Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 21: career planning while navigating change and uncertainty 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 8, 2017

This is my 21st installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-20.)

I selectively wrote in Part 20 about how innovations, and perhaps disruptively novel ones in particular begin small for their reach of impact, and expand out from there. And I began, in that context, a discussion of how this progressively impacts upon skills and experience that would offer particular value for advancing this New, and for how it impacts upon skills and experience that would come to seem more dated and even obsolete as a result too.

I posed a set of questions and issues at the end of Part 20 that I said I would address next in this series, and repeat them here for smoother continuity of narrative, and as a starting point for further discussing them:

• Where and how is innovation in its perhaps still beginning stage already impacting on businesses and the markets that they serve?
• What areas of work and what skills and experience sets are now coming into demand because of this for those businesses, and what ones might be losing their perceived value and significance to those employers as they retool and reorganize towards this New?
• What directions if any, do these dislocations seem to be moving in as the impact and reach of this innovation begins to spread out and expand and both within its initial industry and sector and to others that would pick up on it?
• You can safely assume that any skill or experience set that an innovation has already made more vulnerable in one industry or sector, will become at least as vulnerable and career limiting in others too, as a once new and still forming innovation really takes hold and across wider and wider business and marketplace communities.
• And the questions and issues of workplace and skills set dependencies enter into this here too.

My goal for this series installment is to at least begin to address these questions from a more focused career development perspective. And I do so by offering a point of overriding strategic consideration when career planning in the face of change, and by raising some general orienting background questions that would help to take any answers to the above bullet pointed questions and comments at least somewhat out of the abstract, by making them more relevant to the specific reader. First the more general point:

• It is easy to get caught up in the generalities when facing broad-based disruptive change as it impacts on work and employment and on society as a whole. All you need for that, is to keep up with the news and with news stories that announce lay-offs and businesses bringing in automation and similar job-ending (and job-creating) change. But you have to think all of this through in terms of your own life experience and your own skills and work experience that you can build from, if you are going to make this type of knowledge and insight a valuable resource for your own planning.

Impact on larger and more diffused and varied demographics might help put matters into a broader perspective. But you need to consider your own specific circumstances and your own potential, to make individually meaningful use of this type of knowledge. And with that, I pose my first two more individualized questions, that would help bring the generalities of the above questions into more useful focus for you:

• Where do you excel and offer real defining value?
• And what of that would you find most rewarding and satisfying for you as a source of next career path steps?

Let’s begin with the second of those questions and by addressing your workplace and career path comfort zone, at least as it is currently shaped by you. And I begin clarifying what that of necessity involves, by stating that comfort zones are always multilayered: built in the form of onions with inner cores and outermost layers and more in between.

• In the middle is your here and now workplace and job description – and even if you are not actually happy or satisfied with it. You have that job and its salary and benefits and your employer has been willing and perhaps even happy to have you there, so you have at least a perceived measure of job security there. And it is familiar. You know what you have to do and how, and who you work with and who you can and cannot rely upon there. Unless you have been laid off and are out of work now, this is generally the center of that onion.
• What if you do have to move on, or alternatively find a new position with your current employer? That, I add can even mean a promotion (and either with a current employer or from taking a higher level position on a table of organization elsewhere.) Change always brings at least some uncertainty to our lives and even for full time consultants who go through that as a basic element of their career path per se. You have your demonstrable skills and work history and experience that you can build from, and the second layer out would involve work and efforts to secure it that would simply build from and use the skills and experience that you have now. The more novelty you would face in this, the farther out from the core of this comfort zone construct you would move.
• Let’s arbitrarily put a new job that has a larger amount of novelty – to you, but with that coming in the form of standard and routine for a hiring business, as the third layer building out from the core. Consider as an example of that, you’re taking on a first for you, lower level management position in a functional area and type of work context that you are already familiar with from your hands-on non-managerial work experience.
• Basically, I am adding in larger amounts of novelty with every incremental step out from that starting core here, and more and more significant types of new to you novelty as well as larger quantities of it – as perceived by you.
• What if you have to change industries, but with your taking a job in essentially the same basic functional area, whether sales or marketing, bookkeeping and accounting, computer network management in an Information Technology department, or whatever? You have to learn new in-house and in-industry jargon and a lot of new expectations, and you will probably find yourself having to learn and fit into a whole new type of corporate culture than you have seen before.
• Now let’s consider more fundamental career changes. Here, you are going to find yourself developing new skills and experience in new types of work to be carried out. And this means thinking through what it genuinely transferable and even very broadly so from your prior, perhaps largely more specialized work experience. Communications and negotiating skills and interpersonal skills enter in here as obvious examples, but most of us can find ways to both transfer other skills, and ways to effectively argue their value in that too. Thinking though your own skills and experience sets and what you could generalize and transfer of that into what new settings, is a big part of individualizing all of this for yourself and making it work for you.
• This type of skills generalization, I add, is an important consideration when moving out of that innermost core layer and into any layer beyond it, through skills and experience transferability and from really cultivating what you can do and offer with them. This, I have to note, becomes more and more important the further out from that comfort zone center that you move, or might have to move.
• Up to here, everything faced would at least be relatively standard for the businesses you work for or might work for. Let’s begin adding more fundamental change into this narrative now. And with that we face more outer layers to this complexly structured comfort zone, and areas of it where uncertainty almost certainly exceeds comfort per se at least at times for you. But even there, it can still be possible to find an accommodating balance between uncertainty and comfort for yourself in all of this.
• In these layers, both you and any business you do or might realistically work with are facing the New and unknown. And accommodating the demands of this position, so outwardly placed relative to that starting, tried and true core of your overall comfort zone depends on how steep a learning curve you would have to face to adapt to it and in ways that would satisfy an employer’s due diligence as well as your own. And this position outward relative to that starting, tried and true core depend on how thoroughly in advance you can even know what type of learning curve you have to go through and succeed at, and how many unknowns and uncertainties you would at least start out with for that, limiting your understanding of what you would even have to learn in order to succeed.
• The outmost layer and outmost edge of that, for your comfort zone is where uncertainty and the concerns that creates effectively overwhelm any sense of stability and certainty that you might realistically achieve, and any level of apparent risk from change that you would personally see as being viable for yourself and your work life and career path. Within that outermost for you, layer and its outer edge, you can at least in principle find an acceptable to you path forward through change faced. At and beyond that outer boundary, you cannot.

Those of us who are more comfortable with change and uncertainty can in fact have, and cultivate developing, a larger and more layered overall comfort zone here. Those who are more risk and change aversive and who see risk and change as if interchangeable concepts, might reach their outermost boundary in all of this, very close to the outer edge of their comfort zone core and in effect find themselves unable to contemplate let along adapt to any real change at all.

One of the most important skills that I would propose you’re developing here in this series is a greater and more flexible capacity to look at and face change, and even disruptive change, so you can find paths forward through it that would work for you, and bring you back into what for you would be a meaningful, comfort zone core again – even if a very different one than you have created for yourself in your past.

I have been addressing the two more individualized career planning questions in this posting, that I proffered right before delving into comfort zones above. But I have only started my overall discussion of them. Consider the above stated comfort zone organizing model as laid out here, a framework for further discussion. I am going to further address those questions in my next series installment, and after that I am going to reconsider the more general bullet pointed questions and comments that I repeated towards the start of this posting.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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