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What Is Ontological Coaching®?  

Excerpt from From Knowledge to Wisdom: Essays on the Crisis of Contemporary Learning, Julio Olalla, 2004. 

The essays that compose this book began as a historical and philosophical exploration into the background of ontological coaching which I have been practicing and teaching for over 20 years.  I am convinced that ontological coaching is one of the most effective methodologies for transformation available today—both personal transformation and organizational transformation. 

The word ontology itself is foreign to most.  Simply put, it is the branch of philosophy dealing with being in general and its properties.  It is also defined as “any particular theory of reality.”  One way we define ontological coaching is a practice that facilitates the emergence of new possibilities in the personal and/or professional life of an individual (or group) by making him aware of his participation in the construction and co-creation of the reality he perceives.  More simply put, ontological coaching addresses the concern for more effective action while also addressing the concerns of the human soul that are mostly left out of our learning practices today.

Unfortunately, coaching today is being practiced by many who are uncredentialed and unstudied, who are offering traditional consulting, training, and pop-psychology advice under the guise of “coaching.”  It is being practiced by those caught in the same habits and traps of thinking that the clients they are trying to serve are in. 

Understanding and experiencing, first hand, the transformational force that ontological coaching is, I felt compelled to provide a deep grounding for the kind of coaching and organizational change work that we and our Newfield Network students practice.  Through my research and my work, I have arrived at the belief that the practice of ontological coaching was born as an intuitive response to the insufficiency of our current learning practices, as I discuss in these essays. 

While this text began as an exploration into the philosophical grounding of ontological coaching, what it has turned out to be is much larger.  It has evolved into a study and critique on the present and restrictive view that our culture has of learning and the subsequent and devastating consequences this is having on our ability to live and work with wisdom.

In my research, I have arrived at the conclusion that contemporary learning is not responding to the demands of our times, that what and how we are learning, as individuals and as organizations, is part of the problem, not the solution.

The same way we as Western culture believe that more material possessions will make us happy, we believe that more information will bring us wisdom.  Confusing having information with knowing has left out the emotional and aesthetic dimensions of knowing, plus the intuitive and spiritual aspects of our connection with the world.  We have developed our learning practices as a frantic pursuit of more information, relating with the world as if all we can do is to explain it in order to use it, in a gruesomely utilitarian fashion. 

I believe that our philosophy of learning and our learning practices must include and transcend our concern for conceptual knowledge and effective action; they must also be able to illuminate the paths toward wisdom and effective living. 

In the transformational change work that I and the Newfield Network do with individuals and organizations, we claim that the kind of individual and collective “observer” we are defines, to an important degree, how we go about living and taking action.  Different individuals, different organizations, different cultures bring forth a different world and act in different ways.

One of the goals of ontological coaching is a shift in our coherence—our habits of language, emotions, and physical presence—which then allows for the emergence of a new observer.  This new observer becomes aware of the power and limits of their habitual ways of thinking and acting and becomes capable of foreseeing and taking new actions and producing unprecedented results, while caring equally for personal and collective concerns.

Ontological coaching includes but also transcends knowledge and aims for wisdom.  Knowledge has become another possession and, therefore, it has also become the object of greed.  Wisdom, on the contrary, cannot be a possession.  It cannot be traded, regulated, or registered.  It cannot be owned by any individual because it lives in a territory that is not solely human; it is shared with the gods.  Wisdom is not what we know about the world; it is what the world discloses for us.  If knowledge can live in greed, wisdom can only live in gratitude.  If knowledge belongs to thought, wisdom belongs to soul.  If knowledge creates silos and divisions, wisdom integrates.  If knowledge is knowing about it, wisdom is being it. 

William Greider presents in his book, The Soul of Capitalism, another consequence of the way we hold knowing: “Think of the paradox as enormous and without precedent in history: a fabulously wealthy nation in which plentiful abundance may also impoverish our lives.”  And he adds: “Our situation is unique—learning how to live amid endless plenty and, ironically, how to live well in spite of it.”

The assumptions and their subsequent consequences I refer to in these essays shape the mainstream thinking that informs our formal education, economics, politics, medicine, and other important domains of our lives.  Ontological coaching is an effort to break away from our habits of thinking and the learning practices that express this limited and now insufficient way of thinking. 

From Knowledge to Wisdom:  Essays on the Crisis of Contemporary Learning by Julio Olalla is currently out of print.  For more information on obtaining a copy when it is republished, email us or phone +65 6338 2280.  

© 2004 Julio Olalla  This text may not be reproduced in any form without express written permission of the Newfield Network.  For more information, phone +65 6338 2280. 

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