Tag Archives: planning

Do people use uncertainty as an excuse to avoid planning and do nothing in their lives

Do people use uncertainty as an excuse to do nothing in their lives? Is it tempting to say that because uncertainty exists in the world there is no point trying to plan for a future, and so best to do nothing and deal with what comes along?

Short answer. Yes!

I think one way to look at this is to see Planning (distinct from a plan) as a form of opportunity awareness. Continually planning (devising, revising, reviving, resting, restoring, rearranging, rescheduling, timing, abandoning, copying, conceiving) is the way to go. I think there are problems with those who over-emphasise the security or benefits of “a Plan” or even having a supposed fallback of “a Plan B” – this thinking is static and risks complacency. However the risk of failing to practice planning skills may be even greater.

Like many things planning is a skill – it can be taught, and it requires continual practice or the skills can be diminished. There are some conditions that we need to guard against that I call:
PPP – Pushing Plan Prematurely
POTL – Pulling Out Too Late
SAP – Stubborn Adherence to the Plan
RATS- ReActing Too Slowly

plan failure

 

All of these conditions can be remedied by continual Planning, rehearsal etc

Some ways to do this include:
Opportunity awareness “Luck Readiness” – Being Curious, Flexible, Strategic, Persistence, Optimistic, Efficacious, and feeling Lucky

War gaming/ Scenario training – building scenarios to what-if situations continually (Shell Executives in the 1970s famously did this)

Stress testing – working through the plan and testing whether it stands up

Mentoring – running plans past the brains trust and seeking critiques

Daydreaming – thinking up new scenarios, but taking it further and turning the daydream into a fully fledged plan (you do not have to act on it, and it is remarkable how seemingly absurd ideas are more practical and doable that first imagined)

Controlled Failures – deliberately deviating from the plan with sufficient safety nets or fall back positions

Bigger picture thinking – over and above any one plan – what really matters, what are you trying to do on this earth, purpose

From this perpective, we can see why Dwight Eisenhower said (quoted in a book by Richard Nixon in the early 1960s) that “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”

My concern is that a lot of what I’d call planning, or playfulness or planmanship, is overlooked in the rush to getting a plan. The skills are not taught to clients, and there is little encouragement to practice them regularly. Same goes for organisations that tend to stick to Annual planning retreats, and do not – and unlike the Shell executives – regularly practice planning.

 

thanks to Arlene Hirsh whose question on the Linkedin Careers Debate group prompted my thinking

 

Act before you think: In coaching and careers

“Nothing will be achieved if first all objections must be overcome” said the wise Eleanor Roosevelt.   Objections prevent action.  Objections to our own actions are ultimately authored by ourselves.  Others may advise caution or object, but it takes us to take on board and own those objections to prevent us from acting.  It is our thoughts prior to action that can ultimately present a formidable barrier to action.

Thinking before you act is what we’ve been all brought up to do.  We are taught to think a failure to think first must ultimately result in reckless disregard for our own or others’ well-being. The trouble is,  thinking before you act is not a fail safe process, because it is impossible to think through all the possible outcomes of a proposed action.

We cannot work out all the possibilities in advance, not only because there are too many, but also because our current vantage point may not reveal the complete picture.  I live near the coast, and if I am standing on one beach I cannot see the other one around the headland.  Even if I stand on that headland, where I can see both beaches, I cannot see around the next headland and what may be on offer there.  In other words, I might be missing out on a fantastic beach and I’ll never discover it unless I am prepared to act.

For people stuck in their careers, there is every likelihood that their heads are full of confusion, cautionary thoughts and frustration.   Clarifying their thoughts as a lot of coaching and counseling aims to do, may be doing no more than giving them a sharper picture of the beach they are on.   They will never fully appreciate the other great beaches until they are prepared to act and move to a new vantage point. Act before you think!

I am more and more convinced that we’ve got our priorities wrong by so strongly privileging thinking before you act in career coaching. I become even more convinced when I hear the countless stories from clients who “fell into” satisfying careers, or got there by being in the right place at the right time. These people (and I think they are the majority) got where they are as much by acting before you think, than thinking before you act.

So in your own coaching practice, take action, and resolve to encourage your clients to action first, and then collectively reflect after.  Encourage lots of small steps and little experiments, encourage turning up to things, encourage connection with others without any clear agenda, encourage random acts of contribution to others, encourage your clients to go forth.

 

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!”

 

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)

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.