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The Outside View

3 min

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"We are not in the shoes of the other party; we are not suffering from his protective mechanisms. If we just try to really understand the other side, we are in a better position then he is to recognize how to fulfill his major needs. "
Dr. Eli Goldratt

It’s become a cliche:

The best in the world have a coach.

Something has always bothered me about this.

Yes, it appears to be true - but why?

Tiger Woods may have a coach, but that coach isn’t better at golf than Tiger is. So how, exactly, are they helping him?

The answer is simple, profound:

What a truly great coach provides is not knowledge.

It’s an outside view.

I’ve hired dozens of coaches throughout my life - vocal instructors, academic tutors, marketing gurus, business consultants.

In each case, I was looking for something: a short cut, some piece of secret knowledge, some technique I might only figure out at great expense.

This was almost never what I received, however, from the coaches that really changed my life.

Instead, what I received was far more valuable:

An accurate, if occasionally painful, reflection of myself.

Each of us is saddled with a litany of cognitive biases that muddle our thinking and twist the way we perceive the world. These biases are at their strongest - and most intractable - when it comes to perceiving ourselves.

This is a tragedy, because perception of ourselves and the way we interact with our environment is the single most absolutely critical element in getting what we want.

We are a part of every system that affects our lives; there is no system which can benefit our lives that does not include us within our lives. At a bare minimum, then, changing anything entails somehow changing how we act or what we expect.

Since the systems which affect us are often dazzlingly complex -

(See last week’s post for more on how very quickly complexity emerges from the interactions of simple things)

- directly modifying them can be extremely difficult. The easiest and most direct way of effecting change on even the biggest and most intimidatingly complex systems, then, is to change our own behavior first.

(Lest this seem too abstract, this is the exact thinking behind my rule for a happier married life: “Always Go First.” If there’s any change I expect from my partner, I should first embody that change myself. Often, an internal shift is enough to change the entire texture of even a long-running relationship.)

With all this as a given, I don’t think it’s too much to say that

All change requires personal change,

…whether we’re changing the world or changing our morning routine.

This is why an Outside View is so important.

You will never accurately perceive yourself.

As my friend sometimes says, “You can’t read the label from inside the bottle.”

This is where the coach comes in.

A friend or loved one would work as well - however, you will often get a more objective and more honest assessment from yourself from someone you are not personally entwined with.

At the same time, paying someone hard-earned money in order to give you this critical feedback is a way of forcing yourself to listen (after all, you want to get your money's worth, right?)

If all change begins with knowledge of self, and an outside view is the surest way to accurately know your self...

Then a good coach is worth their weight in gold.

Find one, and listen.




Designing Gotham.

A wonderful deep-dive on the various cinematic approaches to visualizing Batman's hometown.

One of those things I rarely think about, but is really fascinating once you dig in.

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