Home Case Studies Sustainability The Book Shelf: Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist (2010)

The Book Shelf: Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist (2010)

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What then are the implications of these ideas for those of us who engage in the coaching process? We would suggest that interdependence becomes a fundamental theme in most (if not all) coaching: our clients can not operate alone in our complex postmodern world. No one can be an island in Friedman’s flat world. The very act of reaching out for a coach to provide assistance is acknowledgement of interdependence. It is as if our clients are standing on the sidewalk facing the challenge of crossing the street at an intersection where traffic is coming from all four directions and there are no stop lights or stop signs. Under such postmodern conditions, it is nice to have a colleague (coach) who can help look in several directions for oncoming traffic (or help us decide to walk to another intersection that is not so dangerous). As coaches, we don’t have the answers, but we can help our clients look around and generate various options. We can become specialists in asking questions and in offering diverse perspectives. We certainly do not have to become specialists in our client’s own area.

We suggest that this emphasis on interdependence and seeking assistance in navigating the busy and complex intersections of life is particularly important for men and women working in all professions — given the traditional emphasis on personal autonomy in most professions and the assumption made by most contemporary societies  that a “professional” has all the answers. It would seem that the professional who asks for assistance from a coach is often treading into new territory and defying the norms and traditions inherent in their own socialization as a “professonal.” As coaches we must appreciate and acknowledge the courage of our professional clients in “swimming against the stream.” We must also help them recognize that assistance is abundant and available all around them — and not just from us as their coach. They simply have to discover (perhaps with our guidance) the best way to ask for this assistance.


Ridley observes that: “people are programmed to desire, not to appreciate.” (p. 27) In this observation, Ridley is aligning with the critical observations made by many contemporary occupants of a new interdisciplinary field called “behavioral economics.” Leaders of this field (such as Kahneman and Ariely) note that we are often caught up in the desire to possess, rather than in appreciation of what we already have and in the potential of engaging rich life experiences. One of the fundamental insights offered by the behavioral economists is that  experiences are of greater long-lasting value than possessions. People will prize (and relive) an experience long after they grow tired of a specific possession.

The challenge for coaches is to help clients realize this and move from desire for possessions to appreciation for experience. Money is much better spent for most people on a weekend in the mountains than on a new set of dishes. Not only is the experience in the mountains to be savored during the weekend, it is also to be savored in reflection many more times (often in an even more gratifying manner). As coaches we are often in the business of helping our clients identify priorities–whether we are life coaches or executive coaches. This emphasis on the appreciation of experiences can be of great value to many of our clients. And the hard-working professional is often particularly in need of priority-setting. And we (as coaches) might also find that our own priorities become clearer as we work closely with our clients. Both we as coaches and our clients might even find that the immediate coaching experience is itself of great value — and to be savored long after the coaching session (and coaching relationship) has drawn to a close. It is all too easy to let these remarkable moments slip by . . .  Thank you Matt Ridley for your insights.

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