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The Power of Imagination

24/11/2015 11:40 GMT | Updated 22/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Is your imagination limiting your career? I am a big fan of theatre improv. Once I week, I meet up with other improverts, to play a bunch of theatre games.

What I love about improv is that it stimulate your thinking on your feet. It combines surprise and challenge and generates that wonderful experience you get from being in a choir or a sport team - or being in flow, as a team.

One of the games we play is "This is not...." Let's say Jen picks up a pen. She then tries to come up with an object that it isn't but, with a bit of imagination, could be. And says, "This is not a pen, it's a telescope."

Jen then interacts with the pen as though it were a telescope. Then Saleem takes the pen/telescope acts as though it is a telescope for a moment and then changes its 'designation' once more.

"This is not a telescope, it's a tightrope!" He then proceeds to walk carefully along the world's smallest tightrope. Players have to use their divergent thinking skills, the creative part of their brain, to re-imagine the object as something new.

This strikes me as a similar experience to when I am working with my clients on re-imagining their careers. To do so successfully, we have to be able to look at their 'pen' of skills and imagine transferring these into a different environment.

This can be hard because we are still trained to name our profession and to identify with it. Lawyer. Librarian. Retail store manager. Marketeer. Consultant. Doctor. These labels are great shorthand in response to the standard question of "what do you do" but for individuals seeking a new way of living and working they can be unnecessarily self limiting.

Let's take the information professionals I work with in academic libraries. These individuals are extremely well qualified. They often have masters degrees in information management.

Their transferable skills include sophisticated data collection, project management, auditing, coordinating, linear thinking.

They manage people, have extensive customer service skills and are great researchers.All of these skills lend themselves to many other information, knowledge management and systems management roles.

These skills could even transfer over to strategy, or operations or project management. But if these talented individuals cannot see beyond the label of 'librarian' these options to port their skills into new worlds, will be hidden from them.

So, if you are thinking about a career shift in the new year, might I suggest turning it into an improv game?

Take out a sheet of paper, or set up a voice memo on your phone. Say or write your professional title e.g. I am a librarian! I am an event manager.

Make a list of the skills and attributes that go into you being successful in that professional role.

Take a fresh look at this list of skills. Forget it's you for a moment and ask yourself, where might I find someone with this skill set if they were in a different work environment, following a different routine or in a different location or sector?

And complete the sentence "These skills mean I am not a insert your job role here) I am an ( insert new option).

The ability to think divergently is a key factor for making the switch. Once you see where your skills could be useful in a different context, it becomes more believable that the switch is possible. Though Saleem's tiny tightrope might not convince us all, if we can suspend our disbelief, we can open up new neural pathways and find a new way of seeing and doing.

So over to you - what transferable skills do you bring and where could you re-imagine them?