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To get ahead in business, it often helps to be a planner, to be well-organized, to use strategic planning to consider your next move before you make it.

But according to a recent Harvard Business Review blog post by Leonard Schlesinger, Charles Kiefer, and Paul Brown, it can actually be dangerous to make career development plans. Basically, the authors are concerned that the standard job interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and similar conversations actually encourages employees to think inside the box.

According to the article, “the question is awful. It assumes the world is going to remain constant between now and then. That is never a good idea.” Basically, engaging in such conversations is a dangerous habit, because our world is changing at such a rapid pace. Employees with the best career development plans are those employees who are flexible and resourceful, who can change course while still moving ahead.

In some fields that are more predictable, then long term strategic planning can be more straightforward, and employees may be able to rely on more standard career development guides that have stood the test of time. However, in many fields, rapid advances in technology and other major changes over short periods of time render traditional career planning unsustainable. As the article reminds us, “increasingly, the world is not this predictable. And it is in settings of high uncertainty where traditional career planning is both a waste of time and potentially dangerous. A career plan can lead you into a false sense of confidence, where you fail to see opportunities as they arise and miss taking smart steps you otherwise hadn’t planned for.”

In essence, traditional career development planning leaves employees powerless to make the changes they need to make. Fortunately, there is an alternative suggested by Schlesinger, Kiefer, and Brown:

“Instead of formulating the logically perfect ending job and the optimal path to get there, begin with a direction, based on a real desire, and complement that with a strategy to discover and create opportunities consistent with that desire. In an uncertain world you can’t even come close to saying what a specific job might be, but you can say what’s valuable and important to you. Who are you? What matters to you? Is it working in a specific industry? Managing people or not? The answers will point you in productive directions.”

So get started today by thinking outside of the box and considering what matters most to you when you consider what your life might be like in five years.

Managing Your Career Development Outside the Box

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