If you’d not heard of scientometrics before, you are probably in good company. I only just learned about it through a fascinating article (Samuel Arbesman, Truth Decay, New Scientist, 22 Sept 2012, p37-39) exploring how quickly “facts” in various branches of science turn out to be untrue. Many medical schools, says the author, routinely tell their students that half of what they are taught will be obsolete within five years.

The reason this happens is that even “truths” arising from empirical study are approximations, based on knowledge so far. New research presents different perspectives and changes what we know. Unfortunately, obsolete knowledge has a habit of sticking around, especially if it is contained in seminal publications.

The examples in this article made me think about the work I and my colleagues are engaged in to question “facts” in coaching. Given that the field is changing so fast and that so many people are now conducting research, how much of received wisdom is already obsolete? And how much will we need to reject in five years’ time?

Some of the areas, in which it is already clear that general coaching and mentoring knowledge is out of date, include the role and nature of goal setting, the role of expertise in or knowledge of the client’s world, and the relatively effectiveness of formal versus informal mentoring relationships.

My instinct is that a lot more of what we “know” about coaching will be overturned in the next few years. I would be very interested to hear other people’s views on the most likely areas, in which this might happen!

David Clutterbuck

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