Why Coaches Should Avoid the Black Box of Stuckness

by | Feb 27, 2018

[I’m experimenting with having transcripts of my videos made. Let me know if you like it, are neutral, or hate it. ♥ MLG]

If you have been a regular video follower or watcher, thank you for your flexibility and patience in these last couple of months. For four years or so, I was consistent in producing or creating weekly videos. For the last couple of months, it’s just been really erratic. So there you are.

Part of what’s been going on behind the scenes is that I’ve gotten clearer that I really care—sue me ;-)—I really care about the coaching profession. It looks to me like coaching emerged in the last half of the 20th century in response to an evolving, awakening awareness about the nature of human beings when it comes to learning and potential. Like, coaching woke up in us and in various people and different disciplines as we began to appreciate that human beings are designed to learn, and that human beings are coded to adapt, to develop. And yet that there seemed to be things that got in the way of the full expression of that capacity to learn and develop.

So we got curious about what’s in the way of the flowering of human potential. It seems to me as I sit here right now, and I’m just thinking out loud, that there were two opposing forces from the beginning of coaching. One developmental or evolutionary direction was, “Holy crap, human beings learn and when we show up for each other with a certain kind of listening, a certain kind of presence, attention, open-ended curiosity, that learning is catalyzed, even accelerated!” (Cool, no?)

The opposing force was a preoccupation with what gets in the way of human learning. What is it that keeps us from fulfilling our potential? It seems to me that this is a really good question, and I think that there’s a trick embedded in it.

The trick is that if we get too impressed with what’s in the way, we become complicit with an obstacle created in the mind of the person who is stuck. Like, everyone who has ever been stuck is stuck within the limits of the way they perceive, concoct, and understand their situation and their circumstances. Stuckness cannot occur outside of the box that we’re stuck in.

Stuckness cannot occur outside of the box that we’re stuck in.

It’s innocent, and to the degree that coaching became preoccupied with unpacking what’s in that box, the black box of stuckness, we developed, (this happened in therapy, too) lots of way to unpack, reorder, repack, improve, tweak, manipulate, manage, optimize the contents of the black box of stuckness. But the thing is you don’t have to do that. You can look beyond, look through, look under, around the black box of stuckness.

You don’t have to unpack what’s in the way, if you understand that what’s in the way is always a product of thought in the moment. That may sound facile, but there is a depth and a richness underneath that very simple statement, that stuckness is always the product of thought in the moment, and that unstuckness is the result of insight, which redesigns, restructures, replaces the contents of the black box. Every time.

And so, there are coaching tools, coaching techniques, coaching interventions, lists of coaching questions, all of which appear to improve what’s in the black box such that clients get unstuck. I propose that what’s actually happening is that all of those interventions, one way or another, coincided with the emergence of an insight in the client such that the black box is no longer an issue.

There’s a famous quote attributed (apparently mistakenly) to Einstein to the effect that we cannot solve problems at the same level of consciousness at which they were created. He said something like that, but he didn’t say that. (Sorry, I can be geeky about attribution.)
Well, Einsteinian or not, it looks to me to be very useful. We cannot solve the problems that our clients have or help them solve them if we get preoccupied with what they created at the level of consciousness in which the problem emerged. We and our clients can absolutely re-engage situations, learn, adapt, develop, innovate, create, tweak, when we are no longer preoccupied by or limited to or enchanted or entranced by the problem of the black box in front of us.

One way I talked about this recently on LinkedIn is, “Are you coaching the signal or the noise?” When we coach the signal, we’re trying to help a client get over, past, beyond, free from the noise created by that black box of stuckness. When we coach the signal, when we coach the client to differentiate between signal and noise, we are supporting the client to learn, to have a fresh look, to engage with the potential for a new thought. And that is an insight-based process, not a performance-based process. It has immense implications for performance, but it doesn’t start by tweaking performance.

I don’t know if any of this made sense to you. I would love your pushback, your feedback, your questions. This is what I’m up to in 2018,  articulating the fundamental principles that are the key to client learning, to client transformation. Excuse me, it’s what we’re all up to as coaches, but we don’t all look in the same place for it, and I want us to look deeper at the source code of transformation, and not at the black box that is temporarily in the way of transformation.

So let her rip. I want to hear from you. Thank you.

Share your thoughts in the comments or email me.