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Is Your Phone Your New Coach?

Is Your Phone Your New Coach?

“There's one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself.”

We owe this quote to the notorious investor and business magnate, Warren Buffett[1], who was highlighting how he, decades ago, invested in himself by taking lessons of “public speaking”. Spot on as ever, the billionaire might have been a precursor in this growing area that is personal development and coaching. The later was estimated to be a 2.36 billion dollars industry in 2016, with North America region being the most dynamic, growing by more than 35% over the five first years of this decade [2].

This booming demand for individual and personalised support can be surprising in a time where connection and instant sharing have been made almost instantaneous and available to almost everyone. It can be interpreted as the need of a deeper and more authentic exchange than what can be found on social medias.

Like athletes, the main reason we are seeking the help of a coach is to develop our career and capabilities, or as the coach and writer John Whitmore said:

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It’s helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

There are plenty of other reasons why people are engaging the services of a coach, but - ultimately - it all comes from the willingness to change. So, our journey companions assist us in reaching a new milestone of our life, providing guidance to define our vision of our future and reach our goals.

Simultaneously, we are entering the premise of new area called the 4th Industrial Revolution, as explained by the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab - which, with the help of technologies, profoundly disrupt our existing industries and societal models. One of the forecast outcomes is the destruction of some activities and jobs, render obsoletes by our technical progresses.

For instance, autonomous driving might seriously impact professions such as taxi, truck or bus drivers, and we can already see some cashiers replaced by self-service counters.

It raised the question: in these times of increasing digitalisation, will the activity of personal coaching take over by chatbots or other forms of AIs?

Can a simple “To Do List” application, with various reminders, be considered as “coaching” you? It is obviously a bit of an oversimplification of the function and still might help you to achieve some goals… so long as you are dedicated; because no matter as neat and as easy the user interface is, you will still need to update and organise your tasks.

In our example, we said we needed “dedication” or we could say “commitment”. If you were to commit to do something and expressed it to a person (be it a relative, a professional acquaintance or your coach), would you feel the same sense of obligation to “do things” than if you give your word to your mobile application? If your Facebook wall or your Twitter feed was automatically updated for any engagement you took through your mobile application (note that I would quickly turn off this feature) - would the bond still be as strong as when you explain it to someone face-to-face?

Secondly, to complete the “To Do List”, we need to organise our thoughts, articulate them, get a vision of where we want to go, then define actions to get there. A bot might help you through this process, with access to an extensive list of data, to provide “top-notch” suggestions, assist in categorising and prioritising tasks. You might even be able to see the “bigger picture” (from iterative learning through a large number of users); but if it is capable to make you take a step back, reflect on your current situation and guide you with your thinking of your future self, would you trust it? It is a profound question, for which we probably don’t have the answer yet: to what extent are we trusting "the robots"? To make and deliver packages - surely. To drive us from one place to another, probably. And to have a meaningful reflection on our life, suggest choices to make and actions to take? Still to be proven.

With this example, we simply highlight two specific human emotions - peer pressure and trust - that are not (yet) replicated by any application, as advanced and smart as they could be. Does it mean that coaches and AI are antinomic and repel each other? Surely not. As Deloitte explained in its AI Innovation Report 2018: “Many business experts suggest that the future of AI in executive decision-making actually lies in a partnership, with humans defining the questions to be asked, or problems to be tackled, and having a final say on the best answer for their business, while AI is used to analyse large volumes of data to provide a basis for the decision.”

We can observe the premises of with some coaching applications such as assistance for public speaking (for instance: OraiVoiceVibes) where you can record yourself and the AI can find vocabulary and speed patterns and provide you advice to improve. Surely many others existing or will be created in the near future, with different aims and features - to feed this “hybrid” coaching.

The combination of the engagement of a personal coach and the support of new applications, will strengthen the relationship, enable further interactions and support, outside of session. Ultimately, it could fast track results and even maximise them.

Keep an eye on this space!

About the Author: Lison Mage, A Life & Business Coach, is passionate about achievement, and helping people from all walks of life to lift their performance, professionally and across the board. 

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