Career Development Association of New Zealand


Te Mōhiotanga

A morning with Kerr Inkson

By: Stephen Taylor

Date: 17 May 2018

Category: Article reviews

Tags: kerr inkson

A morning with Kerr Inkson

It’s almost always a good feeling when you get more than what you pay for.

Such was the case on 10 April at the Auckland Regional CDANZ Breakfast meeting which hosted Emeritus Professor Kerr Inkson from the University of Auckland to talk about….well, whatever attendees wanted to, with topics being chosen from a helpful menu of options.

Consistent with the theme of narrative metaphor and boundary-less career ethos, it was the audience that was invited to co-create and shape the content of the presentation or at the very least inform the delivered content.

After sharing a breakfast that was never, ever going to secure NZ Heart Foundation approval (in other words, the food was fantastic), Inkson then offered up his own smorgasbord: Inkson’s experiential career shaping stories and books that traversed a 76-year period of experience.

From early beginnings grounded in Occupational Psychology in London, then emigrating to New Zealand in 1970 (Otago), followed by a move to Auckland in 1988, Inkson initially shared a number of books he has either contributed to or written within the career development scope, pausing briefly every so often to hand out a brand new book to “anyone who says something interesting”.

CDANZ Auckland now has enough new books to start its own library.

 “Laugh Out Loud”, featured the work of Barbara Plester a research specialist in workplace humour. Inkson asked the audience to consider the appropriate role of workplace humour within the “I was only joking” contextual defence, and the “humour minefield” spectrum which can stretch from “fun” to “risky”.

In “It must be Watties” Inkson summarised the story of Wattle’s from its humble Hawkes Bay beginnings to multinational status as part of the H.J. Heinz Company, a book co-written with Inkson from the perspective of former Watties CEO David Irving. Anchored within the business environment of the Muldoon-era protectionist economy, Inkson described the transition of Watties through the economic waves and subsequent workplace impacts of CER and later, “Rogernomics”.

“Frankie & Johnnie” could perhaps best be described as the original architects of Inksons own career, Frankie (Frances) & Johnny being Inksons mother and father. Inkson considered the role of parental influence, and how retrospective sense-making (a la John Krumboltz) when recalling a career story may only often make sense in hindsight. Inkson shared the significance of three core family values (security + respectability = education) that have so significantly influenced both Inkson and his own family within their own career development narratives.

“Vocational Guidance” examined the early experiences of Inksons career and highlighted the role of chance occurrence and coincidence as part of career development within what was a very limited professional field at the time. The early vocational approach of “Fitting the man to the job & Fitting the job to the man” was succinctly explained by Inkson, and highlighted the assumed rigidity of work types in the early-mid 1960’s, and Inksons own discomfort with such rigidity at the time.

The story “The Lotus Eater” invoked Inksons own experiences of a “sweet time in Dunedin, where I did bugger all really – I got my PhD, and that was about it. I loved Dunedin”. Inkson’s wider implication was to suggest that whilst many may desire a period of life in which they can sit back and relax, appropriate wisdom invites one to consider the where, when, and how in terms of the career cycle and the resources required to sustain such a potentially antithetical lifestyle choice.

Of special significance and a warm source of personal pride for Inkson was contained in the 21st century career story of “Eileen”, which charted the singular determination and ultimate success of Inkson’s daughter and how one can successfully transition within and between career paths that don’t necessarily relate, one to another. Beginning as a law student, Eileen adopted an interest in film-making from a boyfriend. Eileen secured a Chef qualification, for the purpose of having job security whilst travelling (seemingly demonstrating the “security” Inkson core value in play, above). Returning to university to study film-making whilst working in a café kitchen as a chef to save money with which to travel, Eileen headed to the UK and secured a chef role at the BBC on London. Recognising that the leap from chopping vegetables to making documentaries was significant, Eileen bought a computer, and in her own time, set about learning how to use the BBC film-making software. Absent of any administrative or secretarial experience, Eileen nevertheless presented herself to a temping recruitment agency that had the BBC as a client, and registered as a candidate for just this type of work. Junior assignments for Eileen followed, including one week as a “go-for” in the BCC Department of History, which was making “The History of Britain” documentary series at the time. Such was the level of Eileen’s enthusiasm, attention to detail, reliability, and work ethic, Eileen soon imprinted herself as the top choice temp for the BBC History Department, returning numerous times to complete one-off jobs on site. A permanent job offer to Eileen as a BBC Production Co-ordinator was made, followed by roles as a Researcher, Assistant Producer, and then a BBC Producer of documentaries.

Inksons presentation concluded with a revision of Theory K, a publication authored by Inkson which charted the business success of New Zealand companies at the time of release (1986), and Inksons friendship with “Tupper”, a Canadian researcher who headed to New Zealand and affirmed the non-linear progress profiles of typical management careers in his research.

Now THAT was worth the price of admission!

Special thanks must go to CDANZ Auckland Committee member Gabrielle Greer for recently discovering that Kerr Inkson lived locally to her home and who then promptly went and tracked Kerr down to come and present to the CDANZ Auckland Breakfast series.








Stephen Taylor

Stephen Taylor

Stephen Taylor (P.G. Dip. Social Practice, B. Couns, B. Alc. D.S., AMCDANZ) 
Vocational Consultant, Active Plus Ltd