Creativity as a Model for Careers

by Phillipe Boukobza on Flickr (

by Phillipe Boukobza on Flickr (

I recently finished reading Ken Robinson’s book about creativity and education Out of Our Minds. One of the things that struck me was how Robinson argues against a mainly process driven, rationalistic view of education in favour of one which takes into account emotions and creativity to a greater extent. This got me thinking about how a model based around creativity could be applied to the field of career decision making.

One of the things this got me into thinking about is if there is an actual alternative to the match as a dominant model of decision making. Matching models of career decision making have their origins in the work of careers theorists such as Parsons and Holland who formed views of career decision making matching an individual’s skills with the skills required by various professions and so matching individuals to professions. This view has been responded to by theorists such as Super, Savickas, Cochran and MacMahon who are broadly speaking described as constructivists. Constructivists try to move away from the idea of a measurable “right” answer for an individual. They prioritise personal concepts (how someone sees themselves) over reducing everything to skills and encourage clients to make decisions for themselves rather than a test and direct view of careers work. Constructivism is mainly about learning as far as I can make out, it is less about what to do with what that learning. I may be wrong here, others know a lot more about constructivism than me but this is my gut instinct. It mainly covers how we understand ourselves, a bit on how we understand the world around us and least about how to interact with the world around us. There is a lot I agree with about Constructivism but it still normally leaves me asking about what someone should do with the new learning they create. In this way I feel constructivism lacks as a response to the positivist, structuralist position it often opposes.

But what is wrong with matching as a model? Other people have written on this in more detail but I have four main observations.

1) Matching turns you into a fixed object. Take Holland’s categories, his RIASEC model, as well as imposing these six categories on you externally Holland also assumes that you keep these categories throughout life more or less. This is a flat view that mainly asks about who you are rather than who you could become. Constructivism though it counters the fixed categories because it focuses on learning tends to try and summarise and say “I am this” rather than asking what you could be.

2) It assumes too much about access to breadth of knowledge. Taking RIASEC again it tries to categories all roles in one of six areas. That advantage is that it can say that it cover all vocations and then provides a way to focus in between them. An analytical model based on focussing in and reducing options is always dependent on get all options into its system or leaves you with the possibility that the best answer may be outside of the analysis. It is a bit like looking for your one true love on (or wherever). It can only work if your one true love is also on, it always leaves the possibility that there may be someone who you would love more, who you would be happier with on another website.

3) It turns vocation in to a fixed place. A matching model looks at a vocation and says “it will be like this” it sees jobs and careers as mainly fixed observable entities which you can stick under the microscope. It tends to ignore the interaction between the individual and the place and work. This interaction is not fixed and can mean that someone changes the job they are in by being part of it and has control over how they perceive and act inside this role. Again we can view this as a bit like dating. Many of us are aware of the meet your dream partner, everything is easy ever after myth. In practice relationships are as much about what people make of them and how they act inside them as how good the initial match is between the two individuals involved.

There are other critiques that can be made but I wanted to mainly focus on these as they relate to Creativity. How then does creativity allow us to approach this issues differently? Ken Robinson has three stages of creativity:

  1. Imagination – bringing to mind things not physically present

  2. Creativity – applying imagination to particular discipline e.g. painting, mathematics, computer programming, product design etc.

  3. Innovation – bringing a creative idea into reality so that has value in the real world.

How then can these ideas be used to make and implement career decisions.

Imagination – Imagination is a core skill that anyone can have and which by itself is devoid of context. What imagination does though is that it focuses on the creation of possibility above the observation of reality. Techniques such as mind mapping and brainstorming for example aim to harness imaginative ability by creating a range of options. Imagination as a core skill challenges people to branch and consider different perspective sor ways of seeing something.

Creativity – This is imagination applied to a particular area. In this case we are looking to apply imagination to career development. This could involve a wide range of skills including networking, interview techniques, online profiles, CVs and so on. But here I want to focus in on building awareness (self and opportunity) and decision making. Creativity in this area focuses on creating a variety of different perspectives and ways of understanding. This has a focus on divergent thinking.


Rather than trying to narrow down to one solution or way of thinking about something (convergent) divergent thinking encourages multiple solutions, it looks to create a wide range of different options and ways of knowing something. This can be particularly achieved by selecting a number of different paradigms or perspectives. So divergent thinking would look to take a variety of different theoretical perspectives on self-awareness rather than focussing on one or taking a variety of different starting points to research opportunities rather than only starting from one position and using one technique to create options. The focus here is to create a variety of different perspectives using a variety of techniques rather than to converge on one right answer using just one technique.

Innovation – Innovation looks to take ideas and test them in practice. A big focus is put on practical experience and testing in the real world rather than just using abstract reasoning. The focus here is to find out which of the variety of options work. Not always but often it is preferable to hone in on one (or a few) answers and to just pursue these. Innovation is the process of taking answers and testing them to see if they have value. This is one of Robinson’s key focuses, to create creative solutions which have value. This is how a sense of reality is brought in to the process. Solutions are not blindly accepted without reason but instead they are tried and tested to see if they work in the real world. But the focus is on trying out multiple options and ways of understanding rather than just one. The certainty that convergent thinking is opposed in favour of feeling happy living with contradictions and multiple views on a matter. This keeps the person open to possibilities.

At core this way of approaching careers aims to use imagination to create and test multiple solutions rather than using rationality to focus in on just one option. On the one hand it appears the main thing that creativity does is to make decision maker harder, it allows you to simplify less and requires a client to master a greater range of techniques. This appears to make things worse than a rational process so what might the benefits be?

  1. Unrestricted ways of knowing – Central to this approach would be moving a client from seeking one “correct” answer to challenging them to produce a variety of different ways of understanding themselves or the world around them. Client conversations will often revolve around asking “what other ways of seeing this are there.” There is a freedom to experiment and come up with other ways of knowing rather than a drive to tie yourself down to one perspective. This is build around the need to experiment and fail in creative processes. This can create advantages for clients who are stuck in a way of thinking or are impressionable and easily lead to uncritically accept a technique offered to them

  1. Breaks down employment/ enterprise divide – In HE I sometimes find a divide between supporting students with becoming entrepreneurs and with seeking employment. We treat them as different students with different needs. Creativity allows you bring these two groups together and view them as being the same. Seeking employment becomes a lot closer to the process of entrepreneurship as it focuses on creative, divergent opportunities, creating and testing out new opportunities.

  1. Different approach to opportunities – As we said earlier one problem with the matching model is that you can not possibly know always possibilities in order to fairly assess them all. The creative process counters this by seeing all opportunities as ones which you create. You make meaningful work from the world around you. Asking what all the opportunities are makes as much sense as asking how many ways to paint a sunset are there. This is because though there may be only a literal number of roles advertised this ignores un-advertised roles and entrepreneurial opportunities as well as the fact that because a role can be interacted with used and different ways (you can behave in different ways in a role seeking different objectives, behaving in different ways, building different netowrks) there are in some way an infiinite number of opporutnuties behind each role which can be accessed through divergent thinking.

  1. Focuses on agency – Much like contructivism creativity encourages the client to seeing thing sdifferently, testing different bahviours and create and innovate a range of different ways of being. Thease are all created by the client not emparted to them by and expert. Thease requires agency just as a piec eof artowrk is made by the artist so a future is created by the client, they are the agent.

  1. Increases career agility – Much as been written about the need for agility in careers development. Because creativity creates different perspectives and conciders different options it creates more agiel ways of being that are less tied down to particular ways of behaving, having set views fo the self tied to set career paths and pre-set strategies for coping with change. The variety that creativity creates makes a greater variety of ways of knowing, doing and being.

  1. Open to unplanned events – Closely related to the theme of agility is the view that creatiivty allows for better resposnes to unplanned events. Creativity makes someone who are concodering different options and so are less tied to one not working out and having different strategies and so are less imapcted by one fialling.

3 thoughts on “Creativity as a Model for Careers

  1. Creativity is a natural reaponse to chaos and complexity ..see chaos Theory of Careers Pryor and Bright 2011 where a model of creativity – Beyond Personal Mastery is presented (see also as well as art therapy techniques derived from collage and the work of Jean Tinguely. See also Norm Amundson’s work , active Engagement, M etaphor Making and Hope filled engagement (with Gray Poehnell)

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