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Do coaching models help or hinder creativity?

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

This is an update to my previously published blog of the same name from Elnor's Corner where I blog about coaching and mentoring in an attempt to demystify some of the complex elements of this field of work and study. One such area is the use of coaching models which I advocate should be used wisely and creatively in the hands of coaches. If you would like to find out more by me please drop me a line, otherwise for now, I hope you enjoy the blog.

What is G.R.O.W?

In the late 80’s Sir John Whitmore one of the long-standing industry pioneers developed the G.R.O.W model with an underpinning philosophy based upon performance coaching in organisations. You can find out more about Sir John in the links at the end of my blog.

One of the primary goals of modern coaching is about unleashing talent and untapped creativity. From my research and also anecdotal evidence having coached, been coached, and spoken to many who are in the industry, G.R.O.W is often a cornerstone or at least a starting place for people who begin to coach.

For the uninitiated the grow model is as follows:

Goals – Establishing what you want. Goals and aspirations

Reality – Understanding where you are right now. Take stock of your current situation and any real or imagined obstacles or constraints that might be in the way.

Options – Looking realistically at what you could do. This explores the possibilities, your strengths, and the resources available to you.

Will – In simple terms, this is about your will, desire, and grit to act and take responsibility for those actions and be accountable for them.

Coaching is a process and can follow a framework like G.R.O.W, but there are some very different philosophical underpinnings for the approaches and use of the models which I’d like to explore more in this blog.

Coaching is a heuristic process, not an algorithmic one - which is really important to the underpinning practice of coaching and linked to the ability of a coach to use the models more creatively. For a start, why is goal setting the most important place to start? Sure, having goals are important but when a person starts the coaching process they may not fully understand what they want, let alone how they might get there. We all arrive in meetings with people as we are, and this might not be in a state ready to be coached so having a moment to get rid of the baggage of the moment or the day or the week is also very important. Always remember we are human being first, in whatever state of being we are in at any moment in time. Maybe that is always the best place to start, with exactly where the person is at that moment in time, this might be considered something like Gestalt, but that is for another blog.

How do we learn?

A Heuristic is defined in the Cambridge dictionary to mean: Allowing students to learn by discovering things themselves and learning from their own experiences rather than by telling them things. Maybe another way to describe this might be 'trial and error'.

An algorithm, on the other hand, is defined as a set of mathematical instructions or rules that, especially if given to a computer, will help to calculate an answer to a problem.

Now some people are more rules focused than others. G.R.O.W is a simple framework, not a set of rules to follow, and how you actually use the model in practice can vary dramatically.

The image in this blog was one I created in a learning session where we were using play-doh to explore ideas and creativity in coaching. Dr. Arthur Turner at UWE Bristol has been researching and developing ideas about creativity and you can read more about his work at the links also at the end of this blog. Maybe a question for any of us coaching is how do we get our coachees into a creative space for them to even begin to engage with goal setting or taking some kind of action? After all we want people to discover the right goals and take appropriate actions don't we??

Types of coaching approaches and enabling creativity

In my own practice, I explore the uses of ontological practice in coaching, coupled with the experiential nature of humans in the process. I think this can provide new ways to explore and express thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. To physically build a picture of the topic being discussed, to be able to hold it in your hands and take stock of it, move it around, look at it from a different perspective can all be very valuable to coach and coachee, it can also be extremely therapeutic. If you visualise a problem and then physically practice putting it behind you rather than in front of you this can be powerful in acting out the process of removing a barrier from your sight and then looking at a different no-problematic future.

Allowing people to express themselves and/or their challenges or goals etc in different ways can lead to the more creative, more visual and more engaging coaching relationship. Sessions can also have physical takeaways as well if people take a picture of the object or even take it with them to help them work on the challenges outside of the coaching session.

We live in a four-dimensional world where we eat, breath, interact, think and feel physical and emotional experiences. Why then shouldn’t the coaching arrangement use every element of this in its process?

Of course, this approach might not work with everyone, but as a reminder, the coaching role is also a learning role, and it is important to experiment and be creative to get the best out of you and the coachee. Coaches don’t have the answers, but as they learn more about their coachee and adapt their questions and techniques they are enabling and supporting the coachee to engage in a heuristic process of self-discovery and action.

If the G.R.O.W model is used too algorithmically though, as an agenda with a start and end for each coaching session then I think it could diminish the possibilities.

Dr Arthur Turner, the Programme Leader for the ILM Level 7 in Executive Coaching and Mentoring at UWE, Bristol has been working on the use of creativity in coaching for some time. This is a big shout out to Arthur and the team at UWE who provide an excellent learning experience, even if (as I have previously blogged) the gaining of the ILM qualification is both personally and professionally challenging but very rewarding once successfully completed. Elnor’s Corner is proud to support the programme at this amazing university.

Arthur’s research paper into Creative ways of approaching executive coaching is a must-read for anyone who would like to explore creativity in their own coaching practice.

Summary and suggested further reading in coaching

In summary, I believe that the coaching models can if used wisely be really useful to ensure there is a path through the coaching agreement. However, underpinning philosophy and practice of coaching can be widely adapted to both coach and coachee and I think the need to experiment more and not fall into a two-dimensional trap of always seeing coaching as asking questions in a closed office space (which of course is harder now anyway) is really important for both the future of coaching and for the growth of people that use it to develop themselves. In some up and coming blogs, I will also be exploring the use of Humour and Playfulness in coaching and mentoring practice, something I have been researching and experimenting with for some time. Some of the findings are really amazing so keep a look out for more blogs in future.

Check out the Coaching for Performance website to find out more about the G.R.O.W model and Sir John Whitmore – we owe him a lot.

This Blog builds upon my previous blog related to coaching qualifications: Are Coaching Qualification Required? and the principles of Ontological Coaching: Ontological coaching what the phenomenology is that?

If you are interested to find out more or maybe to try coaching with me, please feel free to get in touch at

I'd love to hear what you think.

The word "Grow" is written out using play-doh with a black G, Blue R with a green eye in it, a yellow O with some plastic bricks and a pink W.  The idea is to challenge the creativity of the GROW model in coaching.
Creative Grow in Play-Doh by Lee Norris (2019)


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