One of the things I've observed repeatedly is how stunned people are when they lose their jobs. Despite the fact that the writing has usually been on the wall for weeks or months, there is a palpable sense of disbelief--how could this happen to ME?!
I've found that this is generally a result of career tunnel vision, a condition that can plague all of us. Career tunnel vision comes about when we are isolated in our own workplaces, working in our particular department, head down, focusing on our specific job. We have little to no awareness of what may be going on outside of our little sphere.
Some of us may have greater awareness--we know what is happening in other departments or even have a decent picture of what's happening with the company as a whole. But so often, we are blind to the larger forces at work, outside of our organizations. We don't see new technologies on the rise and how they may influence our work. We fail to recognize the implications of a global marketplace and a global workforce. We do not see the trends in how workplaces operate and how these changes may impact what we do and how we do it. And it is this failure that can be our downfall.
Positive Professional Development is partially about maintaining our focus on the bigger picture--what is happening beyond the boundaries of our particular job, department or organization? How will these trends impact my work? What is the intersection between the new opportunities that changes bring and my core strengths?
Combating Career Tunnel Vision
How then to combat this tendency toward tunnel vision?
1. Widen your focus. Read articles and explore information from a wide array of sources, not just those specific to your industry or occupation. Deliberately expose yourself to a broader selection of information on technology, workplace trends and the global economy. Set up Google Alerts that will bring the information to you. Set aside time at least once a week to explore this information and see what you can learn and how it might impact your career goals.
2. Connect to people who do NOT share your interests. I've written before about the problem of homophily--the fact that birds of a feather flock together and our need to combat this syndrome. Homophily, in part, is what caused the breakdown of our financial systems and the current state of our economy. Too many people in the same echo chamber leading to the most destructive form of groupthink imaginable.
To fight career tunnel vision, you must be deliberate in seeking out people and networks outside of the usual suspects. This will not happen naturally because as a species, we are prone to connect to our "tribe." But it is often those outside of our tribe who can bring us the information and ideas we need to reinvigorate what we do and how we do it. Seek out those who are different. They will give you perspectives and ideas that can transform your career.
3. Ask the right questions. Learning and professional growth come from asking the right questions. Too often we get stuck in the questions that our industry or profession want answered, missing the larger questions that could change what we do and how we do it. We need to develop a regular questioning habit and a focus on finding the right questions to explore. Some ideas:
- What changes are happening in the larger world around technology, people, networks and data? How might these impact what I do?
- What are the important questions in your industry or your line of work? Which of these important questions get you excited and passionate and filled with energy to learn more?
- Think about the shifts happening in your profession, your industry, your personal and professional life. Which of these shifts generates the most hope for you? Which of these nurtures your hope for building a better world and a more positive future? How could these ideas fuel your learning? How could you learn more that would help you take advantage of these changes?
- How do the changes I see intersect with my core strengths? What opportunities can I find that I hadn't considered before? How could I leverage my core strengths to take advantage of wider trends and changes?
4. Continually re-examine your core strengths and interests. This last idea is somewhat counter-intuitive to the first three strategies. But the reality is that the clarity you need to fight career tunnel vision can only come when you take what you've learned about what's happening in the outside world and bring it back into yourself to examine how these trends intersect with your strengths.
The only way to get true clarity about where to find your next opportunities is by reflecting on how you can tie trends to your core strengths. Otherwise you are just randomly chasing after ideas. It's critical that you return to yourself on a regular basis to see what it is you want to create in the world as this will give you the information you need to focus your efforts.
It takes hard work and dedication to fight our tunnel vision. This is even more true in the world today where information overload causes us to seek ways to narrow our focus. Of course we must do this to make sense of all that comes into our over-worked brains, but we must do so strategically, not out of a sense of desparation or a desire to just shut out the noise.
The effort WILL pay off though, when we develop regular habits that fight this tendency to narrow our vision. We will be better positioned to act from inspiration, not desperation and we will have greater control over our careers and what we accomplish.
What experiences have you had with career tunnel vision? What strategies have you used to fight it?