Tag Archives: shift

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

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

How coaches can enhance their practice using shift principles.

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

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

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 11 – From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 11 – From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

There comes a point in all things that really matter in life when trying to exert control is not sufficient.  The complexities of the world  make it impossible to be any more planned or prepared, there will always be some loose ends, some possibilities that cannot be thought out in advance. When we reach these points, if we are to confront them effectively with imagination, creativity, optimism and hope, we need to shift our trust in the power of control and embrace trust in faith.

Trust as Control

Too often people misuse the word “trust” when what they really mean is control.  When they say “I trust you” or even “I trust myself”, they are actually saying “I control you so tightly you can only do what I expect” or “I control myself so tightly, I can guarantee the outcome”.  This can lead to some fairly predictable problems:

  • It over-estimates our ability to control others or ourselves, or indeed the environment.
  • It is a recipe for micro-management and a potent way of destroying openness, thinking or creativity
  • It is in bad faith – there is no trust, only control.

full steam trust as control

Trust as Faith

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of trust is “trust (noun): ‘confidence, strong belief in the goodness, strength, reliability of something or somebody’, ‘responsibility’
have trust in (verb): ‘believe in the honesty and reliability of someone of something’, ‘have confidence in’, ‘earnestly hope’ ”

Look at the key words there:

  • Confidence
  • Belief
  • Hope

Trust in fact has nothing to do with control, but has everything to do with faith.  It is about uncertainty not certainty – you do not need to be confident or hopeful about an outcome, if that outcome is assured.  Trust is about ambiguity, complexity and mystery. It is about the limits of what we know and indeed what is knowable.

When trust as control is not enough, or not desirable, we can shift to a stronger position of trust as Faith.

faith in self

Faith in Self

It is a commonly heard injunction “to believe in yourself”, “to back yourself” during times of duress.  Having faith in yourself is an important cornerstone of career development.  There is plenty of evidence for the importance of this idea from clinical psychology such as Albert Ellis’ work on unconditional self-acceptance.

A recent favorite of mine is Brené Brown and her work on shame. In her book the Gifts of Imperfection she talks about the importance of Courage, Connection and Compassion.  The last of these, Compassion, relates to compassion for ourselves as well as others.  It means accepting who we are, and appreciating that it is OK for us to be limited in our powers to control or change things. I have written more about Brené’s work here and here.

Strengths-based approaches to Career Development that aims to build on existing strengths rather than overcome perceived “weaknesses” is another positive way of working on faith in the self.  See this post on David Winter’s excellent blog Careers in Theory for more on this.

Faith in self also means recognizing that we are strong enough to confront whatever life throws at us.   When this belief is lacking, our exploration of our own potential and of the world is also lacking.  However this does not happen in isolation and our faith in ourselves is bolstered and also determines our faith in others.


Faith in Others

If you think having faith in self in hard enough, just wait until you have to put faith in others!  In fact we unwittingly put faith in others all the time.  Whether it is faith the builders did a good enough job to prevent your roof falling on you while you sleep, or faith in other drivers not to do something crazy, or faith in farmers not to poison us, we are steeped in faith for others.

It is fairly obvious that our actions become very self-limiting without this faith in others.  If we believe we cannot rely on others, we will fail to reach out to them, and try to fulfill our needs ourselves or not even try.   The result is self-limitation and social isolation. A potent recipe for depression.

Again, complexity is to blame.  When we are in the grip of “Control fever”, we demand certainty from others. It is an impossible demand because the world and people in it are too complex and too inter-connected to permit certainty of outcomes.  Trust as control here really means “I do not trust you”.  When we do not trust, we are cautious, slow to move, closed and self-limited.

Trust as faith means to accept that ultimately we accept our own imperfections and in turn that allows us to be accepting of the imperfections of others.  Thus we believe in ourselves and in others too.  Indeed as Brené Brown points out, our love of others is limited by our love for ourselves.  So too with faith.

Faith in the Universe

Wow! Why stop at faith in ourselves and others?  What about the bigger picture?  It strikes me that at some level, having faith in systems that our bigger than ourselves and our social circle is an empowering and transforming thing.  Having faith that we belong and take our own place in Universe is not only reassuring, but gives us a sense of ownership and responsibility that transcends daily hassles and doubts, and provides:

  • courage
  • connection and
  • contribution

We cannot predict and control everything in our lives, nor is it desirable to do so.  We and the world we inhabit are complex, open and changing.   Trust as control is a limited and potentially damaging response to those realities, it needs to be subsumed within trust as faith.  It is perhaps the most important shift of all the Shiftwork principles.

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), this was the final shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)
  • ninth shift from Normative thinking to Normative and Scaleable thinking (see here)
  • tenth shift from Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

What other shifts do you think we need to make?  What shifts do YOU need to make? Which of these shifts presents the biggest challenge to you? How are you going to SHIFT?

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

When I was a child, I didn’t want to be with the other young kids in the shallow end of the pool, but I was also secretly too scared to want to be at the deep end where the cool kids hung out and dived in. So I settled for the middle of the pool, and I wasn’t the only one. In fact, that is where most of the kids were – in the middle, with some at the shallow end and some at the deep end.  It was normal to see the kids spread across the pool like this.

You see a similar pattern at the beach, some kids close to the shore, some way out beyond the breakers and most somewhere in the middle. In fact quite a few things in life seem to be arranged in this way: a few at each extreme, with lots in the middle. Think of weight, height, the length people wear their hair, length of movies, and political views.

Indeed it is tempting to think that all human behaviour and qualities conforms to this pattern, which of course is otherwise known as the normal curve, or the bell-shaped curve.  The trouble is that life is not always like that.

Thinking that things conform to a normal curve – normative thinking – can be quite misleading. One of the most common fallacies is to under-estimate the potential that outlier events have in transforming our world.  In a normative way of thinking, outliers are exceedingly rare events, and because of this, it is “safe” to act as though they really do not exist.   However such a view completely misconstrues the nature of things.


Bell shaped curve monster

Bell shaped curve monster

Nassim Taleb makes this point in his book Black Swans, by contrasting two imaginery worlds, Extremistan and Mediocristan.  Mediocristan is world that contains things that conform to the normative rules, where things change only in small increments.

Height is a good example of a mediocristan quality.  Imagine you had 99 people whose mean average height was 165cm.  Then imagine that Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever living person wandered in. Adding his 272cm height to the average, we find the average goes up to a whopping (wait for it), 166cm.  In other words, a once in human history event leads to a change in our height less pronounced that putting on a pair of Jimmy Choo’s or a pair of Dock Marten’s.

In Extremistan, things are different. In this world, things are scaleable.  This means that when change occurs it can be changes in the order of magnitude, change that changes everything.   Now imagine our 165cm 99 people had an average wealth of $500,000.   Now suppose instead of Wadlow, Warren Buffet walks into the room and in a philanthropic gesture offers to share his 62 billion dollar wealth equally with the others.  The average wealth in the room increases to: $620 million or enough for 413,000 pairs of Jimmy Choo’s (enough to shoe the entire population of the Assabet Sudbury & Concord rivers district of New England) or 3.12 million pairs of Docs.   In other words you could be a Rude Boy with a new pair of Docs every day of your life (assuming you lived to be 8500) or alternatively you and your life partner could have matching Docs every day of your life and still had enough to shod every man, woman and child in Madrid) .  That ladies and gentlemen of the jury is life changing.

Slipping into my comfortable, yet challenging and exciting career development slippers, the implications for career development planning are that careers too are subject to change that can change everything.   One management decision, one idea, one meeting, one workplace accident can change ones world in unimaginable ways – be it positive or negative.

Some scaleable events that occur in careers include:

  • the closure of a complete industry due to economic, legal or political factors
  • the impact of a war or terrorism
  • a chance meeting leading to a new career path
  • a conversion or enlightenment moment leading to a new path
  • the acceptance of a new philosophy or faith or world view
  • an exposure to a life experience that is transforming
  • an accident
  • an inheritance or lottery win
  • the invention of a new technology
  • the opening (or closure) of a new or old business nearby
  • a mistake or failure that exposed you to new unanticipated experiences
  • and on and on

If we think and encourage our clients to think in normative terms, then we will be encouraging them to think that the present is as it always will be, and any change will be small, incremental and largely controllable and predictable.  In other words we will be encouraging them to either be overly optimistic about their ability to predict and control their circumstances, or overly pessimistic about their ability to radically change their situation.

Recognising that Extremistan not only exists, but may account for most of the important moments in the history of mankind (Taleb), means to alter our approach to career counselling.  It means helping clients to understand these realities and to see the potential for reinvention within them. It also means helping them to understand that risk management strategies, like career plans can be sometimes be overwhelmed by change on a scale that was unthinkable.

It might seem easy to write about this idea having witnessed the madness that are the current global markets, but it is worth remembering that when Taleb started writing about these notions, the GFC was not upon us, and some commentators (like Standard and Poors) were predicting stock market growth in 2008.

Some things in life are normative – they are generally the rather boring and unimaginative things.  Whereas other events in life are scalable – their presence is sufficient to change everything.  Those break-through moments in counselling are not merely the slow movement toward to a new outlook, they tend to come suddenly and unexpextedly – like an “aha” moment, when things combine, a new possibility emerges, a new insight or direction becomes clear.
It is our job to help clients see the difference between normative and scaleable thinking, and when a scaleable event occurs, we want our clients to be ready with their bags packed, and a fresh pair of Jimmy Choos or Docs on their feet, ready to travel whatever pathway emerges from these sudden transformations.

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 eight, and in this post, I addressed the ninth 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)

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

Shift: Transform your career by shifting: Shift 8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

What is easier – working with a person to understand the limits and biases in their thinking and then helping them change their thinking, or giving them  leaflet?

Is it easier to listen to a person’s career story, and help that person discern the emerging fractal patterns in the story, or point them towards a list of occupations on a website?

Do careers professionals want to be seen as a carbon equivalent of this machine on the Embarcadero in San Francisco that dispenses copies of the Chronicle – is that all that is needed?

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), so far I’ve addressed the first seven, and in this post, I address the eighth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)


Career counseling is the single most effective career intervention that produces the greatest gains for clients in the shortest time (Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, 2000). The superiority of career counseling over more constrained approaches such as workshops, classes and computer programs is due in no small part to the flexible, contingent and personal nature of the counseling process.

And yet, why is it, that it is much more likely that most people who have access to careers services are more likely to be given information as a substitute for counseling?

Part of the answer is that information provision is relatively easier and cheaper to provide than counselling.  The web is a perfect medium to provide accurate, easily updatable and localised information at next to zero cost per individual.  These are the sorts of benefits that get the attention of Politicians and funders.  And this in part explains the increasing trend toward information provision being seen as the be all and end all of career development services, at least for those populations dependent upon government-funded programs such as high school and college students, graduates, the unemployed, and to a lesser extent those in rehabilitation programs

Sadly there are also “practitioners” who through laziness, apathy, or circumstance are content to simply distribute leaflets, as it suits their workshy tendencies, or for the more enlightened, they reason, correctly, that they have not been adequately trained to do any significant counseling.

This reinforces social inequality as access to quality counseling tends to be reserved for the wealthy (Pryor & Bright, 2006).  Ironically, a fact that is often not addressed by those who seek to criticize the use of testing in career development claiming it to be expensive and driven by profit motives, is that testing can often be significantly cheaper to provide than counseling.  However both of these methods are significantly more expensive than information provision.

What is happening is that increasingly careers services are being encouraged or coerced into making career information their primary purpose.  This creates significant distortions because any other service, like counseling, then stands out as extremely resource instensive and expensive, making it vulnerable to cuts.  Staff get hired without the capacity or interest in counseling, and budgets are trimmed to a printing allowance and a few subscriptions to on-line information sources (for the well resourced centers!).

Information provision is implicitly being presented as a proxy or alternative to counseling. The implicit assumption is that most clients need only to access the correct information, and that through some process of “true reasoning” will synthesize this into a coherent and effective career decision.  It is almost as though there has been a process of transference of Parsons’ “true reasoning” from the counselor to the client over the last 100 years.

However little or no evidence is presented in support of the view that clients do process the information in an effective manner.  In other words it takes more to make an appropriate career decision than good or plentiful information.   For instance clients with self-limited self-views are likely to select limited information and then make limited decisions on the basis of that limited information. It is a recipe for failing to reach personal potential and continuing or exacerbating their underlying career issues.   It also represents lost economic capacity, social mobility and workforce flexibility when considered from a labor market (ie a Politician’s) perspective.


My concern is, increasingly the transformation element of the career development role is being cut, displaced and outsourced to our clients with no evidence to suggest that those clients or those that surround them like family and friends have the ability to do this aspect of the work effectively.

Career development is not solely about information and never has been.  Transformation is at the heart of what we do. Transformation is a not an automatic process. It is not something that all of our clients are able to do by themselves.  Indeed, as web access becomes close to being universal, it is information that is available to all, and as digital literacy improves, it is career information that most can access with little or no external support.   At a time when career services are being forced, encouraged or choosing to arrange themselves primarily around information provision, they risk offering a service that is less and less required as the information they convey is readily accessible directly at home via the web.   Careers services run the risk of trying to become a newspaper at a time when newspapers are going out of business for the very same reasons.

We need to make the shift to not only provide information, but to also provide transformation.  And that means investment in training and hiring qualified counselors. It means beefing up standards and training courses to offer much more in-depth counseling training than is currently available.  It means offering, in Dan Pink’s (2005) words, high-touch services, as well as high tech services.


There is still a role for information, hence the Shift to Informing AND transforming.  As Bright & Pryor (2008) point out, career information continues to be a vital element in career development, however career information is merely an ingredient in career transformation. Shiftwork eschews reifying information and recognises how new information technologies can free us up to be more effective. The counseling process itself can also benefit from the use of information technology and some such as Lewis and Coursol (2007), Chester and Glass (2006) and Gredge (2008) report on already
developed effective models that harness podcasting and email in career counseling. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are already
being used by job hunters to advance their credentials, and possibilities exist using these technologies and others such as Voice Over Internet Protocols to develop
internet-based individual and group counseling sessions for minimal costs. Such approaches may overcome some of the cost and distance barriers to accessing
affordable and effective career counseling.



Bright, JEH & Pryor, RGL. (2008). Shiftwork.  A Chaos Theory of Careers Agenda for Careers Counselling. Australian Journal of Career Development, (vol 17, Number 3, Spring 2008, 63-72.

Chester, A., & Glass, C. A. (2006). Online counselling: A descriptive analysis of therapy services on the internet. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 34(2). 145–160.

Gredge , R. (2008). Online counselling services at Australian universities. Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Student Services, 31, April, 4–22.

Lewis, J., & Coursol, D. (2007). Addressing career issues online: Perceptions of counselor education professionals. Journal of Employment Counseling, 44(4), 146–153.

Oliver, L. W., & Spokane, A. R. (1988). Career-intervention outcome: What contributes to client gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35, 447–462.

Pink. D. (2005).  A whole new mind. Allen & Unwin.

Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2006). Counselling the Australian Perspective.  Applied Psychology an International Review.

Whiston, S. C. (2000). Individual career counseling. In D. A. Luzzo (Ed.), Career Counseling of College Students. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.


Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 4 From Control To Controlled Flexibility

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) and the first shift (see here) and second shift (see here) and I provide some tips about how to achieve the third one here.  Below I address the fourth shift.

From Control to Controlled Flexibility

We like to believe that life is controlled. We need to believe that life is controllable, but we know that there are severe limits on our ability to control our lives. I write this in the aftermath of the second Christchurch Earthquake in New Zealand, the aftermath of the devasting floods in Queensland, Australia, the lethal mudslides in Brazil, and of course the ongoing human and nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

All of these tragic events are sombre reminders of our inability to fully predict and control our lives.  Norm Amundson and Gray Poehnell in their books Active Engagement and Hope Filled Engagement talk about the “crisis of imagination” that causes us to become stuck in our careers.  This crisis of limitation of imagination is also partly responsible for us failing to anticipate the impact of the natural disasters so many have experienced in 2011.

At the time of writing, it appears that the Japanese nuclear reactors had insufficient safety mechanisms to handle the tsunami.  Nobody had imagined an emergency on that scale.  This is not unusual.  On Nov 4th 2010 flight QF32 flying from Singapore to Sydney suffered massive engine failure on the brand new A380 super-jumbo.   Apparently pilots had been trained to deal with 2 systems failures occurring at the same time on this new plane.  The pilots on the day had to contend with 60 system failures and failures of some form or other in every system on the plane.  Apparently nobody had imagined that this could happen.

These stories point to the fact that very often our plans are confounded by events that are beyond are imagination, what Nassim Taleb terms “Black Swan” events in his eponymously titled book, events that arise from “what we do not know we do not know”.   Career planning is no less susceptible to this problem, and consequently we need to make the Shift from Control to Controlled Flexibility.

Controlled Flexibility means being able to address a situation in a flexible manner, but not one that is so flexible that there is no structure or one where the response becomes essentially random. Confronting the unexpected by taking random actions is  sure sign of panic. Rarely is such an approach effective, and if it is, it is due to pure “dumb” luck.

Controlled Flexibility requires us to understand that our plans are likely to need to be altered to a greater or lesser degree as we embark on our course and discover hidden contingencies along the way, or meet with completely unexpected challenges.  Armed with this understanding from the outset we can implement two general strategies: insurance plans and pro-active problem solving skills.

Insurance plans , the oft-mentioned “Plan B” is a very common approach to dealing with fluid or ambiguous situations. However the Plan B approach tends to work best in fairly simple and slow moving situations.  Too often, Plan B becomes irrelevant or ineffective as events develop.

Plan Bs too often are remarkably similar to the primary plan, meaning that they are only likely to apply if conditions change in only a small way.  Change of any significance renders the Plan Bs redundant.

Plan Bs can induce a sense of complacency in the individual or group who feel secure or insured against the worst outcome. This complacency reduces motivation to continue to develop plans or ideas about other courses of action.

A more sophisticated version of the Insurance Plan is Scenario Planning.  Scenario Planning involves the regular and in-depth exploration and simulation of different complex situations that may confront an individual, group or organisation.

A Scenario Planning session begins with imagining a problem.  Then the problem is explored to understand its structure, implications, severity and opportunities it affords.  Then personal or group resources are reviewed to understand what is available to address the problem.  The problem is most likely then broken down into logical components driven either by the structure of the problem or the availability of resources to address it. Then action steps are proposed and implemented to address the problem.

A key aspect of Scenario Planning is that it is dynamic and simulated.  This means that the initial consideration of the problem, the perception of the resources available and the initial responses to the problem have an impact on what happens next.  It allows the Scenario Planners to understand the impact of their initial thoughts and actions.   This information informs a second round of responses and so on, until the problem is fully explored and an effective strategy emerges.

All of this information, each step and decision, is debated and documented, so at the end of the exercise a complete record of the decision-making processes, decisions, outcomes and the final strategy are all stored ready for future potential use.

A critical feature of Scenario Planning is the importance of regularity.  Successful Scenario Planners schedule regular Scenario Planning sessions to explore new problems.   This is important because it builds up a library of explored and solved problems that become a resource to consult when confronted by problems in the future.

Regular Scenario Planning is also a potent way to develop the problem solving and planning skills of those involved.  For groups and organisations, it allows teams to learn from each other, and for corporate knowledge capture, enhancement, transfer and preservation. For individuals it helps to maintain an awareness of the need to be able to address complex issues in their careers at any time and without notice.

Shell Oil is a company that many business schools cite as a good example of the effectiveness of Scenario Planning.  Shell weathered the Oil crisis of 1973 when world oil prices spiked far better than many of their larger competitors.  One reason for their performance at the time was attributed to their management being able to draw on their Scenario Planning experience. They had already worked through a similar scenario and therefore were able to address the issue with more agility than their competitors.  Shell moved from being a middle-ranking to a world leading firm on the back of this.

The second Controlled Flexibility strategy is to develop Pro-active Problem Solving skills.  As we’ve seen Scenario Planning is a potent way to develop these skills, but there are many other methods available such as using DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats (White, Red, Black, Green, Yellow and Blue), or considering Sternberg’s (2003) Analytical, Creative and Practical Intelligence, or Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Spatial, Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic).

What De Bono, Gardner and Sternberg are getting at, is that we need to pay attention to different, or in De Bono’s terms “parallel” ways of thinking if we are going to boost imagination and creative problem solving.  Their models give us some frameworks to encourage a broader engagement with a problem than simply falling into “argumentative thinking” (De Bono) or relying on Analytical (Sternberg) or Logical-mathematical (Gardner) thinking.

One final point to make here, is that I am not promoting a view that career problems are a jigsaw puzzle that can be solved, rather I like the metaphor I read Dave Snowden using that we should see complex problems as mysteries.  We are NOT going to get THE correct solution, or THE complete picture. Rather we are going to see fragments of structure, and from these we can start to implement strategies and plans knowing that we are inevitably going to have to modify these strategies or develop completely new ones as things inevitably and unpredictably change.


So for career success, the first step is to appreciate the limitations of what we can control and predict.  The second step is not to respond by falling into helplessness or fatalism.  Nor should we settle for simple insurance plans like the Plan B strategy, but rather we need to commence and maintain a program of scenario planning, and secondly to work actively on developing problem solving skills.  Through these mechanisms we can develop controlled flexibility.



Amundson, N. (2009). Active Engagement. 3rd Edition. Ergon Press.

Bright, Jim (2008) Beyond Personal Mastery® http://www.beyondpersonalmastery.com

Bright, Jim (2008). Beyond Corporate Mastery® http://www.beyondcorporatemastery.com

De Bono, E. (1999) Six Thinking Hats. Back Bay Books.  http://amzn.to/ff5kLq

Gardner, H. (1993).   Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. Basic Books. http://bit.ly/glfSoE

Poehnell, G. & Amundson, N. (2011). Hope-filled Engagement. Ergon Press.

Pryor, R & Bright, J (2011). Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge. London & New York. http://bit.ly/d1tK8R

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Shift: Transform you career by SHIFTING

The world is changing, you are changing, change is inevitable (except from a vending machine). So the question is what are you doing about it?  Maybe you need to get into SHIFTWORK.  I have re-defined the term “Shiftwork”.

Shiftwork is the work we all have to do to manage, survive and thrive in the face of a world where Shift Happens.

It derives from our Chaos Theory of Careers (Bright & Pryor, 2005, 2007;Pryor & Bright, 2003, 2007, 2011) that explicitly incorporates the concept of change in its account of careers in terms of complex dynamical systems.

Essentially the chaos theory of careers characterizes the world as a continually changing, complex and highly interconnected place, and humans living within this world are also highly complex and continually changing open systems which mean they are also highly interconnected.  This leads to many different implications including that change is a consistent feature of our lives and that the nature of this change will often not be easily predicted or controlled and may be sudden and disproportionate.

I have identified the first XI shifts we all need to make.  You can find a fuller paper on these ideas here.  These are

1: From Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making

2: From Plans To Plans And Planning

3: From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness

4: From Control To Controlled Flexibility

5: From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour

6: From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities

7: From Goals, Roles And Routines To Meaning, Mattering, And Black Swans

8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

10: From Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

11: From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

Want to read more? This is an extract of a paper called

SHIFTWORK: A CHAOS THEORY OF CAREERS AGENDA FOR CHANGE IN CAREER COUNSELLING by JIM E. H. BRIGHT and ROBERT. G. L. PRYOR. It appeared in the Australian Journal of Career Development Volume 1 7 , Numb e r 3 , S p r i n g 2 0 0 8

get it here


How do you see change in your life and career? How confident are you in your ability to change or adapt and thrive in a changing world?  If you help others work on their transitions, what techniques or approaches do you use to help others understand, survive and capitalize on change?

A “twitter” -brief summary of the Chaos Theory of Careers.

A twitter-brief summary of the Chaos Theory of Careers.

This blog is a companion piece to a blog on using the Chaos Theory of Careers Practically in Counselling. That blog will appear in time on David Winter’s Careers in Theory Blog (http://careersintheory.wordpress.com/). Specifically find the article here http://wp.me/pCwmV-oI #careersintheory Below I set out “briefly(!)” some of the key ideas in the Chaos Theory of Careers.  It may help you better understand my methodology in the Chaos Counselling blog.

The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) (e.g. Pryor & Bright, 2003ab, 2007, 2010; Bright & Pryor, 2005, 2007) states that people are complex dynamical open systems and as a result they are subject to:

One property of complex dynamical systems is that under certain conditions, relatively stable patterns emerge from the interaction of all the complex influences and changes. In chaos theory these patterns are called Fractals. They exhibit symmetry over time and scale, which means that self-similar patterns emerge over time and self-similar patterns can be seen at every level as we investigate deeper and deeper into the patterns. The classic example in nature that people use is to consider the coast line of a bay. At one level it appears as a large sweeping bay, but if we get closer we observe smaller inlets that resemble the larger bay, and we can keep going right down to small rock pools and see a similar patterns of ever decreasing little bays. That is self-symmetry over scale.

Another feature of these emergent self-similar fractal patterns is that while they are reasonably stable, they are continually changing and sometimes this change is dramatic and is big enough to reconfigure the whole pattern and indeed the system from which the pattern emerges. To continue with the example of the coast line, we can see this happening in nature. Over time the coast line is formed by the eroding effects of sea and wind (and people!). Generally this change is gradual or even imperceptible. However occasionally they are rock falls, landslides, floods or droughts. As I write this, an Earthquake has just struck in Christchurch, New Zealand another example of dramatic change. The result of such influences can be a dramatically reconfigured coast line.

So fractal patterns are we what we would call dynamically stable – continually changing but generally in a self-similar pattern, but subject to occasional dramatic and unpredictable changes. Further these fractal patterns are not simple or easily captured or described by conventional methods.


Try this exercise. Look around your room and identify a triangle, a square and a circle. The likelihood is that all the exemplars of these shapes will have been man-made. Now take a look out of the window, and search for patterns that a lot more complex, but kind of self-similar. You might see clouds, or trees, or grass, or even the waves on a sea. All of these things have a pattern, a shape, and all these patterns have a “sort of like old” repeating aspect to them. They are all living and moving – the are all dynamic. They are all natural and not man made.

This is an important insight, because those man-made objects you identified – the triangles, circles and squares are man-made (Platonic) forms. They do not exist precisely in nature no matter how much Plato wished they did. Nature is more complex or messy if you will.

However that has not stopped us from trying to get nature to conform to our simpler approximations. So clouds are roughly elliptical, mountains are roughly triangular etc. But in reality as Benoit Mandelbrot (1975) (the man who invented fractals) points out “clouds are not ellipses” – they are more complex and that complexity matters. In very much the same way, how often do we object to being reduced to a simple stereotype or “put into a box”.

So I hope you can see that within the Chaos Theory of Careers we are going to emphasise concepts like complexity of influences, dynamic change, unpredictability and emerging complex (fractal) patterns. These terms are going be to our lingua franca –
Fractal patterns,

To that we need to add a couple more concepts if we are going to equip you will all the new language, because one of the Benefits of the Chaos Theory of Careers is that it offers processes to understand change and how people react to it, whereas more general systems approaches have tended to be good at highlighting a range of influences we must consider, but relatively silent on how these operate and how systems behave in stable and unstable modes.

The first of the additional terms is non-linearity. Simply put consider this. Imagine you had three standard bags of sugar and some kitchen scales. Every time you put a bag of sugar on a set of kitchen scales, the weight displayed goes up by the same amount. Add a bag, add a kilo. It is a simple linear relationship because we could draw a graph where we had number of the bags of the horizontal scale, and weight on the vertical scale. Plotting the graph would give you a straight line.

In a non linear situation, imagine you had three objects: a bag a of sugar, a pillow and a piece of lead the size of a paperback book. This time as you add the sugar, we get the 1 kg increase, then we add a large bulky pillow and the weight goes up about 0.5 kilo. So the straight line graph dips abit. Then we add the smallest object, the lead book, and the weight goes through the roof. Indeed we break our scales and run and hide from mummy. That is a non linear relationship and they are very naughty boys indeed. They are naughty because they make predictions very hard if not impossible to make. If really big things likes pillows can have small effects and really small things like lead paperbacks (a lead paperback is one full of leaden prose!) have huge effects, then we can’t extrapolate a neat straight line that tells us what is going to happen next.

In the CTC, non-linear relationships are the norm, not the exception. Such small things can have profound effects on a career – for instance being two minutes late to an important meeting can result in you being fired for lateness, or avoiding being assigned to a project that ultimately fails, thus ensuring you avoid being fired.

Finally, it is useful to consider how these complex dynamical systems hold themselves together – what limits them, constrains them? This is where the idea of an Attractor comes into play. For an extended consideration of these see David’s early Careers in theory blog entry and my commentary on his! However here is a quick recap.

Lets ask the question – what limits a system? All systems are limited because if they had no limits they wouldn’t be a system and couldn’t be distinguished from everything else.

The Point Attractor.

Lets a take a really simple system like water emptying out of a sink. Where does the water go? (To Kevin Costner’s waterworld?) It all goes down the plug hole. So we can say this system is made up of the water and the plug hole. As the long as there is water in the sink, we have a dynamic system that operates in a very predictable way. The water all ends up passing through a point called the the plug hole. We can say that we are witnessing a Point Attractor at work. The plug hole works to “attract” the water through it. In a very real sense the plug hole makes the system behave in a very specific way. The system cannot operate in any other way unless of course we change the system by adding things, like blocking the hole, or adding other holes in different places etc.

So Point Attractors are in operation when a system is limited to move only towards a clearly defined point.

The Pendulum / Periodic Attractor

A motorised pendulum is a system where the pendulum swings back and forth between two defined extremities. The system is totally predictable like the Point Attractor system because we always know what is going to happen next. Wherever the pendulum is in its swing, we know where it will go next. A pendulum attractor is in operation at those ghastly conference dinners when the people at each table are served alternatively fish or chicken. (I always end up with the one I don’t want and nobody will swop with me!!).

Pendulum Attractors are in operation when a system is limited to move only in between two clearly defined points.

The Torus Attractor

Imagine a weekly family menu as a system. On Monday we have Chicken Tikka, Tuesday is Lasagne, Wednesday we have Stir Fry, Thursday we have Salad, Friday we have Fish and chips, Saturday we have Pad Thai, Sunday we have Roast Beef, then Monday we have Chicken Tikka, Tuesday we have Lasagne, and by Wednesday we die of boredom…

What we have here is a perfectly predictable system that moves between seven different points (days of the week). The system is so predictable that if we are eating Salad, we know what dinners are in store for us tomorrow, the day after, indeed until we ingest our final calorie in life. Other examples of Torus attractors are rules or policies at work or adages like everything in its place and a place for everything.

Torus Attractors are in operation when a system moves through a series of clearly defined points that repeat over time.

Now at this stage we have described three increasingly complex types of system. Have you noticed that all these systems are completely predictable – we can know precisely what they will do next. Have you also noticed that these are all closed systems – i.e. These systems do not allow any external influences or factors to change their behaviour.

In fact such systems are very hard to sustain over time, because other factors inevitably impinge on the best regulated systems. Roots, food or fat block up our drains and plug holes stopping the action of the Point Attractor. Vegans bugger up the simplicity of fish or chicken at the conference dinner. Mad cows take beef off the menu in the UK or pasta strikes in Italy takes lasagne off the menu – they disrupt our menu routine.

Strange Attractor

The final type of attractor is well, strange. Strange attractors are the characteristic feature of chaotic systems. The describe open systems rather than closed ones. This is a good thing because it allows us to take into account all the complexity (the broader context) in which the three previously described closed systems operate.

A strange attractor limits the system to exhibit the self-similar, sort of like old repeating patterns, but because they are not totally closed other factors can influence the system and change things, sometimes dramatically. The system is in a constant flux between the stability of the closed systems and the complete break down of the systems into chaos – sometimes this is referred to as the edge of chaos.

You are a limited by a strange attractor. Over the years you have demonstrated remarkable self-similarity of appearance – to the point that it is likely that strangers could match up a photo of you when five years of age to a current picture (assuming you have gone lightly on the plastic surgery and avoided moving to Cheshire and going orange). However clearly your good adult self is also different to that five year old.

Strange attractors require us to embrace paradoxical thinking – the same, but different. Stable but unstable. Predictable (within severe limits) but unpredictable over time. When you plot out the patterns of a strange attractor you get a fractal pattern. Fractals are the graphical patterns that emerge from the operation of strange attractors.

The Strange Attractor operates when the system shows emergent stability over time, self-similarity, but also the possibility for radical non-linear change.

Now those last paragraphs were chock full of jargon or more positively some of the new language that can help us understand careers. As Stephen Fry points out in his The Ode less travelled “It is useful and pleasurable to have a special vocabulary for a special activity. Convention, tradition and precision suggest this in most fields of human endeavour..”

To link this to career behaviour consider the dizzying number of influences upon our career behaviour, people such as Lent, Brown and Hackett or Patton and McMahon have highlighted the multitudinous nature of these influences. Bright, Pryor, Wilkenfeld & Earl (2005) presented data from a sample of around 750 young adults that demonstrated they were influenced by everything from parents to geography to politicians and beyond. They were also very commonly influenced by chance events. A point that John Krumboltz has been making for a long time (e.g. Krumboltz, 1998).

In the Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) we characterise individuals as complex systems subject to the influence of complex influences and chance events. However over time patterns emerge in our behaviour that are self-similar but also subject to change. Career trajectories/histories/stories are examples of such complex fractal patterns.

  • Our careers are subject to chance events far more frequently than just about any theory other than CTC and Happenstance Learning Theory would suggest.
  • Our careers are subject to non linear change – sometimes small steps have profound outcomes, and sometimes changing everything changes nothing.
  • Our careers are unpredictable, with most people expressing a degree of surprise/delight or disappointment at where they ended up.
  • Our careers are subject to continual change. Sometimes we experience slow shift (Bright, 2008) that results in us drifting off course without realising it, and sometimes our careers have dramatic (fast shifts) changes which completely turn our world upside down.
  • We and therefore our careers take shape and exhibit self-similar patterns, trajectories, traits, narratives, preoccupations over time.
  • We and therefore our careers are too complex to be easily captured and put into simple boxes, interest or personality codes.
  • Perhaps more contentiously given the almost completely uncritical acceptance of narrative as our technique du jour, narrative too, represents an over-simplification of reality and is not capable alone of fully capturing the complexities of our careers. However it is more capable of capturing complexity than scores alone.

At this stage I need to add one more term to complete our tool kit to engage with our clients in a way that embraces complexity, and that is constructivism.

We are pattern makers, we can find connections and structure in almost any stimuli. The tools we use to make the constructions include numbers, circles, triangles, squares, boxes, lines, and stories. In this we we capture human behavioural patterns in test scores, we talk of putting people in boxes, pinpointing (a small circle), predicting (a line) or hearing their story.

The CTC has at it’s heart the idea of emergent patterns. In seeking to understand these exceedingly complex and ever changing patterns we all will construct meaning from our experiences of these patterns. However as Pryor and Bright (2003) pointed out this does not mean we adopt a radically socially constructivist stance, rather we adopt a realist – constructivist position – that reality exists beyond our perceptions of it, but we acknowledge that our experience of reality is influenced by our constructions we place upon it. I say more about this in the counselling section.

CTC and Counselling Techniques – lets end the war before we start.

The CTC demonstrates clearly the limitations of “traditional” ideas like fit between people and jobs, psychometrically measured interests, values and personality in trying to capture dynamic and complex patterns. Equally despite pointing out that narrative is limited too, this does not mean that narrative has no place in the CTC, it does.

Savickas (2005) described as an “epistemic war” has been going on either explicitly or implicitly between what could variously be designated the modernist, objectivist, positivist perspective and the post modernist subjectivist constructivist perspective.

The former approach focuses attention on assaying individuals’ characteristics (abilities, preferences and traits) and relating those to the requirements of various occupations. The better the fit the more suitable the occupation. The latter perspective focuses attention on discovering themes and purpose through narratives with the goal of creating a meaningful life incorporating work.

The Chaos Theory of Careers provides a theoretical method for resolving this conflict and ending the war. Bright and Pryor (2007) proposed that the positivist and the constructive perspectives actually correspond to the two dominant categories of characteristics of complex dynamical systems. Using the term “convergent” perspective to correspond to the positivist approach it was suggested that the focus was on the stable, identifiable, ongoing characteristics of individuals. This perspective seeks to identify “probable outcomes” based on past behaviour and knowledge.

The convergent perspective draws attention to the ordered patterns that are identifiable within complex dynamical systems as a basis for narrowing down (converging) options in order to make a satisfying and effective choice. The emergent perspective points to the susceptibility of change within complex dynamical systems. From instability interaction and forming new connections of influences within the system, new characteristics develop (emerge). For example from a convergent perspective someone making a decision is an individual evaluating skills and personality to match with an occupation. However, from an emergent perspective such an individual could be perceived as part of a complex network of influences mutually influencing one another out of which a sense of purpose emerges through which a congruent work context is constructed.

It still may appear that these two perspectives – the convergent and the emergent – remain as contradictory as the positivist and constructivist approaches. However this is exactly the kind of dichotomous thinking that views order and disorder as opposites when in fact in the Chaos Theory of Careers they are views as composites of complex dynamical systems.

Through the CTC it can be seen that the insights of both the convergent and emergent perspectives make a contribution to a further understanding of the individual’s personal story and self – concept on the one hand and on the other how such insights may correspond to a broader understanding of how society arranges work, reputation and the demonstration of abilities for work entry and performance on the other. There seems little point in knowing how your abilities and interests compare with other people (convergent perspective) if the utilization of such personal characteristics lacks meaning for you (emergent perspective). Conversely simply focusing all one’s attention on visualizing a fulfilling lifestyle incorporating work (emergent perspective) if that vision has no chance of actually being realized through the world of work suggests the need for objective occupational information (convergent perspective).

Finally, as Kitching (2008) points out in his critique of postmodernist thinking, the emphasis is firmly upon what we “know” about the world and ourselves, and has surprisingly little to say about how we “act” in the world. As Kitching puts it, “it privileges epistemology over ontology”. If all there is in the world are ones thoughts, then there is little point in acting, we can simply think our way through everything. However most counsellors will recognise the truth in the saying “nothing will be achieved if first all objections must be overcome”, very often the way to confront uncertainty and the fear commonly associated with it is to act. Consequently the CTC approach embraces the paradox of think before you act, but act before you think (Pryor & Bright, 2008). Action is emphasised in other approaches including Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning theory and Young & Valach’s action theory.

Further Reading


The Factory Blog and the Careers in Theory Blog by David Winter

Link to a companion piece to this article providing a step by step guide to using the the Chaos Theory of Careers practically in Counselling on the Careers in Theory Blog



Pryor, R. & Bright, J. The Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge, New York. To be published  January 2011.  Contains an extended coverage of practical counselling strategies, tools and techniques as well as a review of the empirical evidence supporting the theory, and more.

Amundson, N. (2009). Active Engagement. 3rd Edition. Ergon Communications. Richmond:BC


Bright, Pryor, Chan, Rijanto.  (2009). The dimensions of chance career episodes. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 75(1), 14-25.

Pryor, R.G.L. and Bright. J.E.H. (2009). Game as a career metaphor:  A chaos theory career counselling application.  British Journal of Counselling and Guidance. 37(1), 39-50.

Bright, J.E.H. & Pryor, R.G.L.. (2008). Shiftwork: A Chaos Theory Of Careers Agenda For Change In Career Counselling. Australian Journal of Career Development. 17(3), 63-72.

Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2008). Archetypal narratives in career counselling. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance. 8(2), 71-82.

Pryor R.G.L., Amundson, N., & Bright, J. (2008). Possibilities and probabilities: the role of chaos theory.  Career Development Quarterly 56 (4), 309-318.

Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright J.E.H. (2007). Applying chaos theory to careers: Attraction and attractors. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71(3), 375-400.

Bright, J.E.H. & Pryor, R.G.L.. (2007). Chaotic Careers Assessment: how constructivist and psychometric techniques can be integrated into work and life decision making. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 23 (2), 30-45.

Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2006). Counseling Chaos:  Techniques for Practitioners. Journal of Employment Counseling. Vol 43(1) Mar 2006, 2-17

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

Davey, R., Bright, J.E.H., Pryor, R.G.L. & Levin, K. (2005). Of never quite knowing what I might be:  chaotic counselling with university students. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(2), 53-62.

Pryor, R.G.L. and Bright J.E.H. (2005). Chaos In Practice: Techniques for Career Counsellors. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(1), 18-28.

Bright J.E.H. & Pryor R.G.L. (2005). The chaos theory of careers: a users guide. Career Development Quarterly. Vol 53(4) Jun 2005, 291-305

Pryor, R. G. L. & Bright, J. E. H. (2003).  The chaos theory of careers. Australian Journal of Career Development, 12(2), 12-20.

Pryor, R. G. L. & Bright, J. E. H. (2003b). Order and chaos: a twenty-first century formulation of careers. Australian Journal of Psychology, 55(2), 121-128.

Savickas, M. L. (1997). The spirit in career counseling: Fostering self-completion through work. In D. Bloch and L. Richmond. (Eds.), Connections between spirit and work in career development: New approaches and practical perspectives. (pp. 3–26). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

Loader, T. (2009). Careers Collage: applying an Art therapy technique to career development in a secondary school setting. Australian Careers Practitioner. Summer, pp16-17.