Welcome from Charlotte, North Carolina!
Really excited to share today’s newsletter with you.
The thread has more than 117,000 impressions, making it the most popular thing I’ve ever published online. If you haven’t already, you’re going to want to go check it out!
Now, let’s get into today’s newsletter!
On Friday, Cody Royle and I hosted a Clubhouse hangout on “The Future of Coaching”. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it was a blast. Shoutout to everyone who showed up!
One topic I’ve been thinking about since then is the idea of costly signaling in coaching.
Costly signaling theory is the idea that the expense of communicating a message influences the perceived value of that thing. Or as Rory Sutherland says, “The meaning and significance we attach to something is felt in direct proportion to the expense with which it is communicated.”
Let’s pretend that your friend Ross is getting married to Rachel. You hang out with them all the time, often meeting up at the local coffee shop. The way they invite you to the wedding says a lot about the value they place on costly signals. For example, an email invite is going to be severely underwhelming, while a hand-written note or some other form of personalized invitation will be more meaningful. When it comes to costly signals, the more creative, the better.
What we talked about during Friday’s clubhouse was the idea that in our professional lives, we’re always trying to send costly signals to those we work with.
As I mentioned in my article on misaligned incentives, career advancement is front-of-mind for many coaches. And it should come as no surprise that costly signals play a big part in career advancement.
But it’s not clear what costly signals are actually useful. For us, we want to send signals that convey our commitment and ability, but it’s insanely difficult. So instead, we default to signaling our commitment and ability by working more and more hours. In sports, the most reliable signal of commitment and ability is time spent, even though it leads to a fisherian runaway where we spend more time at work as a response to those around us also showing up earlier and staying later. Soon enough, it becomes a negative-sum game where the more you “win”, the more you actually lose.
So what’s the answer?
Honestly, I don’t know. Other than a complete rewiring of the sport’s industry’s fabric, each solution will be partial. But there are two things you can do at the individual level to make things better for you and everyone you work with.
1. It starts with you
You know, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Be the example by not getting caught up in status games. When you’re done with the day’s work, go home. Encourage others to do the same. Don’t create unnecessary work for others. And if you’re in the position to do it, don’t schedule meetings past a certain time.
2. Remember what we’re doing
A couple weeks ago, NASA landed its latest rover, Perseverance on the surface of Mars (more on that later). It’s an insane accomplishment and serves as a good reminder to us. From time-to-time, I’ll get stressed out about the difficulty of a problem at work. But one thing I always try to remind myself is that we’re not launching rockets. While the problem sets are very different (physics vs. social/psychological), the saying holds true: coaching isn’t rocket science.
3. Find better signals
While time spent may appear reliable, it’s faulty as a costly signal because there should be a reverse correlation between time spent and skill level. As you get better at your craft, you should need less time to get your work done. But that’s not the typical experience of coaches who find themselves sacrificing more of their precious time with each passing year.
This isn’t an easy problem, and the solutions won’t come easy, but it’s up to us to take the steps we can to make coaching better for ourselves and those who are to come after us.
Best of the Week
1. Mars Touchdown
Just an insane video from NASA’s recent rover descent and touchdown on Mars. I can’t believe we can do this kind of thing.
A great synopsis of the topic of today’s leading article.
I first heard of Costly Signalling Theory from Rory Sutherland in his tremendous book, Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life. You’re probably sick of me recommending that book by now — but I’m not sorry 😉.
The Fisherian Runaway concept I mentioned earlier comes from evolutionary biology and describes what happens when a desired trait becomes exaggerated to an absurd degree.
For male bullfrogs who attract mates by croaking the longest, the only safe answer for how long they should croak is “for a bit longer than any other nearby bullfrog.” For investment banking job candidates, the decision on how much money to spend on a new suit is “more than the other candidates”. For the coach deciding how long they should stay at the complex…you get the point.
This article makes a great argument that the field of behavioral economics needs to pull from the field of evolutionary biology, or what the author calls “Behavioral Biology”. I think you’ll enjoy it!
That’s all — Thanks for hanging out!
Appreciate you spending some time with me.
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Have a great week,