The source of lasting value that comes from the work we do as consultants and coaches is primarily in the experience clients have from working with us. Because of its empirical nature our work is transitory. We may leave behind systems or refined processes but the deepest source of change, individually and organizationally, is in our clients’ memories of their experiences with us. So too, like consulting or coaching, Dance exists in the memory of those who see it. I was reminded of this at a recent dance performance I attended by the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.
At the end of the performance Lar came out on stage and spent a bit of time answering questions from the audience.
One of the pieces, North Star, I had seen performed by his company almost 30 years ago when I was living in Paris and I asked him his impression of a piece of work he had done so long ago. In responding to my question, Lar talked about the ephemeral nature of dance. How this art form which combines the thoughts and feelings of the choreographer as expressed in movement (through a group of dancers) exists only for the brief moments of the performance itself. Of course, techniques for recording dance have improved and one can view a reproduction of a painting, listen to a live recording of a concert, or experience all sorts of reproductions of artistic moments but in certain ways this still doesn’t replace the original.
Dance is the artful expression of the non-verbal communication that takes place between us each day. The same kind of exchanges that take place in the context of our consulting or coaching work. Many of these non-verbal exchanges are below the level of conscious understanding. We feel things about each other based on how we are subconsciously reading each other’s movements. The same thing happens between dance performers and their audience. Each audience, each performance, is different. So, each dance event brings to it something unique which cannot be replicated and will not be seen again since it is grounded in the perceptions and experiences of the participants. Even if we try to record it, the two dimensional nature of video will never fully capture the richness and nuance of the dancer’s movements so that we can see everything that is there.
In some ways, this is true of any art form. I had seen Kandinsky’s work in books and on the internet but sitting in front of an original recently when I visited the Guggenheim in NYC, I experienced something I had never felt before. The work leapt out at me. I could see the minute details of brush strokes, the texture of the canvas, the minute changes in color and I felt in some small way what the artist might have felt when the work was originally created. It was my experiencing of the art that brought meaning to Kandinsky’s work. The deep experience of being confronted by the work in its original form.
What makes Dance ephemeral is not that it can’t be captured in some way on video but because the art form itself is empirical. Dance is learned by the young dancer through observation and replication of movement or from the feedback provided by an observer’s impression of the dancer’s movements. What gives Dance life, what makes art of movement, is the moment of experience. Similarly, often the product of a consulting or coaching activity that has the greatest, lasting value is something that must be experienced in the moment to be understood, appreciated, and deliver value to an organization.
As coaches and consultants we offer transformation; change that happens as a product of experience. Our engagement with others and the interactions that happen as we work together transform the people involved. Like the interaction between dancer and audience, it is the interaction that happens between consultant and client that provides this transformative experience. No amount of documentation can replace this interaction since it is the interaction itself that is transformational.
And so, like the art of Dance or the flowers that bloom in Death Valley every 50 years, the coach’s and consultant’s craft is ephemeral.