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The Whole is Greater than the Sum of it’s Parts

As a society, we tend to continually ask for, and create for ourselves, villains, and heroes. We do this because we love this structure. It’s easy – good guy/bad guy. No questions – the good guy is the better guy. It’s hopeful – with hard work, the good guy usually wins! It’s full of clear ideas and directions. And oh, how we love clear ideas and directions. It’s like philosophical chicken soup for the soul. Turn here, not there, and you will arrive at your chosen destination.

But is it true? Is it proven and unequivocal that exhaustive planning is best? It’s not. I’ll save you the research. It’s not.

But whether it’s for a summer vacation or a work project, most people feel like they “should” have a plan. Planning does indeed offer a comfortable roadmap to follow, promising that we’ll achieve the best results. But there’s a downside. Planning can also cause us to miss out on all kinds of beneficial things.

Stanford professor Kathy Eisenhardt found that executive teams who make more unplanned, rapid-fire decisions tend to collect more information and generate more alternatives than those with long and detailed plans. That’s because quick-acting teams focus on the present, working with real-time information about their work and competition. Planners, on the other hand, tend to spend most of their time and energy trying to figure out what the future might look like. They are trying to match the parts they know to the parts they anticipate they may encounter.

Coaches – does this ring a bell? Remember the three components of anxiety?

1 – Focus on the future.

2 – Anticipate a negative outcome.

3 – Assume you can’t handle the outcome.

Planning is literally the recipe for anxiety.

Beyond that, too much focus on planning can cause us to miss valuable information that’s right in front of our eyes. Burying your head in planning can make it difficult to notice your surroundings. Foveal focus is never a creative place to find success.

An experiment by the psychologist Malcolm Brenner, demonstrated this. Brenner asked participants to listen and then speak in a planned sequence. It was clear that when

it came time for a subject to speak, they would begin to block out outside information. They directed their energy to what they were planning to say. And after the participants finished speaking, they would continue to block their listening as they reflected on what they had said, missing how others were reacting to their words. Simply put, whether it’s for a project or for what to say next, planning can cause us to miss out on the world unfolding around us.

As a coach, this over-planning can cause us to feel stressed, inadequate, unsure or wrong in our responses to clients. This is not to say the work doesn’t have to be done. Being prepared is different from excessive planning. Being prepared includes knowing your material, locating resources, understanding your objective and your outcome and having practiced confidence in your own ability to respond to the needs of the task. But then my friends, that’s when you let go and listen and be present if you want to create the greatest experience.

Many people spend their lives chasing rewards, trying to accumulate resources and desiring what others have. There is a pedestal for being the most well planned with the most tools, tricks and skills when, the truth is, you’re much better off focusing on what you can accomplish with what you’ve already got.

This has been proven over and over. The most creative and impactful work is done when people are forced to become creative with what they have and expand the possibilities of each and every resource they have access to.

Creativity in this way is a crucial part of coaching. We need to be listening and watching exactly what is going on with our clients and then use the resources we have to weave and wind them into the most creative response we can come up with.

Coaches often ask me about the ‘right’ way to handle situations with clients and while I appreciate the questions, as they often inform me about how the coach is perceiving things and I love to offer my perspective. But we all know, there is no ‘right’ way. The small things we do to be present and trust ourselves is second to none.

You may know that improv actors use the phrase, “yes, and….” in practice and performance. The reason they do this, is that they must then listen to everything the other has said in order to carry it forward. This way of responding frees them of planning and forces them to

stay engaged and listen. The surprise, even to them, is in what they come up with once they begin to speak.

If you do this as a coach. Yes, and….. you would hear with even greater capacity, what the client is asking for. The space you offer will become whole. And your whole response – is so much greater than it’s parts.

See you Tuesday!

xo Tara

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