Hobbies, interests and other stuff which doesn't pay the
mortgage - what's their place in mid-life and beyond? Can the middle-aged learn
new things? Can those things be enriching places of growth and connection, or
only expensive self-amusements? Download the story of a fifty-year-old, a
saxophone and a touring band here. Published 27July 2018.
If you had $10,000 and four days to upskill for the future of work. what would you study? Harvard Business School has just given its answer. In this June 2018 thinkpiece for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Douglas Board offers a different take.
THE C-SUITE: WHAT PEOPLE DON'T SAY
When Martin Sorrell exits WPP, £20m exits with him. In this article published on 24 April 2018, Douglas Board and Trudi Ryan explain that elsewhere in the C-suite, the rules can be very different.
CAREER CHANGE IN REAL LIFE
Emma Jacobs writes on 21 January 2018 about the Financial Times' study of five career switchers, aged between 33 and 51 - a forex trader becoming a costume designer and a stay-at-home mum becoming a City lawyer are two of them. The advice Emma gives comes from an excellent source: INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra - her Harvard Business Review article 'How to stay stuck in your career' remains a classic.
The Guardian on 7 February 2018 gives five inspiring examples of career change in later life, including Kathryn Joosten who only started trying to become an actor in her 40s. She became a Disney street performer in her 50s before getting her big break at 60.
70% of 40-SOMETHINGS ARE LOOKING FOR A 'MAJOR CHANGE'
27 July 2017 - Management Today finds this in a research report on mid-career change. Douglas Board is one of their '40 over 40' example career-changers. This guest blog for FreshMinds on 18 September 2017 reflects on his experience.
IS YOUR WORK TERRIFYING ENOUGH?
Lucy's farewell column on 24 July 2017 in the Financial Times as she embarks on a new career in teaching. "I am not frightened of losing the status of FT club membership. It is the thought of being without the safety blanket of your response - both approval and disapproval - that is unnerving me. Yet even this does not scare me as much as the thought of teaching ratios to bottom set Year Nine. That terrifies me - which is precisely the point."
ARE CEO SKILLS PORTABLE?
As a headhunter I helped to recruit a private sector CEO with retail experience to become the first chief executive of Britain's prisons, so you might expect me to say 'yes'. However, a better answer is 'sometimes'. Writing in the Financial Times on 3 July 2017, Andrew Hill steers a typically wise middle course, contrasting Carolyn McCall at easyJet with Willie Walsh at IAG. A warning: the more closely the organisation resembles a group of independent-minded, expert professionals, the less likely someone who doesn't command professional respect can do the job (see the summary of ten characteristics of successful leaders of professional service firms produced by my Cass colleague Professor Laura Empson in her 2013 report: 'Who's in charge?').
GOLDILOCKS AND THE MAGIC OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS
Duff McDonald's new book 'The Golden Passport' excoriates Harvard Business School in 600 pages. In this piece on 1 June 2017, in closer to 600 words I offer a different, light-hearted but serious perspective on the business education pandemic. This includes links to the article I wrote in 2016 for Times Higher Education and a televised debate with Andrew Main Wilson (CEO of the Association of MBAs) chaired by Ross Ashcroft of Renegade Inc.
HOWEVER MUCH SOMEONE POSTS ON FACEBOOK, THEY MAY NOT KNOW THAT THEIR OWN LIFE IS INTERESTING
On 26 January 2017, in a talk to a Church of England conference on vocations, I drew together my professional, lived and academic understanding of what connects work, career and an ultimate sense of meaning. Follow the link for an introduction, or to download the talk in full.
PSYCHOTHERAPY: THE EXPERIENCE AND THE PURPOSE
(Posted 30 December 2016) For a long time I've been on the look-out for something which to do justice to the experience of psychotherapy, its point and its limitations. It's not for everyone, but it is certainly much more than a 'repair job'. This passage from Bruce Springsteen's autobiography 'Born To Run' (Simon & Schuster 2016, pp 311-2) does it for me:
In this way, I slowly acquired the skills that would eventually lead to a life of my own. That was still many tears, mistakes, heartbreaks away and often remains a struggle to this day. The price I paid for the time lost was just that. Time lost. You can blow your fortune, should you be lucky enough to obtain one, and make it back, damage your reputation and, with effort and dedication, often restore it. But time … time lost is gone for good.
I had my winter in California, then returned to New Jersey. I was referred to a Dr Wayne Myers, an avuncular, soft-spoken man with an easy smile, in New York City. And over many meetings and long-distance phone calls during the next twenty-five years Doc Myers and I would fight many demons together until his passing in 2008. When I was in town, we would sit face-to-face, with me staring into his understanding eyes patiently, painstakingly putting together a pretty good string of wins, along with some nagging defeats. We successfully slowed down that treadmill I’d been running on while never getting it completely to stop. In Doc Myers’ office, I got a head start on my new odyssey; his knowledge, along with his compassionate heart, guided me to the strength and freedom I needed to love things and be loved.
In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back. The results of my work with Dr Myers and my debt to him are at the heart of this book
GIVE ME A BREAK!
In this helpful article in the FT on 3 June 2016, Emma Jacobs looks at several sources of help for planning a career break, including Susan Griffith's book 'Gap Years for Gown Ups' and organisations like Gap360, Year Out Group and Reboot Partners. See also Carolyn Fairbairn below (December 2015).
'LEANING IN' WHEN THERE IS NO-ONE TO LEAN ON
Eighteen months ago I expressed some concerns (below, 'Lighting a candle can increase the darkness') about do-it-all, have-it-all mindsets which often reference Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and 'Lean In'. I'm saddened to read in Gaby Hinsliff's column in the Guardian on 13 May 2016 that Sheryl's husband died suddenly, leading Sheryl to post: 'Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right.' Re-reading what I wrote, I can't help think even more about the child referred to there.
WHY IS SO MUCH OF THE WORLD MANAGED BY ARSEHOLES?
Last September my novel 'MBA' was published. An important reason for writing it was to explore, in a laugh-out-loud as well as a serious way, the different journeys of Ben and Connie to re-define for themselves career success. Ben is thirty years old, a couple of years out from getting his MBA with his career rocketing upwards in the private sector, when inexplicably he's fired. Connie is older, not ambitious in the same way, bruised by the private sector and now an HR director in the NHS (which is no picnic but is clearly not about getting rich quick). If you would like to find out more, here is a 20 minute video interview with The Bookseller.
Quite a different reason for writing the novel was to draw attention to what business schools are doing to our society - which I believe is a great deal of good, but also some important, little-noticed harms. On 18 February 2016 Times Higher Education published this article of mine making that case.
TAKING A CAREER GAP YEAR
Carolyn Fairbairn, McKinsey alumna and former strategy director at the BBC, now director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, describes in interview with Kathryn Cooper taking a career gap year. In 2004 she and her husband, a hotel developer, took their three children (5, 7 and 9) out of school and spent 12 months travelling the world, visiting 17 countries and aiming to spend about two weeks in each. 'We left with four bags of clothes and one bag of school books. The kids were just about young enough for us to be able to teach them. I did the maths, English and history and my husband did the other half. ... It really changed the family dynamic and made us stronger.' See the full interview in the 20 December 2015 Sunday Times.
GETTING TO THE TOP BY SLEEPING IN STAIRWELLS
All of us have days when we need reminding that, sometimes, the journey from zero to hero is possible - so here's Maria Marte's Spanish journey from immigrant dishwasher to two-Michelin-starred chef (the Guardian on 5 August 2015). Is Maria's story about extraordinary hard work and persistence? Definitely - but it's about something else as well. While she is sleeping between dishwashing shifts in restaurant stairwells, she discovers the beauty of something unexpected, and gains a dream.
A DEFINITION OF LIFE: SOMETHING BETTER THAN A DREAM
The way I most often describe career coaching is working together to find a realistic dream. Today's Guardian tells the story so far of Josh Tetrick deciding in 2011 to take on the global food industry. It's a story with all the power of a dream - but even better, it's a life. Being a career coach, I got curious about Josh's life and career before 2011. Go on, have a guess! Here's Wikipedia's answer. Wow. Posted 21 March 2015
LIGHTING A CANDLE CAN INCREASE THE DARKNESS
Wharton professor Stewart Friedman's book 'Leading the Life You Want' has attracted plenty of positive attention, such as this summary and review by Stephanie Denning on Forbes.com. Certainly it is easy to find people who have not thought deeply about the possibilities in their lives, and Friedman's book (the second half of which is full of ingenious practical exercises) could be a valuable first step for someone, helping them to discover ways in which they can become more effective at work, at home and in their communities simultaneously. To that extent Friedman's book is a valuable candle of hope and possibility.
But I'm perturbed by a couple of big things. Firstly the way darkness, disappointment, conflict, the fact that win-wins are not always possible, are rigorously excluded from Friedman's vision. This is unreal, and can lead people astray. Secondly making judgements about the work-life balance of six celebrities without taking the dark side seriously, and without (in at least some cases such as Bruce Springsteen's) any access to that person's private life - Springsteen is notoriously fierce about his family's privacy.
One of the celebrities Friedman makes judgements about is Sheryl Sandberg. On p. 59 Friedman recounts an occasion when she forgot to dress her son in green for St Patrick's Day. But that's all right (no negativity allowed), Friedman explains, because Sandberg's husband (himself a CEO) persuades her that the experience will help their son 'learn that he doesn't have to be like others'. Apparently what the son thinks about it is not relevant to the parents or to us.
Some of the most important moments in our lives come when we can't make the result a 'win' for everybody. Posted 7 November 2014.
CAREERS: THE VIEW FROM SPACE
Writing in HR Review, Douglas Board explores career anxiety. Whatever happened to the superconfident 'brand you' promised by Tom Peters more than 20 years ago? Posted 6 August 2014.
CARLOS SLIM'S THREE DAY WEEK
Three 11-hour days as a standard working week: why not? There are issues, of course, but part of the idea's power is it will focus our minds on rethinking how we want to use our time as creators, thinkers, family and community members as well as consumers - as well as making us more productive as workers. At age 40 I switched to a four-day week while continuing as a headhunter. My output went up - absolutely, not just per day - as well as my health and creativity. Posted 25 July 2014.
IT TAKES TIME TO KNOW YOURSELF
What an eloquent image by Yasmina Kharma, an undergraduate who I have had the privilege of teaching at City University London (reproduced with permission). It's equally relevant to anyone reflecting on their journey in early, mid or late career. Posted 10 April 2014.
WAKE UP AND SELL THE COFFEE!
Might you be an entrepreneur - and if so, might you build a scalable business? This book by Maslow's Attic's former client, entrepreneur Martyn Dawes, is valuably stocked with figures, feelings and failures - as well as eventual success. Take a walk in Martyn's shoes and you won't regret it - you won't be patronised or bullshitted either. Posted 10 March 2014.
PART-TIME POWER LIST
Might you find some food for thought in the Financial Times' 'part-time power top 50' published on 5 December 2013 - including a 4 day a week MD in Accenture, a 3 day a week chief economist for Lloyds Bank Group and a 3.5 days head of regulatory and competition law for Sky?
LIFE IMITATING ART IMITATING LIFE?
Chapter 5 of Dara Marks' book 'Inside Story' on writing screenplays begins with this glorious quotation from the psychologist C G Jung: Everything grows old, all beauty fades, all heat cools, all brightness dims, and every truth becomes stale and trite. For all these things have taken on shape, and all shapes are worn thin by the working of time; they age, sicken, crumble to dust - unless they change. Posted
16 October 2013.
TWO-THIRDS OF UK BUSINESS OWNERS ARE 50-PLUS
Kate Burgess reports in the FT on 8 July 2013 UK research that echoes earlier US findings. And for good measure add in Maggie Philbin a year before (below).
BEST CAREER MISTAKES
A delight to discover this treasure trove of career 'mistakes', such as Deepak Chopra's 'My best mistake: impulsive rebellion'. Or Vivian Schiller's 'Forgetting the 5 year career plan' - if you are thinking on that theme, you might also scroll down to the Billy Elliot vs Chicago approaches to career change below. Posted 29 April 2013
SHOULD I TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN?
Lucy Kellaway and readers respond in the Financial Times on 27 February 2013 to a mid-fifties manager who wonders if (s)he should take a redundancy package and leave an increasingly boring workplace. Some say, work out what you want first; others imply that if there was something exciting 'out there', you'd at least have some idea where to look. If only life were that simple!
ARE YOU FINDING A BIG JOB CHANGE CONFUSING?
Giles Fraser, who resigned from St Paul's Cathedral during the London Occupy protest, writes illuminatingly in the Guardian on 27 October 2012.
THE CHALLENGES AT THE TOP OF THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR
Outsiders (especially the private sector) underestimate how tough chief executive roles at the top of the voluntary sector are, suggests Douglas Board. A Cass Business School/NCVO event on diversity reported in the Guardian on 16 October 2012.
CAREER LESSONS FROM THE WEST COAST RAIL CRASH
Writing in the Financial Times on 11 October 2012, Douglas Board extracts some career lessons for people at the top or hoping to get there from the West Coast rail franchising fiasco.
SHATTERING AGE AND GENDER STEREOTYPES ABOUT THE WEB
Maggie Philbin writing in the Guardian on 14 July 2012 points out that (based on an American study) women over the age of 55 spend more time playing online games than males aged 15 to 25, and 25 to 34, combined.
IS NON-PROFIT INVOLVEMENT 'GIVING BACK'?
Based on extensive personal experience, Jon Huggett writing in Stanford Business School's spring 2012 magazine, suggests thinking in a different way about non-profit organisations and one's career.
THE JOBS AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
Researchers say technology will make all but six human skills redundant. Writing in the FT on 3 May 2012, Douglas Board challenges whether they are right.
SURLY, INSECURE BOSSES SPOIL MORE THAN YOUR DAY
Douglas Board suggests in the FT on 2 February 2012 that they may be spoiling the economy too.
WHO WANTS TO BE A CEO IN 2012?
Headhunter Moira Benigson shines an interesting light on CEO moves and top career patterns in this report published on 30 November 2011.
DARKNESS AT THE TOP
The 'secret footballer' in the Guardian on 26 November 2011.
Depression has many faces and many causes; what appears to be job or work-related might or might not be. Neverthess the openness in this article by a top sports performer - coincidentally just two days before the tragic and unexplained death of 42 year old Wales manager Gary Speed - is brilliant. Advertising executive-turned-novelist Meg Rosoff also highlighted depression in leading a writing class earlier this month.
I define success in Maslow's Attic as my clients feeling clear and motivated about where - from strategy and broad direction down to tactics - they want to put their professional energy over the next few years. The experience of reaching that point is life-giving, often electrifying, for both of us: the opposite of depression. But a big career change can never be 100% plain sailing, and packing for emotional bad weather is part of a good change process.
LEADERSHIP AND THE 'NO WAY' FACTOR
Douglas Board in the Financial Times on 15 September 2011.
In the end Home Secretary Theresa May looked across the Mersey rather than the Atlantic for the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. This article explores the issues from a leadership and a careers perspective.
THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Civil Exchange published on 21 July 2011.
Most top voluntary sector chief executives have much wider sectoral experience than their counterparts in the private, public or academic sectors. Douglas Board reflects on this as part of a collection of thought-pieces published by Civil Exchange.
NORMALITY CAN BE OVER-RATED
Luke Johnson in the FT on 15 June 2011
Luke looks at a couple of books which explore links between entrepreneurial success and being not quite balanced mentally. Psychology professor Adrian Furnham looks at the same theme from a corporate perspective in ‘The Elephant in the Boardroom’ (2010). Many of us want to have our cake and eat it, to be very special as well as just like everyone else. Being different sometimes means precisely that – being different! What hurts, and can threaten success, is when we losernself-awareness and feel alone.
OPTIMISTS GET THE BEST JOBS
In the Financial Times on 14 April 2011 I report research from the US on job finding and explore the difference which deep optimism makes.
Phil Hilton in the Guardian on 26 March 2011.
Congratulations to Phil for a piece about bouncing back after a public failure so candid that it is inspiring. I would only demur on one part of Phil’s advice, where he says start networking without working through your grief: talking to others is vital, but don’t talk too early to important contacts with whom you will only get one shot at a meeting. You may well not have the self-awareness to realise what impression you are making.
CHICAGO OR BILLY ELLIOT?
Luke Johnson in the FT on 16 February 2011.
Luke sings the praises of multiple careers and says 'we should all aim to have second or even third acts in our working lives'. In fact our lives will have second and third acts whether we like it or not, and whether we change jobs or not; the question is how much we're shaping the storyline which emerges. But powerful second or third acts don't always have to mean a new employer, or a change of scenery. For some people the necessary place to create radical change might be staying where they are now.
Billy Elliot and Chicago: both great musicals with strong stories. One set takes us from a boy's bedroom to a working men's club to London and then down the pit. The other moves us inside and outside of prison without any change of set. Which is the right approach for you?