Atul Gawande is a physician who invested in his education, studied hard, and began his practice. After five years he saw his skill improve until it flattened; he wasn’t getting any better. He wondered if this was a skilled as he would become. He wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion, so he did what sports teams do to improve; he hired a coach. 

Coaching began with football, when Yale University hired a coach in the late 1800s. Harvard, Yale’s bitter rival, was stubborn and didn’t hire a coach. It took three decades, losing almost every game played against Yale, for Harvard to realize the value of a coach. 

What is the value of a coach? Atul’s TED talk explores this question. He tells us that we tend to be blind to our own limitations. Coaches can observe small (life is subtle) things that we can’t. Changing those subtleties is how we move toward being true masters in the activity of our choice. Coaches create a whole new level of awareness for us. They’re our external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of reality. They can recognize the fundamentals, break down our actions, and help us build them up again. 

Hiring a coach can be challenging because we all resist being observed and critiqued. So, like all learning situations, dealing with the discomfort of being observed and critiqued is part of improving. Don’t be resistant to observation and critique, or stubborn like Harvard was. Hire a coach.

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