chaotic thoughts on employment counselling

another live blog from the career management conference!

glenn olien works in employment/career counselling in the construction industry

warning: aptly, since this is about chaos theory in counselling, these notes will be somewhat chaotic, more than the two live blogs before. kind of like twitter on a blog 🙂

questions to be discussed: why do people fall into the pit of unemployment?

he also kept asking, “who gets a good job? who doesn’t? why not?”

he was a funding officer for a while. he figured that a program that helps people with employment would work “if they loved the participants”

career counselling and chaos theory: why does the marble attract employment, why does it resist employment?

supported work model in nelson: people with serious mental health issues were helped to get a job, they loved their jobs so much they had to be told not to work saturdays

(i love how he keeps saying, “then i was REALLY confused”)

glenn olien is the author of the unified employment theory

he worked with a chaos and complexity advisor to further explore his ideas

“i wrote thousands of words and threw them all away”

now it’s all in one sentence:

all human potential for change can be represented by a fractal object with 33 parts

his theory is used in all kinds of different environments – eg unified famliy transitions theory


all his work is about tools of the imagination; it’s magical

research: people who go through a 2-week program that uses this approach were 300 percent more effective

unemployment can be seen as a failure to imagine

“every bad job i’ve gotten i’ve job searched”

“you can’t be an expert on a mystery” – “i’m not an expert, i just help people with their imagination”

the alchemy of drawing a line between now and the future: it CHANGES your future

chaos scientists are finding that if you deal with genuine complexity, no matter how much knowledge you have, the best thing you can do is use your imagination


fractals generate all the complexity in our lives. those objects which are not fractals can be fixed. that’s why we can’t fix people

fractals: if you look at something and look at it closer and closer, you keep seeing the same patterns again and again

everything that’s controllable is based on euclidian geometry; that’s the stuff that is completely predictable

examples of fractals in the human body: veins keep on branching and branching and branching in the same way

a fractal is the signature left behind from complexity

in employment: our employment patterns follow the same structures

a company is a fractal made up of its employees (the health, education, etc. of its employees)

if you change one part of something, for example the education of an employee, you change the whole thing – that’s the butterfly effect

as counsellors, when we say something small to a client, it can have a huge effect

big effort, no change …. big effort, little change …. big effort, large change
small effort, no change …. small effort, little change …. small effort, large change

–> all these are possible. often hard to predict

big effort, no change – it’s because wenow we”re complex; we may look at doing X to produce Y, doing a lot of X to produce why – but there may be other areas in our complexity (like A, G and M) that hinder the effort

information can be fractaled

after the break: now we’re on to trying out his theory, using this site

we’re asked to think of a dream job and use the tool.  i’m using the online tool which is specifically designed for construction workers.  one of my dream jobs is corporate philosopher.  that’s kind of amusing.

his theory is very much centered around getting support.   eg getting support from friends in finding a job.  thinking: what is the general pattern of a person’s supports?  how does that pattern propagate through all the different aspects of those supports?  (e.g. is the way you look for help from family similar to the way you look for help from friends?)

“now”, he says, “comes the magic part”.  first we look at all the 33 parts of the employment fractal and see where we already HAVE what we need.  then we look at what we want to improve.  the actual action of visually representing for ourselves is magical – “it’s amazing,” he says, “to see what happens when you do nothing but fill in the assessment, put it away, and then go back to it a month later – chances are you’ll have gotten closer to where you want to be.” this activity can be the butterfly effect.

he also has ways of creating action plans from this.

this is the practical part.  i want to hear more about how all of this ties in to chaos and complexity!  will we have time to talk about that?


  1. Well,

    One employee changing I find makes distressingly little difference to many a workplace. The employees are not fractals of the company – they are far more than the whole of the company (less in another sense). If you look at people closer and closer you don’t see their workplace.

    Complexity is unpredictable (due to delay and feedback mechanisms) – claiming predictable results for this seems contradictory.

    There are other systems of controllability and predictability than Euclidean. There are a number of geometries all yielding verifiable predictions. Even quantum physics yields fantastically accurate predictions.

    Having said which I really like his emphasis on imagination and support. And working from a magical space. Employment couselling is so dull and usually about fitting individuals into an insane world.

  2. well, this is interesting. i have to say that when i made these notes i thought oh boy, WHO would want to read that?!? tickled that there are at least 5 of you out there 🙂

    @sarah, the main conclusion that i came to so far is that i absolutely HAVE to spend some time with glenn olien when i’m in kelowna next (that’s where he lives)

    @evan well, it’s not as if EVERY butterfly wing flicker changes a whole climate – but at least in a negative sense, i’ve seen that happen many a time. you’ve got one difficult staff member and things start going downhill.

    saying that an employee is a fractal of a company is, of course, an oversimplification (i was just catching these notes as the ideas came flying at me). however, there is something to it. e.g., i could never work in an organization where i was bullied. that is not part of my fractal work pattern.

    employment counselling does not have to be dull – this conference certainly emphasized that! (e.g. another session i went to was on the use of music in career counselling) but yes, i know what you mean. a lot of “professionals with sensible shoes” as i like to put it 🙂

    @nancy, thanks! trippy? oh, that gives me goosebumps. i LOVE trippy 🙂

    @catatonickid one of the things we were asked to do in the session was to go out in the break and see where in the “real world” we could see fractals.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *