For going on the past nine years, our whole family has been deeply involved in an activity called Destination Imagination (commonly known as “DI”). While it can be difficult to describe to those who have never actually experienced it, it’s basically a creative, problem-solving, teamwork competition in which teams of 2 to 7 students work on intricate “challenges” together. Running from kindergarten through college levels, kids work their way through complex presentation requirements (like team-created theatrical lighting, research of various cultures and explorers, incorporating a “stock character” at the last minute, building robots, and so on…). There are seven categories of challenges to choose from that focus on things like science, structural engineering, fine arts, and more.
The big catch? All solutions to the challenges must come entirely from the students. No outside help, whatsoever. This requirement means that any adult “manager” of a team must sit back and let the team research, collaborate, argue (lots of arguing), build, and make decisions all on their own. Managers are allowed to ask lots of questions, print out materials, chauffeur shopping trips, and of course provide snacks for the hours-long practices leading up to the competition, but that’s it. Support, but no suggestions. We can’t so much as pick up a paintbrush, cordless drill, or bottle of superglue. Teams and managers must sign a Declaration of Independence indicating their understanding the rules of “Interference” and agree to abide by them. Interestingly, what I have found with the groups I’ve managed is that the students don’t want the help anyway. They come to understand pretty quickly that they have the resourcefulness to solve the problems presented in their own way, and they take a lot of pride in their independence. Teams I have had the honor to manage or observe have come up with far more creative and innovative solutions than I could ever have handed to them on a foam-core board platter.
Why am I describing all of this? As I delve deeper into my coaching certification process, I have become aware of so many parallels between the success that is possible for clients, and the magic I’ve witnessed in DI. Coaching assumes that the client is already naturally creative, resourceful, and whole, just as DI believes the students have their own best answers within.
Holding back from interference is harder than it sounds for most parents - it’s in our nature to rush in and fix things for the kids we care about. And in any helping profession, isn’t it our nature to rush in and fix things as quickly as possible? That’s just good service, right?
But while it makes sense for a plumber to get the leaking faucet fixed ASAP (the plumber is the expert on that, while I am not - nor do I care to be), it doesn’t always make sense for a professional organizer to jump in and fix a space while the client just stands back. Mind you, I recognize that sometimes that “expert" approach is exactly what is needed (for example, “I’ve just moved in and I need to be unpacked by Christmas Eve!!”). But I’m coming to realize that many opportunities for growth and real change are lost by not exploring more of the problem-solving skills a client already possesses. They are, after all, the experts on their own lives and surroundings.
Does it take longer to coach someone to organizing success, as opposed to going in and quickly decluttering/sorting/labeling? Perhaps (although I'm noticing that in sessions where I coach first, the organizing goes much more smoothly). Is it harder? Maybe, especially for us "experts". It is incredibly challenging to sit back and watch a group of sixth graders go completely off the rails and devolve into arguments about who gets to design the pipe-cleaner tower, or perform the Mysterious Stranger when the competition is four days away. But when the dust settles, learning still occurs, and solutions always emerge. The best ones.
It’s the kind of learning that I think gets beaten out of many of us adults as we go through life. We forget that we already have all kinds of great ideas and instincts, and I think many of us fall into wanting to pay for a quick fix and just hope to be done with it. But life is not a leaky faucet. I continue to be amazed by things that emerge in my coaching calls with clients thus far. With the support of targeted questions and deep listening, an openness to the process can create solutions I would never have dreamed of before. We sometimes do need a little expert advice and support to reach goals. But if someone is tired of repeating the same patterns, dropping the same balls, facing the same organizing overwhelm over and over, coaching might be a different path to creating lasting progress. We might need a “manager” or coach to guide us back to those solutions and instincts we’ve forgotten.
I still have a lot of learning ahead, but I know I’m on to something.
If you’re curious about Destination Imagination, check it out the madness and magic here: https://www.destinationimagination.org/
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?