A list of coaches (and therapists) in the EA/rationality communities can be found here

I think I should try productivity coaching, but I'm not sure which coach to try or how to decide on that. Presumably it's a matter of (1) the coaches' average quality/impact across clients and (2) the coaches' fit for me. But I don't know how to assess (1) or (2). 

So I'm wondering:

  1. Does anyone have thoughts on who I specifically should get coaching from?
  2. Are there factors I should take into account other than average quality/impact and fit for me?
  3. How much weight should I put on average quality/impact vs fit for me?
  4. How can I best assess average quality/impact and fit for me?
    1. Are there people who've had many sessions with multiple different coaches who could comment on the differences?
    2. Many coaches (but not all) gather testimonials, feedback from clients from anonymous surveys, and other data on their apparent impact. Has anyone compared that info across coaches to see what it suggests about average quality/impact and fit for particular types of people? If not, can someone do that?
    3. Should I just try multiple coaches and see how it goes? But I imagine it'd take several sessions with each before I got a relatively clear conclusions (which would impose a substantial time cost and - less importantly to me - perhaps financial cost). And I also expect there might be order effects.
    4. Currently my shortlist (Lynette Bye and Daniel Kestenholz) is basically just based on who I've heard recommended most often.

I'm hoping answers could also be useful to other people considering trying coaching.

(I'm currently intending to restrict my search to just productivity coaches in the EA/rationality communities. But let me know if you think that's a mistake.)

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3 Answers

When it comes to therapy, the best predictor of a successful outcome is (1) you knowing what kind of outcome you'd like and (2) you having a really good relationship with your therapist, such that you can communicate what's working and not working.

So in the absence of other evidence, I'd reluctantly suggest you have an intro session with a couple of coaches (potentially including someone outside EA just to mix it up?) and see who you feel the best relationship potential with.

Hi Michael,

I’m sharing a few thoughts below in response to your questions. I’m probably missing some important aspects, but I wanted to share at least some impressions.

For context (so you get a sense of what my answers are based on), I’ve been coaching people in the EA community for about three years now. I started coaching as a side project, investing up to one day per week, then increased that share to half of my work hours two years ago. I’ve worked with EAs from a broad range of backgrounds and on a wide range of topics, without any particular specialization so far. I’ve been training with coaching industry leaders and got certified with the International Coaching Federation, the world’s largest organization of professionally trained coaches.

  1. Does anyone have thoughts on who I specifically should get coaching from?
    1. I’ll skip this one, given that I’m a coach myself.
  2. Are there factors I should take into account other than average quality/impact and fit for me?
    1. I can’t think of any other important factor off the top of my head.
  3. How much weight should I put on average quality/impact vs fit for me?
    1. I find that hard to say. I haven’t looked into the research sufficiently. From what I’ve seen so far, fit tends to be mentioned very consistently as a key driver of coaching and psychotherapy outcomes.
  4. How can I best assess average quality/impact and fit for me?
    1. Are there people who've had many sessions with multiple different coaches who could comment on the differences?
      1. I’m aware of maybe a handful of people (though there are probably more) who’ve worked with both Lynette and me for some time. Unfortunately, I can’t share names because of confidentiality agreements, although I could reach out to some of them personally and ask if they might want to comment on their experience.
      2. That said, there are some reasons that make me think you might not learn a lot from such accounts:
        1. You probably have somewhat different needs when it comes to fit.
        2. Past clients probably worked with different coaches at different times and on different issues.
          1. The point about different times seems particularly meaningful given that most coaches who work with EAs are at an early stage in that career where their rates of improvement are relatively high. Consequently, a coach’s performance today will be meaningfully different from a year ago.
    2. Many coaches (but not all) gather testimonials, feedback from clients from anonymous surveys, and other data on their apparent impact. Has anyone compared that info across coaches to see what it suggests about average quality/impact and fit for particular types of people? If not, can someone do that?
      1. I’m not aware of anyone having tried to compare such data across coaches.
      2. In my practice, I’m still wrapping my head around how to collect the data in the first place and how to measure coaching outcomes. I’ve experimented with a few approaches but feel like there’s still a large gap between what I’m doing and what would be ideal. A number of things are going on here:
        1. There has been a lot of variation in my coaching engagements regarding the type of clients, the topics covered, and the duration of the engagement. Some of this is deliberate as I wanted to explore widely to get a picture of the entire market and my relative effectiveness and interests. However, this means that I have fewer data points for any particular type of client or topic.
        2. Coaching has many outcomes across different levels and timescales. Some outcomes happen within a single session, whereas others take a long time to manifest. It’s often hard to identify the slower changes and connect them to the coaching. At the same time, those slower changes are often the most valuable ones.
        3. Coaching is an emergent process that shifts during the engagement. The initial goals for the coaching provide a sense of direction, but typically they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, I’ve found it somewhat meaningless to consider goal attainment when measuring coaching outcomes.
        4. I lack survey design and data evaluation skills. I’d be interested in talking to people who have those skills and would be excited about applying them in a coaching context.
    3. Should I just try multiple coaches and see how it goes? But I imagine it'd take several sessions with each before I got a relatively clear conclusion (which would impose a substantial time cost and - less importantly to me - perhaps financial cost). And I also expect there might be order effects.
      1. The 80-20 might be to shortlist 2-3 coaches and do 1-2 sessions with each person, working on the same topic. I’d expect this would give you meaningful insights into both quality and fit.
    4. Some additional thoughts on assessing quality and fit:
      1. I’d start with your particular needs. Productivity is a broad topic. What are the concrete problems you want to work on? What do you really want to get out of the coaching engagement?
      2. It can be helpful to assess the coach’s experience and whether it fits your needs. For example, you might want to consider things like training background, number of sessions, types of clients worked with, areas of expertise, and their career history outside of coaching.
      3. Coaching credentials and certification are another indicator. However, I mostly see them as proof that a coach has a minimum level of skill and training, which doesn’t say much about the upper end of the spectrum. Many great coaches aren’t certified.
      4. Ed Batista, an experienced executive coach whose work has been inspiring and insightful for me, has a post on how to choose a coach. The post offers a set of factors and questions that might help you decide.
      5. If you do an initial session with a coach, I’d recommend that you bring a challenge to work on and do a regular coaching session to get a feel for what that's like. It might be tempting to interview the coach, but I’d expect that you’ll get more information from doing such a “work test.”

<<I lack survey design and data evaluation skills. I’d be interested in talking to people who have those skills and would be excited about applying them in a coaching context.>>

I don't have formal/academic experience in this but have some experience thinking about it an applied M&E for EA meta work sense. Feel free to message or email me if you'd like feedback on draft things or would like to discuss sometime!

3Daniel Kestenholz6mo
Thanks a lot, Jamie! I took a note and will be in touch (although it might take some time given my current work priorities).

This post by a rationalist/EA therapist helped me put some thoughts into words:

http://daystareld.com/the-bad-therapist/