One of the comments I hear most often from coaching clients, is how welcome the sessions are in a working environment where the most time you might get with someone to explore an idea is five minutes. Of all the things they value the most about coaching, the thinking space a session provides – the opportunity to really delve into an idea or thought – must be in the top three.
The problem with the problem of time
For the last seven or so years I have worked in and with environments which have been hit particularly hard by the recession: local government, not-for-profits, education. I have witnessed how this has resulted in people wearing more than one hat and working with fewer resources than ever before.
At the same time, expectations of people’s availability and ability to keep up with developments also appears to have taken quite a flight. Most of us are now used to carrying laptops and smartphones around as we go about our business, and whether it is your personal preference or not, many of us feel we are expected to see emails and answer calls as soon as they come in.
No wonder nobody has time to hear out an idea anymore.
Where do all the ideas go?
So, while the pace has picked up and we’re all connected to everyone and everything all our waking hours if we so choose, what about those ideas? Pin them in Pinterest for later? Translate them into a tweetable 140 characters? Post them on LinkedIn for your boss to ‘discover’?
The art of conversation is fast becoming an endangered skill. Have a look around the table at the next meeting you attend: how many mid-conversation furtive glances on BlackBerry screens do you clock around you? How present are we in meetings when we have one eye on the time, and the other on our smartphone?
Coaching as a retro conversation
In my coaching practice I have noticed that all clients take delight in switching the phone off and tucking it away for the duration. I ensure sessions take place off-site or on a different floor, away from distractions and interruptions. It also helps them to physically distance themselves from the day job.
The next hour or ninety minutes are spent boldly going where the client hasn’t gone before, simply because the opportunities have all but ceased to exist in their normal work routine.
The effects on the client of having an in-depth coaching conversation about an idea or thought can be astonishing. Talking through an idea out loud to someone who isn’t going to judge it or have an agenda does wonders for creativity. I have lost count of the number of times a client almost skipped out the door because they finally cracked how to have that difficult conversation with their boss. All it took was an hour or so of being able to explore it without interruptions.
We seem to have lost the ability to invest in ideas when we lost our habit to converse. It seems strange for a coach to complain about this… For am I not making a living out of this problem?
I guess I wonder at the feelings of nostalgia I perceive in some of my clients when they remark how wonderful it is to have a proper dialogue. The benefits of having focused conversations are well-known in coaching.
Perhaps what we need above all is to relearn the art of conversation, this time sanstechnology.
Gosh Flo, I wish I’d driven over my BlackBerry ages ago!
The key to serendipity is being organised
A few days ago I spotted a bunch of keys in the street near where I live, and stopped to pick them up. As I did so I thought of the logistical nightmare losing my own keys would cause, and the cost of replacing them, and the bother of it all, and how I’d be truly annoyed with myself that I had lost them in the first place, etc.
The keyring had a tag with a URL to a website called Keyfetch. Excellent, I thought, someone’s going to be relieved to get them back, I’m sure. The Keyfetch website invited me to pop in my email address before opening an anonymous chat box, so that I could exchange messages with the keys’ owner and arrange for them to be returned.
The next day the ‘owner’ of the keys replied:
Thank you for returning this set of keys. Keyfetch, which is a new lost property retrieval service, is conducting a national study on how honest Britons are. By attempting to reunite these keys with their rightful owner, you’ve helped gather statistics which reinforce the belief that we live in a socially responsible society. To thank you, we’d like to gift you a one-year Keyfetch membership.
On doing a quick Google search, as one does, I discovered that Keyfetch launched in January and has been ‘planting’ sets of keys across Britain. A really clever marketing promotion strategy I think, because it does three things:
1. Seeding the product to start the conversation
A well-known tactic used in word of mouth marketing (WOM) is to give people early access to your product. This works particularly well if you are launching something innovative, exclusive or something which has been hyped up already. It can set tongues wagging, especially if you combine a strong campaign with a strong brand message:
Keyfetch, which is a new lost property retrieval service, is conducting a national study on how honest Britons are.
A lovely connection is being made between the name and purpose of the service and doing the right thing, which is of course what will make this service work. A very strong brand message, and it works – I’m blogging about it, and your reading it, right? ’nuff said.
2. Strategic product placement
How do you place your product to make it visible in the market, when that product is a service? Provide a sample.
Yep – I’ve seen the product in action, it was literally strategically placed for me to notice it, and the idea worked. Coming across this product in its natural habitat of abandonment strengthened the message that this is a product I might want myself: in the space of thirty seconds I went through the emotion of surprise at finding the keys, empathy with the owner of the keys who’d lost them, to curiosity about how the system works and contentment that I was doing something helpful for someone else.
3. A freebie
It isn’t just that we like a freebie, but we also might need to build up our confidence about the product itself before we buy. In this case ‘trying out’ the product was certainly interesting, the offer of a free year’s membership could well remove any last reservations I might cling on to.
I’ll be looking forward to seeing the results of that national study. If I was in their marketing department, I’d be getting excited too – the data of the study is going to be great brainstorming material to build on the current marketing promotion strategy, for starters. I just have one little niggle: I’ll have inadvertently invalidated the data when I took the bait. You see, I am not a Briton…