What do building sets and coaching have in common?

I was seven or eight years old, sitting in my bedroom with an 1800-piece box of Knex®. The building set was a luxury at the time. I remember a daunting feeling come over me as I reviewed the designs I could make, followed by an eagerness as I started to sort through the pieces: gears and connectors in red, yellow, blue, green, white, grey, and black. From that disorganized box, which was overflowing with a variety of loose and partly-assembled pieces, I separated and consolidated each type of piece into separate bags, making it easy to find the parts I needed for my chosen design. Over the course of a weekend day, including several interruptions, I was able to assemble a magnificent Ferris wheel!

Imagine the disarray of those eighteen-hundred pieces in that box. I had learned how to create small objects without going through the extra step of organizing the Knex® pieces, but the task of creating that Ferris wheel seemed more fun having first prepared my building set (and my mind). Not only that, it was natural to do so.

Creativity in the form of innovative building design was not my forte then. Neither is it now. I preferred following a well-thought-out pattern, much as I preferred playing classical piano to pop or jazz. However, the skill of being able to organize myself would prove to be useful. Years of playing with building sets demonstrated that disorganization and chaos do not preclude creativity and practical design. Rather, they are a normal, necessary precursor to creation. Through play, I generated a deep, intuitive sense of what was possible. This has guided me ever since. Yes, the complexity of the world still overwhelms me at times. Yet, it does not prevent me from believing that problems can be solved or envisioning enhanced systems for living and creating.

Over the years, this appreciation for organization and mental models supported me through my medical education and training. I remember reading a textbook chapter on the renal system and integrating the concepts with my class notes; I generated a pictorial representation of the nephron, including the key physiological processes and clinical correlations, on a 3-feet by 2-feet piece of paper that I kept rolled up and used as a reference for years. All of those pieces of data were organized and then used to create connections to understand medicine.

In order to organize myself in my coaching, I continue to expand my repertoire of frameworks and mental models, and my understanding of distinctions and paradoxes. Different from when I was young, the organizational schemes I use now possess a few more limitations than the simple mode of organization I used in building. Still, whether I am coaching myself or my clients, each idea, feeling, action, and outcome that are shared are naturally integrated into models that allow me to more deeply understand the complex individual in front of me, and to help them develop the awareness and skills toward improved personal leadership.

I have appreciated the pragmatic aspect of this skill, in order to help people make decisions, set and achieve goals, improve relationships and self-confidence, and to be more emotionally resilient. I also know that there is a prismatic component to my coaching, which lets me see what is possible for those individuals whom I coach, even when they present with a singular view of their identity or future. Like a prism, where a beam of white light can separate into a spectrum of light including all colors of the rainbow, I similarly imagine a spectrum of possibility for each individual I work with. Also, I see that each person has this possibility within them already. With guidance, they are able to expand their own self-perspectives and life-perspectives, and then have fun intentionally choosing a path that they haven’t been on before in order to create a result or personal transformation they desire.

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