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Paying for Coaching
12.22.10
In the last several years, I've hired a lot of private coaches -- people to coach me on everything from acting to writing to dancing to singing to magic (and more, to be blunt). One of the questions that I've wrestled with is how much to pay. Most coaches charge on an hourly basis so then it's figuring out how much I'm comfortable paying for an hour's lesson.
 
I find this to be a really interesting question and I've noticed that my willingness to pay has progressively migrated upwards. It's not always true, but I have found a very high correlation between high cost of coaching and the speed at which I learn. In short, basically I'm getting a disproportionate value for the increase in cost. To use two round numbers, that would mean that for the same subject, the benefit I get from the coach that charges me $100/hour is twice the benefit I would get from the coach that charges me $50/hour.
 
So how could this be? How could one coach be 2x (or more) better than another coach? The easy answer is I'm not fully certain, but I have a few thoughts on this.
 
The first is something that I remember Alan Eustace (who heads up engineering at Google) said at a meeting I was at once. Someone asked him how much better a great engineer was than a good engineer and he said that a great engineer was worth 50 good engineers. 50! I think most people assume that a great engineer is some fractional percentage better than a good engineer -- let's say 30%. Maybe even 100% better. but 5000%? Astounding. But I believe it -- that's been my experience as well. I suspect something similar is happening with coaching as well. The difference between a great coach and a good coach is exponential, not marginal.
 
The second is that coaching, like everything else, is a learned and developed skill set. The interesting thing about coaching is that it's two-fold. There's the underlying knowledge base -- let's take basketball. Typically, a basketball coach knows a lot about basketball. But knowing a lot about something and being able to teach it are two different things. A coach has to get good at both. So to be able to find someone who is world class at both -- well, that's rare.
 
One of my friends and I both study magic from the same instructor -- a world class instructor and a world class magician. However, he's not cheap. As much as my friend enjoys working with him, cost is a consideration for him (as it generally is with all of us.) He decided that it was more cost effective for him to learn from DVDs than to take ongoing lessons or at the minimum, to cut down on his ongoing lessons and only use coaching for specific sticking points. It's not a bad idea but something that I ultimately decided against. The reason is because I can't learn from DVDs (or books). I mean, I theoretically could, but I've found learning from those sources to be terrible. Most magicians I know actually learn from DVDs and books and I find that amazing -- I just find it very difficult. So perhaps it's partially out of laziness or something else -- but I find the benefit I derive from that level of coaching to be so high that it more than makes up the difference in cost.
 
Here's the other thing I've found. I've found that for a lot of skills -- it's somewhat binary. It's progressive in the sense that you're always working to get better, but there's a cliff of competency. Take singing or dancing for instance. At a certain point, you can sing or you can dance. Now, you can get better or deteriorate -- no doubt. But when you can't dance at all, there's a wide area that you have to cross before you can dance. I've found that crossing that chasm is the hardest thing. Once you cross it -- you can learn on your own, practice, develop, take coaching here and there -- you can just improve progressively over time. But before you cross it -- whenever you stop, it's as if you never studied in the first place. This is where world class coaching, I think, really comes into play. I've found that for those skills -- those world class coaches are the ones who are best equipped to get that 0 to flip to a 1 and then you can really get down to work.

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