30th Jan 2012
Unlimited Potential provide the TrainingZone community with another great case study. Read on.
Mark has a problem: his masters dissertation is due, and if he doesn't finish it and get it to his supervisor by the end of the month his degree is in jeopardy. He's spent a lot of his own money to do the course, as his company have told him that there will be redundancies coming up and he wants to put himself in a higher professional bracket than those around him in order to avoid the chop. His thinking is that even if he does get 'downsized', the degree will make him more employable in the cut-throat marketplace. His coach can see that he is agitated and seems worried.
Coach: Something seems to be bothering you. Can you tell me what the problem is?
Mark: I'm just a little worked up about my dissertation. I've only got a few days to complete it, and the time just seems to be disappearing.
Coach: How much do you still have to do?
Mark: Not much – maybe 1,500 words or so, but it's hard to find the time to get stuck into it.
Coach: How much time do you need to find?
Mark: I'm not sure...maybe four or five hours would do it, but it could take more.
Coach: Let's start with four or five. Let's see if we can find you that much and work from there. Would that help?
Mark: Of course...though where you think you're going to find it from I don't know!
Coach: Let's start with today. What commitments do you have after our meeting is over?
Mark: I've got to chair a project meeting straight after this, so that's a couple of hours, then catch up with the emails and calls, then home. I'm meeting some mates for a beer and a meal so we can talk about our plans for a skiing trip, but that's not until 8.30, so there's maybe an hour or two when I can squeeze a bit of work in before I go out.
Coach: What would happen if you put off your mates for tonight and stayed home?
Mark: Nothing much I guess. They'd have a laugh at my expense but other than that...
Coach: So if you stayed home, how much time could you devote to your dissertation?
Mark: Three hours? Four maybe?
Coach: Why are you asking me? You should be able to tell me, surely.
Mark: Yes. Sorry. I could free up four hours and work on it then.
Coach: And will you?
Mark: I suppose. It's tough though - every time I try to work at home I end up watching telly or chatting on the phone. I get distracted too easily.
Coach: What alternatives do you have to working at home?
Mark: None, I don't think. The pub's out – too many distractions. There's the local library maybe.
Coach: Sound like a good idea.
Mark: But they close at 9.30, so I wouldn't get much time.
Coach: Mark, I get the feeling you're looking for reasons NOT to do the work, rather than ways to get the work done.
Mark: No. I definitely need to get the work done.
Coach: Fine...but do you WANT to get it done?
Mark: Of course I do. I wouldn't have sunk so much time and money into it if I didn't want it.
Coach: Fair point Mark. So, given that you HAVE invested so much in it, and you feel that you NEED it, and you say that you WANT it too...I have to ask: What's stopping you?
Mark: I told you – time. Not enough time.
Coach: Yes, you told me that, but you also found at least four hours just by postponing an evening out, so you could surely find a few more hours between now and the due date...and in fact you said four or five hours might be enough to see the job finished, didn’t you?
Mark: Yes...I suppose I did.
Coach: So...I'll ask it again: What's stopping you?
Coach: Are you sure? Because if you ARE sure, I'll hold you to it, and I'll expect you to tell me you got the dissertation finished and handed in on time when we meet next.
Mark: To be honest, I'm just not sure if the work I've done is good enough, and if I finish it and hand it in and it turns out to be rubbish I'll have wasted a lot of time and effort...and money.
Coach: And if you don't finish it? What then?
Mark: I'll still have wasted it all.
Mark: [pauses] I'll never know if it was good enough or not, I suppose.
Mark: [pauses again] I'll probably get made redundant, and if I do I'll never get another job.
Coach: What effect would that have on your life?
Mark: Are you kidding? It would be impossible. I couldn't hope to keep my flat, [he pauses to reflect] I'd probably have to go back to my parents' to live, do some crappy job while I was applying to get back into a proper professional role. It would be hell.
Coach: So...what are you doing to avoid that scenario?
Mark: Well, I'm doing my Masters, of course.
Coach: Of course. And that relies on your dissertation?
Mark: [smiling] I see what you're getting at.
Coach: Good. So what are you going to do about it?
Mark: I'm going to tell my mates I'm not going to be there tonight, then I'm going to give the TV remote to my next-door neighbour; switch off my phone and get the bloody thing finished – if not tonight, then certainly tomorrow!
Coach: Good. I look forward to reading it. How are you feeling about your future prospects?
Mark: Good. Strong.
In this scenario, Mark has embraced the idea of failure, but until he really expands that failure out into its concomitants he doesn't grasp how bad it could get. Finishing his dissertation may not actually safeguard him, but it's a positive step in that direction. The coach has asked him to develop the idea of failure into a very unappealing future, and has invited him to compare losing a night out with his mates against losing his job, his home and his prospects. Suddenly an evening at the computer seems much less of a hardship!
Tim Hawkes is managing director of Unlimited Potential
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