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The Era of Disruption

The language of jarring change is all around us—from dramatic start-ups in the emerging sharing economy, to risks associated with the tech bubble, to a political climate steeped in the language of shock value. And this language has found its way into our own vocabulary as career services and recruiting practitioners. Just binge watch your way through the early seasons of Mike Judge’s HBO comedy, Silicon Valley, and you can count the words that have quietly, sometimes noisily, found voice in our lexicon in the last five years.

The Rise of the Logophile

I love words. I am one who sits in jargon-packed meetings and ponders when and how these spoken delicacies became so ubiquitous. For instance, when did we stop chatting with people and start engaging with them? Have we really overcome our institutional silos by circling back with one another? When did we start soft peddling our reactions to other points of view with odd phrases like Yea no (so which is it, yes or no?) and I don’t disagree with you (it doesn’t sound much like you DO agree with me at all, also known as Wait. What?). Our day-to-day workplace actions have become more kinesthetic. For instance, we now reach out to people. We network by grabbing a cup of coffee together. We change our psychological direction by pivoting. We speak knowingly of big data, analytics, and machine learning. We power through our days, our tracking devices faithfully monitoring our every step because we might feel a sense of failure if not maximizing our energy and multitasking our responsibilities. Oh, and we maximize and multitask with intentionality. Thankfully, the yogis in our lives remind us that we need to be mindful.

Really cool high-impact words that imply, “Do over!” and “Let’s break this!” and “Intentional collision” whirl around us and inform our work as amazing and awesome career services practitioners (two A-words I’d like to put on holiday for a good long rest). Humorist Bill Bryson does a masterful job of explaining the nuance of the English Language in his book, The Mother Tongue.

But Why Have We Adopted Disruption?

To answer this I need to introduce you to my latest fixation on Audible, journalist Thomas Freedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. For Freedman, it’s no wonder we have gotten hooked on the language of quick pivots. He reminds us of Moore’s Law, a theory devised by a Cal Tech graduate turned Intel engineer who determined that the power of microchips have doubled since they were first developed in 1971. Today’s 6th generation processor offers 3500 times more performance, is 90,000 times more efficient, and is 60,000 times lower in cost. To drive home the impact of Moore’s Law, Freedman uses the example of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle, a utilitarian everyman’s vehicle that if affected by Moore’s doubling philosophy would travel along the freeway at 300,000 miles per hour, would get 2 million miles per gallon, and would cost a modest 4 cents!

It’s All in Our Hands

But that thought provoking parallel doesn’t explain today’s explosion in disruptive language. To understand this phenomenon, Freedman takes us to a key moment in our recent history. The year was 2007 and for the first time the culmination of Moore’s Law could be held in our hands, in the form of a device once so exotic, so fast, and so remarkable, the iPhone. Think about what you and I can do on the fly today that we couldn’t prior to the wide sweep of instant intelligence made available to us in our handheld smart phones. Of course, our Millennials and the rising iGeneration grew up with fast technology. They can swipe and click their way to relevant information in seconds. But once they are in college, can they swipe and click a satisfying post-graduate future, one that utilizes their major, plays on their skills and passions, pays down on their college debt, and pleases their families?

Managing Today’s Career Services Narrative

The professional outcomes we stand for as career services practitioners operate under an intense spotlight, one that has exposed our good works and grand aspirations, and at the same time, though some will debate this, one that has surfaced our slow-moving systems, dated practices, and resistance to say farewell to a bygone era of service delivery and a generation that graduated long ago. The subjects of the employability of the college graduate and the return on investment of higher education have never been more researched and debated than they are today. From campus task forces, to association conferences and journals, to legislative priorities in Washington, the value proposition offered by thousands of colleges and universities is of keen interest campus administrators, state and federal government legislators, parents, alumni, and most especially, those smart phone-swiping and clicking students for whom Moore’s Law is no big thing.

So what are we doing about that bright light that is illuminating and heating up our work? We are disrupting! We are painting on a fresh canvas, design thinking the future value we intend to add to the student experience. Our language is following suit, as we tell stories of student success that connect strategically the often meandering process of career development to real, data-driven, concrete outcomes that drive the narrative of not only our offices and centers, but of our admission, alumni, advancement, and faculty colleagues.

How shall we begin to disrupt?

If you venture a ride in the Volkswagen Beetle of today in your career operation, consider the following:

  1. Spend extra time with both the main users of your services and non-users you would like to attract, and listen deeply to how they desire to be served.

  2. Identify events and services that need a happy funeral. Create a ritual to celebrate the impact they have made through the years and recognize their significance in the history of your operation.

  3. Bring in the fresh, baggage-free perspective of outside thought-leaders to help your organization understand how to implement something new.

  4. Perform an overall assessment of your narrative, and question its relevance with fresh eyes.

Join us in June for More on Disruption

Interested in learning more about the language of disruption in career services? I’ll be joined in Las Vegas in June at NACE 17 by some big thinkers as we unpack how bold language is changing our profession. The session is entitled Pivot or Persist! The Language and Practice of Disruption in Career Services, and it will feature a panel of disrupters: Jeremy Podany, Robin Darmon, Eileen McGarry, and Stan Inman. And yes, they are awesome and amazing.

By the way, among the memorable words for 2016 that was identified by a NPR editor is the word unhinged. Enough said.

Andy Ceperley is a proud Logophile and Principal of Andrew T. Ceperley LLC, a consulting firm providing a variety of coaching, assessment, and strategic positioning services to organizations seeking to strengthen the connection between college life and the increasingly global post-graduate world of work and service. He also serves as the Director of Claremont McKenna College’s Silicon Valley Program, an innovative semester-long academic and experiential education opportunity for liberal arts students wishing to pursue careers in innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Andy is a past president of NACE. He lives in the heart of Silicon Valley with his beloved of 23 years, Skip Horne, and their entitled yet cuddly cat, Dolly Kensington. All three of them zip down to their get-away in Palm Springs as often as they can to take a break from Disruption—it can be exhausting.

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