Saturday, January 04, 2020


An interview with a Nobel Prize-winning economist from India has an interesting idea that now has some data behind it. If you give very poor people (Ghana, India, Peru) money, nothing much improves.  But if you give them money and coaching, you see significant improvement in their income.   "Coaching" in this experiment means showing them how to do something step-by-step.  Even riding a bus to go pick up merchandise to sell is complicated for someone who has never done it.

Stuart Schneiderman of Had Enough Therapy? used to be a psychoanalyst, but now in his later years believes a coaching model works best for counseling. He makes a strong distinction between teaching and coaching, mostly from the attitude of the counselor.  He finds it matters.

I have done reasonably well at teaching, and being verbally encouraging is fairly automatic, but I don't think the rest of coaching comes naturally to me. 

How far can this much can we rescue a whole city or a whole nation...who knows?  But we can get some improvement, so lets start there.


Unknown said...

I note the link:

as a starting place for some of Stuart Schneiderman's writing on the subject. It's the sort of blog that is so anti-PC that I'd never want to get caught reading it in an open-plan office or airport lounge, but the posts resulting from the search above are all suitable for polite company.

In the Banerjee work I note that they are working with presumably sub-literate individuals. When I think of my experiences riding a bus for the first time in any country, in almost all cases there was something to read to tell me what the fare was, where and how it was paid, and a map I could follow to tell me where busses went. Even so, I hate encountering the ticket machines for the first time when it is rush hour and a line of impatient people quickly forms behind me as I try to suss out the workings.

(as a side note, my last trip to Copenhagen or Amsterdam (don't really remember which) the fare instructions seemed to be deliberately obtuse and only in the local language, unlike the clear ones I remembered from previous visits. And on the trams and U-bahn/S-Bahn there were many more inspectors who were doing a great business in issuing penalty fares to foreign tourists. That helped me to understand the motivation colleagues who insist on taking taxi or uber for all transport in foreign cities.)

I've done a lot of both classroom teaching of adults and training of new employees, and with the less confident ones I find that being right there to work with them at first, and then available to provide guidance when desired as they repeat the stuff on their own, is a great way to speed the acquisition of the skills. In a classroom setting it is hard to do so in a way that doesn't make the contrast with the self-starters even more obvious and intimidating, however.

james said...

Yes. The words (in whatever language) for "insert fare" or "select destination" actually unpack into very different actions, depending on where in the world you are. Which bit of the machine corresponds to the destination, and where do I read off the amount remaining? I remember arguing with an automatic washing machine in which it wasn't clear what corresponded to "begin washing" and which to "return the money, I've changed my mind." And the "universal symbols" on the washer demanded a Rosetta Stone.
And don't get me started on those maps.

james said...

WRT the thrust of the post: I think "coaching" of this kind is probably best done by peer or near-peer. The teacher or doctor is on a different plane; the coach comes alongside and shows you what he has done.