Wednesday, March 28, 2007

One question: Timothy Butler

I didn't have a clue what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I didn't do much better as a so-called adult, stumbling around careerwise until my mid-30s. The only saving grace was that I was pretty willing to jump off whatever ship I was on and start swimming in another direction whenever wherever I was heading didn't seem fulfilling. And eventually, I got lucky and discovered that writing was right for me.

I could have saved myself a lot of grief and time if I could have read Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler like 30 years in advance of publication. Butler, a Senior Fellow and Director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School, has created the best hands-on guide I've seen to dealing with impasse -- that experience of coming to a dead end in your career or life.

It was actually a relief for me to learn that impasse was such a common experience. But because I've always tended to jump ship when I find myself in that position, I've often wondered if I was making a mistake, that if I had stayed the course I might have achieved some greater success. So, I asked Butler, "How do you tell the difference between an impasse that requires a new path and a bottleneck in a path that you should stay on?" Here's his response:

"Very interesting question. Bottlenecks can be approached and worked-through using the problem solving methods that are currently in our repertoire. When we label something a 'bottleneck' we are implicitly recognizing it as a more or less predictable disruption within the model that we are using to understand our work situation. At times of impasse, there is no recognition. We do not understand what is happening around us. Impasse arrives as a sense that we are not making full sense of our situation. It often arrives first as feelings of frustration, indifference, or self-doubt. What we do not know yet is that we are encountering more than our model, of a work or life situation, can explain. It is then that we can begin the work of the impasse-to-vision cycle."

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