What kind of work is absolutely the best fit for you?
It’s a good question, especially since you’ll likely spend the majority of your adult life doing it.
What are the consequences of doing work that produces a paycheck but doesn’t really offer the challenge and fulfillment you’d like to have?
And how can you even know what the “best fit” is for you?
Jonathan Fields can help.
Drawing on years of research, experimentation, more than 25 million data points generated from more than half a million people and hundreds of deep dive conversations with luminaries from science, art, industry and wellbeing, Fields offers a framework that both energizes and inspires.
He calls it Sparketype.
His new book is SPARKED: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work That Makes You Come Alive.
As we approach (what we hope is) the end of the global pandemic, a reported 25% of the workforce is preparing to look for new work. Yet many don’t understand what type of work makes them feel excited and fulfilled.
SPARKED offers what Fields calls a comprehensive and personalized solution: a set of tools to help identify and understand your unique DNA-level driver of work that’s the very best fit for you.
Rodger Dean Duncan: What process was used to develop the Sparketype Assessment? (research, observation, consulting and coaching experience, etc., etc.)
Jonathan Fields: All the above. While I didn’t realize it, at the time, I’ve been working on the questions and ideas that underly the identification of the Sparketypes and, eventually, Sparketype Assessment, for the better part of two decades. It began with the consuming question, what makes people come alive? Over time, that became focused on work, and I began to ask what elements contribute to the feeling of aliveness or what I call being “Sparked” in the context of effort.
I spent years immersing myself in the study of a wide variety of domains, from positive psychology and social science to philosophy, business, and even theology and spiritually. Inputs included everything from review of thousands of academic studies to my unusual access to hundreds of the world’s leading domain experts, including many primary researchers, to my own experimentation, consulting and more than 500 in-depth interviews that continue to this day.
I began to see patterns and five “sub-states” emerged as the center of this state – being Sparked. I also explored whether there might be an identifiable, mappable set of impulses for work that would elicit this state and began to distill a vast array of surface level expressions or “jobs” into the deeper, more universal impulses for work that makes you come alive. This mapped to ten core impulses. As I explored these impulses with people and teams, I began to see yet another set of common preferences, tendencies, and behaviors that are common among people with different impulses that coalesced into archetypes. I call these Sparketypes®.
In search of even stronger data, I developed the Sparketype Assessment, in part as a tool to help people discover their own Sparketype profiles, and to gather more intel and refine the core concepts. To date, more than 500,000 people have completed the assessment, generating more than 25 milion data points and incredibly powerful stories and validation.
Duncan: How does the Sparketype Assessment differ from the many other methods of profiling a person’s skills, preferences, motivations, and other factors related to behavior and performance?
Fields: There are many wonderful and useful assessments in the marketplace. I developed the Sparketype Assessment because none of them answered the very specific question I had—what is the deeper impulse for work that makes you come alive, regardless of skill, passion, personality, strength, social and relational orientation, or any other measure? The other existing assessments tend to focus either on a broader set of metrics, like personality, relational styles, roles, affect, potential, unique skills, gifts/talents, character traits, etc.
These all matter. But the Sparketypes are more granular. They help you understand your deepest impulse of effort. This is incredibly beneficial in everything from motivation, engagement, and leadership to the personal experience of meaning, purpose, and flow. I see the Sparketypes as being a powerful complement to these other bodies of work. They answer different pieces of the self-awareness puzzle and, in doing so, allow us to both know ourselves more fully, and make better decisions.
Duncan: As you continue to accumulate the massive database of information on people’s perspectives about themselves, what fresh insights are you gaining about human behavior?
Fields: One big insight is, of course, that we all have these deeper impulses to exert effort for no other reason than the way it makes us feel, and our desire to feel more of it. It’s not the fact that work can be hard that makes people not want to do it. It’s that it’s hard and it doesn’t align well with the type of work that gives them back exponentially more than the effort takes. When your work aligns well with your Sparketype, hard work takes on a far more positive and nourishing construct. When your work is misaligned with your Sparketype, you can change almost everything else, and even try to “skill your way” to happiness, meaning, purpose and joy, but you’ll likely never get to a place where it’s more innately nourishing than it is emptying.
A second insight builds on this. We don’t hate work. We hate misaligned work. We will actively seek out work that is hard, but that also fills us with meaning, drops us into flow, energizes and excites us, lets us express ourselves, and gives us a sense of purpose. At the same time, we’ll actively run from hard work—intense, sustained effort—that does the opposite.
Put another way, the fastest path to motivation, at least in part, isn’t carrots and sticks, it’s aligning your effort with your impulse for work that makes you come alive—your Sparketype.
Duncan: Of the ten Sparketypes you’ve identified, which ones seem to be most closely or most frequently associated with effective leadership—or is it totally situational?
Fields: Great question, one I’m asked a lot. Especially by those in leadership and hiring positions. Problem is, the underlying assumptions—that specific Sparketypes are associated with leadership—doesn’t bear out. Sure, one of the ten Sparketypes is the Warrior, whose impulse is to gather, organize, and lead. But truth is, leadership in the modern domain of business benefits from the application of any and all of the ten types. The other nine tend to inform “from where” you might most effectively lead, and how you might approach leadership in a way that fills, rather than empties you.
For example, one Sparketype is the Nurturer. The Nurturer is called to lift others up, to elevate then, to give care. They are often deeply empathic, meaning they see and, to a certain extent, feel the emotions, struggle, concerns and suffering of others. Properly bounded and tapped, this capacity, along with the impulse to life people up, can be a stunningly powerful way to step into a leadership role. Same goes for pretty much all ten Sparketypes. So, it’s less about who is better suited to leadership and more about how each type might approach leadership to both come more fully alive, on a personal level, and also activate the same in those they seek to lead.
Duncan: What if a person has one Primary Sparketype but wishes to expand his capacity by cultivating the characteristics of additional Sparketypes or domains? How can that be done?
Fields: Anyone can learn the skills associated with any given type of effort. You can become more competent and accomplished, even rise to the level of mastery. This may help you feel a sense of personal growth and progress in relation to an impulse that isn’t innately something you wake up in the morning yearning to embrace. Indeed, many people will need to do this, because rare is the job description that ticks only boxes that are 100% aligned with your Sparketype. We’ll all find ourselves being asked and tasked with doing things that lie outside the work we feel called to do.
As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had to do nearly every job, many times over, until we’d reached a level where the company was resourced enough to begin delegating the things that emptied me out to others whose Sparketypes were far more aligned. Still, while getting skilled at work that lies outside the domain of your Sparketype may make it a lighter lift, or more tolerable, I’ve not yet been convinced that competence will rise to the level of satisfaction that would match the feeling you get from doing more truly Sparked work. This is especially true in the case of work that falls squarely within the realm of your AntiSparketype, which is the work that most readily empties you out, takes the greatest motivation, and requires the greatest recovery.
Duncan: In what ways has the Covid pandemic affected people’s introspection into what they really want from life in general and from work in particular?
Fields: People are waking up to the reality that the bargain they made over the last five, ten, 15, or 20 years is not the bargain they are okay continuing to make for the rest of their working lives. Money matters, security matters, but so does meaning, excitement, purpose, and possibility. What has been seen by many as a “Millennial problem” for the last decade has now blossomed into full-scale, society-wide existential questioning, along with a profound shift in expectations and demands about what work gives us. Turns out, it was never actually a problem, but rather the seeds of an awakening.
We are in the midst of a reckoning that’s been a longtime coming. Whether you’re looking to leave, feel compelled to stay or are unable to leave for any number of very valid reasons, the moment for reimagining is now. The level of system-wide, organizational, and cultural disruption has created a window for transformation that we haven’t seen in generations. And it will close as fast as it’s opened.
The big question now—what will we do with it? Embrace the future and step into a space of increased possibility, meaning, flow, excitement, and purpose? Or retreat, and see how much longer we can duct-tape together, and ride out an increasingly embattled model of work as sustenance, nothing more, nothing less?
We may not have asked for this level of disruption. But it’s here. So, what’ll we do with that? On an individual level, an organizational level, and a societal level? How we answer this question—how we respond to this moment—is everything.
This column was first published by Forbes, where Dr. Duncan is a regular contributor.