How to Coach in a Digital World and What is Coming Next?

How to Coach in a Digital World and What is Coming Next?

Organisational Success Podcast

Whilst the pandemic ‘bumped’ many coaches into a using digital platforms to connect with their clients, this is just the start of a trend that is heading into an increasingly digital world. What does it mean for coaches and coaching? What is coming up for coaching? And how, as a coach can you thrive as we march into a world that is being defined by digital technologies? In this podcast I talk with Sam Isaacson, author of the new book, How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World. 

The Podcast – How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World with Sam Isaacson


The Book – How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World

How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World

The book How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World: Coaching With Technology by Sam Isaacson is published by Open University Press & McGraw Hill

Get the book

Sam Isaacson

Sam Isaacson
Sam Isaacson

Sam is an accredited coach and coaching supervisor, and leads the coaching services business for Grant Thornton, which employs more accredited coaches than any other coaching provider. Grant Thornton is the world’s seventh-largest by revenue and sixth-largest by number of employees, professional services network of independent accounting and consulting member firms which provide a whole range of services including coaching.

Sam has advised hundreds of organisations on technology innovation, digital transformation, risk management and coaching. He has worked with everything from local charities, councils and ultra-niche insurers through to some of the most recognisable and large organisations in the world.

Connect with Sam


Sam Issacson – Digital coaching

[00:00:00] Hello and welcome back. Today I’m talking to Sam Isaacson, who’s the author of a new book, How to thrive as a coach in a digital world, that’s been published by the Open University Press. Now Sam’s an accredited coach and coaching supervisor and leads the coaching service business for Grant Thornton, which employs more accredited coaches than any other coaching provider.

[00:00:23] Now I have to own up here to my own ignorance. Cause I’ve always known as Grant Thorton from the accountancy and tax side of things, and I’d actually realized that you were doing other services, but when I looked into the business a little bit more, I found that Grant Thornton is actually the world’s seventh largest revenue and the sixth largest by number of employees, professional services network of independent accounting and consulting, member firms, which provide a whole range of services.

[00:00:52] Well, obviously, including coaching. Anyway, Sam has advised hundreds of organizations on technology [00:01:00] innovation, digital transformation, risk management, and coaching. And he’s worked with everything from local charities, councils, ultra niche insurers through to some of the most recognizable and large organizations in the world.

[00:01:14] Welcome Sam. 

[00:01:15] Thank you for having me, David. It’s great to be here. 

[00:01:16] Yes, it’s an absolute pleasure ,and I really enjoyed the book. To start off with, can you just give me a little bit more of your background and your story please? And what kind of led up to writing the book? 

[00:01:27] Most of my career has been in professional services, so Grant Thornton is just, another latest name in our list. I’m trying to collect the whole set. I started in technology risk consulting, so that’s where I got introduced to that world ,and over several years I ended up focusing on change and that whole world of digital transformation, technology, project, risk management, that side of things through my experiences, looking at that so often my role was to come into an organization where they had a big technology program that was going wrong. Find out where the problems were and then help them to fix them. And more often than [00:02:00] not, I was finding that the root of the issue is actually was caused by the people and not by the technology itself. And so that got me interested in the whole psychology of change and, you know, organizational culture and that side of things, and so that’s when I made that move over to coaching. Yeah, Grant Thornton we have not been doing it for a massive amount of time, but that was part of what I started here. 

[00:02:19] Okay, when did you make that move over into coaching then? Interesting switch. 

[00:02:23] Yes. Well, you know, it’s not the most natural, it’s not the most well-worn path. I, think I did my original coach training in 2012, approximately, and then, kind of properly made that shift over 2015 and 2016 , and have been building it since then. 

[00:02:38] Okay. So, what prompted the book, and what led up to you writing it? 

[00:02:42] Well, when I could, you know, before lockdown, I used to enjoy going to coaching, networking events and, you know, attending conferences where I’d be able to just have natural conversations with other coaches, and in those conversations, it seemed like the subject of technology was never far away, you know, it didn’t take very long before, somebody would mentioned, [00:03:00] oh, here’s a new coaching platform, or I’ve read this news article about an AI or something that’s going on. And at that time it felt like there wasn’t really much material available to actually move that conversation forward. There were bits of research where they seemed quite dated, you know, talking about the concept of coaching through emails as this new thing. And one thing led to another and it felt like with my background, my passion for coaching and my interest in technology and that whole world, it just seemed to, the stars aligned and the book sort of came out of that.

[00:03:30] Yeah, I’ve got to say nice timing. I assume that you started actually writing the book before the pandemic and given where we are now, and what’s been happening as I say, the books, rather timely to say the least. So just to kind of start us off, you know, what are the challenges that coaches and their clients face with coaching in a digital world?

[00:03:50] It is a tricky one. And I think people, depending on people’s attitudes towards technology and innovation, and there’s natural tendencies, and partly that’s going to be to do with when you’re [00:04:00] born, people are going to have to suffer the different challenges as far as technology is concerned. So one of those would be that sort of person that thinks I suspect that good things are possible, and I just don’t know how, because when you see a piece of technology, the sales parts are around, it will all be saying how wonderful it is, and that will transform your coaching and multiply your results by 10 and this side of things. And then you start to use it and you can’t figure things out and buttons aren’t in intuitive places. And then it breaks live in a coaching session, and you struggle because now you’re having to act as technical support and be a coach and do everything else that you’re meant to be doing, and so, it isn’t always easy to kind of step into that world where you just don’t know. Another challenge is for, optimistic gadget lovers, so there are some people who something new and shiny comes onto the scene and I just want to play with it. And the problem there actually is a little bit, it’s an unconscious level that the lack of knowledge about what can go wrong, causes those things to go wrong inadvertently, because technology presents new issues and so an example is that system just isn’t [00:05:00] available, and if you’ve got somebody who’s so passionate about using that system, we’re going to end up spending the whole time, trying to get the system to work and not making the coaching work. And so I think that when something does go wrong with technology, the person who ends up suffering from it ends up being the coachee. Most often, and we as coaches have a responsibility for caring for that person and taking them through that experience in a positive way. And, then so we need to be able to consciously deal with that and so educate us so. But, ultimately underlying all of that, I think that the biggest challenge when it comes to technology is that coaches and coachees are individuals, and when we meet it’s important that we’re able to build a level of trust and rapport. And increasingly, particularly with generational differences, there are different attitudes culturally, towards using technology. For example, we all experienced having to move into video coaching and lots of people throughout 2020. And for some people, that was something that was so natural, they were already doing it. And other people, it was this horrible experience of being forced to do something they would rather never, ever have to do. And if that’s a coach and a coachee in either [00:06:00] direction having to meet where one of them is already 10 miles inside the territory, and the other one is actually doesn’t really want to go in, that doesn’t make for a very good rapport matching and experience. And so, as coaches again to be conscious of that and to be matching where our coachees are at and using technology appropriately as a challenge to overcome.

[00:06:19] I think, yeah, I also think that there’s this, issue. There’s this trust in the technology, and the rapport building, there’s also a kind of a, it’s different trying to build a relationship and trying to build a kind of equitable trust online just through something like zoom or you know, teams or something is a different thing. And I don’t know what kind of advice or thoughts you have about that, the kind of relationship building side of things. 

[00:06:49] So, you know, we influence that relationship in all sorts of ways. And some of those are conscious and some of them aren’t and we do that, whether we’re thinking about it or not, of course. And so when we meet somebody in person. We all know [00:07:00] it, the way that you shake someone’s hand influences the way that you think about them, and in reality, it has no bearing. It doesn’t mean anything, but we take it to mean something incredibly important. And so when we meet somebody through video and for example, the video is not well lit or it’s lit from behind, and so you getting silhouettes. Certainly, it feels like it’s very difficult to build that rapport and there’s no one right answer to it, but it’s worth thinking about to make sure that you’re thinking about things like that, getting your audio clear, being aware of what a backup option is going to be in advance, in case it drops out and we’ve experienced the same thing. This is not a new experience we’re having, it’s just a different sort of technology and when I did my coach training, I had to do some coach mentoring, which took place through phone coaching. But we haven’t been trained on how to coach someone on the phone, and so we’d been told to, you know, look for all these visual cues and then you can’t do it. When actually there are some really good, powerful coaching techniques that only really work when you’re on the phone, because you’ve got the ability to hone in so tightly [00:08:00]on to what are the words they’ve been saying, what’s the tone of voice. And so I think it isn’t, as simple as saying when you’re using a new technology and therefore it’s harder. But it is important for us to think I’m using a new technology, and so what do I need to change about myself and the way that I operate in order to make it as effective as possible. 

[00:08:16] Yes. Yeah. I suppose there’s a kind of a level of consciousness. That’s, different because you’re trying to adapt to a different set of surroundings that are now digital surroundings. I think what I find interesting about the whole conversation about kind of coaching in digital world is that. A lot of people kind of automatically assume that we’re, just talking about zoom and teams and, you know, video conferencing type activities but this isn’t the case. Can you just explain the kind of range of digital technologies that are being used in coaching and, some of the more cutting edge technologies that are actually being used at the moment? 

[00:08:54] Yeah. Oh, I love this, in the book. Then I categorize them into five kind of categories, and [00:09:00] so those five categories are the sorts of the world of coaching admin, you know, just having to take care of the day-to-day stuff in which we use technology. And it doesn’t tend to set in our minds as part of a coaching technology landscape but, we’re doing coaching activities through it as well. Whether that’s as simple as scheduling a coaching session or recording some goals and doing our reflection though, that side of things actually to use technology in that space can make us a better coach or can introduce new risks. 

[00:09:25] The second would be management of a coaching engagement and management of a coaching practice. And there’s lots of technology, particularly it’s been developed recently that supports with that. It’s a personal level, and that’s an organizational level when you’re looking at multiple pools of coaches and coachees.

[00:09:40] The third would be use of data analytics and we can talk about this in a moment, actually, you asked about cutting edge technologies. I think that that there’s some good opportunities there, but in terms of drawing in new sources of data and being able to use those as part of a coaching engagement live in the sessions done outside of it. 

[00:09:57] The fourth category would be coaching [00:10:00] technology that you can use in live in-coaching sessions. Video conferencing is a really easy example of this and then there are some exciting creative tools and techniques that I like to use which make a coaching session more different from not using technology. And so there’s a way that we can enhance our coaching through it. 

[00:10:14] And then the fifth area would then be robots coming in and stealing all our jobs. So some sorts of Artificial Intelligence that’s is actually replacing a level of coaching activity with an automated process. And, you know, that might be scary in some instances and in some, it might be liberating actually. And so it’s good to be aware of what that is and, you know, equip ourselves to maximize that opportunity, but specifically thinking about what the most cutting edge technologies are, I do think there’s a real space for using creativity. Yeah. You know, in coaching sessions and people have valued that for a long time ever since there’s been coaches really. And I think a good example is photo cards, you know, have the little images that you can use for metaphors of storytelling, and when you’re there in person, you can spread them out on a table and then they enjoy using them in a, quite a [00:11:00] physical, tangible way. And, when you’re doing that online, I’ve heard somebody say to me in a coaching supervision context, Oh, I would, if you were here in person, I wish that I could do this photo thing with you, but maybe I’ll just move the camera down and I’ll put the photos out and there, it feels like this is not as good when actually in technology you can be so much more creative than just a bunch of pictures, you know, you can do that in a much more interactive way, you can be exciting in that. And there’s ways that I started using sound and magnetic poetry and using some computer game tools to immerse people in an experience. This is quite exciting. And so I think we’re at good levels of creativity we can introduce. I think this whole world of the quantified self that feels like quite cutting edge, actually people have started wearing, you know, an apple watch or whatever, and then they can tell you what their heart rate variability is in different contexts, that’s data that we didn’t have as coaches 20 years ago. You, wouldn’t even have thought of being able to use that. And yeah, bringing that into a coaching session and saying, let’s just look [00:12:00] at that data, huge amounts of data, you know, more data than anyone has ever had in all of history on themselves, and let’s just think what was going on in your life at these points where, I don’t know, your oxygen levels were going up or, you know, it’s so that there’s some real excitement in there. And then, I’ll just throw out two more without going into any detail on them at all, and then just see where it goes, but virtual reality and artificial intelligence, you know, those are right at the cutting edge or can be ,and there’s plenty of opportunities there though, as well.

[00:12:26] I’ve got to ask you, cause you’ve mentioned this and I’ve got no idea what this magnetic poetry.

[00:12:31] When I was a child, I remember having a little pack of words, just on little magnets and we’d stick the magnets on the fridge, and then you make a little poem. If you’ve got nothing else to do, walk over to the fridge and make a silly poem. Well, you can do that digitally. So if you go on the magnetic poetry website, it’s free, it’ll give you a random selection of words and you can write a silly poem and doing that in a coaching context, actually, because it gives you these words up- front you’re limited, and so you have to think creatively and apply your own meaning onto [00:13:00]what’s going on. And of course the poems are absolute nonsense as far as a coach is concerned, but from a coachee’s perspective, that’s a powerful little couple of lines that they’ve created that, we can then work on in a coaching session and then they can take away for their own reflection and maybe bring it back in future. And, it’s a very nice interactive experience with that, you know, they can share with me through, them sharing their screen while they’re moving the words around. It’s lovely. 

[00:13:25] Actually, if you’ve just, you’ve really just made me think there’s, a whole load of tools, because obviously I’m from an educational space that we use in learning management systems with students, allowing them to do things that actually could be very easily imported into a coaching scenario. And, you’re right, isn’t it. It’s partly the creativity of using things from different contexts particularly digital tools like that. And there are, thousands of them, you know, there are things like hot potatoes and so, that are designed for other forms of learning. But also starting to go out and [00:14:00] search for things to just being aware of what’s out there and then bringing it into the coaching and being creative that way. In fact, as we’re talking I’m kind of thinking you know, I’m visualizing now a kind of a digital coaching portal with, loads of these kinds of tools on there. You’ve got this, it’s the entrepreneur in me, I think. 

[00:14:17] Well, yeah. You know, I think actually when, when we come to thinking about what’s the best sort of technology to use in coaching sessions, it’s the same question that we would typically ask about an in-person coaching session. So example those photo cards, I like doing stuff like that, and the thing I like about it is the meaning is created in the moment. So actually it’s just pictures, you know, there’s nothing special, people have postcards for years, but then we call them coaching cards and they just become a coaching tool. I don’t know whether people use Lego or Russian dolls or something like this, and to just think, well, what sorts of technology is out there? There are loads, I mean, you know, mobile apps, I don’t know how many billions of them there probably are now more than we can cope with taking one of those and applying it into a coaching context. It’s [00:15:00]probably more power in that from a coach perspective, you know, in terms of enhancing my personal practice rather than going to something that has been specifically designed for one very specific coaching approach, just like we find with the coaching model, you know, there’s very few coaches that stick absolutely rigidly to one coaching model. Cause that’s the one thing they do, we tend to be collected, can find a way that works for us. I think the same is true for technology. 

[00:15:22] Yeah, and I think you’ve raised an important point here because we’re using a lot of different kinds of technologies. You say apps and various programs anyway, and I think we, kind of isolate the use of it from, the coaching and a little bit earlier on, you were talking about, and so for example, for The Review, you know, we use a CRM, a Customer Relationship Management program, which virtually all businesses do use to keep up to date with, people and conversations that you’ve had with them and their digital tools. And it’s thinking about those in the coaching realm rather than just, I suppose keeping coaching in a box of it’s a [00:16:00] certain type of sets of activities. And then as we’re going through our normal digital life, going, hang on a minute. I can actually do something with this in the coaching space, and I really liked that. Great. And I think it just kind of moving, you mentioned earlier on about, kind of AI, so Artificial Intelligence and machine learning and, certainly a lot of the coaches that we’ve got in the membership and coaches that I’ve spoken to kind of see AI as a kind of a direct threat. And I think this is personally, I kind of, I’m starting to realize that this is more of an issue of, augmentation and an extension of capability that these technologies are giving us and that it’s possible for coaches and coachees to really benefit from these technologies, rather than just view them as a threat, that you know, something that’s going to come along and eat our lunch as a coach. What opportunities do you think that the new coaching landscape is going to offer for coaches and coachees? 

[00:16:56] So, I think it’s easy to think of these things. From [00:17:00] pessimistic or optimistic mindsets. And so I don’t think it is one or the other. It’s both. And so, to a certain extent, it definitely is a threat. If you are a coach, you operate in a robotic way, a robot will be able to do that better, way cheaper. Currently AI coaches are in development and currently they are nowhere near as good as humans. So you know, are we all gonna lose our jobs to robots this year, but no,under no circumstances is that going to happen. However, they’re going to get a little bit better and they certainly can be helpful. I’ve used some and I’ve found them helpful and they are so much cheaper indescribably. And so in cost conscious environments where coaching is seen as a transactional service that just ticks a box to say, we’ve done it. It’s actually, yes, coaches should be eliminated from those environments because the robots will take over, this is what’s going to happen, that’s what does happen. However, there’s more to the more optimistic side of that is, almost all coaches don’t particularly like that, linear, repeatable, predictable process focused coaching experience. You know, the grow model is [00:18:00] good when you’re starting learning and then it kind of grow out to grow. And AI coaching currently is only capable of really operating in linear ways. And so if you get an unexpected the response makes no sense at all, or it just doesn’t know what to do with it. So those AI coaching tools are really that supported self-reflection rather than automated coaching, but what they are good at doing is removing some of those less exciting bits. So that, for example, I know you don’t do this in every coaching session, but that bits of a coaching session where you’re asking a coachee to set a goal and you know, it should be a smart goal. And so you trying to help the coachee just to get down to yes, but what does that mean? And when are you going to do it? And what’s that specifically going to look like and supporting them with that, which is quite tedious with lots of people, lots of robot do that because it’s so patient. And it’ll just go through the process and it’ll get the coachee to a really good point where they can then bring a really well-formulated goal into a coaching session, having already done all of that [00:19:00] work, and then you can play with the exciting bits. So actually makes the practice of coaching a lot more, and that’s where the best moments in coaching from those aha moments don’t come from, and when are you going to do that? And the robot will sit there and do that and enjoy it as much as the robot can. So, yeah, I think there is an optimistic side to it. And particularly the way the AI in the first instance is going to help people, in doing some of those more process focused parts of coaching. There are other bits that people are thinking about as far as a sort of proxy coach supervisor, that it could do acid conversation and give you feedback. But I think there’s potentially other issues in that, and that’s not particularly soon. I don’t think so. We’ll see why. 

[00:19:38] Yes. Yeah. In fact, there was a paper published that we just sent out to members actually about AI and Coaching, and basically was saying, what you’re saying is that AI is not in a place yet to take over. However, AI is very good at some of the more linear processes that coaches can hand over to the AI for a particular [00:20:00] thing, and then bring them back in. And it’s, learning to work with these technologies because they’re not going to go away, and I think that’s important. Just kind of moving this on a bit, you know, Digital technologies like AI and Robotics that are actually based on data analytics, what are the issues that you see here about the use of data specifically for kind of coaching purposes and the organizations and coaches really need to be aware of?

[00:20:26] So, I think I’ll summarize most of the issues in one word, and then I’m going to pick out some things separate actually. So that, that one word would be biased in that a data set naturally exists under a particular sets of circumstances that you can’t guarantee you’re going to be true under all circumstances, and so that’s why scientific theories develop. And that is potentially a problem when you’re developing a piece of Artificial Intelligence, because by its nature, you need an enormous data set, of high quality data that then allows the tool to predict what’s going to happen and therefore know what’s, you know, how to operate and by its nature, [00:21:00] as far as coaching data is concerned, there is going to be bias built into that data. And, and that can come from all kinds of different directions, but the issue is going to exist under all circumstances. You can’t eliminate that bias and that could come through the data not being complete, or it could come with it being skewed, or it could come from all sorts of different directions, but then it’s going to be present there. And so, it isn’t as simple as thinking, oh, you know, here’s an AI tool that solves this problem. And therefore that problem solved what it means is in, let’s say 95% of cases it’s solved and you have to be able to deal with those exceptions. Well, a good example of this, I don’t know if you’ve seen the AlphaGo to Google deep mind, several years ago, it was a big story at the time had developed an Artificial Intelligence tool that was able to play the game of Go, which is indescribably complex. And the predictions from all of the professional, the people who actually knew about the game, where the robot is not, going to be able to ever beat a human cause it’s too difficult, it needs too much intuition. And I think they played five games against, the world champion, [00:22:00] and it ended up being 4-1, I think, and that was for a number of different reasons, but in one particular game, the human play to move that the tool wasn’t expecting and therefore it played the worst move. Rather than trying to compensate for it. It just did something, so it couldn’t work out what a good move would be and so it did something bad and that’s not something that you want to stick on to a coachee, you know, giving them something that’s unexpected and therefore hit them with something that’s actually unhelpful, so that’s certainly important to bear in mind. The particular thing to really pick out though when it comes to any sorts of data, which is what a lot of technology runs on. Otherwise it doesn’t work is this concept of confidentiality and confidentiality is a real pillar of coaching, you know, if you don’t have confidentiality, it kind of stops being coaching really, don’t I get that trust? And in the world of technology, the word Confidentiality doesn’t exist. If it is used, it’s immediately gets switched to this different words, Security and Security means I’m going to hold onto your data, and [00:23:00] only a small privilege number of authorized people are going to have access to it as far as I can control, and that is a very different place. If I’m coaching somebody and they divulge a piece of information ,to me that is expected to be kept confidential. What that means is I’m not telling anyone. Not, I’m going to write it down on a piece of paper, I’m going to tell three or four important people, and we’re going to lock it in a secure filing cabinet that somebody someday might break into, probably won’t, but they might that those are two quite different things. And so to be able to actually operate a data sets where the data is held confidentiality is they can’t, that can’t be true because the data is there. It has to be accessible in order for it to have some benefit. So I think we need to be quite careful, how we’re treading that line and using appropriate data with permission that we know is not confidential, but, and of course, keeping it securely. And that’s not even to mention the concept of data privacy, which is really around regulation and not around actually protecting the data. So, yeah, there we go. That’s my high horse. If you want to get me off on something, then Confidentiality is [00:24:00] the thing. 

[00:24:00] Yeah. Well, because there’s a big ethical issue here for organizations and, I think you’re right, I think a lot of organizations probably don’t think it through like that and need to be involved in a conversation that will allow that realization, to kind of be raised, I suppose, for organizations that are using those types of digital technologies that are based on a whole of them all based on data, but based on data in that way. Yeah, interesting. So let’s kind of jump to the other side of this. What about the opportunities for coaching supervisions, supervisors and in organizations and in the management of coaching? 

[00:24:39] This is a really exciting place to be in, because most organizations, I think it’s fair to say most organizations when you ask them, what do you do as far as coaching is concerned and they say, oh, I don’t know, I’ll ask somebody, David, it will be David. Okay. So David, David knows what, how that works, and then we talk to David and David says, oh yeah, [00:25:00] I love coaching, it’s just my favorite thing in the world, and if somebody needs a coach, then they come and talk to me and I’ve got a form that they fill out, and then I find a coach for them, and, you know, I know all the coaches. And then if you’re lucky they might record that on a spreadsheet somewhere that’s separating this other person, and that’s, basically as, mature as the environment gets around the management of coaching. Whereas, if you are to introduce a piece of technology that gives you oversight over all of those coaching engagements in one place, then you’re no longer reliant on David, because as soon as David leaves, the organization coaching has left as well, but if the system is there, it could be David or it could be somebody else who then has gotten role of oversight and design and a level of quality assurance over what’s happening, that coach matching process can happen in an automated way, and so, rather than I’ve done that, you’ve probably experienced this just as often as I have that you meet a coachee for the first time and you say, okay, on this form I’ve been given, it says that your goal is to improve your presentation skills and they say well, yeah, I suppose that was [00:26:00] three months ago when I first, but now it’s no longer an issue, but I’d still like some coaching. Well, if you were to build a system where they could go on, type in, no, my goal is presentation skills and it shows you, oh, here’s a half a dozen coaches that could be a good match because they have coached about that in the past. Choose one, book a meeting in their diary, you could be coached by them the same day, and so certainly that process is accelerated. You actually help get that support, not to mention that then the organization has got data to be able to demonstrate how much coaching is doing and what difference it’s making, which currently almost all organizations can’t. And so then when you have a little bump in the road and you need to cut some costs, the most natural thing to do is get rid of coaching because it’s just conversations happening, isn’t that, we’re having conversations, anyway, we think, oh, if you could demonstrate that back then people would realize the power that coaching can have. 

[00:26:47] Yeah, and that’s where there’s some real power in data analytics, because you can really start to see where certain coaches have I suppose more influential in certain areas on almost real time almost[00:27:00] being able to kind of grade them, but give feedback on that kind of process. Yeah, interesting. Just moving on a little bit. I noticed on your LinkedIn page, you’ve got an interesting posts there about coaching and virtual reality, I think that you published last year in the very early days, and this was probably about 2005, 2004, something like that. Scary, that’s about 16 years now. It’s just like, I, ran a course on some team coaching using second life. And if anybody hasn’t come across, this is a virtual reality platform, I suppose, that anybody can sign up for news and you can interact with, and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes, because it’s still going, LinkedIn Labs. I think they’re still going. Anyway, it was an interesting experience, and even today, you know, 16 years later, I, get now and again, people coming up and say, oh, I remember you, we were on that second life thing. The thing that strikes me with all of that is that they tend to remember the experience when I start to kind of plump for, you know, what did you get out of the actual sessions? They’re a little bit more vague [00:28:00] on that to say the least, and I just wonder what your thoughts about that and why you think VR hasn’t really kind of cottoned on or, or kind of move into this or was I doing it wrong? 

[00:28:11] So, this, I think there are two questions that are actually being asked here. So one is about second life in particular and so I’ll do that first and then we’ll talk about virtual reality more broadly. Second life is, I’m not really sure how to describe it, it’s, you know, it’s a massively multiplayer online computer game platform. I’m not sure if they would define themselves as a computer game, as a sort of simulated environment. Isn’t it? Where you have a virtual avatar and you exist in that place and you can meet people and perform tasks together and have conversations. So it’s nice, but it isn’t what I would define as virtual reality because virtual, I don’t think second life would define itself as virtual reality, actually virtual reality for me would be an immersive embodied experience with some sort of headset and 3D surround sound, and so the question around why people use things like second life, and it’s not the only one, I mean, there’s loads, you [00:29:00] know, even games like Roadblocks or Fortnite or Minecraft, which are big, games now, Elder scrolls online, that’s a huge numbers actually, of these big games. You can meet people online and have conversations and why hasn’t coaching gone in there? And I think part of the question, why we didn’t use video conferencing particularly before 2020 and some people did, and the answer to it is really obvious where it’s more pleasant to meet in person isn’t it.? And now organizations have been forced into video is now become culturally more acceptable, and there’s lots of benefits to it, you know, saves money and time, and so nowadays, if you want to have coaching with somebody, you can meet them in person, if you can, and if you can, I think everybody would choose that you could choose to do it through video and video is, I don’t know, what would you say? 85% as good as in-person, you know, as, perfectly valid as an experience, you’re able to coach people, you can still see them. It’s nice. In some case, quite intense, but it’s you get through the process, you can still do phone, that’s probably a good message to get out there, you know, it still allows us to coach through the phone, even though video [00:30:00] is an option and second life or something like that is basically is, you’ve got the phone data, you know, having that, hold your conversation. And then you’re adding on top of it, the experience of having to play a computer game with simultaneously. And so it’s sort of like phone coaching, plus a bit of whimsy, which is not unpleasant, but in terms of actually building a coaching experience it is a bit different from what side defines virtual reality, and when it’s not my, I definitely, I think what the technology industry would define as virtual reality, which would look like a headset and, the reason why that hasn’t launched in the way that you might’ve expected it to, if it’s such a good idea, I think it’s quite easy to understand if you think about what was happening 10 years ago in video. So, you know, 2011 that’s 10 years ago, Mike the organization I worked for had a video conference room and, you know, before that, we had things like Skype, where you could be speaking to people remotely through video, typically popular, but people knew it was there. If you wanted to have a good video call, you had to book the special room because the special room has got the expensive, big, heavy, difficult to [00:31:00] use equipment. Really it’s quite elitist and you need technical supports available to come and just tell you how to switch the thing on and make it work. And that’s basically where virtual reality as far as headsets, and that sort of thing has been up until very recently. So almost nobody owns a virtual reality headset, the concept of owning a virtual reality headset five years ago, it was almost unheard of, you know, you were points of it, real niche, but over lockdown, I think I’m going to get this number wrong. I think it’s something like 10 million headsets are now in circulation, which is kind of a magic number and of course we have the acceleration of video calling last year because of the lockdown. And so, because people has now become comfortable with the idea of working remotely. There are new headsets coming out. I mean, Facebook have rebranded as Meta because I think they’re investing $10 billion this year in virtual reality and employing something like 10,000 people in Europe alone, just to work the Metaverse. And so as a headset becomes available, but naturally connects to your phone and has got some capabilities of [00:32:00] its own. Show me, I’ve got a device coming out very soon that will do this, and it’s going to be very affordable, people will want to have it because it’s a bit of a gimmick, like the Apple watch was a bit of a gimmick or the iPad was a bit of a gimmick and suddenly they’re everywhere and there was no need for them before, and then suddenly everyone’s got one. I think the, sort of the idea of a pair of glasses that’s no bigger than yours or mine, but which has got cameras built into it, and the ability to make phone calls and access to the internet and get directions that projected onto your, you know, in front of your eyes and build a little hologram of you that you can teleport and meet somebody virtually in a way that is then relaxing and embodied rather than the intense experience of staring into a tiny screen. I think that that’s the future of remote communication is going to be some form of virtual reality, augmented reality. And so, when I say within five years as a prediction, we’ll be getting…. 

[00:32:45] No, it’s prediction.

[00:32:46] Yes, I’ve seen some augmented reality, type of AI coaching in workspaces, in factories where people come up to a workstation or something, and the screen helps to coach them [00:33:00]through, the things that they’re meant to be doing, or if they, do something out of sequence, it tells them immediately, and that’s, through the glasses. I’ve seen one or two cases of that, and I’ve also seen, there was a video I saw recently about coaching somebody in real time, so the coach was back at home, they were wearing the glasses and they were in a meeting and they had an earpiece and they were saying, right, “okay, you know, have a think about this, have a think about that.” Which was interesting, and watching that happen, and that’s one of the problems, certainly when I was doing coaching, that was one of the problems that I found, is that you were reliant entirely, on what the coachee told you was happening and it wasn’t real time. So it was after the event and you were trying to kind of catch up or predict some other event, but even then when they came and told you what happened, is that real? So I think some of this technology gives us that ability to do some of this in kind of almost real time

[00:33:57] And in a much more objective way. That’s the example [00:34:00] about how much data, if we got, I think I use the example in the book of a smart fridge where you can open your phone and you see the image of what you’ve got inside your fridge. Well, if you come to a coaching session, you may be absolutely convinced that you’re eating healthy, and so when, you are asked that question, you are attempting to reflect on it. You refer to it in an unhelpful way, but if you can bring up, well, this is what my fridge has looked like over the last month, you can see every day and you think yes, there’s a lot of leftover takeaways in that. Certainly bounce to elevate self-awareness. 

[00:34:28] Yes, that was a lot of chocolate puddings I bought last week.

[00:34:31] Okay. So you devote Chapter 15 to a call to action, so what action do you think coaches and coaching supervisors should be taking with regards to the use of digital technologies then? 

[00:34:42] So, I think. I start to get active in the space, basically. So, I mean, of course, please, you should buy my book and just get the, you know, start to…

[00:34:48] Of course, 

[00:34:49] But you know, there’s so much technology that’s available right now. I was thinking of why wouldn’t we want to learn about it, and especially as our coachees are becoming relatively younger, that’s true of you, [00:35:00] whoever you are, you know, they’re going to have different outlooks and they’re going to want to interact with technology in a slightly different, and as a coach, I don’t want to be in a position where my coachee asks me. For example, I say, you know, let’s meet next Tuesday, lunchtime, and they say, great, here’s my VR link. And I think I’ve never met anyone in VR. I think I’d rather be ready for that, so that when they do that, I already know how to deal with it, and I’m not, you know, reverting to my child self as I start that coaching session. And so on that note, you know, find some technology and just start to play, I think is a good example to find a coach as a buddy, just to experience some coaching, using some technology and just experiment and see how it works for you. And if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t, but you don’t know until you try and importantly, it’s about the coachee and so speak to them about what they want, you know, maybe they would like to experiment with something as well, and you could learn together. And if nothing else, even having that conversation about what would you like to experiment with? If they say I don’t want to experiment with anything, I might be a good topic for a coaching conversation. What the [00:36:00] reason for that is. So, yeah. So have a little look into. 

[00:36:02] Yeah. So, curiosity and going out there, and I also liked this idea of having a buddy that you can share ideas with things that you’ve found and things like that. I’ve got a buddy it’s not to do with coaching is to do with business, but we meet up every other week and just share, I found this and I’ve seen that and I’ve read this. Yeah, I think that’s great. What about organizations then? For example, if somebody is HR or Learning, say, who’ve got some responsibility for coaches or bringing coaches in within an organization. What do you think they should be doing apart from obviously, as you’ve said, reading your book, which I’m going to take as a given. Yeah. What do you think they should be doing?

[00:36:37] I think it’s helpful to think about, how we think about the maturity of other sorts of places in an organization. So there are capability maturity models, for example, that will take you through five stages with Ad Hoc at the bottom, where things just happen, when you remember to and optimized at the top where it’s continually improving and every new piece of technology that’s out there, you’d be benefiting from. And I talked about our little friend, [00:37:00] David, who looks after coach and most organizations are like that. And so for David, I would encourage him or her to think about that middle level of those Five is for something to get defined, whether it’s the defined processes and defined sorts of technology that are supporting that and giving you assurance over how well it’s performing, that’s a good place, organizations to aim for. And in order to do, technology, can’t operate when it hasn’t been defined, it just does nothing. And so the technology forces you to therefore mature your coaching approach and strategy as an organization. And so even if for no other reason, I think, you know, starting to think about that it’s a good exercise for most organizations to do.

[00:37:38] Yeah. Brilliant. Thank you. So, as we come to the end of this, any kind of last word of advice for coaches and coaching supervisors, who’ve never really encountered the types of technologies that we’ve been talking about. 

[00:37:50] Well, I think, you know, you used that word curiosity a moment ago. I think that’s probably what it is, you know, activity curiosity about coaching technology, because, you know, there’s that phrase out there, there’s an app for that. [00:38:00] That’s the same is true in coaching. We just often don’t think of it. So, you know, you think about somebody like constellations, which is a, you know, an exercise, lots of coaches enjoy getting involved in, and there are multiple ways that you can use technology to be able to deliver that, and yet the problem is a lot of coaches who likes to do constellations, just feel like, well, if I’m doing it remotely, that isn’t an option because I haven’t got the physical things. And so actually just wondering, well, how could I achieve that through technology and first step, do an internet search and just to see who’s done it before, because there almost certainly is somebody. Yeah, and that just feels exciting to me, know why wouldn’t you want to do that? 

[00:38:36] Yes. Yeah. And you know, the, Internet’s a great tool for searching for that kinds of information because there’s a lot of coaches put a lot of their activities on blogs and things. And I think that’s really good 

[00:38:47] Sam. Thank you. If anybody wants to get ahold of you, how can they? 

[00:38:50] Yeah, the simplest way is nice and easy, LinkedIn. My LinkedIn page is quite predictable, Sam Isaacson and yeah, as you’ve already seen, you know, there’s a bunch of articles that are up there. And so I do share [00:39:00] thoughts from time to time and enjoy having conversations about this stuff. So please do get in touch. 

[00:39:04] Great. And I’ll put a link to your LinkedIn, and other resources that we’ve been talking about in the show notes. Sam Isaacson, thank you so much for your time. Sam’s book, How to thrive as a coach in a digital world is available now, and I’ll put links to the book, Sam’s LinkedIn profile, and some other tools and research briefings in the show notes.

[00:39:25] Thank you so much for your time, Sam.

[00:39:27] Thank you for having me. It’s been great. Thanks.

[00:39:29] Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed this. 

Be impressively well informed

Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published

Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...

Powered by ConvertKit
Like what you see? Help us spread the word

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page