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

 

 

Tribute

It’s two months since my father passed away, and nearly a year to the day since he went into hospital for scheduled heart surgery. Sadly, although the operation itself appears to have been a success, the ordeal seemed to trigger a whole series of complications and underlying conditions: within 6 months he was admitted to a dementia ward, and by late last year, he was in a nursing home undergoing palliative care. Less than three months later, he passed away, the shadow of his former self.

I was able to spend several weeks back in the UK over Christmas and New Year, visiting him up to three times a day. Most of the time, he was living in his own little world, and I would simply sit with him and listen to some of his favourite music, mainly baroque and opera. But in his lucid moments there were flashbacks to the distant past, and some recollections of more recent memories. On one occasion, even though he had lost most of his capacity for speech, he did manage a sage piece of advice: “Don’t play with fire”.

More recently, I was in the UK again to scatter his ashes and help sort out his study and his workshop. Memories of impromptu DIY lessons came flooding back. There were also several quirks and surprises in his personal archive: photos of him at management conferences in the 1970s and 1980s, a scrapbook of his time in Germany in the late 1950s during National Service (including some chilling images of Belsen), and a spreadsheet showing his annual income and income tax right up to his retirement.

Although he was fortunate in being able to take early retirement in his late 50s, he spent the next 25 years volunteering, building a portfolio of interests and serving on multiple committees for the arts, small business, veteran affairs, U3A and other community projects. My mother likes to joke that he’d rather chair a committee than mow the lawn. He also continued to learn, and I found recent certificates of proficiency for speaking German, and for formatting Word documents (very handy for writing up agendas and minutes).

He was the product of a classic liberal education, not a polymath, but possessing a solid knowledge about lots of different things: the arts, politics, language and history as well as science and technology. All the things you need to solve The Times crossword.

There are probably three key things that my father taught me:

  • Think for yourself
  • Don’t follow the herd
  • And of course, being an engineer, don’t take something apart unless you know how to put it back together again.

The latter is particularly useful when working with clients on their business reviews!

Next week: Music Streaming Comes of Age

“I’m reframing, the situation….”

As a break from my consulting and business development work, I have been taking lessons on picture framing. My significant other is an artist, and she has commissioned me to mount and frame a number of her works for a forthcoming exhibition. Things got off to an interesting start, when I inadvertently framed the first print the “wrong” way round (see the image below). Because there wasn’t an obvious top or bottom, I didn’t realise that I hadn’t placed the image in the way she intended. But, luckily, this “error” created a fresh perspective, and I realised that I was simply doing what I do all with the time with my clients when I reframe the information, problems or situations they present.

"Eclipse" (© Margaret Manchee)

“Eclipse” (© Margaret Manchee)

Some recent examples of where I have helped my various clients to reframe a situation and make a breakthrough when they have become stuck or blocked in their own thinking include:

  • shifting from a “retail” sales model to a “wholesale” strategy that focuses on aggregators and distributors;
  • treating an employer as just one part of a mixed portfolio of clients, rather than thinking that the regular job was a barrier to acquiring more direct clients;
  • refining the sales process to avoid giving away too much proprietary information during the RFP process, but still demonstrating value by delivering the best solution in terms of quality and technical capabilities;
  • repositioning the business to leverage proprietary data and analytics to build long-term revenue streams via commercial relationships and partnerships, rather than competing for increasingly price-sensitive, commoditized and transactional work;
  • adopting a more client-centred approach when designing a new on-line product that hitherto had been viewed internally as simply a technology-driven service extension;
  • using a service-design model for developing and delivering a communication strategy that needs to engage multiple stakeholders who simply want to know “what’s in it for me?”

Another useful insight that my picture framing has given me is the use of complementary and contrasting mount boards and mouldings to emphasise certain colours, to bring out highlights, to add depth and perspective, or to the give the illusion of infinite space and/or possibilities. Again, all things which I bring to the discussions I have with my clients.

Next week: FinTech Melbourne’s latest pitch event

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