A Fresh Perspective

Fresh Perspective / December 2001

I recently had the privilege of attending a meeting of the Professional Coaching And Mentoring Association chapter in San Francisco. I attended expressly to hear Agnes Mura, a highly successful executive coach from Los Angeles, do a presentation on paradox in executive coaching. (This report is from my perspective and I hope that Agnes and Bill agree that I got it right.)

She began by sharing something she had learned from Bill Berquist and I share it with you now because it has been so useful in my work with clients ever since.

Fundamentally, Bill’s contribution was that while we have become quite skilled at problem solving in business (and other aspects of life), our problem solving skills have become like the proverbial hammer and we treat all life events like nails, like situations that need to be “solved.” Bill suggested that there are four different challenges:

We have all the pieces. What we are challenged to do is to figure out how to put them together. An example might be assembling the members of a new project team. (Yes, I know. There can be some problems associated with this.)
These are situations in which there are potentially many alternative solutions that need to be explored, including their implications. Developing a new marketing strategy in the face of market and competition changes would be an example of this.
This was the focus of Agnes’ presentation. These are situations that are ongoing for which there are no solutions. (Agnes did have a lot to say about managing them, however.) A wonderful example of this is the relationship between customer service and cost management. If you put too much emphasis on one, the other is libel to deteriorate. Consequently, in business we vacillate between trying to come up with “solutions.” Every solution has a problem. We have the program or the fix of the month breeding cynicism in our organizations.
These are phenomena for which we have neither explanations nor solutions, nor is one in sight. For some reason I am reminded of Adam Smith’s hidden hand that guides market processes of supply and demand. Other examples might include the underlying factors that influence our decisions or motivations. Sure, we get hints at this, we can do an analysis, but we are still left with some factors unexplained, unexplored, even undiscovered. That is where the mystery is (and a reason why coaching is so interesting).

I will leave further explication of this idea to Bill and Agnes. I have used it several times with clients and found that it has helped them be clear about what is the nature of the situation they are addressing.