Mixed Methods

Podcast

Coaching for Creative Professionals - Laura Weiss, Design Diplomacy

Laura Weiss never expected to be a leadership coach. Growing up she knew that she was meant to be an architect and after earning an undergraduate and masters’ degree in architecture her fate seemed all but sealed. That is until she decided to change everything less than a decade later. She had realized that while she loved architecture, it wasn’t quite for her. So she decided to follow another passion and get an MBA from MIT. She went on to find a home for herself in the emerging field of design thinking, combining her love of design and business as a consultant at IDEO for almost 10 years. Today Laura is focused on helping others navigate tricky moments in their careers and grow design leaders through her work as a professor and as a coach. More and more people are turning to professional coaches as a way to grow, transition, and find fulfillment in their work, in this episode Laura shares a bit of what it means to be a coach and what you can gain from having a coach.

Interview Transcript

Aryel Cianflone:
Welcome to this week's episode of Mixed Methods.

Laura Weiss:
First time you realize there's something else you're meant to do or you feel that there's something else you want to do, it's really hard.

Aryel Cianflone:
Laura Weiss knew she was destined to be an architect. And after earning an undergraduate and master's degree in architecture, her faith seemed all but sealed. That is until she decided to change everything less than a decade later. You see, she had realized that while she loved architecture, it wasn't quite for her. So she decided to follow another passion and get an MBA from MIT.

Aryel Cianflone:
After graduating, she found a home for herself in the emerging field of design thinking. Combining her love of design and business as a consultant at IDEO for almost 10 years. Today, Laura is focused on helping others navigate tricky moments in their careers, and grow design leaders through her work as a professor and as a coach. I've noticed that more and more people are turning to professional coaches as a way to grow, transition, and find fulfillment in their work. So I wanted to talk to Laura about what it means to be a coach, and what you can gain from having a coach.

Aryel Cianflone:
Today's episode is sponsored by dScout, a platform that makes qualitative research fun again. From recruitment, project design, to interviews, you'll get that feeling that got you interested in user centered work in the first place. Capture remote insights that spark your next big aha moment. Check out dcout.com/mm to get started.

Aryel Cianflone:
This is Aryel Cianflone, and you're listening to Mixed Methods. Today's episode, Coaching for Creative Professionals

Aryel Cianflone:
I'm so excited to have Laura Weiss with me today on the show. And I thought Laura, that we could start with just a brief introduction.

Laura Weiss:
Sure. Happy to. I am a facilitator, a mediator, a consultant, and a coach for creative professionals.

Aryel Cianflone:
So Laura, it's unusual for somebody to have so many different roles. How did you get involved in all of these different things? How did you get to this point in your career?

Laura Weiss:
Yeah, it's interesting. I actually paused at a point a year or two ago and actually asked myself that same question. And I actually realized that I could draw what my career looks like. It made sense when I made it visual. And the way I thought about it was that most people I know or people that I've come to know, their career looks like a pyramid. If you picture a pyramid where they come out of high school, they're not really sure what they might be interested in. They might have an interest, but they use college to explore different options. They might eventually settle on a major, and that major will guide them towards their first job. And then that job leads to another job, and they might eventually find their space within a certain industry they love or a company that they love, and eventually work their way up to the top of that pyramid and really find their spot. Their role, the thing that they've decided that that's who they are professionally.

Laura Weiss:
And I realized that my career was actually an inverted pyramid. If you picture it. I knew I wanted to be an architect when I was 12 and I was one of these crazy people that even when I went through high school and had other interests, I decided I would still become an architect. And I did two professional degrees and I got licensed, and I taught at the university level, and I worked for several firms. I was an architect. But something interesting happened as I say on my way to becoming an architect for the rest of my life. And it set in motion three pivot points that I've identified along the way up that inverted pyramid. And in fact, I do a talk on this topic where I draw the inverted pyramid without a top on it because that's the crazy thing about this is that I'm not sure I'm done yet, which is kind of cool given that I'm beyond middle age.

Laura Weiss:
But the first pivot was after years in the world of architecture, I realized that the design in the business world, our ability to inverse effectively with our clients around the benefits of and the value of design in terms of the built environment was really limited. And this was almost 30 years ago when design and business were not really talked about. Design thinking was not yet out there in the world. It was there but it wasn't being talked about the way it is now. My first pivot was this realization that I needed to understand better the business side of the world in order to better broach those two topics. So I went and got an MBA. That launched me into a whole other world of broader world of innovation and product and service design ultimately, and spending 10 years with IDEO.

Laura Weiss:
And that led actually to the second pivot point, which is despite doing amazing design work and developing a lot of really interesting concepts that would have probably solved a lot of critical problems in the world, things weren't really getting out into the marketplace. There's a statistic. Yeah. And design and innovation in particular. I think there was one statistic I read years ago, it may still be true that nine out of 10 new ideas, this is probably true of many startups as well. Never see the light of day for a whole variety of reasons.

Laura Weiss:
So I found it very frustrating that we were doing all this great work and a lot of it never came to fruition. And I realized what was probably sticking or getting in the way was happening outside of the consulting space and on the inside of the organizations we were working with.

Laura Weiss:
So I left and went onto this next pivot, which was to go inside of organizations who were trying to develop an innovation capability, and understand how it worked from the inside. What was getting in the way, what was maybe stopping these great ideas, whether they came from work with a consulting firm or from an internal group, from really making it out into the world or into the marketplace? And that led to the third pivot, which was the insight that a whole lot of what was standing in the way were the human beings. It wasn't the lack of a great idea. It wasn't the lack of technology. Anything and everything can be built for a price obviously.

Laura Weiss:
But ultimately, it was the way people were working together around those ideas, how decisions were being made, how people were communicating. How people were leading ultimately.

Laura Weiss:
So that led to the third and most recent pivot was you can see a reduction in scale here down to the individual and leadership level. And especially people involved in creative processes, whether they're actually designers or business people who are working and have some kind of mandate to innovate with a group as part of their role inside of an organization.

Laura Weiss:
So that's ultimately what led me through this path of doing a lot of facilitation in the context of the design work to learning about mediation and how to resolve conflict in those processes, to ultimately talking to individual and working with individuals in a coaching capacity. So that on an individual level, people can be developing a heightened ability to lead in those difficult situations, to lead through a creative process, which is naturally ambiguous and multifaceted. There's no one right answer. So that's the most concise version of my story that I've been able to come up with so far. So it's still a work in process.

Aryel Cianflone:
Well, and I love hearing about it because I think you're so right that a lot of times we have this rigid idea or conception of what our career should look like or what success looks. And you're right, it's this we get more and more specialized, we move up, and up, and up. And I think it's so cool to have somebody in a position like yours who's thrown that away and been like, "I'm going to make up a new shape that works for me that I'm passionate about." And it's so flexible.

Laura Weiss:
Well, and to be honest about it, the first pivot was the hardest. It was really hard to leave. The architecture world was something I hadn't invested a huge amount of time. And again, it was something I had a passion for from a very young age. And I followed that passion and made a lot of investments in terms of time and education, getting licensed and all that stuff.

Laura Weiss:
So the first time you realize there's something else you're meant to do or you feel that there's something else you're meant to do, it's really hard. I mean, it took me four years to finally decide I'm going to take the leap out of that profession. And it gets a little bit easier. Leaving a place like IDEO, which had been my job coming out of business school, it was one of the only types of work I could imagine back in the mid '90s that would naturally blend design and business. Fortunately, there's a lot more of those options now than there were 20 some odd years ago.

Laura Weiss:
It was only slightly less hard. Because again, I'm like, why am I leaving? But I'll tell you by the time I'm where I am right now, it's like, you know what, it will all work out. And that's a big part of what I've learned from my coaching training and working with coaches myself is that there are so many possibilities out there, and oftentimes we are the ones that are limiting our ability to see what they might be.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah, and I'm so glad you brought that up. I'm so interested in excited to talk to you about coaching, and what this audience in particular might be able to learn from it. I think for myself and maybe for others, I'm less familiar with the idea of a coach to help in designing your life or designing your career. I think a lot of us are a lot more familiar with therapy or those roles. So I would love to hear what you see as the role of a coach. What do you do as a coach?

Laura Weiss:
Yeah. Would it be helpful to first maybe distinguish between coaching and those other helping professions? Yeah, because you raise a really important point. And mentoring is the other one I always like to call out is something that is related but different.

Laura Weiss:
So the biggest difference between therapy and coaching is that with therapy, there's really something that needs to be healed, and it's often times connected with a past event or a set of experiences that impair an individual's emotional functioning in the present.

Laura Weiss:
And coaching on the other hand which is what I find so marvelous about it, is fundamentally future oriented. There's absolutely no reason to know anything as a coach about somebody's background, which seems weird because people want to tell you their whole background as if it's relevant. A lot of times it its, but a lot of times it's not.

Laura Weiss:
So coaching is fundamentally focused on what the future could hold. And it's based on an underlying belief that really nothing needs to be fixed. There's nothing wrong with the individual. And again, there's nothing necessarily wrong, there may or may not be in the therapy world. And oftentimes people will use these in conjunction. There'll be people who are working with a therapist and a coach.

Laura Weiss:
But coaching actually is predicated on the belief that the client is really capable of determining the best path forward if they're guided in new ways of looking at the possibilities and new ways of making deliberate choices as opposed to passively letting life happen to them. So I always like to say, and I'm sure I got this from someone else is that coaching really helps us get out of our own way.

Laura Weiss:
Now the difference between coaching and mentoring is a little bit more gray because I'll hear people use terms interchangeably. And the biggest difference is that a mentor or an advisor will draw upon their own personal experience as a way to provide guidance and make recommendations. So in other words, I might say to you, "Aryel, when I was looking for a job, here's what I did." Or, "Here's something you might do," or etc.

Laura Weiss:
And a coach will really resist doing that. It's really hard to not do that because you, people will ask you, "Well, what did you do and what would you recommend?" And periodically you'll collaboratively brainstorm in some ideas. But ultimately what a coach is trying to do is enable the individual person that they're coaching to identify what those potential next steps or some ideas for things they might try.

Laura Weiss:
And the reason why this is critical is that it actually is more sustainable. It leads to a more sustainable outcome. People use the example of telling your kids what to do and how well does that work, right? People will oftentimes, they'll nod and pay lip service to something advice you've given them. But if it isn't something they've fundamentally, a conclusion they've come to on their own. The odds are it's not really something that's going to really have impact and be something they're really going to commit to and take action on. So coaching is really about enabling three basic things. Identifying what the dream might be, something that someone might be yearning for and can't quite articulate it or imagine it. And then the second part is making some identifying and making some deliberate choices like around some different various possibilities, and then ultimately committing to action and doing it. And it's a cycle that can be repeated. It's iterative a lot like, it's a lot like prototyping.

Aryel Cianflone:
Just like your life.

Laura Weiss:
Exactly, exactly. There's this balance between action and reflection. And in the coactive model of coaching in which I've been trained, they work in tandem really nicely in the same way that if you think about prototyping and that being an iterative discovery process. There's usually a question or something you're trying to understand or something you want to explore. But if all you did was sit and think about that for a long time, you'd never take any action. Or you'd find ways to not take action or reasons to not change the status quo. If on the other thing you're just taking action with no reflection, it's like the proverbial throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. It's really random. It's not terribly efficient. It's probably not going to get you where you need to go.

Aryel Cianflone:
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Laura Weiss:
Probably not going to get you where you need to go. At least not very quickly. So it's a cycle of working with a coach to identify what's it that I'm trying to achieve or what's the thing I want to learn more about myself, or who do I want to become? And then very quickly identifying some things that you can try or reflect on or explore, derive the insights and learning from that. And that will yield the next thing to do. And that's exactly how prototyping works. Which is why I think the other reason I maybe not accidentally came into coaching is I saw an awful lot of connections with the design process. Right? Because both are very much discovery driven.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. Well, and I wonder if as a coach you see people struggling with that idea of action. I'm sure there are a lot of people who if they're thoughtful enough to engage a coach like yourself, that are probably thinking a lot. And I wonder if you ever see a struggle with people being willing or ready to take these different actions that are required for progress.

Laura Weiss:
Yeah, absolutely. We live in our heads, right? There's a lot of neuroscience behind coaching, which I'm just beginning to learn about. And it's absolutely fascinating, and there's a lot of reasons why coaching actually works. It isn't just one of these a fad kind of thing. And what we do is we oftentimes are making decisions based solely on what we think in our head. And what we think in our head oftentimes are stories of our own creation, right? How we see the world sometimes is, it's exactly how we see it, but we're oftentimes interpreting it in ways that are false.

Laura Weiss:
There's a great term in coaching called the saboteur. And the saboteur voice is essentially that voice in your head telling you can't do that, or you don't have enough experience, which is one I hear a lot is the classic imposter syndrome. You're not ready to do that or you'll never be sufficiently trained to do that role. Or you don't have the background, etc.

Laura Weiss:
And the saboteur is essentially as someone once told me, your best friend who gives you all the wrong advice. Because it's a mechanism for protection, right? At the end of the day, our brains are wired to protect us from pain and enable us to seek reward, right? Those are the two most basic motivations for everything we do in life. So when you're on the edge of are considering doing something that's different and that maybe has risk, like all great things do, right? It's anything that changes the status quo. That voice or there could be different versions of this voice will try to protect you and say, "Don't do that." Or, "You're not ready to do that."

Laura Weiss:
So there's a bit of self compassion that goes with it and a recognition that that's what's happening. But then the next step is to kindly tell that voice to go take a hike. In coaching, we talk about giving the saboteur another job like, "Can you go do my laundry? I'm busy working on this other thing." There is some humor because it's a very serious thing on the other hand. It's you have complete agency in how you manage these different voices that are telling you what to do or not to do.

Laura Weiss:
So the getting to action is the proof, right? When people have lack of confidence, for example. That comes from first having some courage to try something, and then seeing some competency. Once you try it, you might have to try something few different times and then realize okay, I can actually see myself doing this. And then that's where confidence comes from. Right? So I just think about it's these three steps that happen to be all be C words. But it all comes from action. You have to take action in order to start to move into some kind of transformative way.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. And what are some of the actions that you recommend for your clients or you guide them through?

Laura Weiss:
Yeah. So there's a lot of really fabulous aspects of coaching that I could touch on. And homework or action in between the sessions is the biggest area that addresses what you just asked. A lot of people think that the magic of coaching happens exclusively in the session with the coach. And although oftentimes you can sense a shift happening in real time through the conversation that the coach and the coachee are having, the real magic oftentimes happens between the session.

Laura Weiss:
So a lot of the times the cadence of coaching is biweekly, for example, where there's a week or so in between the times that that we'll meet because the idea is that you're out trying something, or doing something, or reflecting on something. And oftentimes we'll codesign that together. As a coach, I might come up with an idea for something and make it into a request or even a challenge is a really cool idea about in the coaching world about coming up with a really crazy challenge.

Laura Weiss:
If someone's trying to write a book for example and they're stuck. And you say, "Well, can you have a manuscript for me in a week?" And they'll be like, "No," but they can make a counter offer and say, "But how about in two weeks?" So you're getting off of the starting block.

Laura Weiss:
So there are a lot of different ways to construct homework. And there are also a lot of techniques that we use in the session as well to kind almost simulate what some of the action might be that people are hoping to take, but they're in a stuck mode.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. What would one of the simulations be like or look like?

Laura Weiss:
I'll give you an example. I was thinking about this this morning of a homework in a way that it was a simple reframe of what this individual is trying to do. But framing it in terms of something that she was actually quite adept at doing. It was a little bit of trickery, but it actually worked really well. So I worked with an individual who was trying to make a significant career shift at a much later age in life, so a couple of different things working that added some difficulty to that endeavor.

Laura Weiss:
And this was an individual who was very hesitant to go out and just do even informational interviews, that really didn't believe that they had the qualifications to move into the world that they desired to move into, even though they had a graduate degree and they had a lot of years of experience.

Laura Weiss:
And yet this same individual was a very intrepid traveler. She would travel all over the world and go to crazy places, and do all sorts of really, amazing, exploratory things.

Laura Weiss:
And I said let's think about your job search as a walkabout. She actually came up with the word walkabout. I said, "Could it just be a series of little travel adventures," right? Because if you think about what you're doing in the early stages of a job search, where you might be just doing informational interviews, you're going on an exploration to a place you don't know, talking to people you've never met. But you have an agenda. There's something you want to see there. Or maybe you just want to learn something new.

Laura Weiss:
And that reframe of a job search or series of informational interviews to reframing it as a series of travel adventures. And she came up with the word walkabout. Which I know is a British term actually. All of a sudden she's like, "I can do that. Okay. I now can see how I could actually plan, and schedule, and execute a series of job interviews because it's now been framed in terms of something I am familiar with in terms of something I do have confidence around."

Laura Weiss:
So that's a taking a basic kind of request, but framing it in a way that places the individual in a place that starts at a place of familiarity and then allows them to move from there.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. It's so interesting to hear as you're talking about your clients who are moving through somewhat uncomfortable situations. I think career transitions and things like that can often be very scary for us because we so often have so much of our identity tied up in what we do. And I think it's so interesting to realize that so many of the that make us afraid and those moments of transition are really about framing, right? It's the exact same action that you're asking her to do, but now it's interesting and fun.

Laura Weiss:
Yes.

Aryel Cianflone:
As opposed to this really intimidating and scary process of being vulnerable and putting herself in uncomfortable positions.

Laura Weiss:
Yeah, that's exactly right. Yeah.

Aryel Cianflone:
So I'm wondering as you walk me through these different activities that you do with clients, it makes me wonder how much is the same client to client and how much is different? Are you redesigning this client coach relationship every time you go around or is it 50% is shared across different relationships? Or what does that look like?

Laura Weiss:
That's really interesting. One of the things I've had on my to do list is to take a step back from myself and see are there themes that I see regularly? But the real question I think is what do these relationships look like? And they're all unique, right? The interesting thing about a coach is that you really need to show up with being incredibly present, si the way of many things these days that it really can work to your benefit. And just there's a term called dancing in the moment with the client. So whatever they bring up in that particular session is what you're focused on then. There be some carry over from a prior conversation. You may be talking about the homework assignment if there's a desire to be held accountable. A lot of clients want you to hold them accountable for doing the thing they said they would.

Laura Weiss:
But each session really is a unique session onto itself. So individually, they can client to client, they're all unique and yet there probably are some common themes that people are struggling with. Certainly career and career transition are oftentimes the trigger that bring people to a coach to begin with. So I could probably think about some classic scenarios that I tend to hear about in the coaching, the type of coaching that I do. It's usually a transition associated with the desire to move into a new job or desire to change careers altogether. Can also be a transition within an organization. Somebody that's being tapped for a leadership role or has a desire to progress to a leadership role. That's just a different type of transition.

Laura Weiss:
So thematically, those are pretty common. How you engage with an individual one on one in their particular session is really unique to that individual, and what they need at that particular time, and going with where they need to go. Just really fascinating. The coach does not hold the agenda. The client determines the agenda and the coach is going along with them. It's fascinating.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah, it's funny because I think I have this innate desire to get a list of the five activities that a career coach would do with you over five sessions or something like that. But as you talk through it, it becomes so apparent that it's much more the five activities that I would design for myself and having someone to walk with me on that path as opposed to being alone and afraid in the woods.

Laura Weiss:
Yeah. It's funny because there are a bunch of different activities that, some that have come from my training, some that I've invented along the way. You really can't go in to a session with the, "And here's what we're going to do." The only time I do that is the very first session, which is the discovery session, which is 90 minutes and it's really laying the foundation for everything that's to come. And I've designed this, I invented this one activity that I do every time now because it's the dinner party. I won't reveal how it works because if anybody listening becomes a client, I don't want them to know. It's this way of revealing values, an understanding of values and self awareness on the part of the client of what their values are is at the heart of a lot of effective coaching because it becomes an important touchdown.

Laura Weiss:
So even though I have a grab bag of things that I've used in the past or things that I've been taught, or things that I've designed and invented. I don't go into any given session thinking this is what I'm going to use today, right? A lot of it is improv, right? Is receiving what the client is telling you, listening and hearing it, and then figuring out in that moment what to do next. And oftentimes it's asking a question or saying let's try this. Right? There are a lot of very interesting little activities you can do in real time together, not necessarily just outside as part of their homework, that are pretty effective and are part of my standard playbook. But none of it's premeditated.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. And it's interesting to hear you say that the first conversation is really about figuring out values. Right? Because I don't know, I guess part of me thinks don't we all have similar values? But you're right. For example, the woman you spoke about, it sounds like discovery, exploration are things that she highly, highly values and would need to be a part of a fulfilling career. I guess it leads me to the question of are there other milestones for you like that along the coaching path where it's like first we determine values, then we determine actions, career options?

Laura Weiss:
Interestingly enough, at least in my view of coaching and am sure it will evolve over the years as I do more of it. And everybody eventually despite their training develops their own process.

Laura Weiss:
But for me right now, the ultimate thing to focus on really are the goals, right? And the goals, and/or a life purpose. That's another thing oftentimes that is coupled with all of that. It's almost like your north star, it's a term a lot of people like to use instead. Even if you don't have a particular goal, and some people do and some people don't. There's the idea about having a capital A or big A agenda item that you're coming into coaching with. And sometimes there are little little A's or small A, if you think about the word agenda. And sometimes they work in tandem. Sometimes the little A agenda items or stepping stones to that big one, sometimes they're disconnected. So a client may say ultimately I want to start my own business, but I also in the meantime want to get healthy and want to start working out more. Right?

Laura Weiss:
So one's a little A agenda because that you can start right away. The setting up your own business might take awhile. Sometimes the little A agenda is the thing that is going to get them one step closer to that big A agenda.

Laura Weiss:
But sometimes people don't even have a goal. They're just like, "I just want to figure out what I'm meant to do with my life." Right? And that's more of a larger life purpose.

Laura Weiss:
So I think it within, there's the overall career or the overall coaching arc rather is towards a goal, or something they're trying to figure out or make progress towards that was the trigger for entering into coaching. And the coach's role is to really continue to monitor where are we relative to that, right? I've worked with clients also where their goals change, right? Or they've accomplished that goal and they're ready to do it. They're immediately ready to do something else, right? Oftentimes that might also be the point where your coaching relationship is complete, right? Everybody moves on. So it's completely determined by the individual coachee when that happens. And the coach's goal is to help stay aligned with whatever the stated goal is or whatever it is they're trying to accomplish at that point in time.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. I feel like I'm a little bit in awe imagining someone coming to me and saying, "Help me figure out what my life purpose is." It seems like such an intimidating or huge endeavor.

Laura Weiss:
It is. And it's an exploration, right? So there is an activity or a couple of different activities that a coach can guide somebody through to help them actually start to elicit insights into that life purpose. But again, that's something they could change. Right? Again, it's another prototype. It's something you might come up with a working version of. And then over time as you play with it or try it on and live with it, that you realize it needs some tweaking. It's a little bit of that, but more of this other thing. So yeah.

Aryel Cianflone:
And it makes me think that so often when we hear things like life purpose, I think instantly we have this conception of right and wrong or there's this one answer, this thing that I need to discover and once I dig up this diamond, I'll have my life purpose. And I think hearing you talk through how you approach that request, it feels much more doable. It's much more approachable to say, "I'm going to start thinking about this." I'm going to start messing around with different ideas of what this could be versus I'm going to figure out my life purpose, which is so daunting.

Laura Weiss:
Exactly. Or the belief that I have one life purpose. If you think back to the diagram I described of my career as this inverted pyramid or without a top to it. Right? It's like if I had just believed that, and I did for a long time, that architecture was my life. And how could I do anything else? That was the choice I made. I would probably still be an architect and maybe a very unhappy one.

Laura Weiss:
So I think there are things that we believe because it's what society tells us. We don't live in isolation. We live in a world that informs and influences how we think about what we should do, right? If we have this kind of education, here's what we should do. Or we live in this kind of a community, here's what you should do. Or we came from this family of origin, etc. But that's a social mindset. That's not what might really be in your heart of hearts of what you want to do.

Laura Weiss:
So coaching really helps bridge those two because we do live in a real world, right? Coaching is not about creating a fantasy world that you can never actually find your way into or to create for yourself.

Laura Weiss:
But yeah, it is about opening yourself up to, looking at new ways of looking at possibilities, which also is a design exercise. That's the other interesting, that's what designers do naturally is you go wide and look for divergence before you converge on a solution. It's almost exactly what a lot of coaching is about, is first considering lots of things before you pick one thing.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. And as you describe that, it's interesting to think about how it sounds like probably part of coaching as well is giving people a safe space to put away the model that they have in their head for what it's supposed to look like. To just have the freedom to say maybe I'm somebody who is this other shape.

Laura Weiss:
That's why distilling it down to values and also strength, so there's a Gallup StrengthsFinder is a tool that I've started to develop to use as an adjunct aspect of my coaching. And the concepts of values and strengths or talents which are all interwoven because they're at the core of who we are, it is the way to do exactly what you've just described. If you remove the labels, or the roles, or the job descriptions and go back to essentially what you value, what your natural talents are, that's a way to reveal different, I love the term shapes, right? Different shapes for how you spend your life. Right? And by the way, I don't use the term career coaching because it is a holistic view. Career tends to be the trigger. But oftentimes, decisions made about career affect what happens in your relationships or how you spend your time. So what I found interesting is that there are a few clients that I've been working with for more than half a year now let's say, some much more than a year. But it started out as a conversation about career has become also a conversation about relationships. Because they're all intertwined, right? Decisions. Things you say yes to in one area might suggest you say no in other areas and then that changes over time. So yeah.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. Laura, I'm wondering how similar or different you feel like the client coach relationship and that journey that you go on together is from let's say a project that you did at IDEO during your time there.

Laura Weiss:
That's interesting. There's this tool that we used to use at IDEO called the mood meter, and it was a way to set expectations with the client about what the journey with us as consultants were going to be. In other words, it was like a sine wave. If you picture a horizontal line that represents time, and a smiley face above the line and a frown face below the line. We draw a squiggly line that at various points in the project went up and down above and below that line. And it was a great way of setting expectations that sometimes this is going to be a lot of fun, and sometime you're going to be like, "What is going on? How are we ever going to make a decision? How are we going to reach our desired outcome?"

Laura Weiss:
And I think sometimes for coaching, and really any kind of project can take that arc. Certainly not knowing, there's no prescriptive outcome. There's a desired outcome, but what it actually looks like is the thing that's to be determined. And I think that's maybe what a creative, or design, or innovation process might look like that's similar to the way a coaching relationship might look over time. I'm not sure I answered your question though.

Aryel Cianflone:
You answered the question. I think what you're saying is that both are creative processes. Both require flexibility and a willingness to be comfortable and uncomfortable.

Laura Weiss:
It's like mindedness. I like the term discovery driven. It's not hypothesis driven. It isn't like here's the solution we think should pop out the other end. Let's now work to prove or disprove that. Right? That'd be the same as a client saying, "I think I need to continue to be a lawyer, but I'm not sure. Can you help me figure that out?" Right? That's starting with the hypothesis as opposed to, "I'm not sure what's next for me. I want to figure that out."

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. Coming in with that open mindset.

Laura Weiss:
Exactly.

Aryel Cianflone:
Well, and as we talk about some of the clients that, or the characteristics of clients that you enjoy working with most or that maybe have the most favorable outcomes of the interaction. I'm wondering, yeah, how would you describe that person? You just said someone who comes in with an open mind?

Laura Weiss:
Totally. Open mind. A willingness to learn something new. Again, a lot of this is about, it's about self discovery, right? So if you come in with here's who I am and I have a fixed mindset about that, and I just need help with my resume. Right? That is not a good use of a coach. Right? There are other professionals that can help you with something like that.

Laura Weiss:
So I think a desire and willingness to learn, and open-mindedness to what you might learn, right? Being open minded to discovering something about yourself or about a possibility that hadn't really occurred to you. A desire to be collaborative. This is another thing that's really unique and I think really powerful about the client coach relationship as opposed to a client or a student teacher, or an employee boss kind of relationship, is that it's highly collaborative. It's empowered. There's this concept of the designed alliance, which is a tool that comes out of coactive coaching, that I now actually use outside of coaching when I facilitate large groups. That's a different story.

Laura Weiss:
But in the coaching context, it's another one of these things that's established at that very first session. And it's essentially how are we going to work together? How are we going to be with each other client? What do you need from me as a coach? And then I can make similar requests.

Laura Weiss:
And it becomes this living document that, and it's literally written down so that if weeks or months later, something's not working, we can refer to it and say, "Hey, what do we need to change?" Right? So that's where the collaborative nature comes in. It isn't just like the client shouldn't have the expectation that I tell you what I'm trying to do and you're going to give me some answers. It's like we're going to work together on this. So the desire to have that interplay and do it in a mutually empowered way is I think what makes for a really healthy and productive client coach relationship.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. And it sounds like both priorities are co-responsible. I don't know, that seems like a funny way to put it. There's so much that I think a lot of people, myself included thinking about a coach or these different people who can help, so to speak in your life. Sometimes it's like I have this problem. I'm going to engage this person and they're going to solve it. But it's so much about you facilitating this person solving it for themselves.

Laura Weiss:
Yeah. And back to the design process just because I think there's so many great connections. The most productive design projects that I was ever involved with were those where we would engage the client to codesign the solution with us. Now there are obviously appropriate points in that process to bring them in, but as soon as they understood what was going on and had a hand in actually interpreting or discovering the opportunities, and almost co-designing the solution with you. Again, it's back to that sustainability of the outcome. The odds are that's something that's actually going to stick. In the case of a new product or service, it may actually get launched. In the case of coaching, those behaviors, those actions, those new ways of being and doing, become part of that person's life. So that collaborative codesign, mutually empowered relationship is I think critical to successful coaching.

Aryel Cianflone:
Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. The more we feel ownership, the more we actually hold on to something.

Laura Weiss:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Aryel Cianflone:
That last comment reminded me of what you were talking about at the beginning of the episode where going and working in these organizations is really what got you inspired in coaching because you saw that it wasn't actually a lack of technology or resources, it was really people. And I'm wondering as we're getting to the end of the conversation, what is your hope, what have you seen in terms of how coaching or engaging in these coaching activities, behaviors, can have that change that you were hoping for in the beginning?

Laura Weiss:
Yeah. One of the things I've really come to realize and have become a real advocate for, especially working with emergent or executive design leadership, is the leadership aspect of it, right? It's so easy to get caught up in learning the craft, which is critical, right? And understanding new technology and all of that. But the real leaders of the future. And if we really believe as I do, that design is a potentially really powerful, strategic tool in creating change in the world and all the things that we know need to be changed. Then we need to up their game as leaders. I'm still amazed, maybe amazed, but maybe not so surprised that a lot of people that I know and I have students who go off and work inside of large tech companies in the UX or other design groups. And oftentimes they're still seen as people who just make things look nice, right? Or make the screen work.

Laura Weiss:
And design has such a potential to be a leader at the front end of that creative process to determine what is the problem to be solved? How do we frame it? How do we explore it? How do we interpret the insights from research, etc.? That the skills associated to do that really are these human to human communication skills, right? The ability to understand how to listen, how to have empathy, how to ask powerful questions. How to frame, etc. All of those things that I was mentioning.

Laura Weiss:
So what I always like to say is that design leadership is the currency that you should be trying to cultivate or trying to invest in, in the same way you invest in your craft. I think places of education and other programs, professional development programs inside of organizations are just starting to see that and see the benefit of enabling development of those skills. And I think coaching can help with that as well. I work one on one, but I also work with teams of leaders, and project teams also that are trying to create better outcomes and effect change. At the end of the day, this is all about affecting change in the world. That's what design and innovation essentially is, is creating some kind of change. So being a leader within a system where that change is happening is absolutely key.

Aryel Cianflone:
Thanks for listening today. If you want to continue this conversation, join us in the Slack group for Q&A with Laura next week. You can find more details on Twitter. And if you aren't already a member of our Slack group, feel free to request an invite under the community tab on our website, mixed-methods.org. Follow us on Medium and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest UX research trends.

Aryel Cianflone:
Special thanks today to Denney Fuller, our audio engineer and composer. And Laura Leavitt, our designer. See you next time.

 



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