John Krumboltz Planned Happenstance planneTheory – Theories Every Careers Adviser Should Know


Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist,  is famous for saying “Predictions are very difficult especially when they are about the future”, Lao Tzu is similarly quoted as saying “those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict don’t have knowledge.” These two quotes create a helpful starting point for engaging in the work of John Krumboltz.

John Krumboltz’s theory of career looks to challenge conventional views around indecision. In traditional theories of career which focus on planning and strategy (think John Holland or Watts DOTS model) indecision is viewed as a bad thing as it stops you moving towards your goal. Central to this traditional view is the belief that the future is predictable or to some sense controllable. Indecision must therefore be “wrong” as it stops you from taking control of the future. Krumboltz counters this claiming that indecision is  a sensible response to the complex and changing world in which we live.

Krumboltz claims that complexity radically reduces the usefulness of career planning in a traditional sense and instead we must consider how we can utilise ideas around luck and happenstance. Krumboltz claims that external factors, chance events and the unexpected dominate our lives and our careers. We are often unprepared for the unexpected because we expect to be able to plan and control everything. Krumboltz states that job of the careers advisor is to help clients recognise chance as a key factor in their careers and to help them become “lucky”, people who are prepared for and have positive response to the unexpected.

Krumboltz has four main attitudes that he says prepares people for uncertainty;

  • Curiosity
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Optimism

Krumboltz through these attitudes re-imagines career development away from linear thinking and strategic decision making and towards a set of skills that are flexible in any context and a general approach to the world around us rather than a focus on one particular outcome


Krumboltz’s theory has some obvious strong points and a criticism which I would like to raise. Firstly the movement away from prediction is very helpful. Life doesn’t always go as planned and planning is overly relied upon tool still in careers work. Krumboltz helpfully point out the limits of this and points to a powerful and useful alternative. This can often be freeing for clients and re-positions people away from needing a “right” answer and instead towards what they could do.

Secondly I find Krumboltz helpful in how he focuses on attitudes. More rational approaches tend to focus on more objective information, “have you made a decision?”, “do you have a plan to get there?” Krumboltz is helpful in looking at a set of attitudes and approaches that can make a big difference in someone’s career. Krumboltz opens up an extra dimension often overlooked with work with clients.

I do have one slightly criticism of Krumboltz which is not so much a criticism of his theory but of how I see some people putting it into practice. I have heard people give the impression that what people need to do is engage in career, take a flexible approach, step out and do some experience without any planning at all. I just feel that this complete rejection of planning is not helpful. Sometimes planning is necessary. Take some careers for example, things like medicine, law and teaching have quite structured routes than need to be planned to get to, strategy is an important part of success in these areas. Other areas like film and politics require a great sense of focus and planning to be successful in. Though change always needs to be considered some careers are very hard to access without a sense of focus and strategy.


As a starting point I would recommend these 3 videos

Mitchell, K. E., Levin, S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of counseling & Development, 77(2), 115-124.

Krumboltz, J. D., & Levin, A. S. (2004). Luck is no accident. Atascadero. CA: Impact.

5 thoughts on “John Krumboltz Planned Happenstance planneTheory – Theories Every Careers Adviser Should Know

  1. Krumholtz’s notion that indecision is a sensible response to the complex and changing world in which we live seems to be supported by Roadtrip Nation’s interviews with thousands:
    However, this approach needs more research to ground it in empirical data. I know that in my recent study of career changers (as opposed to job changers), only 1/44 respondents stated that happenstance was a direct cause of their career change, the rest engaged in systematic, deliberate, intentional planning and decision-making to reach their career goals.

  2. Happenstance was a direct factor for me when the company that I’d been with for 25 years announced large-scale redundancies. A chance conversation led to me enrolling on an assessor’s course a few days later and being offered a job in an FE college shortly after.I’m still here 13 years later and I’m now preparing resources to start delivering the QCF Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development. I’ve just discovered Tom’s blog and am enjoying the posts and comments,

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