Tools and techniques and other barriers to quality thinking

When I started practising as a Coach, I was keen to find a tool or technique to provide some kind of structure to my sessions.

The poorest session I ever experienced involved my attempt to impose (or superimpose?) someone else’s model on to the coaching relationship. It felt forced and disrepectful to the coachee who just wanted me to be there for her, to listen to her as a unique individual.

Then I had a conversation recently about packaging knowledge for sale.

It appears that in our consumer-driven world, business is far more likely to buy knowledge that is packaged and ‘off-the-shelf’ rather than intangible and open-ended.

We seem to be increasingly conditioned to buy other people’s thinking, suitably wrapped, because we don’t have the time or energy to do that thinking for ourselves. It is perhaps all too human to believe that others’ (scientists, philosophers, theorists, etc) experiences, and they’ve knowledge gathered and synthesised, are more valid and richer than our own. We are inveterate observers of our worlds and foragers of the fruits and berries of ‘out-there’ knowledge. I know I am, as I will demonstrate.

The knowledge industry blooms like mushrooms in the dark, warm, moist nighttime of corporate life.

Then I read Barbara Kellerman – a Harvard Professor – who has produced a withering critique of the cult of Leadership. How many books have been written on the subject in the past 20 years? Are we any closer to understanding this complex term? We now have sub-species of Leader – the Collaborative Leader, the Situational Leader and so on. The fact is – and we know this – that great, or even good leaders, never read a book on Leadership in their lives. So why do we think we can learn Leadership in the same way we can learn car maintenance?

Then I read an introduction to the works of Wittgenstein. I was drawn to find out more about his philosophy by hearing that he had a lot to say about language and how we construct our worlds. To my amazement, and serendipitously, I found some words that struck at the core of our ‘consumers-of-knowledge’ fixation. I quote: “I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking but, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.”

His desire, similar to Socrates, was to help us improve the quality of our thinking. There’s a lot more he has to say about the nature of thinking, but that’s for another time. 

At one stage in his life this great philosopher taught in primary schools in his native Austria. His method was to lead children to knowledge through questions – this led them to invent a steam engine, learn anatomy by assembling the skeleton of a cat and so on.

To me, from my experience, I see coaching as an opportunity to change our habits of thought and improve the quality of our thinking.

My fear is that, to gain traction with corporates and governments, it will be weakened by our obsession with measurement, with objectivity and with our need for quick fixes.Image

Ludwig Wittgenstein




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