Tag Archives: Factory Podcast Tweet

22 effective Coaching Questions: Pixar’s 22 Rules of Story Telling Applied to Coaching

Coaching can benefit from animation company Pixar and their rules of story telling.  Pixar has 22 rules of story telling, according to David Price, the author of Pixar Touch – see his blog here. He gleaned these rules from the tweets of Emma Coats, a Pixar storyboard artist. I think they can be usefully applied in coaching. See what you think.


1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Coaching Question: How can you recognize and celebrate the energy and effort you are applying to your projects?

2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

Coaching Question: How can you keep your client/customer/stakeholder firmly in mind in developing your plans and actions?

3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Coaching Question: How can you take action right now and stop worrying about how things will turn out?

4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Coaching Question: How many different ways can you describe your history using the formula above?  How are the different versions similar? How do they differ? Which is your favorite version and why? How can this help motivate your next steps?

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Coaching Question: What aspects of the patterns you see in your situation are pretty similar? What things are you going to leave unexplored or unanswered in the service of action?

6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

Coaching Question: If you faced challenges in areas that you feel the least capable, how could you meet those challenges and succeed?

7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Coaching Question: Working backwards from where you need to get, what are the foreseeable next steps?

8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

Coaching Question: How can you get a positive outcome and closure in this situation even if it is not the most desirable or perfect outcome?

9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Coaching Question: What are the most obvious things that would not work in this situation? What does that leave over that might just work?

10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

Coaching Question: Thinking about the people you admire, what specific characteristics or achievements do you admire? How does that reflect on you as a person and your priorities?

11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Coaching Question: How can you best articulate this to trusted others without delay so you can get to work on refining and implementing your idea?

12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Coaching Question: What are the most obvious solutions to my problem? What would be the most surprising solutions to my problem?

13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Coaching Question: What are your real opinions about this situation?  What would a strong supporter say? What about a critic what would they say?

14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

Coaching Question: Why does this course of action matter so much to you? What meaning does it have for you?  How can you use this meaning and mattering to maintain motivation and persistence?

15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

Coaching Question: If you were a member of your team, how would you feel about the proposed action?

16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Coaching Question: What is riding on this decision?  How can you use that to motivate you?

17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Coaching Question: How can you switch your attention to projects where there is a greater liklihood of success? How can you ensure that you are able to transfer what you’ve learned to new projects?

18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Coaching Question: How can you identify when you have finished something and when you are unproductively fiddling with a successful solution? What are the signs?

19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Coaching Question: How can you leverage chance events to your advantage?  How can you be ready to take opportunities when they present themselves?

20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

Coaching Question: Thinking about a recent outcome you did not like, how could you have done things differently that would have yielded a better outcome?

21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

Coaching Question: Imagine you are the gatekeeper, what things would make you open those gates and remove the barrier?

22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Coaching Question: What are the essential repeating themes, the values and behaviors you want to express in your next actions?

This post was the result of multiple tweets.  First Emma Coats tweets these rules, then David Price blogs on it, then Joshua Cohen blogs on it and then David Winter tweets it and now I blog on it. Social media in action!

Creating creative coaching sessions – Keyhole coaching

Are we stuck in rather unimaginative approaches to how we deliver coaching or counseling sessions?  How can we start creating creative coaching sessions? This post is prompted by Madeline Paterson who commented on my post Act before you think as follows:

“I would be interested in hearing more about your thoughts on the tendency of our profession to ‘deliver’ in a session or block of sessions and moving beyond this in new ways. Although many career coaches offer support-on-demand between sessions (eg by email or tel-call), the ‘session’ approach dominates much of what career coaches do when working with individuals….Life’s uncertainties do bring unexpected moments of choice and opportunity: a single word can change everything. …how do you think we might shape services that are more responsive to clients’ life events?”

The idea that we might be limiting our effectiveness by sticking with traditional 20, 40 or 60 minute sessions is not new. Norm Amundson in his excellent book Active Engagement discusses this very point.

I’m not sure how we arrived at the hourly session, but I suspect it has more to do with administrative convenience than anything to do with maximal efficacy for the client.  As Madeline points out in her unedited comments, now that coaches are armed with technologies like mobile phones, SMS messages, Skype, Facetime, email, twitter and facebook, there are many options to communicate quickly, immediately and cheaply with clients.   This should give us the freedom to loosen our attachment to the hour and the hourly rate.

It raises the possibility that we can deliver our services in 2 – 10 minute sessions.  Short, sharp to the point sessions have many benefits including:

  • coaching when the client needs it
  • providing advice within the currently experienced context
  • providing advice when the client is receptive to it
  • providing what I call Keyhole coaching – minimally invasive or disruptive procedures in contrast with the more traditional “open heart” coaching
  • wrapping coaching more naturally around actions taken by the client
  • promoting client’s to take actions that are supported and coached “live” or “online” rather than relying solely on after the fact or “off line” reflection
  • leverages psychology of learning principles around reinforcement and rapid reacquisition of skills (in laymen’s terms revision and prompting)

key hole coaching Dr Jim Bright

These advantages are all client-focused but with technology comes the opportunity for us to be more responsive to client needs to deliver services when the client needs them, not when it suits out billing models.  What other advantages do you see in Keyhole coaching?



Coaching Fractal Action for Personal Development

We get frustrated when we are unsure how to act, and feel disheartened when we voluntarily or involuntarily act in ways that are not true ourselves.  We can get lost while searching for the sweet spot that lies between pattern and surprise, consistency and spontaneity, security and risk, familiarity and freedom, and order and disorder. We can use the idea of fractals, described in the Chaos Theory of Careers, to guide us into satisfying action that is spontaneous and consistent.

When I suggested in my previous post that people act before they think one common concern is that this means acting in an entirely random manner. Indeed I did suggest “committing random acts of contribution”. However underpinning these supposedly random acts is a thread of continuity. The random acts I advocated were not totally random, they were constrained to being acts of contribution.

What I am advocating is to repeatedly apply the same rule “to contribute” over and over again in many different contexts and in many different ways.  Through these acts, a pattern of contribution emerges – or in the words of the Chaos Theory of Careers a Fractal pattern emerges.

A Wikipedia definition of a Fractal captures what we need for our purposes. ‘Fractals are typically self-similar patterns, where self-similar means they are “the same from near as from far”…. The definition of fractal goes beyond self-similarity per se to exclude trivial self-similarity and include the idea of a detailed pattern repeating itself.’

So repeatedly applying the value “to make a contribution” whenever and wherever leads to a beautiful fractal of contribution.

We can use Fractals as a way of motivating us to action, in a manner that is consistent but not totally predictable; novel but similar; sort of like old, but new; trait-like, but changing; or in the words of H.B. Gelatt, focused AND flexible.

There are four steps to Fractal Action

Step 1  Define your value rule

This is the rule you are going to apply over and over again. It should be specified in one sentence and should NOT be over-specified. It needs to be self-evidently clear, but not limiting, and it is NOT time-based.

Here are some GOOD examples:

  • helping people less well off
  • reducing costs by 10%
  • providing motivational feedback
  • learning one new thing
  • trying one new thing
  • eating a new food
  • listening to a new song
  • meeting one more person
  • improving my grade score/sales performance/feedback ratings
  • all of the above
  • improving my performance
  • being polite

These are BAD examples

  • reaching 100K in sales by August
  • getting to 10,000 twitter followers
  • helping people by supplying them with more umbrellas
  • getting promoted to Senior Management

(You can see that the good “rules” are akin to values or higher order/fuzzy goals, whereas the bad examples more closely resemble the increasingly discredited SMART goals.)

Step 2 Apply your Fractal value to your next action

For any given situation, bring to mind your fractal rule and ask yourself:

“How can I apply this rule in this situation right now?” and then do it!

This step requires Courage, opportunity awareness and creativity to see how your rules are linked to the current situation.

Step 3 Repeat

The key to this process is to repeat the process continually and regularly, in as many situations, if not all the situations you find yourself in.

Step 4 Step back and understand the pattern that is emerging

Look to see patterns emerging over time, consider the outcomes of your actions and also the underlying process.  You should see developing a complex, changing, unpredictable pattern that nevertheless has a thread of continuity reflecting how you, your values and skills have connected with the world, and how you have emerged into yourself.

As Aristotle wrote “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”. And that is coaching fractal action for personal development – it’s simple but its complex!

Act before you think: In coaching and careers

“Nothing will be achieved if first all objections must be overcome” said the wise Eleanor Roosevelt.   Objections prevent action.  Objections to our own actions are ultimately authored by ourselves.  Others may advise caution or object, but it takes us to take on board and own those objections to prevent us from acting.  It is our thoughts prior to action that can ultimately present a formidable barrier to action.

Thinking before you act is what we’ve been all brought up to do.  We are taught to think a failure to think first must ultimately result in reckless disregard for our own or others’ well-being. The trouble is,  thinking before you act is not a fail safe process, because it is impossible to think through all the possible outcomes of a proposed action.

We cannot work out all the possibilities in advance, not only because there are too many, but also because our current vantage point may not reveal the complete picture.  I live near the coast, and if I am standing on one beach I cannot see the other one around the headland.  Even if I stand on that headland, where I can see both beaches, I cannot see around the next headland and what may be on offer there.  In other words, I might be missing out on a fantastic beach and I’ll never discover it unless I am prepared to act.

For people stuck in their careers, there is every likelihood that their heads are full of confusion, cautionary thoughts and frustration.   Clarifying their thoughts as a lot of coaching and counseling aims to do, may be doing no more than giving them a sharper picture of the beach they are on.   They will never fully appreciate the other great beaches until they are prepared to act and move to a new vantage point. Act before you think!

I am more and more convinced that we’ve got our priorities wrong by so strongly privileging thinking before you act in career coaching. I become even more convinced when I hear the countless stories from clients who “fell into” satisfying careers, or got there by being in the right place at the right time. These people (and I think they are the majority) got where they are as much by acting before you think, than thinking before you act.

So in your own coaching practice, take action, and resolve to encourage your clients to action first, and then collectively reflect after.  Encourage lots of small steps and little experiments, encourage turning up to things, encourage connection with others without any clear agenda, encourage random acts of contribution to others, encourage your clients to go forth.


Why is George Clooney so rich?

We are all familiar with all the advice on how to get rich. However here I analyse George Clooney’s wealth and provide a possible reason for his wealth.

George Clooney apparently earns $15m per film

Assume Clooney appears for 60 minutes of a 90 minute film

That works out at $250,000 per minute on screen.

George likes coffee, in my local supermarket Lavazza beans are $30 for a 2.2Ib bag.

So if he visits my supermarket can he buy coffee faster than he earns money?

The self-serve barcode swipe machine in my local store will process 9 items a minute (thanks to help checkout guy in my local store!).

The guy on the checkout tells me he can swipe up to 20 items a minute.

So if George Clooney goes mad and does it himself he could spend $270 in a minute on coffee, or $600 if he gets the checkout guy to do it. (and that is without waiting to pay or swiping his loyalty card for air-miles (remember Up in the Air?).

This leaves George with a net profit of at least $249,400 per minute.  So this isn’t going to work.

So George likes TV (he was on it for much of the 1990s), so what if he pops down to my local electrical retailer, and spends up big on Sony 55 inch 3-D LCD TV screens priced at $3300?

Now lets assume these items are stacked right next to the checkout (to save time hauling them through the store) and the swiping rate is also no more than 20 per minute.

Now he can spend $66,000 per minute.   This still leaves him with a profit of $184,000 per minute.

Clearly consumer goods is not the way to go.

So maybe cars or houses are the go. The trouble is, with all the paper work, he couldn’t buy one in a minute.

Ebay auctions are out because they last at least 5 days.

So what if George has some help?  Lets go back to that TV retailer. Now suppose we have  his old friends from ER helping him Anthony Edwards (Dr. Mark Greene)  Sherry Stringfield (Dr. Susan Lewis) and Noah Wylie (Med Student) helping him by also swiping 20 TVs a minute. That’s 80 TVs a minute.

Now we have 4 x $66,000 = $264,000 per minute which exceeds his income.

So here could be a recipe for bankruptcy for George. Would George Clooney be so rich after that?

BUT each TV box is about 60 x 32 x 5 inches and weighs 70lbs and they dont come from nowhere. Somebody has to freight them to the store. Each semi trailer has 40,000lbs cargo capacity. So there are 570 TVs in each load.

So George and ER friends would go through a semi-trailer every 7 minutes. Is that why George Clooney is so rich?

Now allowing for backing out the empty semi-trailer from the loading bay and manoeuvring the waiting full semi into the bay, and allowing for a team of loaders to offload the TVs, even if they were throwing them off the truck, onto forklifts taking 10 TVs at a time, each trip will take at least 30 seconds to get it from the truck to the check out – that is about 30 minutes per load!

But George’s team are buying ‘em at a rate of 7 mins per truckload!!!

So, in the best case scenario the store has 570 TVs stocked by the checkout, with a full semi-trailer to go. Let’s suppose they start offloading the TVs once George’s team starting their purchasing.

In the first minute the team purchase 80 TVs.

In that time the stockers, re-stock at a rate of 10 TVs every 30 seconds.  That is 60 a minute, or a net shortfall of 20 TVs a minute!

So I calculate that after only 30 minutes of this madness, George would be the proud owner of 1590 Sony TVs, and be owed 40 the store couldn’t stock in time and in the process would still be over $10 million richer.

And that is why George Clooney is so rich.

The top 10 words of 2011 or of all time?

LinkedIn report the top 10 clichés found on LinkedIn profiles in 2011 (see here).  So how do these words stack up in terms of historic usage?  Using a relatively unknown google research feature called Ngram, we can see how often each of these words have appeared in books since the 1500s!  It is interesting to see how many of the words in career development have only recently become fashionable, but there are some that we might think are shiny and new that have been around before or forever.

Top of the LinkedIn list was “creative”.  Here is the Ngram result:

note: (the graphs show the results of analyzing up to 6000 books published each year from 1500-2008.  In the early years this represents all the books published, and in later years, a random selection of books.  The percentages on the y-axis represent the number of times the searched word appears as a proportion of all words published in the sample of books for that year)

This word didn’t really feature until the self-conscious C20th, and plateaued around the time of the Mad Men Madison Avenue advertising hey-dey in the 1960s.

Next up is the word “Organizational” – which is kind of embarrassing I was the National Chair of the College of Organizational Psychologists!

“Organizational” is definitely a post-war phenomenon and is there evidence it is on the way down perhaps? Time will tell.

At number 3, was “Effective” – a word that was popular in the renaissance, and is having, well, a renaissance now.

Number six on the list was “Motivated”.

My oh my!  It seems the C20th was all about getting up and getting on, but have we turned the corner in the C21st?  I just cant be bothered to find out!!

At number 10 was that old stalwart of the resume – “Dynamic”.

It seems that as we got progressively more motivated in the C20th we also decided to call ourselves “Dynamic” – the C20th really was an exhausting century!

But what about some other terms that we bandy around frequently in Career Development – like er, “Career”

The word shows a less dramatic rise in usage, having been used relatively often in the renaissance, but really started to build in the Victorian era and the industrial revolution. Interestingly, Parson’s seminal work “Choosing a vocation” was published at the historic peak usage of the term career, which promptly went into decline until the 1950s.  I’m not claiming causation here!

The term “plan” that is dear to the hearts of some in the Career Development world is an interesting one.  It exploded in popularity between 1750 and 1800 (when Napoleon had his mojo) and stayed relatively popular up until the end of world war 2.  Interestingly then it declined until about the 1980s, when the dreaded goal setting literature and Olivia Newton John turned us all into leg warmer wearing goal-focused gym junkies and office warriors – well perhaps!

The current popularity of the term narrative in career development, politics, well just about everywhere, is reflected in the graph below, showing exponential growth in usage since the second world war.

Another term we hear a lot at the moment “constructivism” rocketed to popularity in the 1970s, but by 2008 looks to be at the beginning of suffering an equally sharp decline.  So constructivists out there, get publishing more – or at least start thinking about it, if you believe thought is reality and see if by the power of thinking you can get the line to move upwards once again.  Just kiddin!! 🙂

Words close to my theoretical heart and a basis for the Chaos Theory of Careers is the word “Change”.  Ironically there has been little change in the growth rate in usage of the term change. It shows an almost perfect linear growth rate in C18 and C19 (funny that the Industrial “revolution” didn’t give it a kick along).  However C20th saw the growth rate in usage of the term increase markedly, but then it plateaued around 1970 – which is a little surprising to me.

The term “chance”  has a colorful history as the graph below shows. The Elizabethans were into it big time (as they were equally into “mutability” as Rob Pryor and I point out in our book – The Chaos Theory of Careers.  The term peaked in usage between the world wars, fell steadily in the era of “certainty” of the 1950s to 1980s, and rocked back into popularity in the last 10 years.

Finally “Chaos” is an interesting one. It appears that 1650 was total chaos!  I blame in on Frenchman Renee Descartes who said “I think therefore I am” in this year, well probably “Je pense donc, je suis”, but it is all French to me.  The term has taken centuries to recover from his method of doubt, but has shown steady and predictable (ie not chaotic!!) growth in usage, apparently recently returning to long term growth trends after a little flurry in the 1980s probably associated with the popularization of the science usage of the term by Gleick and others during this decade.

So what other words would be worth exploring?

The role of parents in career development and thoughts on my father

here is a link to my column in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers on parents and careers. The role of parents in career development is critical. Here I share some thoughts on the role of parents in career development and thought on my father.

Vale John Robert Bright 1925 – 2011