What is the Hobbesian Trap?
The Hobbesian Trap is a theory named after Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a British Philosopher specialising in political science. This trap is also known as Schelling’s Dilemma (after Thomas Schelling). It explains that pre-emptive strikes occur between two groups, out of bilateral fear of an imminent attack and self-preservation. Escalation of this fear can spiral and lead to an arms race.
Thomas Hobbes elaborated on a theory initially described by Thucydides. Hobbes felt that it was human nature to quarrel. There are three main causes – competition, diffidence and glory. Game theory focuses on the third motive – glory- or why a reputation is worth fighting for.
This theory has been applied to conflicts including the First World War, the Cold War or the Cuban Missile Crisis. The latter conflict over nuclear weapons was based on mutual distrust and pre-emptive strikes between the US and USSR.
The analogy of Hobbesian Trap
Business leaders often have the urge to hire experts when they feel something is keeping the company from reaching its full potential. They want to leverage some extra help, especially when the company is going through significant changes or experiencing substantial challenges. The leaders enrol experts such as business coaches and consultants to help them steer the ship through the rolling waves.
It can be the exact solution the company desires, but it is surprising that some of the leaders know little about the differences between a coach and a consultant. That’s in terms of the role, work scope, level of engagement, how they can help the company to achieve success, and so on.
The role of a coach
In the work context, coaches are like highly experienced business partners working alongside executives and teams. They can offer invaluable benefits to the business. Depending on the different specialism of coaching, coaches may focus on working with particular groups of clients, such as Leadership, Team, and Cohort, and their practice of coaching may involve different approaches and tactics.
In general, coaches provide customized and experiential development process that empowers business leaders and teams to fully realize their potentials, enhance capability and maximize performance. The coach has great insight into and awareness of the nature of man. They enable staff to work together collaboratively and creatively to achieve sustainable outstanding results and organizational goals.
A coach’s superpower is to use active listening and powerful questioning to help clients understand their ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ state of nature; to devise strategy and plan; support and challenge them along the journey. They help clients to think outside the box and see new perspectives and hold them accountable to keep on shifting towards the goal while maintaining clear focus and alignment to the business objectives.
It is important to note that the coaching relationship is based on mutual trust and respect, and the organization, leader, team, and coach needs to work in partnership together to achieve maximum effectiveness and impact.
Make sure you also check my other article on coaching here.
The role of a consultant
Business consultants are subject matter experts, who are most likely to have achieved success in their professional life and can advise their clients on how to acquire the same knowledge and skills and achieve similar successful results.
Consultants share their extensive knowledge and experience in a customized and targeted manner, providing exactly what the clients need. They have the required expertise to help organizations analyzing issues, compiling findings, advising solutions, and implementing a customized plan of action. Besides, they can also assist to track and assess the effectiveness of the plan, keep challenging the project delivery, feedback and course-correct as appropriate to optimize the results delivered.
Generally speaking, consultants can bring in their expertise, fresh opinion, and a more objective perspective to the business in need. The consulting process is more linear in the sense of transferring the knowledge and skills, and may often involve some level of training.
Deploy the coach or the consultant?
Knowing the key differences between a business coach and consultant can help one to prevent the Hobbesian Trap, avoid disappointments and optimize resource usage. Coaching empowers teams to maximize their performance and consulting provides expertise and assistance to tackle the challenges head-on.
Often the lines between coaching and consulting get blurred, leading to ineffectiveness in addressing the organization’s needs. We have summarised some of the key differences between coaching and consulting below:
- Building Capacity vs. Solving Problem
- Facilitating Self-learning and Self-organisation vs. Outsourcing Existing Problem
- Internally-drive Growth vs. External Expertise
- Exploring Possibilities vs. Providing Recommendation
- Asking Questions vs. Providing Solution
- Empowerment vs. Following Instruction
- Focus on People vs. Focus on the Problem
- “Left-brained” Growth and Evolution vs. “Right-brained” Linear Steps to Achieve Goals.
Understanding your organizational requirements and when to employ the services of a coach or a consultant is crucial for the engagement’s success. It is recommended that one needs to introspect on the critical key areas of the organization before the engagement, such as:
- The Requirement of the business
- Quality of the inherent knowledge in the business
- Robustness of the support structure and culture in the organization
- Time sensitivity required for the intended results
If you want to explore The Hobbesian Trap further, look at the citations of Steven Pinker or Sandeep Baliga or this simple overview on wikipedia. Thomas Hobbes most famous work is Leviathan.