Fields, J. (2021). Sparked: Discover your unique imprint for the work that makes you come alive. HarperCollins. 289 pages.
The early 2020s will be remembered as a time of uncertainty, disillusionment, and instability. The Covid-19 pandemic and worldwide social, financial, and political inequity have changed nearly every aspect of our lives (Aarts et al., 2021; Brunetto et al., 2021; CCSA, 2020). The “Great Resignation” resulted in millions of workers leaving (or losing) their positions and invited conversations about every aspect of work, from concerns about compensation, safety, and equity, to explorations of meaning and purpose (Cech, 2021; Kelly, 2020; Tharoor, 2021).
This is the context into which Jonathan Fields' 2021 book Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive, was released. Fields is an entrepreneur, producer and author of several books and a popular podcast (Fields, 2022; Good Life Project, 2022). The explicit goal of the book is to help readers find meaning and joy by pursuing work that aligns with what Fields calls their “Sparketype” – a dimension of personality that captures the type of work an individual finds engaging.
The Sparketype Model
Fields begins the book by invoking the problem of the moment: disengagement with work. His solution is an assessment that identifies early affinities for “work that makes us come alive” (2021, p. 3). With the Sparketype model, each individual has a Primary Sparketype – which, when engaged, provides energy, motivation and purpose; a Shadow Sparketype – an affinity that provides support for the primary motivator; and an Anti-Sparketype, which represents the type of work that feels most draining and produces a feeling of emptiness. Fields encourages test-takers to embrace their Primary and Shadow Sparketypes as collaborators, while avoiding work that involves the Anti-Sparketype.
Fields includes descriptions of each Sparketype, individual stories, and guidance on maximizing one’s awareness of Sparketype to increase engagement with their work: “Coming from a place of increasing alignment and agency now, you start to hold yourself differently, operate differently, work differently, take on different things that increasingly Spark you” (2021, p. 231).
What Can we Learn from Sparketype?
Personality and career assessments proliferate in a wide variety of settings and have long been used for career matching (Lowman, 2022). The premise underlying these assessments suggests that personality represents a set of lifelong tendencies that can be assessed to create work alignment (Rottinghaus et al., 2020). Fields draws on this premise in Sparked.
The primary, shadow, and anti-type format harkens back to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Holland Code, and other assessments that emphasize the order of results and potential limitations inherent in each type. A three-part result offers simplicity, while allowing for a variety of possible permutations of the 10 Sparketypes. In this way, the assessment is easy to digest and offers accessibility for users without any prior knowledge. Sparked offers simple and accessible descriptions of each Sparketype, including mottos and icons to help the reader grasp the concepts.
One intriguing contribution of the model is its focus on the core motivations underlying behavior, rather than on tasks or behaviors themselves. This allows readers to apply their results to nearly any type of work, focusing more on the how and why of work, rather than the what. Sparketype won’t tell you to be an actor, for instance, but rather to embrace any type of work that allows you to energize an audience.
This may be especially relevant in our changing economy, where titles and modalities of work are more fluid than ever. Fields also references other popular understandings of personality in Sparked, describing, for example, how certain Sparketypes might express themselves as Introverts or Extraverts. This nod to Myers-Briggs and the OCEAN model of personality offers useful context for readers familiar with these assessments (Rottinghaus et al., 2020).
Points to Consider
One significant limitation can be found in the Sparketype assessment itself, which has not (at the time of this writing) reported any metrics for reliability or validity. In addition to the lack of evidence of accuracy, the ten Sparketypes themselves seem to lack a certain breadth. Learning, creation, nurturing, advocacy, problem-solving, advising, performing, distilling, organizing, and gathering represent several important facets of work. However, workers in more tangible or technical disciplines may not find themselves represented in these types.
Contemporary career theorists, such as Erin Cech in her 2021 book, The trouble with passion: How searching for fulfillment at work fosters inequality, have critiqued individualized approaches to career satisfaction, pointing out the powerful impacts of circumstantial, equity, and systemic factors. Fields does acknowledge the wider world of work and how each Sparketype may be valued differently by employers. Yet he pays little attention to systemic inequality, identity, or culture. This oversimplification of solving the problem of disengagement - purely through the pursuit of self-knowledge-leaves a great deal out of the conversation.
Guiding the Modern Worker
Despite these limitations, Fields’ call for a more engaging, transferable model to guide modern workers in their pursuit of work is timely. With many feeling drained and disillusioned with our professional landscape, there is room for an assessment that offers to renew our commitment to joy and purpose. This tool might be especially useful to higher education career practitioners and counselors to supplement more research-supported instruments in leading clients through a broader conversation about energy and engagement. Clients and students pursuing careers in the service sector, business, and the arts may benefit most from Sparketype.
Aarts, E. H. L., Fleuren, H., Sitskoorn, M., & Wilthagen, A. C. J. M. (2021). The new common: How the Covid-19 pandemic is transforming society. Springer.
Brunetto, Y., Saheli, N., Dick, T., & Nelson, S. (2021). Psychosocial safety climate, psychological capital, healthcare slbs’ wellbeing and innovative behaviour during the covid-19 pandemic. Public Performance & Management Review, 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/15309576.2021.1918189
Cech, E. (2021). The trouble with passion: How searching for fulfillment at work fosters inequality. University of California.
Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities [CCSA]. (2020). How Covid-19 is changing the world: A statistical perspective [Report]. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33773
Fields, J. (2021). Sparked: Discover your unique imprint for the work that makes you come alive. HarperCollins.
Fields, J. (2022). About Jonathan. https://www.jonathanfields.com/about/
Good Life Project. (2022) About. https://www.goodlifeproject.com/about/
Kelly, J. (2020, October 27). U.S. lost over 60 million jobs--now robots, tech and artificial intelligence will take millions more. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/10/27/us-lost-over-60-million-jobs-now-robots-tech-and-artificial-intelligence-will-take-millions-more/?sh=5816b7141a52
Lowman, R. L. (2022). Career Assessment: Integrating interests, abilities, and personality. American Psychological Association. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1zjgbg5
Rottinghaus, P. J., Park, C. J., & Washington, D. M. (2020). Assessment of personality in career Development and Counseling. In Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (Eds.). Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (3rd ed., pp. 579-610). John Wiley & Sons.
Tharoor, I. (2021, October 18). The ‘Great Resignation’ goes global. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/10/18/labor-great-resignation-global/
Melanie Buford, Ph.D. University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, is an author and leadership educator who has worked for more than 10 years in career development across the United States and abroad. She is lead editor on the upcoming volume Mapping the Future of Undergraduate Career Education. Melanie has been featured on the Happen to Your Career Podcast series, and received the Ralph W. Tyler Award for distinguished research and publication and NCDA’s Kenneth B. Hoyt Career Practitioner Award. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.