The utility of good career choices

In economics, utility refers to the benefits or pleasure (utils) a consumer enjoys from a good or service. An ice cream in July has a higher average util than an ice cream in January. Prices tend to reflect perceived average utils, in accordance with supply and demand. This principle can be extended to help us make better life choices in our relationships with others.

Everyone understands that if Jack loves Kit-Kats and hates Mars Bars, and Jill loves Mars Bars and hates Kit-Kats, then if Jack and Jill are offered a Kit-Kat and a Mars Bar, their total enjoyment will be higher if Jack has the Kit-Kat and Jill has the Mars Bar. But the same logic extends into wider areas of our lives that are usually considered far less. The world is very complex, and many life options we have are constrained by factors beyond our control, inhibiting the ability to maximise overall human utility. Yet despite this, with the right mindset we can try to have values and make decisions in accordance with what works best for others alongside what works best for ourselves, and we can do many things that help increase the average sum of human utility. If there is one jam doughnut left at a party, and you’re offered it by the host, but you don’t like doughnuts very much, you may increase the party’s overall utility if you decline it on the basis that while you may enjoy it a bit, someone else may enjoy it a lot.

The above wisdom is especially true in important matters like your career. To put careers into perspective; in a typical working life that lasts around 50 years, calculated on the basis of an 8 hour day and 260 working days a year (excluding holidays), you are going to spend around 104,000 hours at work. If that working time was measured in consecutive days, it would total nearly 12 years of your life. Currently there are around 26 million people in the UK in full time jobs, which amounts to over 310 million hours spent at work (and that’s excluding part-time work).

These figures are only a rough approximation, of course – there are many variables in working times, preferences and priorities. But the upshot is, as a nation we are working hundreds of millions of hours in our lifetime, and therefore the UK is going to be a much better, happier place whenever people are in jobs that are well-matched to their skills, talents and passions. If we aggregated the total number of instances of people in jobs that don’t well suit their skills and talents, we’d probably find thousands or even millions of hours of value being denied to the UK in terms of opportunity costs.

Applying economic utility to jobs and working life, the cost of being in a job to which you are not well-suited is not just borne by yourself (at the expense of not being in a job in which you will thrive); it is borne by the person who is able to thrive in your job but is instead doing something else to which they are less well-suited. Across the nation, we want the next Isambard Kingdom Brunel to be working in engineering; we want the next Charlotte Bronte to be writing novels; and we want the next Paul McCartney to be writing great songs.

If the next Paul McCartney ends up fixing photocopiers, and the next Charlotte Bronte ends up managing a restaurant, they will create value, but not the kind of value commensurate with their talents. Similarly, When Jack designs an innovative mousetrap, and Jill provides an efficient taxi service, and Bob makes fantastic bread in his bakery, they probably add more value to society than they would if they were trying to write the next Penny Lane or the next Jane Eyre.

Everyone reaps more and benefits more when people are doing jobs and enjoying careers in which their skills and talents enable them to thrive. More value is created, more innovation occurs, consumer and producer surpluses increase, and the sum of human utility is enhanced. 

James Knight - guest blogger

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Turning a Negative Statistic into a Positive Opportunity

If you look at a typical place of work, it is highly likely that value creation among the workforce is not a symmetrical phenomenon, but an unsymmetrical one. In a typical team (big or small) and in a typical organisation, it probably won’t have escaped your notice that some people make more of an overall contribution than others. The fact that this finding is so common in business shows, like in many other cases in the world, that there is likely to be an underlying engine driving this pattern of behaviour.

Thanks to the British physicist Derek Price, we know what this underlying engine is – it’s a common power law, eponymously entitled Price’s Law. Price’s Law is an intriguing phenomenon – it shows that human behaviour regularly follows a power law, whereby approximately 50% of some kind of human output comes from the square root of the total amount of that human output.

For example, in a typical company, 50% of the work (where work = creative influence) is likely to be done by the square root of the total number of people in the company. That means that if your company has a small team of 10 employees, about 3 of them are responsible for 50% of the most influential output. If your company has 10,000 employees, then about 100 of them are going to be about half as influential as the rest of the workforce combined. This power law has a lot to say about success too: if you have 100 pop artists, 10 of them will probably produce about half the music that is played on the radio; if you take 10 hit singles by an artist, 3 of them will be played on the radio about 50% of the time.

To understand that the square root of the number of a team’s size generates half the results means you can look at your own position within the organisation from outside the box and confer on yourself a significant advantage when it comes to your career and vocation. Suppose you’re in a sales team with 24 other people – the chances are that 5 salespeople (the square root of 25) are bringing in about 50% of the sales. If you’re one of the 5, you’re a standout performer, and those around you will have noticed. If you’re one of the 20, the chances are you’re in a languishing condition, either not fulfilling your potential, or perhaps in the wrong job altogether.

If price’s law teaches us anything about our career choices, it is that if you want to be one of the minority group that is creating substantial value over and above the mean, you need to be in a role where you can accomplish the very best you have to offer. And to do so, you need to find the vocation that best suits your talents, and become really good at what you do. That last bit of the sentence probably bears repeating: become really good at what you do, because you need to be really good at what you’re doing in order to find out whether that is the thing you should be doing; in order to identify in what kind of role you should be applying your contributions; and in order to tap in to what you can do even better

Not only will this best help you carve out a successful career, it will enhance your well-being and your job satisfaction, it will enable you to provide more value, and it will give you a better sense of job satisfaction, and a stronger personal identity in your work life. After all, who wants to be one of the languishing 20 when you can be one of the excelling 5? If you don’t become really good at something, you are in danger of hiding your light under a bushel, and hiding your potential not just from others, but from yourself too.

The fact that most companies have a value-creation distribution that follows Price’s Law strongly suggests that a lot of people are in a job that is not providing the enhancement and fulfilment that a working life should provide. Perhaps that’s because it’s easy to think of a job as a rigidly definable remit that you step in to undertake, rather than as a landscape of potential into which you can pour your own skills and experiences, plant the seeds of your unique contributions, and cultivate a vocation with the energy of your personality, your development, and your talents.

Often we place so much emphasis on the term ‘finding’ a job that somebody has advertised for us to fill, rather than on the notion of ‘creating’ the role that our talents and experiences expand to fill. Excelling in the workplace isn’t just about working for your employers, it is about yourself ‘in becoming’ – you are transforming the job’s blueprint into something that’s part of your identity, and giving enhanced meaning to your work life.

Faced with the unnerving reality that only a minority of people are making the biggest contributions in an organisation, we can endeavour to see it, not as a portent of a career in which inertia is expected to set, but as an opportunity to thrive. As I often say to people, don’t ever try to make a negative truth smaller – try to make yourself bigger, where you can tower over the problem with strength and confidence. Find the vocation where you can be in the thriving minority rather than the labouring majority – because there you’ll be able to earn more, learn more, provide more value, develop yourself more expansively, grow faster into your potential, and enjoy a higher quality of life, both in work and in your private life too.

James Knight - guest blogger


Compass Careers Discovery Break in Devon - a guest's reflections

Over the late May bank holiday I had the opportunity of participating in a career discovery weekend with Compass Careers. This was based at the beautiful Brunel Manor near Torquay.

It was the first official such weekend that Compass have run, following a successful pilot. The sessions encouraged us to explore our interests, strengths, values and preferred behaviours as well as our life journeys so far. This helped us forge our next steps. It was combined with practical job searching tips and a one on one coaching session.

There were surprises along the way; as is probably the case with many people I found I did not know myself as well as I thought! Indeed the whole experience was rather emotional.

The course is coaching rather than advice, guiding participants to reach their own conclusions. A key part of this is being part of a group, which clicked straight away. I have often thought of 'networking' as a dirty word, but the weekend was an example of what it can be at its best. The course is aimed at people at any stage of their career and this was demonstrated by the broad range of ages, stages and sectors represented. It is not only for those contemplating an imminent move and indeed this may not be the conclusion one comes to.

The beautiful surroundings and scrumptious food at Brunel Manor created the perfect backdrop, which is very important for being in the right frame of mind. We went on delightful walks in Dartmoor and on the coast, and watched Shackleton, a film which demonstrates what excellent leadership looks like.

I left with a renewed sense of life purpose and would wholeheartedly recommend such a weekend to anyone.

Chris Longden - guest blogger

Photo courtesy of Stu Lane Photography

Photo courtesy of Stu Lane Photography

Reaping the Benefits of Rest & Relaxation

Many people who weight train in gymnasiums several times a week are probably overdoing it, especially if they work out the same muscle group too often. This is because the rest and recovery period is one of the key elements of body building. To maximise muscle growth when pumping iron, you have to break the muscle down, but then you need to rest the muscle and eat the right foods to allow it to rebuild into a bigger and stronger body part.

The same is true of our mind - it spends a lot of time working, thinking and actively engaging - but just like biceps or triceps, when worked out it needs time to relax and unwind. It is during the recreation period that our mind is freer to explore its creative potential - it is more relaxed, under less pressure, and sufficiently uninhibited to allow vision, ideas and inspirations to flow.

Neuroscientific studies confirm that an increase of alpha brain waves, through the process of quiet contemplation and meditation, reduce depressive symptoms and increase creative thinking. The brain is an ever-changing neurochemical and electrical structure that neuroplasticity (reorganisation through new neural connections) and neurogenesis (growing new neurons) continue to alter and shape. All of the neurochemicals associated with our happiness and positive well-being - such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin - are highly active when we undertake activities like resting, exercise, bonding, having fun, and spending time with people who bring value to our lives.

When I’m working on lengthy writing projects, and I switch off the laptop for the evening, I find that when I return after a few days my mind is invigorated, having enjoyed the benefits of restoration. This is because during the intervening rest days my conscious experiences are augmenting my worldview, and my subconscious is undertaking millions of complex calculations and considerations that expand my intellect and enhance my emotions in readiness for my return to work. That’s why when you return to a project after a short period of rest and reflection you usually come back in with fresh ideas, renewed enthusiasm, and an enhanced, broader perspective on the work you’ve been undertaking.

In a world of ever-increasing busyness, more things competing for our attention, and greater stress levels, many people are not being kind enough to themselves by finding the opportunity for some vital ‘time-out’ sessions - not just for the benefit of recharging the cognitive batteries, but to get away from the tumult of the workplace and reconnect with themselves.

All of the greatest contributors to human achievement - scientists, mathematicians, theologians, philosophers, painters, writers, musicians and filmmakers - found that a healthy balance of work, rest and reflection amplified their prowess for creativity and discovery, and expanded their mind in the process of retreat.

It is in those reflective moments in a relaxed environment that you touch base with your own aspirations, tap into your own potential, give your talents the space to breathe, and allow your unconscious intuition the space to manifest itself. It is in getting away and reconnecting with yourself that you give your mind the chance to discover fresh insights about the person you are, the person you aspire to be, and where in your vocational journey you can maximise your talents, knowledge and experience to bring about a happier and more fulfilled work life - enriching all other areas of your life as you do so.

James Knight - Guest blogger

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Why robots are not going to steal our jobs!

You’ve probably seen the warning that ‘Robots are stealing our jobs’, by which it is assumed that automation is diminishing workers’ opportunities and in danger of creating mass unemployment because of technological innovation. It’s a bold assumption, but like many bold assumptions, it’s highly likely to be false. I’ll give you two probability estimates to show why: one empirical, and the other one philosophical.

 The empirical one first. A quick Google search of UK unemployment rates – only available from 1971 – shows the highest level was 11.9% in 1984. I don’t think anyone will deny that since 1984 we’ve had unprecedented exponential advancement in technology. Yet at the same time, there are more people on earth than ever before, more jobs than ever before, and more jobs in prospect than ever before. Exponential increase, by definition, means technology is going to continue to enhance our robot capabilities more and more as we go further in time. But even if the technological progress curve doesn't continue to follow a precise exponential function, it is certainly going to continue to climb. And that being the case, there will be more jobs created, and at the same time more outsourcing to automation, which means more leisure time too, as we save labour on tasks.

 If you find this hard believe, here’s what you can do. Grab a pencil and a piece of paper, and create a graph in which the horizontal axis (x) shows a UK timeline of any two chronological coordinates of your choice (for ease, no earlier than 1950), and the vertical axis (y) shows the advancement of technology. Then draw a second graph with the same timescales, but this time with unemployment levels being shown on the vertical axis. If your doubts are justified, then you should observe the appearance of some kind of causal relationship. But there isn’t, of course - the two look nothing like each other. And once you factor in the other concomitant benefits of increased technology, on top of more jobs and more leisure time - such as a better standard of living, improved communication, more widespread access to knowledge, andlonger life expectancy - it’s fairly easy to part company with the doomsayers on this issue.

 Now here’s the philosophical consideration. Imagine if you time-travelled back to have this conversation with a journalist at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and he told you how fearful he was that these new farming, printing and transportation machines would bring a gradual end to humans’ ability to work. You'd simply have to tell him that a lot changed after the Industrial Revolution, and that those changes saw more people on the planet than ever before, more jobs than ever before, and an unprecedented progression-explosion in terms of standards of living and material prosperity.

 The key reason why there is probably nothing major to worry about is that what constitutes ‘work’ (where work means earning a living) changes with growing societies and increasing technological advancements. In the early 19th century you wouldn’t have been able to imagine how people could earn a living, say, making television programs, doing stand-up comedy, providing complex domestic litigation, designing cars, driving taxis, flying planes, building speedboats, producing Kindles, playing football, working at a bowling alley, advertising on websites, fixing telephone lines or analysing DNA or quantum mechanics. The same is true of this generation – the future ‘work’ that lies ahead is currently bound by technological limitations and unawareness of the activities that are currently not jobs but will be one day. As technology increases and those robots do things we used to do, we go on to do things we never used to do. In other words, we lose jobs thanks to technology (and make our lives a little easier in the process) and we create jobs thanks to ingenuity - and knowing your own career path in a way that best utilises your talents and experience, and optimises your prospects, can give you a significant advantage in what will be a highly competitive future jobs market.  

James Knight - Guest blogger

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Tapping Your Untapped Career Potential

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, says the well-known maxim. Here’s why you need to be in a job you love, and in a role that best utilises your talents. Each person in the workplace is unique; in their character, their personality, their experiences and their talents - which means they are also uniquely valuable in the role they are undertaking. Many managers and career development officers repeatedly get an important thing wrong: they focus too much on what isn’t there and not enough on what is there. Helping somebody find their optimum vocation in life isn’t really about finding what isn’t there and trying to put it there; it is about working on what is already there and helping individuals maximise the talents they already have.

When it comes to the attempts that are made to put in what’s missing, you’ll find that people generally don’t change very much. But when it comes to making positive changes by finding the seeds of what is already present, and helping individuals cultivate those seeds to achieve their potential, people can change a lot - they just need the right guidance and support.

The best way to help someone find their direction in life is to help them draw out the uncultivated talents that are already in there. The most beneficial way you can be helped to find the direction that best suits your talents, and the most helpful kind of career support you can have in your vocational path, is with someone who can work with you to discover what your unique talents are, assist you in setting expectations, and motivate you into developing your potential into maximum effect in finding the kind of career to best suit your strengths, qualities, skills and experience. With the right support and guidance, your untapped talents can be located and thereby released into performance, making your happier and more fulfilled in your work life, and in all other areas of life too.

Here’s what you need to know about you. When it comes to matching your career to your unique character and personality, your talent is more important than your skills and knowledge. Your talent is made up of the inner qualities you have that can be consistently applied to productivity. Unlike skills and knowledge, talent isn’t something you can teach – it is the strength that best drives you to success in the most suitable vocation that complements the real essence of you.

Your talent is like a cognitive filter that sifts through every stimulus and constructs a world uniquely perceptible to you. It is the quality that makes you the most reliable explicator of ideas in a team meeting; it is the numerical aptitude you exhibit in being the one in the team who makes the most reliable budget forecasts; it is the ability you have to identify a measured balance when others are losing their heads.

The key to successful career development is finding the match between your talents and your career – because then you will most optimally excel in the workplace, and be happiest in yourself, in your work life, in your personal life, and provide the most value to those around you too.

James Knight - Guest blogger

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Goodbye detox, hello to a new you!

The decorations are packed away and you’re still getting Christmas tree needles out of the carpet, 2019 has arrived, and with it resolutions that this will be the year you change things up and create a ‘new you’. It’s time for a detox. Or, is it?

Many of the detox products on offer don’t come cheap, and experts argue that they can even be detrimental to your health; at best making you feel sluggish and miserable, at worst creating harmful imbalances in your body. Dr. Steven Novella, clinical neurologist at Yale University, explains what he calls the ‘detox scam’ by saying “our liver and kidneys, if they are healthy, will detox fine. That’s what they are for.”

Statistics show that sadly our new year resolutions, however well-intended, have fallen by the wayside for over two-thirds of us by Valentine’s Day, and gyms, which see memberships spike by up to 40% at New Year find that 80% of members who join in January quit within five months.

Maybe it’s time to make a real, lasting change that will make you feel like a new you both inside and out. Without job satisfaction, life becomes a grind and it’s hard to find the motivation to get up and start another day. Your career can affect your mental well-being, happiness and all-round health. Compass Careers can help you kick start your 2019 – why not join us on one of our upcoming 3-day Discovery Breaks, give yourself some ‘you time’ and re-evaluate where you’re headed in your career this year?

Once you are doing a job you enjoy, and which fits your natural talents and abilities, then you are on the path to a great year and a happier you. So, why not ditch the cauliflower smoothies (go on, admit it, you never really loved them anyway!) and instead make some key decisions which will positively impact your life not just for the next twelve months but into the future.


How it all started.....

In a Japanese restaurant in Norwich, on an evening in February 2017, a conversation evolved about careers and how important it is in life to be doing something you are passionate about and which matches up with your own values and skills. Most of our waking hours are spent at work, and what we do as a career can make all the difference to our own mental health and sense of well-being.

How amazing it would be, we said, if we could spread the message that it’s ok to do something you love as a career – to make a hobby into a business, to have more than one job or work part-time and also be self-employed, to take control of your career and enjoy it. And how satisfying it would be to help people achieve this and fulfil their potential.

As a result of that conversation, Compass Careers was born and we both realised that if this was our view, we were going to have to live it out ourselves - so we took the plunge and started meeting regularly to discuss how Compass Careers could work. We knew we wanted to do one-to-one career coaching with people but we also began to reflect on how busy life has become and how years can pass in a flash without much consideration given to our careers. As well as the careers field, both of us have a lot of experience in leading groups on trips and holidays and we thought it would be great to take people out of their busy lives, to a beautiful location in the UK and give them some time and space to reflect on their career direction and purpose in life as well as having a chance to relax and connect with others in a similar position. We are happy to say that we are now putting all these discussions into reality and have already arranged a great venue for our first Discovery Break on the beautiful North Norfolk coast. Actually, it just so happens to be Brexit weekend! So if you fancy a break from Brexit and/or want to consider your next steps as a result of it all, do come and join us!