Jan 262011

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

I was recently reading an article in this month’s MIT Sloan Management Review – Big Data, Analytics and the Path From Insights to Value – when I came across a very striking example of a challenge that I was working on with a coaching client. What set me back and got me thinking differently was the discovery of unexpected linkages between indicators and results.

Here is the basic story. A major school system was seeing graduation rates fall and, no matter what they did, the trend did not seem reversible. Finally, they turned to the masses of data that they had been accumulating and searched for correlations. What they found was that the best indicator of failure to graduate was failure of Algebra I – the introductory course that all students had to take. Looking further, they expected to find that failure in prior math courses was an indicator for failure in Algebra I. But that wasn’t the case at all.

Further analysis of the data showed, instead, a close correlation between failure of eight-grade creative writing and Algebra I. In other words, the inability to think creatively was the major block to passing Algebra I – which was the major block to graduating.

The school system put resources into improving success in creative writing and the success rate in Algebra I increased. Additionally, graduation rates increased. The linkage, once discovered, was easily exploited.

Finding the Linkages That Matter:  Much of my coaching work is done with very literate, highly educated individuals who have had great success in their business life. Many come to me when they are feeling trapped or tapped out. Some feel adrift, others disenfranchised or left behind. For most, the contract between how they are feeling and how their life has been is quite sharp. These are successful people who are feeling unsuccessful.

Like the school system, my first efforts are to find the linkages – the correlations – that are driving such feelings. It is not enough to say that they are irrational or wrong. Together we have to drill down to find the wellspring – the source.

Like the school system, the results are often not only surprising but counter-intuitive. It always amazes me how complex and subtle the human subconscious is. It is very good at keeping secrets and distracting its ‘client’. Very good at misdirection and dissimulation. Very good at fooling the very person it relies on for continuance.

Coaching: This is where I add real value as a coach. My perspective is from outside of the complex relationship between the conscious and subconscious mind that is my client. Like the analytics, I drill down to find those correlations between cause and effect. In some ways, I am a strange type of mirror. I don’t reflect what the person expects to see but what I see. That is the real strength of a good coaching relationship.

The correlations we come up with are often completely at odds with the expectations – both by me and the client. One extreme example might show you what I mean. This is the story of an executive who had built an impressive company through skill, determination and a good share of being in the right place. When she came to me, she was in ‘the dumps’. It took us a long time to discover the source of her feelings – her dog had died!! Now that is traumatic for any dog owner. But her relationship with her dog was different. It went everywhere with her. She was constantly touching and petting it. Without it around she felt ‘naked’. (her word) The solution – go get another dog. It worked. The linkage was uncovered. The fog lifted. The sun came out. Flowers began to bloom.

The point of the story is that looking for causes in all the usual places will often be a frustrating experience. Looking alone will mostly make it worse. An experienced coach can help you identify and overcome. Removing the roadblock is the first step to realizing what your life can become.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II



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