Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Think behind

KierkegaardSøren Kierkegaard the clever theologian said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

Let me admit one thing: I doubt that I understand anything that Kierkegaard ever wrote. If I think I understand something from this quotation then he must have meant something else. However, almost everybody I know says, “think ahead” and Kierkegaard seems to be saying “look back.” It’s just that that’s so boring that I’ve decided to say “think behind.” And this is my blog so I can do as I like.

This might not appear to be of much use in career planning. In fact it’s something that professional project planners do all the time. Don’t career counsellors wish that job seekers and prospective students would!

The basic, oh-so-simple idea is this: pretend that you are in the future and that you have achieved whatever it was you wanted to achieve. Now find out everything that you can that would be required of you to get there.

  1. For job seekers:

    • Typical ‘thinking ahead’: an employer will want me to be a well-organised, outgoing team player with good communication skills who just loves to learn all kinds of new stuff. How do you know what the employer wants??

    • ‘Thinking behind’: The job seeker contacts various potential employers, without inquiring about a job, and asks what they want in and from the employees that they actually hire. She discovers that the employers’ main problem has nothing to do with what people usually put on their résumés and she plans behind accordingly. (Maybe she needs a short course; maybe she just needs to dress in a certain way for interviews and on the job.

  2. For prospective students::

    • Typical ‘thinking ahead’: I will work hard and get extremely good marks on my diploma/degree in something that interests me at college/university and then find a job on the basis of that. Employers will be glad to get me or it will all just work out. (Think again or, better still, think behind.)

    • ‘Thinking behind’: The student gathers as much information as possible about their interests and aspirations and about anticipated trends in demands for various kinds of occupations. Almost any of us would be happy in various occupations. The trick is to find an occupation that will be satisfying, that will pay the bills and (what is redundant with respect to that second point) in demand. No matter how much I might like repairing watches (for instance) I would probably find it difficult to make a living that way in today’s market (as far as I know). Take courses that cover a reasonable number of possibilities.
If you’ve read this far let me add: this is the kind of project planning that software engineers used to do until they became justly famous for their expensive failures. Although this approach is a great deal better than not thinking at all the Boehm spiral approach might be best, even for careers. One of these days I might get to exploring that.