Monday, October 24, 2011

Are You Willing to Accept Some Coaching?

Atul Gawande posits that professionals could benefit from good coaching in a New Yorker piece entitled Personal Best.  Gawande is a surgeon, and was struck by how a brief lesson with a tennis pro improved his serve markedly.  Since elite professional athletes all have coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be, Gawande wondered why doctors don't do the same.

According to Gawande, the conventional wisdom applicable to doctors and concert musicians holds that both are trained to think for themselves, but following that instruction (and after graduation), the individual alone is responsible for building and sustaining expertise.   Coaching proceeds from a different premise:  that no matter how good you are you can't achieve your best on your own.

It turns out that concert musicians and vocalists rely heavily on "outside ears," and benefit greatly from a perspective different from their own perceptions.  Taking that premise to his own practice, Gawande convinced a mentor to observe his surgical procedures, and learned a great deal about how to improve his work.

Gawande's experience and those of others he describes make pretty clear that anyone (professional or otherwise) would benefit from the right coaching.  And echoing Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto:  How to Get Things Right, given the way we care about results in sports, don't we care just as much about results in all our endeavors?
So why isn't coaching more prevalent?  Gawande:

"The existence of a coach requires an acknowledgment that even expert practitioners have significant room for improvement."

Are you willing to accept the idea that you could be coached?