During the first session of the Professional Coaching Course with New Ventures West, we discussed the idea that we as people live within our own self-sealed and self-reinforcing narrative. Within that narrative, our interactions with the world around us are interpreted and, through that interpretation, used to reinforce the strength of our narrative. Similar to the current political news cycles, we select the interpretation of the world that fits our worldview which further provides more sources to convince us that our narrative is “correct”.
An opportunity for coaching, and thus learning, happens when someone has a break in their narrative because of a new piece of gained information or a new event that despite best efforts will not fit in the current narrative and pops the filter bubble.
The same is true when developing software.
When working with a program, we expect certain output. We start our program, interact with it, and the program returns data. As we understand the purpose behind our program, we document the potential world of inputs, and document the expected consequent outputs. In short, we build a narrative for our software and over time will gain expectations for how our software will react given new inputs.
Our next revision of the software will have new features and functionality designed to meet a need in the world. Based on our experience with our program, we expect and design that program to react in certain ways. We release it into the world, and then the unexpected happens – someone does something that veers from the expected norm and our program breaks.
Programmers document as best we can the new inputs and the new conditions surrounding this error in our program’s narrative. We may be unable to reproduce the error – “It works for me, it must be your problem” – and we revert back to our narrative. But, as more instances of the error appear in the wild we start to collect more and more data to help us find a solution.
There are two solutions.
A narrative-reinforcing solution would be to tell our customers that they’re using our program wrong. “It wasn’t designed to do that, so don’t do it that way.” We look at this bug report and say that there’s a workaround. Our narrative is fine; the problem is with the world. We close the bug and move back to our increasingly broken narrative.
If we are good at our craft, we will start to examine the problem and start to find the real solution to debug our software.
To help us, we insert “breakpoints” into our program – places where we can stop our program and examine what’s going on when we encounter an error. A breakpoint in our software provides us with a way to stop time and look at our inputs and outputs and better understand the error in the system. Once we understand the error, we can create new pathways in our software to handle the new information and provide correct, better, or even new outputs to our customers.
Similarly, when we encounter a break in the narrative of our lives, we have choices in how we deal with the new information we’ve found.
We can hold onto our existing narrative and proclaim that the problem is with others – “I’m not the problem, you are!” or “The world just has it out for me!” – and create the pathways toward avoidance. We can choose to reinforce our narrative in the short term and hope that more breaks in our narrative don’t appear.
We can also use these breaks in our narratives as an opportunity to debug the narrative of our lives. We can insert metaphorical breakpoints in our software, and examine what’s going on with our narrative that’s producing unexpected results.
Coaching is the framework we can use to insert the breakpoints in our lives, to provide us with the means to examine the data we have, and create a new, a different, or potentially a better narrative. As coaches, we are the debugging software of our clients’ lives. We don’t create the new software, and we don’t create the conditions that our clients incorporate into their lives. Instead, we provide the lens of reflection and guided introspection to our clients and support them in the work of debugging their narratives.