First up, two excellent reads on culture and change. Herminia Ibarra’s book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career (Harvard Business Press, 2003) is a classic. Ibarra’s a great story-teller, and she talks business (not really surprising – she’s Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD). So she recounts rollicking tales of change and transition in the working lives of Pierre, Lucy, Gary and others, and from these develops nine ‘unconventional strategies’ for career reinvention. Her strategies turn the orthodoxy of change upside down, and as someone who’s gone/ going through a career transition, moving from corporate life to setting up a consulting practice, I find their directness and self-acceptance inspiring. Here are my top four:
Unconventional strategy 1: Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You cannot discover yourself by introspection
Unconventional strategy 2: Stop trying to find your one true self. Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about
Unconventional strategy 6: Don’t just focus on the work. Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition. But don’t expect to find them in your same old social circles
Unconventional strategy 7: Don’t wait for a cataclysmic moment when the truth is revealed. Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through. Practice telling and retelling your story. Over time, it will clarify
If you’re embarking on a career transition – or working or living with someone who is – I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
This next book is a really good read too. It’s Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things (Polity, 2008), an anthropological study of thirty front rooms in a south London street – or rather, the moving, gripping, full, empty, concluded, inconclusive stories of thirty people told through their possessions, their clothes, their pictures, the furnishings, the stuff of their front rooms. Like Ibarra, Miller’s a great story-teller; I took this book on holiday with me and honestly couldn’t put it down. It also got me thinking about the front rooms of organisations, about the cultures and values made manifest – sometimes consciously, and more often not – in the furniture, art, papers, coffee machines, flooring and lighting of the foyers and reception areas of the organisations we work with, and in the behaviours of the people who work there. I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a study of organisational front rooms, but if so, do let me know – I’d love to read it!