Sunday, 29 August 2010

If you know a career changer...

 This is what they need:
  • Advice.
  • Tea.
  • Opinions.
  • IT support.
  • A beer.
  • The odd text. 
  • Spotify suggestions.
  • A good laugh.
  • The odd comment on a blog (mentioning no names, Rachel)
  • A good cry.
  • You to buy the drinks.
  • Referrals, recommendations and general word of mouthiness.
  • You to mention them to that friend of yours who could be looking for someone.
  • Your custom (if appropriate).
  • Patience.
  • To hear stories of people who hung in there and succeeded.
  • That you 'get it'.
  • Honesty.
  • And tact.
  • Probably by now another beer.  (And yes, it's your round again).
  • Belief. 
But above anything else...they need you to tell them how much you admire their guts for trying.


The Non Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice offers a well known critique of  the assumption that more choice is better.  It argues that in fact the greater the choice the more stuck and dissatisfied we become. 

The argument rests on a number of studies, the most famous of which is set in a grocery store where customers were offered a sample of 24 different flavors of jam and then afterwards a sample of only 6 flavors of jam. With 24 flavours, more people came to the table, but only 1/10th as many actually bought jam.

This paradox seemingly shows up everywhere, from pension funds to speed dating.  And indeed I have  used the paradox of choice to help explain Career Paralysis - a situation where people hate their jobs, but get stuck when they try to think about all the alternatives.

The trouble is that as with any seemingly intuitive life rule, reality is far closer to 'it depends' than it is to the rule.

Recent research has questioned the existence of any such paradox.  A meta analysis by Scheibehenne, Greifeneder and Todd in January 2010 found the overall effect of 'choice overload' was virtually zero: "We could not explain when and why an increase in assortment size can be expected to reliably decrease satisfaction, preference strength, or the motivation to choose," the authors write.

Indeed, sometimes they found that more choices actually facilitates choice and increases satisfaction, exoecially if we have strong prior preferences or expertise.  (This is why in career decision making it's so important to enhance self understanding and build a clear set of decision criteria). 

But we should all beware of the 'big idea' book which seems to explain a general rule about human behaviour.  Beware of experts who seem to peddle easy solutions to difficult situations.

9 times out of 10 there is no general rule.  In psychology, context is everything.  

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Career quotes

Here are some nice quotes that have resonated with me over the years, but I'd love to hear more - do let me know.

It may get tough, but that's a small price to pay for living a dream.
Peter McWilliams

Most of the important things in life have been accomplished by people who kept trying even when there appeared to be no hope at all.
Dale Carnegie

We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing.  Action always generates inspiration.  Inspiration seldom generates action.
Frank Tibolt

Don't be afraid your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin.
Grace Hanson

No amount of security is worth the suffering of a life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams.

The lust for comfort murders the passions of the soul.
Khalil Gilbran

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe to be great work.  the only way to do great work is to do what you love.  If you haven't found it yet, keep looking.
Steve Jobs

Be willing to be uncomfortable.  Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
An entrepreneur does not yearn for the key to the executive loo.
Carl Mortishead

I honestly think it's better to be a failure at something you love than a success at something you hate.
George Burns

The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage.

Year after year, the monkey's mask
reveals the monkey.


Wednesday, 25 August 2010

On the danger of psychometrics and career matching tests

Much of what occupational psychologists do makes me uneasy.  Not as uneasy as the legions of career coaches who offer to help people based on a 2 day course in NLP but that's another story. 

Psychologists are very keen to put people into boxes.  We like to label people -  schizophrenic, depressed, anxious.  For occupational psychologists we like ENFP, conscientious, emotionally intelligent.  Of course, most of these labels are useful because they have good reliability and validity.  

However, when we use labels such as these we must be mindful that we are creating a reality as much as describing one.  And, particularly in the field of career psychology, I think there's a danger that we are reinforcing a kind of paternalistic role model that may even be the root cause of the issue.  

Freedman and Combs (1996) write: "Speaking isn’t neutral or passive.  Every time we speak, we bring forth a reality.  Each time we share words we give legitimacy to the distinctions that those words bring forth.”  

Anyone who's seen the TfL advert will know we tend to see things that confirm what we seek.  In career decision making we tend to see behaviours or judgments which confirm our existing views of ourselves and owe believe psychometric tests which are in any case only modified versions of what we have told ourselves in the first place. 

But the unquestioned use of labels and categories can consolidate problems that the client is experiencing   and reify something which perhaps did not exist - or half existed in the messy, ambiguous reality of being a human.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The science of decision making and the art of possibility

Dan Gilbert argues that one of the reasons we aren't great at making decisions is because we tend to compare against our past experience, not against what's possible. We have a a rich understanding of choices taken, but only an abstract idea of the choice not taken.

Usually, our future possibilities are not that well defined in our minds, so it's our experience of the past which dictate the decisions we make for the future. We're bad at estimating the odds of our future gains and the value of our present pleasures.

Conservatism - and consumerism - is usually the result.

The conductor and teacher Ben Zander deals with this cognitive bias by giving all of his students an ‘A’ for their report for the year, in the first two weeks of the course.

In return for this exceptional grade, Zander asks his students to write a letter dated the following year, in which they describe the person they have become to justify this grade. He then asks them to fall passionately in love with this person.

This is a perfect example of how articulating a future, and imagining it more vividly, allows us to live in possibility rather than being defined by the patterns of the past.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Monitoring internal dialogue

Seth Godin writes intriguingly today about monitoring one's internal dialogue.  I think it's imperative to do the same when making important decisions, especially career decisions.  Why?

It comes down to a simple idea:  your mind is not your friend and it is not your enemy.  It is an evolved problem solving organ whose primary responsibility is to keep you alive. 

It's like having a very loyal, very powerful dog outside your house.  Your dog will deter intruders, keep you safe, protect you.  But, if you let it, it may also deter friends.  Its instinct is to prevent you from leaving the house at all.  If you let it, it will make your life smaller in the service of safety. 

But what language has given us is the unique ability to examine our own thoughts - metacognition.  By seeing thoughts as having a specific role, we can begin to see when they are useful to the kind of life we want to lead, and when they are not.

Perhaps some of the thoughts in your career decision are like the dog.  Well meaning but limited.  By being willing to examine our thoughts, we can become better at recognising why we're making decisions.

If your next career decision is about staying safe, well that's fine.  But if your life is about more than staying safe - living a vital or a meaningful life for example - you could do worse than read Seth's post.   And start bringing that dog to heel.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Identifying a bold move

It's worth  asking once in a while whether the way you're living reflects the way you want to live.

If the answer is no, may I ask, gently and with due deference to your no-doubt logical decision making processes, when exactly you will start?

I often get my clients to identify a 'bold move' in the direction of their values, because they are often so stuck that making no decision is beginning to look suspiciously like a decision. 

Start by picking a  value that reflects what you really want from life and then think about how it could be expressed more fully.  What would it be like if you had a project which gave full expression to that value? The move can be anything at all, but it must be an action and not a thought.
For example, a common value amongst my clients is freedom.  This may not be surprising when we're routinley told to try and fit our identities into a job 'role' which goes on to define most of our waking hours.  So freedom is a value that often feels encroached.
How could you set up a project which lives the value of freedom more fully?  The project would define the next steps to make this possible and the order in which they’re taken.

Some examples:
  • You define freedom as 'creative freedom' and set aside every Saturday morning to work on a creative project.  With a deadline of 3 months you will deliver the result to someone, somewhere, without apology.
  • You define freedom as 'time freedom' and make a plan that will allow you to work 4 days a week, or 1 day from home.  Yes, I am serious.
  • You define freedom as 'physical freedom' and set yourself the challenge of walking the highest peaks in Britain* next year.
  • You define freedom as 'autonomy' and make a project to earn money from something that excites you.  This can start small - for example selling cards on e-bay or to friends.  But your plan could be scalable - for example making a website (very easy) or blog (even I can do that) to sell things from.
NOTE:  what your mind will immediately give you is reasons why you can't do this.  I encourage you to thank your mind - it's just trying to keep you safe bless it - and to carry on.  You're in control of your decisions, not your thoughts.

What's your bold move?
* Or Peru, for any Peruvian readers.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The role of inspiration in career change

Sometimes after sessions, clients will tell me they feel inspired into action.  And this always makes me wary. 

It's nice and everything, but feeling inspired is like assuming you've reached your destination when you see it on the map.

Emotions convey information and using mindfulness in career decision making allows us to listen more clearly to that information.  But when it comes to moving into action emotions are unreliable.

What we most value in life and what we most fear are two sides of the same coin.  If you want meaning in your life, then there's a price to pay for that.  In my case, it's anxiety, self doubt, insecurity.   But whatever shows up first when you move towards your values will be negative emotions. 

So if you rely on the feeling of inspiration to act, you'll be at the mercy of these conflicting emotions.  It's far better to use inspiration to choose a course of action and then to be willing to experience whatever comes with that choice.

Ultimately, this is what will free you to move into a new career - not because you feel inspired, but because you chose it.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Language destroys happiness

I spent the weekend with my family. It was lovely, but I noticed how much language helps us worry. Taxis that will or won't come. Plans that will or won't work. Hats that may or may not be lost. I do this too - what if, what if?

Without language, it would just have been a family, sitting and eating; a silent testimony to a common bond. Present.

With language, we ruminate about the past, worry about the future.  And life ticks by.

And yet we can't un-learn language. The human choice is about learning what to do from here. So we must learn what to do with language.

Learning to enjoy the present even in the presence of language allows us to reach for something higher and more noble.

To stay present with the moment even whilst feeling anxiety - now that is something to aspire to. In fact, from here, it is the only thing.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Money vs meaning

“If you are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life … your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.”

George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Don't wait to be rescued...

Paul Gauguin was a painter who made a mid career change. He was initially a stockbroker, but art was his passion. He realised that money wasn't buying him the life he wanted, and he wasn't becoming the person he wanted to be.

So Gauguin left his job and family (in Denmark, without enough money) and moved to Paris and then to the South Sea islands to paint. He wanted to live simply 'on fish and fruit'.

However, Gauguin's career change never answered life's biggest questions. He titled his last painting, "What are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?" He eventually died of syphilis and alcohol abuse facing a prison sentence.

This reminds us that chasing happiness and fulfilment is the wrong strategy. It's an illusion that there is some other place, job, direction that can rescue us from our despair if only we could find it, choose it.

Ironically, this understanding rescues us from the tyranny of choice. It frees us to become present and enables us to start living our values now. We can become the change we wish to see.

Kelly Wilson argues that we should learn to accept the present moment, in all its ambiguity, as it is. He quotes the poem Burnt Norton:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.


Saturday, 7 August 2010

Minds - a User's Guide (1)

I live in a near constant state of anxiety, yet what am I actually anxious about? Often the answer is fear. Fear of what? Failure perhaps. Or of looking like a failure.

And yet, my experience of failure is actually very rare. In truth I have very little direct contact with the experience of real pain.

Yet the distress of 'failure' is so tightly woven into my brain that seemingly unrelated events remind me of its possibility:

Speak to a successful friend? You are failing in comparison.
Hear of a new restaurant opening? Why didn't you do that?.
Read about Naomi Campbell. You've never received a blood diamond!.

My ridiculous mind has given me the exciting opportunity to experience anxiety, fear and shame on a daily basis without experiencing it directly. The thought of failing is enough to feel distress.

Wilson et al. (2001) summed up the trap language sets for us:

“Thus comes the paradox that a species that has by far the fewest contacts with direct sources of pain… through language is able to suffer with a degree of intensity, constancy and pervasiveness that is literally unimaginable in the nonhuman world... Because of [language], we can judge ourselves and find ourselves to be wanton; we can imagine ideals and find the present to be unacceptable by comparison; we can reconstruct the past; we can worry about imagined futures; we can suffer with the knowledge that we will die.”

Ring any bells?


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

You don't need a big idea

Starting a business is not about big ideas. Many (most?) successful businesses take an existing concept and do it better. For example, Innocent started by making fruit drinks that were actually made of fruit. Imagine! changed the way we bought insurance and Google...OK, Google was new.

Bloom isn't the first to use psychology in the workplace, but we are pioneers of contextual behavioural science. This means we equip people with tools they can actually use to change their lives, as opposed to telling them they're an 'ENFP'.

The point is that many of my clients want to start a business but don't have a big idea, so they stop. But all you really need is a passion to do something better, faster, cheaper or simpler. Oh, and a good story. Then stop waiting for “an engraved invitation and a guarantee of success” as Seth Godin puts it, and bloody well get on with it.

That's it really. The Fallacy of the Big Idea.

Why were you not Zusya?

The way we make many decisions is usually by making comparisons with others. Career decisions are no exception. We feel pressure when other people land that graduate job or get that promotion or even when they start their own business.

I came across a wonderful quote yesterday in Dr Kelly Wilson's address to the World ACT Conference.

It's from Tales of Hasidim by Martin Bubber.

Rabbi Zusya said, "In the coming world they will not ask me:

'Why were you not Moses?'

Instead, they will ask me:

'Why were you not Zusya?'"


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Meaning in Fernando Torres

Fernando is not only the best striker in the world, but a great theorist on meaning in work. His definition is thus:

"What my club represents is very important," he says. "If you know what your club stands for and you are part of it you will play better because it means more to you. Every time I pull on a Liverpool shirt I know it's more than just a game. Liverpool has a mentality, an identity, I like. They are a hard-working people's club. They are huge but with a humility."


Monday, 2 August 2010

Great career sites

Tom - who does our Twitter and Facebook sites - reminded me to do more practical and useful posts, so here goes.

My list of practical and useful career sites:

The best career decision making software is without doubt our own CareerStorm Navigator. It costs £150, but it's worth it. If you want a little ranty aside here, if you really want to make a career decision you need help with a process of thinking, not something which shoves you in a box and tells you to become a librarian.

Best personality test
Talk of shoving people into boxes, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator does this all over the world to lucrative effect. But the MBTI is not even very good. It has limited validity and is rarely used in academic studies. A far more valid and reliable test of personality preferences is the NEO-PI which I use with nearly all my career clients. Whilst this costs, there is a similar free test which measures the big 5 personality domains.

Best for choosing values Barry Hopson talks about values sensibly in his excellent blog on portfolio careers. I talk about them even sensiblier here, and there is a free test here.

Best for general direction - I like windmills.

Erm, sorry, I mean I like windmills.

Here's a long list of other tests you can take. The sort of list I should have made in fact.

Finally, the best site for becoming happier in your life / career through being buried alive in a shamanic ritual is here.