More on Purpose

Regular readers may be familiar with the name Carolyn Tate from my previous blogs on purpose, and the Slow School of Business. Last week, Carolyn launched her latest book, The Purpose Project, a distillation of the past seven years of her work, and quite possibly a road map for anyone wanting to take control of their own destiny at work.

I would describe The Purpose Project as a cross between a first aid kit for a disillusioned workforce and a survival guide for the modern workplace. But as with defining your own “purpose”, the value is in the mind of the reader, rather than in any prescriptive solution or outcome.

Having spent the past few years working with Carolyn at Slow School, I know that her views on this topic have subtly changed. Slow School itself initially appealed to, and was designed for, independent consultants (“solopreneurs”) and aspiring consultants (“corporate escapees”). But as the concept of finding purpose in our work has started to take hold, Carolyn now encourages her readers to find their own purpose where they are, rather than rushing headlong into a new job, a new company, a new career or even into entrepreneurship (which as we know, isn’t for everyone).

I first connected with Carolyn at the Slow School, when I was exploring my own purpose as an independent consultant (and sometime corporate escapee….). Slow School provides a community of like-minded souls with a “safe” space to test new ideas, a playground to kick around new concepts, and an environment to challenge our own assumptions. Unsurprisingly, a key part of The Purpose Project is a list of 50 questions designed to help readers dig deeper into their own purpose, modeled on the Japanese concept of ikigai”. There are also some tools and practices to bring purpose to life in our current work.

In my own case, I still think my purpose is a work in progress, and is never settled – much of my career has been driven by a need for new ideas and experiences, work that is intellectually stimulating, and a willingness to engage in continuous learning (while feeding an enduring curiosity and maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism). These factors, even more than formal qualifications or faddish management theories, have helped me to build resilience and navigate a rapidly changing work environment.

One point where I may disagree with Carolyn is this notion about finding purpose through staying in your current role or workplace – that it’s not necessary to leave. While I agree that it may be possible to reshape your current job to suit your personal needs and preferences, staying in an unrewarding job or remaining with an organisation that does not value you is like persevering with an unhealthy relationship.

In short, I’m quite pessimistic about the ability for large corporations and large institutions (as they are currently framed and constituted) to help us connect with our individual purpose, or even to provide the space to do so. And of course, rapid changes in the very nature of work, the way we work, the economic structures and business models that have traditionally underpinned employment and the value exchange of labour require us to take more control over where, how and with whom we choose to spend our working time.

Next week: Agtech Pitch Night at SproutX



It’s never too late to change….

Few things annoy me more than when someone in their late 20’s or early 30’s says: “I’m stuck in my job, and I can’t do anything about it.” My immediate reaction is to shout, “No you’re not, and yes you can!” But I stop myself, and ask instead, “What’s stopping you from making a change?” Usually, there is a mental blockage, and an inability to think outside or beyond the immediate situation. In turn, this is often linked to a distorted perspective about how they got to where they are, coupled with unreasonable (and therefore, unrealised) expectations.

Sculpture, Ueno Park, Tokyo (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

” A new perspective?” (Ueno Park, Tokyo – Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

Helping my clients to identify the barriers in their way (in particular any deeply entrenched obstacles), and to explore ways to dismantle or overcome them usually leads to alternatives: a new job opportunity, a potential career transition or a new business direction. It may not be an easy or comfortable process, but it’s not impossible. At its heart is the need for self-awareness, the willingness to embrace change, and the commitment to making it happen.

“See You At The Barricades”

Here are some of the initial objections I hear when people say they can’t make a career change or transition:

  • Financial security
  • Lack of time
  • No access to resources
  • No idea what to do next, where to look, how to plan
  • Enjoy the job, but not the organisation (or vice versa)
  • This is the only work they know, or studied/trained for
  • Non-transferable skills or inadequate training

My usual response is to get them to re-contextualize. It’s rather like using cognitive behaviour therapy, to reframe the situation. “How could you look at this differently?”, “What if you did this?”, “Who could help you overcome that?”, “What would be the ideal situation?”.

“Money’s Too Tight To Mention”

I understand that financial insecurity can be a major cause for concern. The certainty of a regular salary (even if you hate the job) can be preferable to taking a pay cut for a more rewarding role, or having to forego immediate financial return during a period of retraining or re-skilling. But if you are only doing a job because of the money, the likelihood is that you may never be entirely happy in your role, you may come to resent the work you do, and eventually you may lose sight of what is important to you. Plus, the knock-on effect on your personal well-being and that of your family can be significant. After all, no job has a lifetime warranty or even a 2-year guarantee, so the paycheck will probably run out anyway.

“Time Is On My Side”

Even if your financial circumstances or apparent lack of time mean that you can’t leave your current job or explore other options without securing a comparable income in another role, there are several ways to prepare for a career transition:

  • Re-train in your own-time – use on-line courses, evening classes and weekend workshops to access new skills and education
  • Ask your current organisation about options for study leave or flexible work hours
  • Suggest a personal development plan that draws on existing resources – e.g., shadow another colleague, or do a rotation or secondment to another team or department
  • Workers in some industries or older employees may be able to access public funding to support retraining and re-skilling
  • Use your annual leave to intern or volunteer at an organisation where you might like to work in the future

“Possibly Maybe”

There are many new opportunities for personal development through short courses, skill sharing or peer-to-peer platforms, and alternative learning paths to re-connect with your purpose. It might even be possible to reconfigure or restructure your current role to better suit your needs. Besides, the job you were originally hired for (or the industry and/or the career you trained for) has probably changed significantly; if you are not doing some regular re-engineering, you risk being confined to outdated thinking or processes, or worse, becoming obsolete.

“This Is Your Big Opportunity”

In fact, you have an obligation to yourself to invest in your own career, by re-training, updating your skills, or embarking on new challenges. Increasingly, organisations expect employees to take personal responsibility for self-managing their career, their professional development and to maintain the technical currency of their skills. Even better if you can demonstrate that learning a new skill can support innovation, generate efficiency gains, or deliver customer benefits. There are increasing examples where collaboration, co-creation and cross-pollination of ideas, skills and people between organisations and their suppliers/vendors/clients/distributors can have mutual outcomes, and employers are looking for people who can identify these opportunities.

“This Is The Way”

From personal experience, curiosity, pro-active networking, asking questions and generally taking an interest in what is going on in and around the organisation and wider world can reap huge rewards. In my own case, having a sense of enquiry prompted a transfer from London to Hong Kong to open a new Asian office for the company I worked for. Earlier in my career, I took evening classes so I could transition from a role in the public sector to a new career in publishing. And I continue to find new learning opportunities through meetups, hackathons and startup pitch nights, and attending workshops on innovation, collaboration, design thinking and technology.

I’ve written previously about the changing economic relationship of employment, because it’s incumbent on all of us to learn resilience and adaptability. We have a duty to equip ourselves in order to cope with and prepare for the continuous change and volatility we are all experiencing in the nature of the work we do.

Finally, for anyone who says they are “too old to change”, consider this: I recently met a man in his 60s, who had retired from a lifelong career in teaching, quickly got bored, and so he went back to college and is now a licensed horse trainer. He gets up earlier than he used to as a teacher, but he has connected with a passion and made it his career choice.

Declaration of Interest: I am a member of the Slow School of Business Advisory Council, which delivers Slow Coaching and Talk on Purpose

Next week: ANZ’s new CEO on #FinTech, CX and #digital disruption

Finding Careers in #FinTech

Through the many meetup events I attend around Melbourne, people often ask me for career advice on which FinTech startup to join or follow. In response, I try to summarise where I see the current state of the sector, and clarify where they see a role for themselves – information I am happy to share here. I should preface my remarks by stating upfront that I am not a qualified career adviser (but I can refer you to people who are).

First, in choosing to make a career move to FinTech (or any other startup venture), it’s important to know whether you are looking for a similar role within a new business, or making a move into a new area such as product management, UX, content development or coding. Assuming you have acquired the necessary technical skills to transition into a new role, you still need to work out what your personal fit will be in a startup environment. Alternatively, you must demonstrate an ability to apply your knowledge and experience to the benefit of the new business, and a willingness to learn on the job (and perhaps even in your own time, and at your own expense). Accountants who can write code might be rare, but someone with a finance background and who is proficient in writing spreadsheet macros may have a better chance of transitioning into coding if they can build on this core expertise (e.g., helping to develop algorithms for decision-making tools such as stock-screening applications).

Second, FinTech within Australia is still largely based on P2P lending (including SME), payment solutions, banking apps and price comparison platforms, with some developments in financial planning (“robo advice”, stock tracking, portfolio management). Oh, and cryptocurrency, although since CoinJar relocated to London, this seems to have gone quiet…. While there are some B2B FinTech startups (e.g., Moula, Bluedot), they are still in the minority, so the current opportunities are mainly going to be within B2C solutions, or those playing in two-sided markets. This dynamic will also influence your decision.

Thirdly, everything we are seeing points to exponential growth in mobile banking, payments and financial services, but each vertical is taking a different approach because of their respective regulatory frameworks, transaction models tied to technology platforms and commercial processes, and the underlying lack of a true “single view” of customers. For example, within the next 10 years, 80% of new superannuation accounts will come via mobile engagement – which is why we are seeing a growing number of industry funds targeting a younger audience, aligning with “lifestyle” choices, and bundling financial planning and advice services. Rather than “big data” dumps, these super funds need demographic and psychographic data to support their digital engagement strategies.

Fourthly, FinTech is obviously important, but it can no longer simply play on disruptiontechnology is the enabler, and partnering is the way forward. If you have a track record in bringing parties together to collaborate, to form joint ventures, or to engage in any sort of co-branding exercise, then you will find opportunities emerging all the time. As discussed at a recent FinTech event, even large banks are realising the need to partner and collaborate on new technology, especially when it’s not part of the bank’s core expertise. However, as one superannuation fund director told me, it’s also challenging for large organisations to outsource part of their technology to smaller companies because they are giving someone else custody of their brand.

Finally, it’s difficult to predict what the FinTech jobs of the future will be (just as 10-15 years ago, roles in content marketing, social media and SEO hadn’t been thought of). A simple principle that has helped me navigate a zig-zag career path (to transition from the public sector into large corporations, and from full-time roles into a portfolio career) has been knowing my transferable skills at all times, and being aware of the need to replace and refresh them as required.

Next week: What I did on my holidays…

“I’m old, not obsolete”

In the recent “Terminator” sequel, Arnold Schwarzenegger coins a new catchphrase: “I’m old, but I’m not obsolete”. He may not be the latest android, but he has learned to adapt, he is still relevant and his purpose remains consistent. A bit like older workers, then: not ready to be consigned to the scrap-heap, consistent and reliable, and even capable of being upgraded (as Arnie is towards the end of the film).

Terminator Genisys

Remaining relevant is tough, even for a Terminator….  (Copyright 2015 Paramount Pictures)

A great deal of the discussion on employee engagement, business productivity, workplace flexibility and career transition talks about what we do with older employees, particularly those in their 50’s, who often struggle to find comparable work when they are retrenched or “restructured”.

Many 50-somethings can vouch for the fact that making a career transition into another full-time role can be extremely difficult. In my own case, I left my last corporate position just after I turned 50, and I soon realised it would be virtually impossible to find the exact same or similar permanent role elsewhere. So I embarked on a portfolio of interests (non-executive board positions, consulting work, contract roles and entrepreneurship) in order to remain “economically active”.

Over the past four years, in order to remain active, retrain and build my professional networks, I have:

  • completed the AICD Company Director course
  • served on a number of advisory and pop-up boards
  • launched this weekly blog, and written for 3rd party sites
  • coached business owners and entrepreneurs
  • competed in a FinTech hackathon and a MedTech startup competition
  • consulted in the education, public, NFP, publishing, manufacturing, technology and professional services sectors
  • joined numerous MeetUp and networking groups
  • participated in the Lightning Conference on Victoria’s StartUp Future
  • developed a new app for employee performance management,
  • trained as a presenter on community radio, and
  • become a participant and adviser at the Slow School of Business.

As part of my plan to become familiar with new technology, I have also built a side-project to record and release my own music via Bandcamp and Soundcloud, incorporating many iOS apps for which I am a beta-tester.

Not all of this activity is remunerated, yet the people I work with all tell me how much they value my unique input and original insight, and so I keep on doing it. Given the need/expectation to work longer, and the continued tinkering with tax, super and income rules and policies, I’m not sure many of us can ever think about full-time “retirement” (whatever that now means).

I’m aware that there are some ad hoc initiatives to engage older workers as mentors for new entrants to the workplace. While such projects are well-meaning, and may have some desirable benefits, they are not yet financially sustainable, and don’t address the core issue that the expectation of full-time, permanent, lifelong employment is no longer realistic, and we will all have to adapt to these new circumstances.

On the few occasions I have considered full-time roles, I am staggered that so many prospective employers seem incapable of thinking outside the box: on the one hand, they say they want diversity and fresh thinking; but on the other, they resort to the habit of appointing square pegs for square holes.

There is a real sense among many of my peers that their age counts against them, because either employers don’t believe they can learn new technology or processes, or that their previous seniority means they are only interested in roles where they can wait out their retirement, or simply “direct traffic”, rather than getting their hands dirty. Which is both insulting and demoralising. I recall one early discussion where the recruitment consultant said, “despite what the ad says, the business just wants a safe pair of hands – someone who has done the exact same role in a similar organisation for the past 20 years”. How does that support diversity, in particular, cognitive diversity?

So, my question to employers, hiring managers, industry bodies and policy-makers is: when will you truly embrace the challenge of (and opportunity for) change in your hiring and employment practices, and how do older age workers fit into your thinking (if at all)?

Next week: Startups, VC’s and Entrepreneurs