On top of Mount Stupid

Don’t you love the view? If you are like me, you’ve spent years and years or months and months hiking up this beautiful mountain, jumped across rivers, walked on dizzying ridges and now you have made it: you are at the top. The summit of….. Mount Stupid.

Don’t judge yourself for it, climbing Mount Stupid is part of every learning journey and we all do it all of the time, so cut yourself some slack. The concept comes from the Dunning-Kruger principle. When you start learning something, your experience and competence is still relatively low, but since you don’t know what you don’t know, your confidence is rather high: You are on top of Mount Stupid.

Kruger Dunning
Dunning-Kruger Effect (in action — as it is Dunning-Kruger, not Kruger-Dunning, see, here’s me thinking I know something)

I see this in action in the coaching community a lot. For example, when coaches have mastered one approach to coaching, they naturally assume that this is all there is to learn about coaching: the top of Mount Stupid. When coaches have coached several clients successfully using their method and another client doesn’t respond to it, well something must be wrong with the client: the top of Mount Stupid. Someone presents a “model” with a lot of confidence (this seems to be a good way to make money) — if they are confident, there must be something to it: the top of Mount Stupid.

So how do you start on the long and painful descent? (Any hiker will agree that going down is usually a bit harder when the ascent was strenuous). Let me tell you my story of a descent from Mount Stupid in coaching.

I had mastered the Solution Focused approach, written 2-3 books on it, ran a coaching school teaching the approach, founded the association for Solution Focused work in organizations, started a peer-reviewed journal etc. So you could say I was an Expert in Solution Focused coaching. I had been on top of the SF Mount Stupid: “Yeah, I can ask 5 types of questions, it works, I must be a genius! O crap, this client is difficult – help! What do I do? Ah… this all has to do something with Wittgenstein…. thousands of pages of philosophy later: NOW I get it!” Little did I realize that I had just climbed the next one.

When I started engaging with ICF, I needed to learn new skills (thank you, my patient mentors Carly Anderson and Margaret Krigbaum and all of my buddies who supported me). Boy was that frustrating. The slow descent began. I started seeing the territory of all the other coaching approaches that I knew little about. I learned narrative therapy and found out how you can talk about identity in a postmodern way. I explored partnering with the client and coaching in a Solution Focused way that is even more aligned with how I want to show up as a coach: with the utmost respect for my client.

I am wondering which Mount Stupid I am on now.

And I think this is what it takes for a coach to develop excellence: ask yourself that question. As I am, you are undoubtedly on a Mount Stupid of some kind. Coaching is an emergent profession, it deals with complex situations — there cannot be a final answer that tells us what good coaching is. All the competency models that exists give us the basics, they provide a good roadmap to the top of … (ok, I won’t repeat it). But the real work starts on the decent.

If you’d like to enjoy the views, join us for one of our free coaching meetups and exchanges:


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