I'd rather be a nomad than a rock

The world of the office is a new desert, writes Roger Trapp
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The Independent Online
To many onlookers - not to mention participants - the post-recessionary workplace must look a lot like a desert. Those organisations that survived the downturn of the early years of this decade have since been re-engineered, delayered and flattened almost to oblivion.

But, according to the authors of a book published today, there is another sense in which the world of work resembles a desert. Based on observations at a large multinational, they have identified four objects associated with deserts to illustrate the different sorts of people in modern organisations.

Career Paths for the 21st Century (Century, pounds 12.99) is the latest in a pile of books that have appeared in recent months with the claim of telling an increasingly frantic workforce - as the subtitle puts it - "How to beat job insecurity". As such, it does not have much more to offer than yet another trotting out of the somewhat dreary "no more jobs for life, take control of your own career" message and a few encouraging words from people who have found fulfilment through jumping around between and with employers. But the authors, Jim Durcan and David Oates, could well have differentiated themselves from the rest of the shelf by introducing the "which category do you fit?" gimmick. Anyone who has ever attended even the most basic business school programme knows how difficult it is to resist putting yourself and your peers into neat little pigeonholes dreamed up by psychologists.

So, here goes. Are you a palm tree, a nomad, a rock or a camel? More astute readers will have noticed that there are four categories, thus allowing the concept to fit neatly into the management consultant's favourite tool, the two-by-two matrix. Needless to say, two of the categories are "better" than the other two and one is best of all.

Palm trees, it says here, were "willing to take charge of their careers", to develop themselves and look for opportunities, but were "self-constrained" by a chosen inflexibility. They resembled palm trees that stay close to an oasis and put down deep roots. In some cases, the roots reflected a strong sense of professionalism that tied them to a situation; in others it was more about an overwhelming preference for remaining in a particular location. Whatever, their route upwards was narrow.

Rocks expected the organisation to develop their careers for them and saw little or no need to develop themselves. They saw experience alone as grounds for advancement, though at the time of the interviews they had enjoyed little progress.

Camels were willing to adapt, but were waiting for the organisation to tell them what to do. In the absence of new instructions, they went on doing what they had always done in the apparent belief that their time would come.

By contrast, the nomads talked and behaved as if they alone were responsible for their careers. They did not accept that their careers had ever plateaued because whenever they felt that a job was no longer developmental they set out to find another one.

They were willing to change function, location, company, or whatever, so long as the move brought a new job.

If you are depressed by the thought of fitting into one of the obviously less well regarded groups, take heart. "Consulting experience suggests that individuals may move between the four groups in response to events in their private lives, their working lives and the career management policies adopted by their employers," write Durcan and Oates.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to escape the notion that among the nomads is the place to be