Coaching and the Decisional Sciences
In recent years, a multi-disciplinary field called “behavioral economics” has captured the attention of many behavioral scientists. It has drawn attention to the complex and often challenging process of personal decision-making—whether this process involves the mundane choice between two dinner entrees at a restaurant or fundamental life decisions regarding where we live, who we choose to spend our life with, or what we will do about our rebellious adolescent child.
Why this sudden “invention” of a new multi-disciplinary field? As is often the case, the new field involves a “perfect storm” of aligned insights emerging from seemingly disparate disciplines. In this case, the fields are psychology, economics, marketing, sociology and philosophy (with a few other disciplines thrown in for spice). Perfect storms also often involves a series of crises (political, economic, epistemological, etc). In the case of behavioral economics, the crises have to do with the rapidly increasing complexity and unpredictability of the world in which we operate – a world filled with many unexpected “black swans” and tipping points of chaos.
The unpredictability and complexity of life have led to the creation of great turbulence, with swiftly flowing streams (rapid change) intermixing with swirling pools (patterned change) and stagnant side waters (resistance to change). Connecting the rapid, patterned and resisted change are the areas of complete unpredictability and great complexity. One of the major geographers of this turbulent world, Scott Page (2011), differentiates between systems that are complicated (many working parts) and systems that are complex (many working parts with each part connected to every other part). It is in the world of complexity that we find the tippiness of life and the unpredictability to be faced as decision makers.
This is where behavior economics comes to the rescue (or at least brings to the world some clarification). When faced with complexity, unpredictability and turbulence, we grasp on to “heuristics” – decision-making rules that enable us to focus, take action and judge the validity and effectiveness of the decisions we do make. These heuristics can sometimes be quite helpful (building on our extraordinary ability to be intuitive), but at other times they can get us in trouble. The behavioral economist and Nobel prize-winner, Daniel Kahneman (2011) aligns these heuristics with a process he calls “fast thinking” and describes a second kind of decision-making process that he calls “slow thinking.”
It is this latter type of work that Kahneman believes should be engaged at critical times in our lives. As Personal and Life Coaches we can help provide our clients with some “slow thinking” – help them “put on the breaks” for a few minutes to reflect on their own “fast thinking” assumptions and decision-making process. Ironically, in a recent set of studies, one of us (Bergquist, 2015) is conducting with more than 200 coaches from around the world, it appears that “slow thinking” is also often absent among professional coaches themselves. Thus, the trend might be toward slow thinking not just for our clients, but also for ourselves.
We believe the future of professional coaching at the personal level at least partially resides in this activity of “slow thinking.” This decision-making approach which emerged from a focus on work-related situations can be applied throughout the life of the client. A coach can help her client sort out the options, discern that which is real and helpful in the world and that which is misleading and counter-productive. The personal and life coach who promotes and helps her client engage in slow-thinking provides guidance by offering provocative questions, by helping her client to become aware of a set of assumptions and trace out the implications of a particular course of action.Download Article 1K Club