Saturday, 30 October 2010

Career paralysis - five reasons why our brains get stuck making career decisions

I get some nice comments about my 'Career Paralysis' presentation which is very gratifying:

"I've since found the Career Paralysis slides show. This is incredibly valuable and relevant to me at this time". Grant.

"Very cool ... and a great reading list. Thanks for sharing it with me" Steve Hayes, author of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life.

"How wonderful for you to have made this extraordinary presentation available on the net. its fantastic - its makes ACT enjoyable and practical - while there are fantastic PP on ACT web-site few have graphics especially engaging ones". Bernard.

"I have seen the presentation here on the website and can relate to just about all of it!" Richard.

"I just stumbled on your "5 reasons why our brains struggle..." and it's really hit the nail on the head for me. Feeling very paralyzed at trying to figure out a career path for myself!"    Michael.

"Good on you! This is great stuff. You just made my day. :) Russ Harris, Author of The Happiness Trap

ps.  you can download this by going here.
Best viewed in 'slide show' mode in Powerpoint - as it's animated.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Distilling the Essence of Your Value Proposition

This is a useful article about how entrepreneurs can communicate their value to others

Some highlights of the article:
  • Be clear:  Your listener needs to understand in simple, specific terms what the heck you are talking about.  Most entrepreneurs go too high and too abstract, or get way down in the weeds with technical jargon.  Or they mistakenly think that teasing the listener by being mysterious is somehow clever and enticing.  Instead, imagine how the Wall St. Journal or Forbes magazine might describe what you do to their readers.  You are best served by offering a simple declarative statement that enables the listener to have a clear image of what it is you do. 
  • Be credible:  Too many entrepreneurs destroy their credibility by using too many empty superlative adjectives and over-hyping their value proposition, or over-stating their potential (“We’re going to be the next Google ....”).  Maybe you are going to be bigger than Google, but saying that you are doesn’t make it so, nor does it help your credibility.  Instead, if there is something impressive you have already accomplished that enhances your credibility (“Steve Jobs has joined our Board,” or more realistically, “We’ve already signed three paying customers”), let us know.
  • Be compelling:  Your solution has to represent a dramatic improvement over the current state of the art, not just a nice incremental improvement.  And you have to be novel or clearly differentiated – something your listeners haven’t heard before.  You might be able to build a perfectly nice business if you have invented a better mousetrap, but if you really want the world to beat a path to your door, you need to offer a non-toxic technology that eliminates every single unwanted rodent in New York City.  The trick is to state what is compelling in terms that are clear and credible.  One of the best ways to do this is a simple metric:  “We can demonstrate a 10x improvement in price-performance, based on our initial customer results.”  If you have been clear about what you do, you probably don’t have to spew a bunch of market size and growth statistics; that should be obvious enough.  Your Wow does not come from the size of your market, but from the size of your advantage.  

    Thursday, 28 October 2010

    Acting with Awareness - A New Study

    One of the first things I ask career changers to do is to start noticing their lives more.  That is, notice what is happening in the present moment, be that something in the external environment, or thoughts or feelings experienced internally.

    This awareness can help build a better understanding of what drives us, motivates us and what hooks us away from what it is we really want to do (otherwise known as experiential avoidance).

    However, awareness is not enough.  A brilliant new study shows that for wellbeing we must act with awareness and be willing to accept the internal states that come with that:

    776 students (50% female) in Grade 10 completed measures of mindfulness, emotional awareness, and experiential acceptance, as well as measures of major personality traits. To study prospective changes, assessments of emotional well-being were completed across a 1-year interval.

    Analyses revealed that "Acting with Awareness" (engaging fully in one's current activity with undivided attention), emotional awareness, and experiential acceptance were all linked to prosocial tendencies and uniquely predicted increases in well-being across the year. 

    Observing experience (noticing, observing, and attending to a variety of stimuli) was correlated with positive and negative aspects of personality and did not predict changes in wellbeing.

    Source:  Ciarrochi, J., Kashdan, T., Leeson, P., Heaven, P.C.L., Jordon, C. (2010). On being Aware and Accepting: A one-year Longitudinal Study into Adolescent Well-being. Journal of Adolescence. 

    It's acceptance AND commitment to action which boosts wellbeing.  And that's why I study the handily named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


    Tuesday, 26 October 2010

    Venture Navigator

    Not to be confused with my own CareerStorm Navigator, this is is a site dedicated to setting up your own business; Venture Navigator.

    Venture Navigator was created by the Business Edge Consortium which cosists of the Universities of Essex, Cambridge, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow and Warwick plus The Open University.

    In particular, I like the following (free) assessments:


    Leadership assessment.

    Managerial assessment.

    Your potential.


    Five forces assessment.

    General business viability.

    Business Tools and Techniques.

    There's also a groovy online community  where you can ask questions and have clever people answer.



    Monday, 25 October 2010

    Friday, 22 October 2010

    A nice e-mail signature...

    Thank you Lisa Sansom!

    It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
    --C. S. Lewis

    Wednesday, 20 October 2010

    A Brief Guide to Psychometric Testing

    Clients are often interested in psychometric tests but not many understand what they are for.  Many feel quite sceptical about them, whereas others trust them too much.  Broadly speaking, there are three different types of psychometric test:

    Aptitude Assessments
    Aptitude tests look at your strengths and weaknesses as an employee.  Aptitude tests usually focus on verbal skills, numerical reasoning and spatial awareness.  Some jobs may have industry-specific tests such as creativity tests.

    Personality Profiling
    These tests match your personality to a career direction.  Questionnaires look at aspects of character which can help to identify the environment in which you are most likely to succeed.  Use the NEO-PI (or other measures of the Big 5 personality traits) for best results (and not MBTI)!

    Occupational Interests
    These tests (attempt to) match your answers to the career path (or paths) that interest you or which suit your style the best.  Can be useful but not by themselves.  Handle with care.  You are a human not a type. 

    These assessments all have limitations.  However, the better tests can be effective at helping to ensure that career decisions are made as objectively and with as much self awareness as possible.  Tests must have good reliability and validity.

    Further information on psychometric tests can be found at the BPS page on 'Psychological Testing: A User's Guide'.

    Without doubt the most comprehensive list of psychometric tests I've seen is by my fellow Occ Psych Mark Parkinson. I couldn't hope to better this list, so here it is.


    Tuesday, 19 October 2010

    10 Psychology Findings That Affect Career Decisions (6-10)

    6.     It’s other people that make us happy – Csíkszentmihályi (1996)
    You might not believe it, crammed onto the Northern Line, but it’s true.  Evidence shows that it is isolation, not feelings of despair, which cause mental illness, depression and even suicide.  This is perhaps unsurprising as being with other people and collaborating with them successfully meant that you were accepted in the tribe, which was critical to survival.
     Conclusion: getting rich is unlikely to make you happy by itself.  Instead, think about how you can best add value to or help others.  Not only will this make you happier, it may well make you richer.

    7.     ‘Meaning’ is about understanding – Steger (2008)
    If you want a meaningful life, you need to firstly understand your true self.  Who are you?  What do you stand for?  Then you have to understand how you fit into the world.  What do you believe in?  What do you want to do whilst you’re here?
    Without meaning we feel uneasy and anxious because we don’t fully understand what we’re doing.   This definition of meaning can be applied for small things like understanding the meaning of a word in a sentence, or larger things like understanding our lives.  Meaningful work can therefore be found at the intersection of where you use your unique strengths in a purpose that you believe in. 
    Conclusion: Focus on understanding what you uniquely offer, and then focus on understanding what sort of cause you want to contribute to.  If you’re consistently doing that the end result will bring meaning.   

    8.     Control over our work lives is critical  - Langer and Rodin (1976), Whitehall study (2005)
    A famous experiment in 1976 by Langer and Rodin showed that if elderly people were given a plant to care for they had much higher levels of happiness than if they were given a plant but the nurse cared for it.  This finding has been repeated many times in many ways.  The Whitehall Study is a large-scale experiment which showed that those with less control over their daily work schedule had poorer health and died younger than those who had great control.  If you are looking to be happier in your work, look for ways in which you can increase your control over it. 
    Conclusion: ask yourself how you could exert greater control over your working life.  What could you learn or train in that would help you?  What role or field would you feel more in control in?

    9.     Goals work – e.g. Nicholls (1990)
    The brain evolved to solve lots of different problems in different situations and it is very good at it.  That’s why only motile organisms have a brain in the first place.  There is evidence to suggest that even just writing down a goal will help you achieve it. 
    Conclusion: if you’ve been thinking about a career change for a long time, action beats thinking.

    10.     There is magic in starting something
    OK, this one can’t be proven, but we believe it intuitively.  Once you commit to doing something bold, strange forces move to help you and opportunities open up.  People you meet respond differently, the nature of conversations changes, you read about things that could help, you chance upon solutions.  If you make choices repeatedly based on your vision, your values, your highest talents, you shift the whole universe to act in your favour.  Doing work you love becomes somehow inevitable.

    Monday, 18 October 2010

    10 Psychology Findings That Affect Career Decisions (1-5)

    1.     We’re poor at decision making – Kahneman & Tversky  (1979), Gilbert (2004)
    When weighing up the costs and benefits of a decision, we make two errors.  First, we overestimate the probability of failure in a new direction because of our negative bias.  Second, we underestimate the benefits of change because we fail to imagine or visualise the results of that change in much detail.  This has been shown time and again, not least by Dan Gilbert.
    Conclusion: we have to think differently about career decision making.  Firstly, we need to become more aware of our successes and achievements.  Second, we should try to visualise what we actually want in life in greater detail.   Sounds obvious.  Not many do it.

    2.     Our brains are pre-wired for survival, not fulfilment – Maslow (1943)
    We’re survival machines.  Our brains think evolved to anticipate and predict the worst and we try to eliminate this risk.  That’s why our cognitive functions and emotions evolved too – and why we’re 3 to 5 times more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive. 
    But as Maslow predicted, once we have survival we adapt and want fulfilment.  And fulfilment isn’t created by avoiding risk, or by surviving.  Happiness, after all, is not the absence of sadness.  Fulfilment often requires us to imagine something better and to take risks to achieve it.
    Conclusion: your brain will protest if you consider something new, but fulfilment probably depends on it.  Fulfilment is about contributing something unique to a cause you believe in.  And remember we adapt and learn from failure – very few decisions are irreversible.

    3.     We learn helplessness – Seligman (1975)
    Let’s say you fail once at something.  Then you try and fail again.  The third time you don’t try quite so hard so you fail again.  Then you give up.   You stop trying.  This is known as ‘learned helplessness’ and it is amazingly easy to induce.  In fact, it’s possible to induce learned helplessness in about 2 minutes.
    When we think about our careers we often come at it from the perspective of a learned helplessness.  When all you’ve done is what you know, it’s hard to imagine that you could do anything else.
    Conclusion: being aware of where you may have learned helplessness is a good first step.  But second, ask yourself how useful these thoughts are to the achievement of your goal.  

    4.     Negative emotions are to be expected – Hayes (1998)
    We often treat emotions like fear and anxiety as though they must be avoided, when in reality they are an inevitable part of growth – and of being human.  Equally we often treat our internal thoughts as representing the ‘truth’, when in reality they are just thoughts.  Many people try to avoid negative emotions or ‘fight’ the pain, but research shows that being willing to accept these thoughts whilst progressing towards your valued outcomes is more effective.
    Conclusion:  Negative emotions are an inevitable part of any activity where we learn and grow.  Acceptance of negative emotions whilst continuing to make progress towards one’s valued goals is a far more effective strategy than avoiding or fighting them.  (If you feel the need to beat your negative emotions first, check that the valued outcome is valuable enough and check that you are truly willing to accept the emotions that come with it). 

    5.     Happiness is not a luxury –Fredrickson (2000)
    Many people see work as something to be endured.  But happiness has consistently been shown to lead to better health, longer life and more productivity.  Barbara Fredrickson’s famous ‘broaden and build’ theory explains why people who regularly experience positive emotions show heightened levels of creativity, inventiveness, and "big picture" perceptual focus.  These experiments have also shown positive emotions play a role in the development of long-term resource such as psychological resilience and flourishing. However, it is happiness as the side product of meaning and engagement that counts.  Hedonic happiness cannot be controlled!
    Conclusion:  The fact is, being happy is as likely to make you more successful at work, than less.  However, chasing happiness by trying to limit our exposure to unhappy thoughts is a trap!

    Sunday, 17 October 2010

    Attention Bias, Career Change and Getting Stuck

    Take a look at this video.

    Most people don't spot it, but even if you do it illustrates the limitations of our attention.  In short, we see what we expect to see.  For a career changer, this brings serious drawbacks.

    For a start, we tend to believe the stories we build up about ourselves.  The mind is a consummate story teller, but it is not a faithful recounter of truth.  It's less Reuters than Tass.

    So our attention bias tends to limit our own view of ourselves.  We become a 'type' of person with a certain degree of intelligence, a personality and a set of career matches....all staples, incidentally, of career coaches.

    Yet these categories are just as likely to be limiting, inaccurate and even toxic as they are to be accurate, liberating and fulfilling.   Our categoiries should be held lightly.  Personality is a useful concept but should be no more than an input to a career decision.  Ultimately humans can't be boxed into types.  It has to be about conscious choice. 

    Career matching tests, psychometric tests, coaching, all have the capacity to reinforce categories which hinder more than they help.  The reason we get stuck is not because we see the world as it is, but we see the world as we are.


    Saturday, 16 October 2010

    Advice to Live By

    By Rachel Collis.
    'Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart's position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after -- lightly because you realize you never paid nothing for it, cherishing because you know you won't ever come by such a bargain again.'- Louise Erdrich
    In my twenties I was a junior hospital doctor. The nature of that work is that you spend a lot of time with people who are close to death. And the experience taught me two things - firstly, to cherish life, as you never know when it will end, and secondly, that those who had loved well and put effort into something that they were passionate about seemed to face death with more ease than those who had focussed on gathering wealth and status.

    There was a beautiful show on Radio 4 some years ago called 'Advice to the Living' which was advice from people with terminal disease. I still remember one of the people saying:
    'Am I loved?  Am I loving well?  When all else has been stripped away this will still remain'
    Advice to live by.

    Thursday, 14 October 2010

    Lessons from a Chilean Mine

    So, what now?  

    Florencio Avalos had just escaped  from a dark, sweltering hole in which he must have assumed he would die.  But now he had a chance for life, and  his response was salutary:

    "I've been buried for 40 years of my life.  The truth is I'm going to be living more, along with my wife and daughters". 

    Death sheds light on what's important about life.  Just as sorrow deepens our capacity for joy, we need death to remind us to live.

    When I tried to imagine what I would want to do in this situation I realised I would worry less about happiness or stress or image, and more about life.  More work, better work, more attention to friends, more present with clients, try more, fail more, live more.

    Yet in the humdrum of daily routine it's easy to wander through our days largely on autopilot.  We don't notice the autumn trees.  How we disconnect from others over time.  How our jobs, roles, identities can steal time from us.

    "Welcome to life."   Those were the words uttered to each miner by the Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, as they arrived at the top of the mine shaft in the narrow and battered pod that hauled them.

    Well, welcome to life.  What now?


    Tuesday, 12 October 2010

    The Dangers of Positive Thinking


    Russell Brand on the Meaning of Fame

    In an interview with Jeremy Paxman:

    ' I myself was seduced by fame, growing up in Essex, and I thought 'Yes, I want to be famous.' And now that I am famous, what does it mean? Ashes in my mouth. We should try to examine the things that we're using to make us happy - this pursuit of celebrity, wealth, status, consumption of products, ignorance of ecological and economic matters, and try to aspire to something more truthful and honest.'

    Monday, 11 October 2010

    Values Clarification

    Values are slippery concepts.  Not goals, not feelings, they are chosen direction in which to travel.  Essentially, they signify what's important to us in life. 

    However, I think it's useful to distinguish between values in action and aspired values.  Values in action are what we actually do.  They are what we make time for and therefore what we prioritise.  Aspired values are what we aspire to do.  Clearly, the ideal situation is a large overlap between values in action and aspired values, but this is often not the case.  We drift through life mindlessly prioritising things that don't really matter.   For years I prioritised making money with a vague aspired value of status, only to realise my aspired value was actually meaning.

    That's why some values clarification work is useful in career psychology sessions.  For people who want to try this kind of thing at home, I think this exercise is one of the best I can find on the web.  Let me know what you think.  For what it's worth, here are my top 6 - remarkably similar to other tests I've used.

    Friday, 8 October 2010

    Loneliness and the Career Changer

    The brilliant coach Rachel Collis writes about loneliness and dating in her blog

    I think loneliness can impact career changers too.  It's common for people to be fighting their feelings alone - they're under pressure to fulfil a certain role and have come to be defined and known through their work.  Other people can be as vested in that role as they are, so change can seem daunting and isolating.

    Consciously meeting people who 'get' the need to change is essential, I think.  I certainly found that's something I needed to do.  The majority of my friends stuck through it with me, but I remember the silence of others and how bad that felt. 

    Rachel's advice is to put effort into building and maintaining a supportive network of friends and family so that you aren't so vulnerable.  I think that's right, and the effort bit matters.   I'd add that practicing your story for why the change is needed is essential because it helps others to relate towhat you're doing.

    This is important because at some level, your career change is likely to be something they admire and fear in equal measure.

    Thursday, 7 October 2010

    This October

    Why not use one of them to make a bold move?