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It’s impossible to anticipate every roadblock on career path

If you get really lucky you will make it straight to the door and you will have achieved your goal. More likely, the only thing you will achieve is a bloodied shin as you collide with a coffee table, or worse face plant across it into the shag pile having stepped on a roller skate (this 1970s home is in need of updating).

Marching blithely about when you have no idea about the terrain, most would say, is foolhardy. A more sensible approach would be to take small steps, feeling as you go, reaching out and slowly sweeping with hands and legs to explore the immediate environment. No hazards, good, take a small step and repeat. A hazard? Take a small step in a different direction and repeat. Eventually you find an exit.

We could make the room even more challenging by making all the floors and furniture move about in unpredictable ways. There are flashes of light that illuminate the scene for brief periods, and periods of darkness where you are working from memory and hoping nothing much has moved.

There are also many mirrors creating illusions and confusions. If the floor under your feet is opening up, there is no time to work out a plan, you have to act, take a risk, quickly reassess and keep going. Some moves will be be obvious, others will be hunches, and others will simply be a case of doing whatever you can at the time.

Just about all career education, and most organisational change strategies are based on the dubious assumption that we are in the static well-lit room. When all of the environment is clearly visible, it is possible to apply traditional mapping, planning, goal-setting type strategies.

The trouble is, it is almost certainly a fallacious assumption that the world is so simple and readily understood. The reality is that most of us are trying to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty.


IllustrationCredit:Kerrie Leishman

We are in dimly lit rooms, and frequently things are changing and doing so unpredictably. The problem with most organisational strategising is it underestimates this complexity and assumes everything can be predicted and controlled.

The tragedy of too much that passes for career education, is that it perpetuates the myth of a predictable world that can be tamed into goals and long-term plans. It prepares students for a world that does not exist, and in so doing utterly fails to teach students strategies to make decisions under conditions of change and uncertainty. The typical political response is to try to shine more light – provide more information. However, this is simply more of the old thinking that the world can be tamed and controlled.

Both organisations and students alike need to be equipped to understand, properly, complexity and chaos, and to appreciate that outdated simplistic command and control techniques sell people short. Simply shrugging that chance events happen, without understanding that there are effective ways of engaging in the complexity of life, is not good enough. We need to shine a bright light on the murky same-old practices of goal-setting and long-term plans.

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