In November last year I was visiting the city of Recife in northeast Brazil. During the stay, I got to know Tiago Lima, the owner of the law firm Lima and Falcao. He was interested in the variety of career changes I had made and he invited me to give a talk to his staff on the insights I’d gained. As I was thinking about career insights in general this was a fortunate meeting of minds.
I decided to focus on telling stories that were general enough to be transferable to other areas and focused on four main points:
- The Iceberg Illusion (Skills for Success)
- Learning from Success and Failure
- The Benefits of Taking Career Advice
- Developing Listening Skills
A theme for the talk was to emphasise the realities of career decisions and events and to contrast this with the often simplistic stories of success found in popular business and personal development books.
This and another post will elaborate on the talk.
I started with giving a brief overview of my career so far. The main point is that it spans the academic, government and commercial sectors. Each sector has it’s own strengths and weaknesses and you learn different things in each one as well as with the interactions between them.
The Iceberg Illusion
I spotted this graphic whilst browsing one day and it neatly visualised quite a few things I’d been thinking about. It was produced by Sylvia Duckworth who is an award-winning educator, author, and brilliant sketchnoter.
The picture illustrates the difference between a superficial and deeper analysis of success. What interested me was that the attributes on the bottom were a mixture of ‘character’ skills (determination, hard work etc) and ‘emotional’ skills (handling disappointment, failure). Just having one set of skills is unlikely to be sufficient.
For this slide I explained that the ability to deal (emotionally) with failure and disappointment was essential as it is certain that every task you carry out or aim you have will not always be successful. There will generally be a continuum of results; some really good, a lot average and some rather abject. If you are perceptive and reflective you should be able to learn from all of the results to increase your overall impact.
I was impressed that this advice was given to students, a very mature move. I don’t ever remember anyone saying these sorts of things to me at any time during my career but I think I would have benefitted if they had (and said them at regular intervals, it’s always easy to forget the obvious or unpleasant).
There’s also a fun graphic which illustrates what you think or hope might happen on a project and what can easily happen (the rocky road to success, see here).
In general you have to be able to cope with grimy reality and not just it’s idealisation.
Learning from Success and Failure
Given that not everything will be succesful, it’s helpful to reflect on results to try to learn from mistakes. This is not easy as people often indulge in the blame game ie it was everyone’s fault but not mine! This avoids getting to the heart of the matter.
An associated viewpoint is summed up by this quote:
“Problems are only opportunities with thorns on them.” – Hugh Miller
In other words, it’s sometimes possible to turn a problem (perhaps a mistake) into an opportunity but this may not be straightforward and need some creative thinking.
John Cleese and the Fawlty Towers team
A vivid example of this is given by a Monty Python story, featuring the famous comedian John Cleese. It illustrates how open and closed thinking can yield very different results coming from the same situation.
The details can be found in my article as well as some tips on creativity by Cleese. They’re simple tips but nonetheless helpful:
- try and learn something new each day
- sleeping on problems can be very effective
- losing something and then recreating it from scratch often yields a better result
- no distractions (at all) – it’s hard to get back into the flow
- no one knows where ideas come from
- create a mood that encourages creativity (the ‘tortoise mind’)
- establish boundaries in both space and time (an oasis where it is ‘safe’ to be creative)
- being busy and being creative are probably at odds with each other
- if you’re purely busy, it probably means that you don’t really appreciate creativity
Although not mentioned in the talk, two other posts are also relevant, the preoccupation with success and the fascination of failure.
The pdf of the slides of my talk can be downloaded here: Career Insights
Many thanks to Tiago Lima for the invitation to give a talk and to Artur Pimentel and Kathiana da Silva for organisation and questions.