Sailing the Good Ship Career

By Farren, Caela | Training & Development, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Sailing the Good Ship Career


Farren, Caela, Training & Development


Who's at the helm of your career? In a changing workplace, you may think that others are. Here's a plan that puts control where it belongs.

As training and development professionals, our daily bread comes from major restructurings, upheavals in customer environments, dislocations, new technology, and shifts in the workplace. In such massive change, it's imperative to understand the value you bring to your organization. However, you may be experiencing nagging doubts about your career. Is it really you at the helm of the Good Ship Career?

You can see, hear, and feel the world around you and use your senses to avoid danger. Yet, jobs and careers are not physical things. They are processes, actions, relationships, and ideas. How can you navigate clear pathways and avoid obstacles that you can't see, hear, or feel?

Working in organization development and career development over the past 25 years, I have seen countless individuals who truly think all aspects of their work life are beyond their control. The villain is categorical, mystical, and overarching change.

Yet, contrary to reports, not everything is changing. Work has stable underpinnings and aspects you can control. Beneath the apparent and seemingly pervasive chaos, there are patterns in work and human life that are stable and enduring. But you must find them beyond the scope of your organization and job, which are only small parts of the whole, believe it or not.

By forming a mental picture - a conceptual map - you can move more easily from one work situation to another, carrying skills with you and applying them where they will do the most good for yourself and others. That examination process serves as an early-warning system. It lends perspective on how you can adapt - to see which industries are most in need of your skills and competencies, and which organizations would pay the most for those services.

A web is a useful metaphor for the system of work because it evokes intricacy, complexity, interconnectivity, and strength. As in a spider web, movement and activity in any part of the web of work will be felt throughout the rest of it. The spider is ever-vigilant to see that its web is strong, well-positioned in the environment, and can be repaired or adapted quickly if conditions change.

12 human needs

A dozen human needs make up the center of the web of work, the part that is the most stable. Those needs, which are basic and unchanging, drive us as people and as a society.

They are

1. Home and shelter 2. Family and kinship 3. Learning 4. Community 5. Spirituality 6. Social relationships 7. Leisure 8. Economic security 9. Transportation and mobility 10. Health, physical and mental 11. Work and career 12. Environment and safety.

The web center is surrounded by sectors that represent the ways in which human societies have learned to address those needs. Professions, industries, organizations, and jobs evolve continually to satisfy one or more of the needs. Once you understand each sector on the web of work, you can see the relationships and interconnections among them.

The first sector around the center of the web represents specialties or professions. Choosing a profession, trade, or craft is the most important career decision you will ever make, given that professions evolve from the 12 basic needs. Once you select a profession, the choices of industry, organization, and job type become clearer.

Historically, as professionals in a given field banded together, their collective work became known as an industry. Industries are the second sector in the web of work. Because that sector is farther from the core - basic human needs - it has less stability.

Industries subdivide into organizations. Because thousands of organizations are born and die each day, they are less stable as a sector than industries but more stable than the outer sector, jobs. A job is a temporary way to package tasks.

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