I’ve been thinking about rhizomes for a few years now. On and off, mostly off. However, so far it has mostly been a metaphor to explore or vaguely think about. Then I came across Andrea de Pascual’s Rhizomatic Museum and an article she wrote about invisible pedagogies, and it hit home. What would a rhizomatic careers centre look like? How would it operate? You’ve got to take inspiration when it strikes. Here are a few initial thoughts.

Andrea de Pascual talks about the power-knowledge barrier as an invisible pedagogy, and I think this is prevalent in careers centres. Our workshops are mostly of the instructional kind. One adviser at the front giving a Powerpoint presentation on CVs, applications, interviews (or whatever), with the students as largely passive recipients. I like de Pascual’s idea of having more than one educator at a workshop in order to decentralise people’s attention and (interestingly) to allow multiple viewpoints (even disagreements). We spend a lot of time trying to create a careers centre standpoint (e.g. single Powerpoint presentations to be used by many advisers). Why not allow ideas to be questioned and debated? Also, why do we assume that our students will know nothing about these subjects? We could open things up, get student experience on what worked (or didn’t) for CVs, interviews etc and create a dialogue that everyone can learn from.

In a rhizomatic museum, visitors can add meaning to exhibitions and produce their own knowledge. “We find strategies through which participants and visitors can leave a footprint in the gallery or the museum… We think of the museum as a learning laboratory in which new layers of knowledge are added to pre-existing ones”. Can this be implemented in careers centres? My experience with careers centres (using, visiting and working in) is that they are generally quite stolid and uninspiring. Information rooms have mostly followed a library model where the main aim is to classify and display an array of stuff. However, now that the stuff (files, books, prospectuses) is disappearing it might be time to think of the information room as an exhibition space. More like a gallery or museum.

We can create displays around different careers themes. In a rhizomatic careers centre, however, there should be a way for students to add their own knowledge to these. Interactive workshops/discussions in the centre (rather than in a separate space) based around the displays? Giving space for students to add their own observations and comments within the display or to create their own? In this sense, the displays need to ask questions rather than present facts. They should stimulate discussion.

I’m not naive. I don’t expect a huge rush of students to interact with our centres. Or any at all. However, I think we need to think of new ways to engage with students and make them active participants in their career thinking. For lots of reasons (historical and cultural), many students approach careers centres in a passive way. They might want/expect to be told what to do with their lives, to be placed in a job or to be given a list of resources for [insert obscure career area here]. It can be a shock when they get here and find out they have to do a lot of this for themselves (with advice/information from us for back-up). Some of them won’t come back. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that we need to break through this cultural baggage earlier. Changing our own culture in order to allow student voices to have an equal value to our own could be part of this.

Another could be moving out of our own space to meet students in theirs. The rhizome cannot be contained. In a recent post about learning spaces, Peter Bryant makes the point that learning occurs where people happen to be. Learning spaces can be physical (libraries, cafes, outdoor spaces) or virtual (platforms, devices, in the cloud) or a combination of the two. Wherever “people congregate and share”. He asks how we can understand, engage and support those spaces and how we change our own teaching/learning practices to make the most of them? Stanford University’s Career Development Center has developed a programme of campus meetups around campus and career treks to employers as part of a shift from a transactional to connections model of service delivery. A rhizomatic careers centre knows no boundaries. Part of its remit must be to seek and engage. To listen and learn from students rather than simply talking at them in a different place.

In some small way, maybe we can help students make their own connections, create their own career knowledge and take their own lines of flight into the future.

When I was in Glasgow, doing a Master’s in the late 90s, a flatmate of mine was quite brazen about lying on his CV. He made up qualifications and experience. Even wrote his own references. For him it was about getting where he wanted to be as quickly as possible. He was a clever guy, and a consummate bullshitter, who backed his ability to get away with it. He also spent the first 6 months trying to run a nightclub promotion business from our flat and barely did any academic work. By the time we left, he had got onto another course at a prestigious architecture school in London. He also helped me a great deal with my CV…

Forward 3 years. My year in Glasgow appears on my CV as:

1997-1998  MSc Information and Library Studies
University of Strathclyde - Won John Smith Prize for dissertation

I actually won the John Smith Prize for a dissertation related to publishing (I suspect I was the only entrant), but decided to drop the last  bit. It’s not an outright lie, but it gives a different impression to the reader. Hopefully a better impression.

A CV is purely a vehicle. It is a construct whose single aim is to gain you advantage over somebody else in order to achieve a goal. Curriculum Vitae translates as ‘course of life’, but no employer expects, or wants, to see the course of your life transcribed. They expect (want!) to see how well you can sell the skills/experience you have (or tell them you have). They expect (want?) to see a degree of over-egging your skills/experience. Like my example above, it doesn’t have to involve wholesale invention. Who doesn’t say they have excellent IT skills? The application process does not have rules, but it does have conventions. In other words, there is collusion all round between employers and jobseekers.

A CV is also a fictional construct. Memory is unreliable. As soon as you write it down, you have written only your interpretation of what happened. What you remember is not the actual event but how that event fits into your own view of the world and your experience of it. Facts are slippery, and hard to prove either way. Memory is also selective. You leave stuff out. Stuff that doesn’t fit your picture of how you fit in the world, or that makes you look bad. This is psychological self-defence, but when you are writing your CV it is simply good practice.

In the careers world you are never far away from a blog post or news article warning you about the consequences of lying on your CV. There are high profile cases of people who have been sacked from positions of responsibility because they have lied about their education or experience. In one case it helped convict somebody of murder.

But don’t let that put you off! Accept that your CV is a fiction, that employers expect a level of exaggeration when they look at your CV. It’s a liberating feeling. Maybe, accepting that your CV is a fiction, the use of narrative, storytelling techniques is the next logical step? Find out who will be your boss. Research them online. Create a character that will appeal to them directly. Make them believe in that character. If you succeed, there is a good possibility you might get the job even if you fall short in real life.

My wife was looking to get a job in university administration, in which she had no tangible experience. She lied about her IT skills (while getting emergency Excel training from a friend). In the interview, she had to make a database. She tried to do this using Excel and failed miserably. She got the job. Turned out her new boss was more impressed that she had a First Class degree, when none of the existing admin staff had H.E. qualifications.

Getting a job is not a straightforward, linear process despite how it appears. The best qualified person on paper doesn’t always get the job, whether they have lied or not. Sometimes the lie can be discovered and you still get the job. But cheating does pay. Everybody does it. From small exaggerations to brazen lies. It’s part of the process. There are consequences for some, but for most people it will just result in a new job.

I’ve just looked up my former flatmate on Linkedin. It says he went to Oxford and Cambridge. Maybe he has. Good luck to him.

"But the world itself is not linear. Life stretches out around us, unrelievedly three-dimensional, and our pathways through it are neither straight nor simple. Robert Frost’s two paths were not his only choices. He could have ducked off the path altogether, ignoring the ‘No Trespassing’ signs in the Vermont woods. What is more, the line of our life is full of little loops — from home to work and back, upstairs and downstairs again, tossing back and forth in our beds. We fairly hum with movements that don’t go anywhere except back to where we just were."
"One of their keen innovations is that the signs are formatted in “heads-up mapping,” meaning that they are oriented the way a person is looking. Rather than putting north at the top, what is in front of map readers is at the top, what is behind them is at the bottom."

I wonder if careers information could do with more “heads-up mapping”? Do we require people to orientate themselves too much to the information, rather than point them to stuff that is appropriate to the way they are facing?

Lost City of New York: New Sleek DOT Signs Help Pedestrians Find Their Way | Observer

Getting lost is the only way to find your own path…

Getting Lost (by Marco Bagni - LostConversation)

Embracing Uncertainty - Rhizomatic learning (by davecormier)

Like the idea of rhizomatic learning as moving away from the quest for right and wrong answers towards looking at making decisions where there is no definitive answer.

Sounds like a good basis for career thinking

I was idly googling for map metaphors last summer when I came across Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome concept. Specifically, regarding the principle of cartography relating to it.

The map is open and connectable in all its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation.

I knew nothing about Deleuze and Guattari or what a rhizome was, but their notion of maps struck a chord somehow. The idea of connectivity at every point and constant movement. It also resonated with other books on maps that I had been reading (You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination  by Katharine Harmon, Maps of the Imagination: the Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi and A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit). Reading more about the rhizome concept, it also ties in with the chaos theory of careers in a number of ways. The emphasis on non-linearity, open systems and complexity makes me think it is a metaphor worth exploring further.

Educationalists such as Dave Cormier and Keith Hamon have been exploring the practical application of the rhizome idea in teaching and learning contexts and have been blogging about this for a number of years. Their blogs have been invaluable in my attempt to get my head around Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas. My first attempt to read the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, where the rhizome concept is explored, lead to bafflement more than anything. I haven’t read any academic writing for a long time, but it felt like a new language. I knew the words (well most of them), but could make no sense of them. That’s French philosophy for you, too, I guess. However, as I persevered, I started to tune in to the language more. I can’t say still that I get everything, but think I’m starting to get the gist. And I think there may be some useful connections between the rhizome and the world of careers/information.

First some basics. Here are the principles of the rhizome as set out by Deleuze and Guattari:

  • Connection and Heterogeneity
  • Multiplicity
  • Asignifying rupture
  • Cartography and Decalcomania

And some initial thoughts. I’m all for connections: creating links from different aspects of your life or creating links between different resources. Part of the mapping process is to look for, and create meaning from, those connections. The rhizome idea also seems to encourage creative exploration. This can/should occur in any aspect of life simultaneously.

One of the most interesting ideas is that of the asignifying rupture. Breaks can happen in a rhizome at any point. This may be due to external blockages or obstructions (rather like I was looking at in previous posts). There will always be a line of flight or escape route. Constant movement. It also emphasises the relationship with the outside world. The rhizome exists in a context. In careers terms this will be social, economic and cultural amongst other things. In information it could be technology, alternative resources, the information literacy of users. The relationship is dynamic and changing.

Deleuze and Guattari also talk about nomads, I guess as the human equivalent to a rhizome. This notion ties in very nicely with Katharine Brooks’ wise wandering system from You Majored in What?, too. It also makes me want to be an Information Nomad, but that’s another matter.

There’s lots to think about. I hope to explore this further, as creatively as I can…

"The brain is an instantaneous probability statement generator!"
Bite-sized Brain Food - Ange Lobue, MD, MPH, BSPharm

This ties in with my previous post, I think, about making loads of micro decisions every day. I like the idea that we hold all these possibilities in parallel at any one time, some of which may conflict with each other. The smallest things may tip a decision into being made. This also fits with chaos theory and the idea of the butterfly effect.

I’m fascinated by the way people move through the landscape. Most of the time our paths are delineated for us. We have roads, pavements and signage to help us find our way. And yet. And yet… as the research on the psychology of wayfinding showed, people don’t even follow their own directions. Even when the paths are clear, we find different ways to navigate them. Things may change, depending on circumstances, mood, weather or a whole host of other factors.

Things get even more interesting when blocks are put in our way (or removed). We move through space like water. Routes have been cut for us and generally we follow them. When something blocks our way, we try to go round it. If there is a traffic jam on a main road, some cars will spill off down any available side roads to form rat runs. Trying to continue their journeys.

Sometimes barriers are removed. This opens up new options. New directions of travel. For a period over the summer, on the campus where I work, part of a small, foot-high fence next to a walkway was removed. Almost instantaneously, people were moving through that gap onto the grass, as it provided a slightly shorter route to the main part of campus. As soon as the fencing was replaced, we returned to following the paved path once again. The fence is only a foot high. You could hop over it without much trouble. The mere fact of it being there (or not being there) changed how we navigated the landscape in front of us.

My feeling is that most people live their lives based on what’s in front of them. We make hundreds of micro decisions every day (not even recognising them as decisions for the most part) that govern how we get around. Every journey we take is different, no matter how familiar we are with that journey.

I wonder if this relates to how we navigate careers ideas and our information seeking. We may drift through life a lot of the time, but there is always the possibility that a micro-decision, made at any point, could send us in a new direction. Or make us think about our current direction in a new light. It might be an obstacle in our path, or an obstacle being removed. Something that makes us approach things from a new angle. We may end up back on the same road, or we could vere off somewhere else.

Every day is different. Every day is a new journey. Anything could happen.