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What Bill Gates really said about coaching and why the word 'product' should be in thereWhat Bill Gates really said about coaching and why the word 'product' should be in thereWhat Bill Gates really said about coaching and why the word 'product' should be in there

What Bill Gates really said about coaching and why the word 'product' should be in there

There's a famous quote on almost every website that has anything to do with coaching. It's even on our website:

Everyone needs a coach. It doesn't matter whether you're a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player. (Bill Gates, 2013)

What they don't say is that he's not talking about the kind of broad question-led unlock-the-insight-hidden-inside-you coaching that many of the companies with the quote on their website offer.

In the quote, taken from his 2013 TED talk, Bill Gates is talking about a specific type of coach: a specialist with deep knowledge that can give you expert feedback. His example is his own Bridge coach, Sharon Osberg, who was formerly one of the top Bridge players in the world and also coaches, amongst others, Warren Buffet.

In fact, as his talk develops it turns out the main point is, with careful design, systems and diagnostic tools can help you achieve much of the effect of an expert coach. But that's only if you can gather the right feedback.

So, what does this have to do with product coaching?

We believe that to be a great coach, you also need to be a domain expert. We're experts in product – that's why we call ourselves product coaches. And here the three key benefits our clients (and Bill) have found that coaches with domain expertise bring above generalists.

Detailed feedback from a domain expert helps you learn faster

If you want to get good at something, whether it's perfecting your product discovery, learning a language, or trying to pass a professional qualification, there are many ways you can go about it. But all the most effective methods have one thing in common – high-quality, targeted feedback.

Our coaches are experienced product leaders with specific areas of deep expertise. Like Sharon Osberg, they can give specific and detailed feedback to help clients achieve their goals.

Domain experts help you understand what's working by contextualising your data

It's really important to supplement the expert feedback from a coach with other relevant data. We do that in several ways, for example in our Learn to Coach sprint there's before-and-after assessment data from line reports, and in other situations it might be in the form of structured feedback gathered from peers, or metrics related to the challenge you are working on.

This data is most useful when it has context. And that's something a coach with domain expertise can bring. For example, if you've gathered feedback on how well your prioritization systems are working for stakeholders, an expert product coach can instantly help you spot what's normal and which areas you can tackle first for the biggest impact in a way a generalist can't.

Domain experts can show you the shortcuts

Sure, you could learn many things a product coach can teach you through trial and error, but it would take a long time. Learning through experimentation can be a hugely powerful experience. But most of us can't afford to spend too much time on problems that have already been solved by other people. A domain expert can fill you in where there's already a good solution out there, help you set up a hypothesis that's worth testing for challenges that haven't already been solved elsewhere

In summary

So, that's why we agree with the real meaning behind the famous Bill Gates quote. If you'd like to continue the conversation about the benefits of coaches who are also product experts, feel free to get in touch with us by email with us or book a free coaching consultation if you'd prefer to chat.

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Robin Zaragoza

Founder and CEO at The Product Refinery, Robin has been working in tech for 20 years and delivering product for the last 15 of those at companies of various sizes, from early stage start-ups where she was the first product manager, to large publicly traded companies where she led teams of product managers.

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