Keep it simple.

I would like to thank Vinny Potter from Queen Mary, University of London for contributing this post — David

What could be simpler?

This is a response to Katie Dallison’s post about metatheories. As has been said before in this blog, Metatheories can be very useful in careers advice, but generally only after the session. For me, that is all very well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have a theory to hold onto during the session.

Unfortunately for me, a lot of theories are quite cerebral. They encompass a lot of abstract ideas and they can therefore be more difficult for me to remember.

Most people can only hold a few things in their head at any time. During Guidance you already have a lot to do. You need to listen intently to the client, analyse what they are saying, what they are not saying and their body language etc, then conjure up a response based on your interpretations of all of this, whilst sometimes reaching into your brain for other nuggets of pertinent information which could help the client.

This leaves little room for holding complex theories (particularly a metatheory!).

So I have come up with a new and simpler career theory.

I call it “the balloon”. Instead of having things as quite abstract, I have used a simple visual metaphor of a hot air balloon. I have decided that I will not explain “the balloon” to you, as the basic concept should be fairly obvious (If it is too complicated I will have failed) and also it should be flexible enough that you can change the meanings of each bit of the metaphor depending on the client.

There are three reasons I think this theory is useful.

  1. It is one simple concept which is easy to keep in your head and into which everything the client says can somehow fit.
  2. It is not too prescriptive. Instead of thinking about the sub categories within the concept of the “self” from a particular theory, I can use whatever the client brings up in the session but still explore it within a simple structure.
  3. The theory was my idea, so I am biased!

What do you think? Could it be useful to use simple visual metaphors like this or should we, as professionals stick to the more academic style theories and metatheories?

I am genuinely interested in your thoughts.

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  1. #1 by Ghislaine Dell on 18 April 2011 - 13:11

    I love the idea of a theory so simple a single picture will do the trick! Have you ever shared this with clients, and how was it received?

  2. #2 by Vinny on 18 April 2011 - 16:23

    I’ve not shared it with clients. I have discussed career theories with students, but not this one.

    I worry that if I start explaining to a client that I have based my complex careers discussion on ‘a picture of a balloon’ I might lose a little credibility with them. However, should I really be so worried?

    For me, the depth of careers discussions comes from the amazing complexity of the client, their circumstances and environment, and how all of this interweaves within a framework of many concepts which are much less obvious than they seem, such as success and happiness. I can hold in my head more of the information that the client shares with me if I use a visual picture to remember it. Maybe some clients might find a visual image as useful for helping manage the complexity as I do.

  3. #3 by Lorna Dargan on 19 April 2011 - 15:07

    I reckon this could be an interesting exercise for students to do in a group session – makes a change from writing a list!

  4. #4 by Gina Campbell on 19 April 2011 - 15:35

    I love your balloon image because it captures the reality of trading off between ballast and height/freedom/agency in career decisions. Could it be tweaked to show the balloon finding the right altitude for the client in the basket? Because we all vary in our attachment to/need for our particular ballast and in our appetite for free choice.

    • #5 by potterv on 19 April 2011 - 16:19

      It can be tweaked in any way you like!
      You could include details such as air temperature (balloons don’t fly well in hot weather – so this could signify more difficult job market conditions) Pylons (dangerous obstacles, such as your company making redundancies), Turbulence (could signify illness or pregnancy etc)

      The list of concepts you could easily add to the image whist still having a simple visual picture is one of the reasons I like using it.

      However, I am still reticent about discussing it with clients as I’m not sure I’d want to give the impression that I am somehow “dumbing down” careers advice.
      Should I be worried about this or should I just go ahead and see if some of the clients find it useful to help them visualise their career journey?

  5. #6 by Sabrina on 20 April 2011 - 10:00

    I like it. I like it because I like visuals and metaphors. I especially like visuals and metaphors when dealing with complex ideas. For that reason, I feel this theory would work well on me (as a client) and for me (as a practitioner). However, I do wonder how well it would work for a client who is more of a ‘head person’, very cerebral? I’m tempted to test this in practice – see what gives!

  6. #7 by Fiona Christie on 21 April 2011 - 19:52

    Hi,
    The balloon metaphor works well as it combines notitons of how you can steer your own direction but you will also be influenced by environmental conditions. I wonder whether the items in the uplift and the ballast are inter-changeable.
    Personally I do talk about theory to clients when talking about career planning (when appropriate) – contrasting self-directed planning approaches such as DOTS (I like to call it SODT) and the GROW model with theories that focus on environmental conditions – planned happenstance, even occupational choice theroy.

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