The traditional model for career change has been to plan and implement. It assumed that everyone had a clear notion of what they wanted, ought to be or do. It also assumed that the knowledge you needed to make a choice was explicit and more critically that the job or work context was stable.  Change then stemmed from a well considered development plan. We were encouraged to have a planning mindset.

Those of us who were unsure about a choice of path (when faced with several) were told we had to be more adult and make a choice. While on the surface this looked like a sensible paradigm to work with, in fact there is nothing about the context today that suggests this was sensible at all.

Today each of us have many more paths than we thought. Education and re-education opportunities are a lot more accessible to the average careerist than ever before, learning and re-learning is as quick as a mouse click away. Organisations have become so much more specialised in their functional disciplines and so has the basis of knowledge. Re-tooling within an organisation (even one without a GE style of training budget) is possible simply through leveraging existing and varied knowledge networks within its walls.  And the starting up of an entrepreneurial business is easier than it has ever been before.

So why are not more of us ‘playing’ with the options. Instead defining and even constraining our thinking, unable to look past the job options, organisational structures and business models in front of us.

The alternative is to opt for a more emergent career model – a ‘test and learn’ journey.

This model recognises that a person and its environment can shape each other in ways that create possibilities that did not exist at the start.  That is, it assumes you have as much control over your context and its possibilities as your environment has over you. It assumes that the knowledge you need to make a choice is implicit (rather than explicit) and that the job context is transforming in ways we don’t fully comprehend. Career direction and pace then stems from exploration and experimentation. Instead of a planning mindset it requires an experiential mindset.

So what stops us from taking a more flexible, emergent approach? Sometimes it is because we over-identify with our roles which blinds us to other possibilities. Perhaps sometimes it is the fear that lurks in us all – the fear that we may fail. But an emergent journey is one that does not have to be a all or none choice. This emergent model allows you to test and push the boundaries of existing options.  Thinking about the work you currently do and about the company you keep and the way that itself may constrain your thinking about what is possible.  But not everyone is comfortable with adopting an experimental mindset, but we are all capable of testing and learning if we want to.

Whether you are starting out in a career, or at the crossroads of one, ask yourself the question “if I knew I could not fail what would I be doing today”. Then, consider your options for pushing the boundaries on the work you do and pushing out the circles that you move in in order to get closer to that possibility.  Then test and learn, recognising all the time that that possibility itself can evolve and change as you can too.

For more information read Careers Unplugged by Meena Thuraisingham.

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today