Planned happenstance brainstorm

Yesterday my colleague Vanessa and I ran a day workshop called ‘Can Career Theories be Useful?’. Among the participants were trainee careers advisers trying to get to grips with career theories for their professional qualification and experienced advisers using the course to refresh their theoretical knowledge and bring it up to date. We also had frontline administrators and information officers joining in the fun.

We spent the morning exploring and discussing various sites of interest in the landscape of career theory. Afterwards, participants tried to get to grips with a couple of particular theories by putting them in their own words and applying them to client case studies.

The final activity of the day was a short brainstorm on ideas for what a careers service would look like if it was based solely on the idea of Planned Happenstance and you didn’t have to worry about money.

Here are a few of the things they came up with:

  • Regular speed-dating-style events with a random selection of employers/alumni.
  • ChatRoulette-style online discussions in which you are randomly allocated to an employer/alumni.
  • Mix up the labels on all the information files to prompt unexpected discoveries.
  • Keep moving things around to different locations in the careers service. (Possibly keep moving the careers service around.)
  • A Second-Life-type virtual world in which you could experience a typical activity for a range of occupations – when you log on you are randomly allocated a career.
  • Compulsory sessions on risk-taking and curiosity.
  • Randomly kidnapping groups of students to participate in work sample case studies or short internships.

Just goes to show that, properly handled, career theory can be used to stimulate creative (if not particularly practical or legal) ideas.

  • What great ideas for careers activities and services have you been inspired to think of through contemplating career theory?

Related post: Can careers theory be useful?



  1. #1 by Peter James on 11 February 2010 - 13:50

    I was at this workshop and can only describe it as fantastic. So much information was given and the practical exercises got us all seeing how the theory could be used in practice. I would thoroughly recommend the workshop.

    I’m at this moment putting my notes into some sort of order and wondered if there was a digital copy of the PP slides to save with my notes ?

    Thanks once again


    • #2 by David Winter on 11 February 2010 - 13:58

      Hi Peter

      Thanks for the feedback. It’s always nice to know that it’s been helpful.

      I’ve e-mailed you a copy of the slides.

      Do keep coming back here and commenting.

  2. #3 by Vinny on 11 February 2010 - 14:01

    I agree Peter – It was a great session.

    David, You forgot the idea (not mine) of running the careers service from a bar or pub, in order to stimulate networking more efficiently.
    I think this could also help produce more interesting narratives (many students will talk more openly after a pint or two).

  3. #4 by Andrea H on 11 February 2010 - 17:19

    Love it! Especially the bit about Careers service running from a pub đŸ™‚
    Sounds like a great session. Just thinking of how to apply Happenstance to careers sessions with students too……

    • #5 by David Winter on 11 February 2010 - 17:33

      You could use stories of people’s careers.

      Get students to identify the influence of chance events on the career path.

      Then get them to think about how the person responded to the chance event and what impact that had.

      Get them to speculate about how else they might have responded.

      You could then generate a list of the sorts of unplanned events that might lead to career opportunities (e.g. meeting people, attending a talk, reading a book/article, doing an evening class, etc.)

      Then get them to think about how they could increase the likelihood of having those events happen in their lives and what they might do to act on them.

      You could use the list of PH qualities (curiosity, persistence, optimism, flexibility and risk-taking — or ‘cat’ ‘donkey’ ‘sun’ ‘snake’ and ‘dice’ for those who were on the training!) and get them to think about how these could affect their career opportunities.

      Just a few thoughts.

  4. #6 by John King on 13 February 2010 - 00:44

    I’m not sure being ‘random’ – as most of the comments seem to suggest – is actually what this theory is about.

    It it more about increasing opportunity by taking positive action. Most people I suspect would rather carry out an action with some sort of rationale (as opposed to an irrationale, I guess).

    So we need to look a bit deeper into what motivates people to take some sort of action – any action – and how then they can spot and take advantage of any opportunities which arise (which may be related to their attitudes towards success probabilities and functionality).

    Being random to deliberately create career opportunity is bound to fail, precisely because you are doing it to solve a career problem (when the likelihood of any given random action solving a career problem is quite low).

    Better to suggest that someone undertake an action because, well, they want to undertake the action itself.

    • #7 by David Winter on 13 February 2010 - 09:14

      You’re absolutely right. Remember this was a very quick brainstorm.

      However, I think the point of the randomness was to actually expose people to unplanned learning events in a controlled way. The aim of this was to increase their confidence in dealing with such events and make them more used to the idea of spotting positive opportunities in of each experience.

  5. #8 by John King on 13 February 2010 - 00:53

    NB The pub idea is not only good, it is in use – or at least networking sessions using alcohol are. Coffee can work just as well, as can providing an exciting enough stimulus (eg particularly renowned speaker) and environment to create discussion.

    I’ve found it impossible to give guidance after a drink though and have to refer people back to myself in the morning! Some people turn up, some don’t. The key is maintaining the level of excitement and positivity when the alcohol wears off. I’ve come to the conclusion that the environment is key; use of alcohol to build the environment can be justified but has drawbacks too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: