Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Hero’s Journey

Wikipedia defines the hero’s journey as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

I’ve read several articles recently expressing the viewpoint that we should view our live and how we live it as a “hero’s journey”. In that view we begin our journey and encounter various obstacles that we must overcome. In overcoming those obstacles we grow and become more competent giving us the resources to overcome even greater obstacles.

While this may be a great metaphor for teaching us to persevere in the face of adversity there is a counter unspoken message that since life is a never ending struggle, why try to overcome those obstacles?

In reading those articles I am reminded of the little boy who went to his first day of school and when ask by his father at the end of the day “How did it go?” Answered, “Not very well, I have to go back tomorrow!”

While amusing, this child’s eye view of their world can be instructive. After some period of time you just get tired of striving and look for a lower level of stress. Even an army is pulled off the line and sent to rest and recuperate after extended periods of combat.

At the same time, just cruising through life without a challenge gets boring. The key is to strike a balance between the obstacle-laden path of the hero’s journey and the clear sailing of an open road. For business the trick is to challenge your employees with difficult work and yet give them some less challenging times to allow that period rest and recovery.

What was the end of Ulysses journey nn the hero’s journey described in The Odyssey by Homer? He went home to Penelope and his son and became a gentleman farmer again.

What the most common explanations of the hero’s journey don’t tell you is that it has an end and that in most cases the end is not 30 or 40 years away. Even Ulysses journey was limited to a few years; remember his son was still a child when he returned.

You can’t view your entire career as a hero’s journey. It must be viewed by both you and by your boss as a series of heroic sprints separated by periods of normal living. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Knowledge is not enough

Knowledge is not enough

I just finished a book called Proving You’re Qualified and a book called Training Yourself: the 21st Century Credential, both by Charles D. Hayes, and found a huge gap in his premise. I looked into a website called Zero Tuition College and another one called UnCollege and found that both suffer from the same missing element as Mister Hayes’ books.

A credential is important not just for the knowledge it supposedly represents, but for the person you are talking to. Only a small percentage of the work force will end up starting their own business and following in the footsteps of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to succeed without a degree. Most will end up working for large companies.

While everyone may aspire to start their own business or work for that super startup, big companies have lots of employees so that is where the bulk of the jobs are. HR departments in big companies are swamped with applicants and are scared to death of making a mistake and recommending a “bad” candidate.

That being true, the poor HR clerk reviewing applicants is looking for a quick and safe way to wade through that mountain of resumes. The first thing they can do that is fast and safe is to screen for an accredited degree. What can be safer than saying to your boss, “She must know how to do the work, she has a degree in that very thing from XYZ College.”

If you pursue self-education as recommended in both books, how do you prove to perspective employers that you really can do the work? While a portfolio (even as an online website) works well for designers, photographers or artists this non-traditional approach really doesn’t work very well for engineers or mangers.

While Mr. Hayes is absolutely correct in his ascertain that everyone will have to invest significant time and energy in continuing their professional education, even that must come with some kind of recognized credential. Why? Because when it comes time to assign work or look for the worker ready for promotion, your boss is going to look for that same safe and easy differentiator as he or she does when hiring a new candidate.

A qualification that they can point to so that when their boss asks why they picked that that person, they have some recognized “thing” to point to; something beyond the selector’s opinion that this is the right applicant.

While there is much to support the position that far too many people graduating from college today have memorized facts that they forget as soon as the test is over, no one has yet come up with a better way to prove that people can do what they say they can do.

Yes, a person’s demonstrated experience could be used. But remember that the screener is looking for a fast, safe way to select candidates. Reading resumes is not fast; you can’t really read a resume in the time it takes to scan for a degree. It’s not safe; the screener has to make a judgment call as to which experience is relevant and how complete the experience seems to be.

Before the current system can be replaced, someone is going to have to come up with something to replace it that will validate experience gained outside the current formal classrooms.