.4 million Americans over the last 80 years does reveal some small differences in personality when test-taker profiles across the generations are averaged and compared. However the data points to higher levels of narcissism, self-esteem and depression amongst Gen Ys.  However these differences if they exist – the results are not without their critics – are hardly strong support for the common stereotype.

 

In seeking to establish an identity and a place in the world, one strategy is to invent, emphasise or even exaggerate the differences between you or your group – the in-group, and others, the out-group.   It is a strategy that has served advertisers well for decades.  Set up simplistic stereotypes pitched at the target demographic group because it is uneconomic and unrealistic to pitch to individuals. Just pretend that the individual and the stereotype are inter-changeable – “Because you deserve it”.

 

 

Gen Y have been sold short by the industry that has grown up around them. Many Gen Ys that I spoke to resented being reduced to a stereotype and objected to being treated as disloyal flibbety gibbets.  The attempts to translate marketing strategies based upon demographic analysis of customers into an effective model of management and leadership of employees is a questionable practice that is not supported by the available empirical evidence, and may serve only to alienate the very people promoters of such approaches claim respond positively to them.

 

It is a sad truth that those self-appointed spokespersons for Generation Y are too young to have heard of a certain Mr Billy Bragg but they could look him up on their FaceSpace social networking interweb site. If they had heard of him, they could consider this piece of wisdom from the songwriter of 30 odd years: “Being spokesman for a generation is the worst job I ever had”.

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.

Jim Bright talking change and chaos video from his Cannexus Keynote 2011

Here is a five minute video of my Keynote “Know Change and No Change: how I learned to love Chaos” presented at the Cannexus Career Development Conference in January 2011

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMrV1U5eHPk[/youtube]

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