Survival of the fittest

20 Mar

We're living in interesting times. I'm mid-way through a series of visits to students out on their placement year and I've noticed some links to evolutionary theory and systems theory.

The following is a generic and simplified picture based on several individuals and various different organisations. Nor are these points fixed: I've observed a student moving from one position to the other during the year.

Closed system students
These tend to take a self-centred view of their placement year. 'It's all about me: my role, my aspirations, my portfolio'. They are focused, confident and assertive, and in the good times would probably be the first to succeed. But these are not good times, and their lack of awareness of the environment facing their employers (and their clients) can pose problems.

The tutor's role is to introduce a note of realism and to point out the dangers of having fixed ambitions in changing circumstances. These students need help seeing the bigger picture and recognising that their best long-term interest may be to get their heads down and show some adaptability. They often find this hard to to as it's at variance with their fixed view of their skills and capabilities.

Open system students
These students are outwardly much less confident of their abilities and have a more flexible view of their role in the placement organisation. This is proving useful in the current climate as they are capable of moving between roles: between pure public relations and marketing, admin, sales, or design activities.

In other words, they exhibit an ability to adapt to their environments – a good survival strategy.

The challenge facing the tutor is to help build their confidence since they lack a fixed view of their core competences. They also need help making the connection between their degree course (public relations) and the wider business role they're performing during their placement.

3 Responses to “Survival of the fittest”

  1. Heather Yaxley 22/03/2009 at 4:13 pm #

    Interesting observations Richard. I graduated in the early 1980s when it was tough to get a job and it was only by being flexible and developing transferable skills that I was able to start work at all. I took an RSA qualification for personal assistants – which taught me practical skills like touch typing and knowledge in areas such as business management. I was also lucky to gain work experience – at Pergamon Press in Oxford, which led to a job offer. I didn’t take that up, but it did give me confidence – by temping and learning new skills in various jobs, I eventually found my way into PR. Sometimes the ultimate destination isn’t the most straight-forward route. In life you take the fast motorway route, but you may miss out on the scenery, opportunities and enjoyment that comes with a journey that is less focused.

  2. Richard Bailey 23/03/2009 at 9:29 am #

    Like Heather, I’ve always taken the back roads rather than the motorways (though I never came as close to working for Bob Maxwell, despite living and working in Oxford through most of the 1980s and 1990s).

  3. DeborahPRblog 12/04/2009 at 3:57 pm #

    I wonder if there is some relevance to interim working too?
    A successful interm seems to have to succeed by being open and flexible to new environments, but to bring with them a ‘shopping bag’ of experience and techniques to apply.

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