Journey Of Self Exploration 4 – Career Concepts & Career Paths

The Four Career Concepts
The Four Career Concepts

Career Concepts & associated Career Paths is an interesting theory based on the work of Michael Driver and Ken Brousseau of the University of Southern California. I was first introduced to it by my friend & mentor Sachin Chavan couple of years ago. When I first read it, my reaction was also similar to what Mr. Clawson describes – I was ecstatic that there is a “name” and research that supports things I’ve felt intuitively for a long time. There was this certain “Eureka…” moment when I figured out my own type (Spiral-Expert, more in favour of spiral) and ever since, I think I have better insight when I listen to people talking about their own career aspirations & goals. There are primarily four career patterns based on how people choose their profession, roles and plan their career. These four patterns are listed and discussed briefly below.

  1. Linear (L) – This is probably the most familiar and well-accepted career concept, and usually associated with material success. It can be thought of as a career ladder with increasing power, status and money. For ‘linear types’, the primary work motivation is increasing power & status. This is the conventional upward movement and you’d often find ‘linear types’ climbing corporate ladder and aspiring to be the top executives. Unfortunately, often this is perceived as the only career path by senior managers (who usually happen to be ‘linear type’ themselves) and hence by most HR professionals as well.
  3. Steady-State Expert or Expert (SSE) – This can be thought of as a ladder of few steps and then a steady straight line indicating high level of expertise. They are not motivated much by status, power (such as promotion) but they are driven by perfecting their skill & craftsmanship/expertise. They derive pleasure in mastering their craft and becoming expert in their own field. You can think of top medical professionals, specialist and super-specialist doctors, top lawyers and architects as examples of spiral types.Sometimes, these experts may follow linear career path and accept higher position as a manager as that might be the only available way of earning more money in some organizations. The might do this due lack of self-awareness or due to common, societal ‘linear’ definition of success. But a true expert (individual with dominant SSE concept) may not fit this managerial role and may eventually fail. It is crucial for good organizations which thrive on superior technical talent (such as software development companies) to provide alternate paths of growth to recognize and reward these technically talented experts.
  5. Spiral (S) – These type of individuals are not much motivated by power, status but they are driven by learning & knowledge. Unlike SSEs/experts, they are not interested in perfecting their skill or expertise beyond a certain level, once they achieve certain level of success or expertise, they seek new challenges and learning. They are true learners, and they are willing to give up their position of power & status to experience the steep learning curve. They find their own underlying purpose through series of different roles and work (across industries if required) that they may undertake in their life. They are creative and motivated by personal growth. They bring deep insights and knowledge to cross-functional roles and prove to be a very valuable assets to organization that could offer them interesting & challenging work & roles. You are likely to find knowledgeable individuals who have changed their work, industries or careers as ‘spiral types’. They could be misunderstood as Transitory types, but they are quite different in the sense that they are motivated by the work they choose and they are driven by personal growth, knowledge & learning.
  7. Transitory (T) – These types of individuals are not motivated by work, though they may be reasonably good at it – but work is not their primary motivation. They’d work as long as it is required to earn enough money and then do what they’d rather be doing. This may include travel, backpacking, photography on positive side or some addictions like alcohol, drugs on the negative side. Their careers typically include some periods of work & earning money, followed by long fun breaks enjoying what they love doing – from mountaineering to whatever exotic hobby they might be interested in. Many freelancers taking up short-term jobs are and following their hobbies are often ‘transitory types’. I have few freelancer friends who follow this pattern, working on small assignments to earn money and spending rest of the year with their hobbies, ranging from wildlife, travel to various forms of music.

Many of us can broadly identify our type based on the description above. However, James G. S. Clawson has developed a Career Concepts Instrument that could be very useful to find out your own type based on few simple questions. You just need to answer the questions honestly based on your own views about the career, there are no rights or wrongs here, just answer the questions and based on the score of the instrument you can find your dominant concept. Many of us have combination, I happen to Spiral-Expert myself with slightly more inclination towards spiral. This instrument also contains required explanation of all these four types with their associated career graphs plotted on Time Vs. Status-&-Power axis. Here is small excerpt from Mr. Clawson’s article –

Society defines success, typically, in terms of wealth and power. We read about the rich and famous in the newspapers and biographies, and see them in the news and in films. It turns out though, that left to their own devices, people will choose a variety of career paths, only one of which really leads ever upward. Professors Michael Driver and Ken Brousseau of the University of Southern California have identified alternative patterns that people seem to choose.
Driver and Brousseau’s insight with regard to careers and success is that they recognized that not everyone is motivated by power and wealth. Further, not everyone is suited to navigating careers oriented toward power and wealth.

Most people who make hiring & promotion related decisions are not even aware of these career concepts and their role in career success. So they continue to glorify linear career path and continue make poor, often prejudiced decisions for themselves and their organizations. I really hope more and more decision makers & HR professionals become aware of this to allow to them to make better decisions.

You can read complete Career Concepts Instrument here.

This instrument by Mr. Clawson is developed to give quick view of these concepts, if you are really keen and curious about this theory, you can get the full instrument at Decision Dynamics LLC. Once you have taken the test you can read detailed information about these four career concepts from the original paper published by Kenneth Brousseau & Michael Driver. It also gives details about various combinations with typical career options for those types.

Read more about Career Concepts here.

I hope this post and suggested instruments, articles would help you in figuring out more about your own career concept and aspirations.

(The diagram is my quick-n-dirty illustration based on Mr. Clawson’s article)