Convenor Keynote

Convenor Keynote by Lawrence Arnold FRSA at the 2021 Award Presentation for The Australian Career Book Award – hosted by the Royal Society of Arts Oceania

War of the Worlds, or War of the Words

Well … it’s been another strange year for anyone trying to ‘manage career and work life’ or for managing any kind of life. Our work life is influenced by external events and external thoughts – despite how independent we like to be. In May, I made the rational decision to get vaccinated, but it took another month for my psyche to catch up and register full commitment. In June, to beat the crowds I chose the coldest, wettest day and headed into the Vaccination Centre in the CBD. My journey in was like a bleak scene from War of the Worlds. As I walked along the river, masked people scurried about with shopping bags full of beyond date crisps and rusting tins of soup. At one stage I thought I could hear the metallic clang of the robot dogs running them down, but it was only a distant tram crossing a distant intersection.

The external pysche weighs on you, and I realised I’d become a bit apprehensive. The vaccination process was perfect, and I was out in 45 minutes – including that 15 minutes at the end sitting in the naughty chair. The system worked well, and the staff had practised how to jolly the nervous customers along. While I was standing in the queue, a nurse in scrubs and mask came out on his break and started playing his accordian for the crowd. His play list was romantic songs from the 1950s, and he turned an apprehensive day into a joyous one because my IQ was in sync with my PsychQ, and they were both in sync with the musicQ. I like to see good systems operating efficiently, and I like it even more when people are so confident in their systems that they can let their voice burst out and transfer that confidence to others. That’s just what our twelve writers have done with their books this year. In our real War of the Worlds, their words are leading their readers to find their solutions to their career problems, and move on with confidence to manage their career and work life in their difficult times.

This year’s books cut across the genres and deal differently with ‘the external-world situation’. There are a number of ‘how-to’ books, as you’d expect with a career writing competition. There are also specific sector books, lifestyle books, and thought leadership books. They each develop an internal system, and are at their best when the unique voice of the writer breaks out to show personality and values, just like a musical nurse at a vaccination centre.

There are traditional expectations of a ‘how-to’ book, but I’m always surprised at how different they all are! In these books, there’s usually some form of reader self-assessment, some form of skills analysis, some form of career skills building, and some form of analysis of the external career environment. Our Award is based on the 5Rs – readable, reachable, reliable, relevant, and researched, so we’re on the alert for some research-based system that organises the presentation of ideas to the reader. Then there’s ‘The Voice’ that takes the reader on the journey.

The awarded book this year has ‘Voice’ and ‘Research’ – spirit and soul, and I’m happy to announce that the awarded book for The Australian Career Book Award 2021 is

How to get a job you love by John Lees.

Congratulations to John for having written an outstanding book highly relevant for Australian work and employment issues.

During the assessment period, as the Award Committee scores started coming in I could see why they regarded this book so highly. I had read it over a particularly bleak and rainy lockdown weekend, and was surprised at how it energised me. On a number of occasions I’d jumped up to debate key points with the fireplace on issues I deemed crucial for Australian conditions. At first it was a War of the Words until I realised that we were talking the same language, and that this book was genuinely helpful for Australian readers. The book had brought out my voice and that’s what good writers want for their readers. Writers know that collaboration beats compliance every time. John wants readers to gain their voices, not just tick the boxes. As an example, the exercise ‘Revealing your values’ asks you to recall situations where your values have been challenged, and so find out what they really are. John’s approach asks readers to self-define their values and then test this out in remembered situations where some person, some requirement, or some system at work caused visceral discomfort. This process is a formative experience for readers that combines I-Q and Psych-Q. Finding your voice in the contested space of work requires courage and skill – just like a musical nurse at a vaccination centre.

Another formative experience throughout the book is the frequent contribution of other professional voices. They step in to give their perspective on important career issues and processes. One of these guest writers is Julian Childs whose four-page piece Linkedin: Top tips for job searchers educates Australian readers on current online practices and possibilities.

This is a wise how-to book that invites the reader to join the conversation. In John’s book – everyone gets a voice. So … I raise my voice and commend this book to Australian readers to help them manage career and work life.

The Award prize is a 12-month complimentary RSA Fellowship, giving access to all facilities and seminars at RSA House in London. I hope John will participate in these … and deliver some! I’ve often attended sell-out RSA seminars when international authors present the key ideas from their recent books, as I hope John will.

There’s also a classical award medallion that I hope will be presented in RSA House by Mark Strachan RSA Oceania Chair, Philipa Duthie RSA Oceania Director, or me – when safe to do so.

John joins a Think Tank from the past, in the present … and to the future. Some of the great RSA voices from the past include: Benjamin Franklin who raised a voice for his nation; Charles Dickens who re-wrote the novel; Marie Cure who showed us what we can’t see; and Albert Einstein who re-viewed the Universe. I think that John Lees will be at home in the House.

It’s a great honour to congratulate John, and welcome him to the Royal Society of Arts.

Lawrence Arnold, Award Convenor