Posts Tagged optimism

Towards or away from?

push pull by Robert S. Donovan

Sometimes you don't know if you're coming or going

Think about a recent job change that you made by your own initiative (rather than by force of circumstance, such as redundancy).

Why did you change? Had you got so fed up with your previous job that you had to move to preserve your sanity? Or were you tempted away by the opportunities on offer in the new job?

What about changing your mobile phone company, utilities, mortgage deal or internet service provider? Do you switch when you get fed up or do you constantly look for better deals?

What motivates you at work and why is it important to you? When you’re thinking about a job move, do you make a list of what you want or a list of what you don’t want?

When you make a list of pros and cons, which column tends to be most influential in making your mind up about something?

This issue of whether you are moving towards something or moving away from something has been a recurring theme in things I have been reading and in discussions I have been having over the last couple of weeks.

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Lucky shot

Lucky four-leafed clover

How lucky is that?

On my recent trip to New York  I visited a number of interesting places that made me think about how people deal with change. (I know! Even on holiday I’m generating material for blog posts! How sad!).

I also read a book that made me think about luck. This blog post is an attempt to put all that thinking into one place in preparation for a possible training session on navigating change.
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A strengths-based approach in careers guidance

I would like to thank Elaine Denniss from The Careers Group for contributing this guest posting. — David.

World's strongest kid

‘… One cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths…  These strengths are the true opportunities’ (Drucker, 1967)

In preparing to facilitate a recent Guidance Forum on using a strengths-based approach in careers guidance, I revisited some of the positive psychology and strengths-based literature. Because of this, I have been reflecting further on how I can incorporate some of the ideas, theories and approaches into my careers work.

The positive psychology and strengths-based movement has been gaining momentum over recent years with a growing body of research demonstrating the benefits of positive emotion and focusing on our strengths for our life and our work.   In emphasising strengths rather than weaknesses, positive psychology moves us away from the Negativity Bias whereby we find it easier to pay attention to what’s wrong or areas requiring development.  The concept of strengths appeared in business literature with Peter Drucker (1967) and subsequently through the vision of Donald Clifton of The Gallup Organisation and the work of Martin Seligman in the field of positive psychology.

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Anticipation versus consummation

Sailing and a Key West Sunset by Asten

If you dream it will be plain sailing, you may never set off

In a recent post (What might have been), I discussed a way of looking back to the past called counterfactual thinking. In this post, I would like to start exploring the ways in which we look forward into the future and some of the pitfalls involved in that activity.

Being able to speculate about and imagine the future is an essential part of decision making and it should be an area of interest for anyone involved in supporting other people to make decisions.

However, the way we go about that speculation may have a profound impact on our ability to bring that future into existence.

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The benefits of pessimism

Normal Distribution

Normal distribution - thin tail

Last week I learnt a new piece of jargon. A ‘fat-tail event’ is something that you thought was virtually impossible, but it happened anyway. In theory, it could be very good or very bad, but it usually refers to something extremely unpleasant, such as a financial crisis.

The phrase comes from statistics. Many randomly occurring events (such as the height of the person you sit next to on the bus) are assumed to follow what is called a Normal Distribution (the classic ‘bell-shaped curve’). So you are more likely to sit next to someone around average height and less likely to sit next to someone really short or really tall. With the Normal Distribution the probability of something really unusual happening tails off really rapidly the further away you get from the average — it has a thin tail.

Fat Tail

See the fat tail!

However, some things in the real world don’t follow the Normal Distribution curve. Instead of a thin tail, they have a fat tail. This means that certain extreme possibilities are more likely than you might think.

I was quite pleased to be able to use my newly discovered jargon in a session on negotiation skills I was running last week. I was talking about the usefulness of assessing any negotiated deal by imagining how it would look if subsequent events turned out a lot better or a lot worse than you were expecting (e.g. your fixed-rate mortgage doesn’t look so good if the Bank of England cuts rates to zero).

A black swan

Does this black swan have a fat tail?

A related term for unexpected events is a Black Swan, coined by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is the unexpected event which you could not have predicted based on your previous experience and derives from the fact that, until they were discovered in the 17th century, most Europeans thought that black swans could not exist.

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A New Hope

Hope by Ernesto Lago

How big is your hope

Several years ago I made a New Year’s resolution which I have managed to keep ever since. I resolved never to make a New Year’s resolution again. It makes things a lot simpler and I no longer disappoint myself when inevitably I revert to my old ways after a couple of weeks.

At the New Year many people resolve to do something about their career — get out of that dead end job, find work that is more meaningful, make faster progress, etc. As a result we often see increased interest in our careers consultancy service, C2, in January.

How successful are such career resolutions likely to be and what could give people genuine hope for the future?

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Interesting shorts – recession and resilience

Impact of a recession on beliefs


My! Those are interesting shorts!

How will the recession affect the world-view beliefs of those young people living through it?

A discussion paper from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany, analyses certain beliefs held by United States citizens and tries to link these beliefs with an individual’s exposure to recessions. They found that people who experienced a recession during a key impressionable age range (18-25 years old) were more likely to believe that success in life was down to luck rather than hard work. They also found that this belief tended to persist throughout the person’s life.

This belief that success in life is beyond your control can lead someone to make less effort, which then makes the belief a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Giuliano, P. & Spilimbergo, A. (2009) Growing Up in a Recession: Beliefs and the Macroeconomy. Institute for the Study of Labour IZA Discussion Paper No. 4365.
  • Should we be working with the students currently at university in order to encourage a belief in the benefits of effort and hard work?
  • Do you think it would be useful to let students know about this research directly?
  • What do you attribute success to?

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How to make people like you

Do you anticipate a warm welcome?

Do you anticipate a warm welcome?

When you meet new people, do you tend to assume that they will like you or worry that they will reject you? Either way, you may be involved in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you anticipate acceptance or rejection, you are likely to get what you expected. People who expect a favourable reception are more likely to behave warmly to the people they meet. This warmth influences the other person’s initial impressions of them. Conversely, if you expect to be judged negatively, you are likely to behave more coldly leading to negative initial impressions. Those initial impressions are then likely to influence future perceptions and judgements through the halo effect or the affect heuristic.

This has obvious implications for recruitment interviews and for networking. We often talk about the importance of good first impressions in these settings.
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Classics – Theory of Work Adjustment

Adjust button

If only it were that easy!

You may have noticed the theme of compromise that I have been developing over the latest few posts. Given the economic conditions, it is very likely that people will be forced to make more compromises in their careers. So it seems to make sense to explore the notion of compromise and examine how to do it well.

I’ve decided to continue this theme by introducing another classic theory. This one is primarily a matching theory, but with a bit more to it.

I have included a brief summary of the Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) in the resources section and you might want to read that first if you are unfamiliar with it. Here I will concentrate on why I think it is interesting.

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Positive compromise

I want to continue this short series of posts based around the theme of compromise by looking at a more modern developments.

In 2004 Charles Chen introduced the concept of positive compromise (Positive compromise: a new perspective for career psychology. Australian Journal of Career Development, 13(2) 2004). Compromise within career choice is generally considered a negative concept. Chen proposes that compromise will always be part of career choice in a complex and rapidly-changing world. Therefore, it makes sense to understand how to engage with compromise in constructive way.
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