In the coaching field, “co-creating” refers to the collaborative process between the coach and client, in which both parties actively participate in shaping the coaching relationship, discovering ideas, setting goals, and designing strategies for growth and development.

Often, I hear co-creation described inside a binary paradigm. The coach follows or guides the client, or the client knows what’s best to guide the coach. Or the coach offers soothing nods and remains quiet and reserved while waiting for the client to guide them.

Although this view supports many dimensions of coaching, it is limiting and stifles the “creativity” embedded in co-creation.

Creativity: The Essence of Co-Creating in Coaching

So then, what is creativity? How does it shape co-creation and coaching?

Co-creation emerges out of our understanding of what it means to be creative. Here, I will explore the wisdom in creativity as a human process and phenomenon without reducing it to merely material output. 

Creativity involves the openings or possibilities that foster emergence. It can be messy, unpredictable, energizing, and revealing. Although Western philosophy views creativity as a “to-do” dynamic, Eastern philosophy views it as a “to-be” phenomenon—the space where something new emerges.

Cultivating creativity as a human dynamic relies on spaciousness. Bringing wisdom to co-creation expands access to our human faculties. The vastness of the sky allows for any climate—and so the spacious mind can receive anything.

From a human development perspective, co-creation involves mutual participation that results in unpredictable emergence. Its general nature demands awareness, openness, and inquiry.

Principles and Practices of Co-Creation

The following four principles and seven practices will support a process of cultivating co-creation. The focus is on a process of cultivation (Bhāvanā in Sanskrit), openness, or a spacious mind.

These principles and practices develop a co-creation process in a conversational domain that supports coaching. The process is less about what we do and more about who we are. How can we navigate our experiences by cultivating openness and a spacious mind rather than closed-mindedness and fixation?

The speaking in co-creation comes from listening and involves suspending certainty to cultivate the space for ideas and energy to flow.

Given our integration of Eastern and Western thought, a spacious mind means an awakened heart or loving mind—an inviting and receptive mind embodied with clarity and openness.

Each principle and set of practices habituate a mindset that cultivates a foundation of clarity, recognizing afflictions, and discerning truth and emergence.

PRINCIPLE 1: COMMUNION. Coach and Client Engage in the Creative Process

Communion speaks to an intimate partnering.

When two people come together, new wisdom emerges. At that moment, a new world can be discovered. Discovering the meaning and shape of that whole requires full partnership and participation.

The coach and client develop an interdependent partnership. By increasing awareness, the coach supports what is struggling to emerge.

Listening creates the space for the client to sort themselves out and invites the coach to facilitate and guide them, which can catalyze the client’s journey of self-discovery, learning, and growth.

Mutual trust, vulnerability, and collaboration contribute to the discovery, learning, and creative process. This dynamic supports a “participatory consciousness,” coined by physicist David Bohm, that leads to “thinking together.”

Both coach and client engage issues together, side by side, to support the messiness and partake in understanding and birthing something new.

PRACTICES:

1- Pausing. The process of cultivating space begins with small steps in our mundane lives. Placing space between our experiences can detangle our impulses and help us let go of items to move freely.

  • Pausing after daily events, such as meetings, calls, emails, the gym, playing with kids, and so forth, creates space to enter the next event clear and grounded.
  • Pausing before speaking to notice your experiences, intentions, and expectations.
  • Pausing through our day interrupts and reveals our fixed patterns and supports slowing down and openness.

2- Letting go. The key to letting go is increasing awareness to recognize “holding on” in its many forms.

“Letting go” generally refers to releasing control or negative thoughts, emotions, grudges, or unhealthy habits. It can involve letting go of a person, a situation, or an attachment to a certain outcome, or it could involve letting go of material possessions or relationships.

Meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh understands that perceptions are the ground of all afflictions and sees letting go as “throwing away notions and ideas that are the base of our suffering.”

Together, pausing and letting go create space and increase awareness to support the next principle.

PRINCIPLE 2: SPACIOUSNESS. Creation Requires Empty Space

The difference between this principle and the next acknowledges the difference between first perception and intuition and then interpretation.

For the coach, principle 2 requires quieting the mind. We cultivate space to refine perception and develop intuition. British philosopher Wildin Carr [1] defines intuition as “the apprehension of reality by the mind, directly as it is” rather than through intellectual or conceptual apprehension.

With clear perception and developing intuition, the coach becomes a vessel for gaining insights via inquiry or dialogue to support better interpretations (the next principle).

Quieting the mind increases awareness and space as we tune into our concrete (body and matter) and subtle (energy and thoughts) experiences.

PRACTICES:

1- Mindfulness: The practice of mindfulness builds on pausing and letting go. It is both a sitting practice to become intimate with your mind and the afflictions that cause suffering and a post-meditation (living) practice to cultivate awareness, openness, and clarity to be less reactive.

Mindfulness supports being fully present with what is happening now with non-reactive awareness, without trying to control or judge it.

Co-creating encourages the coach to cultivate mindfulness in the coaching relationship, fostering a non-judgmental and compassionate atmosphere that allows for a deeper connection and understanding.

2- Deep listening supports co-creating by recognizing and receiving deeper concerns, surfacing truth, and accessing one’s intuition.

On the surface, our thoughts and feelings are not only audible but also considered, valued, and validated. On a deeper level, being heard can lead to a release that can feel empowering, validating, and important.

With practice, deep listening increases awareness and openness to discern choices about what perspectives to feed (or release) and what actions to take (or not take).

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PRINCIPLE 3: INQUIRY. Creation Occurs in Dialogue and Inquiry

With greater awareness and clear perception (Principle 2), the coach can trust what arises and appreciate the creative power of interpretation.

Interpretation involves our thinking, intentions, and speaking to create meaning.

Co-creating involves interpretation as inquiry, dialogue, and framing and reframing. Speaking is where most people begin in conversation; however, without the first two principles, speaking will come from our positions rather than possibilities.

The speaking in co-creation comes from listening and involves suspending certainty to cultivate the space for ideas and energy to flow.

The immediacy of personal experience allows us to investigate our moment-by-moment feelings, thoughts, reactions, and behaviors through a process of open-ended discovery and inquiry.

PRACTICES:

1- Reflective dialogue. Through inquiry and questioning, we loosen fixed beliefs and solid positions, creating the space for insights to emerge. Thought-provoking questions that stimulate reflection, insight, and self-awareness arise, guiding clients toward their goals and desired outcomes.

Reflective dialogue harnesses the power of interpretation as a primary driver of our creative output. We shape our observations via framing and reframing to develop or shift the context.

  • Deep listening and mindfulness create the space for greater depth in framing observations or experiences. Framing creates a specific context that shapes perception, understanding, and action. For example, a glass with some water can be framed as half-empty or half-full.
  • Framing also supports reframing. When issues are framed in a certain way, we can reframe these issues in a new context. For example, a person’s full calendar that is framed as “packed and overwhelming” can be reframed as being in-demand and suggesting setting priorities.

Reflective dialogue is an evolution of thought. We shift from focusing on content to discerning the current context and creating contexts in our conversations.

2- Contemplative Inquiry. The practice of inquiry integrates intuition and wisdom to support participants in reflecting on thoughts and positions as they “suspend” their judgments and assumptions and loosen their grip on previously unquestioned beliefs (e.g., maybe profit is not the primary goal).

The basic element of inquiry includes a “suspension of certainty.” This involves dropping agendas and expectations, allowing an open-ended attitude, and focusing on direct knowledge/experience, the experience of not knowing, and the process of questioning.

I recently discovered that a client was getting close to deciding on a life-altering surgery. He shared some of the risks and challenges, including changing his active lifestyle with competitive games.

As we discussed the change, I recalled our previous discussions, offering that it seemed like “connecting” brought him joy. He shifted forward and began to see that sports and activities actually offered him chances to connect. He began to list games where he could compete and connect without having to be “active” like how he had been.

Contemplative inquiry operates from this interdependent awareness, revealing the interconnected nature of reality. These open conversations encourage a process of discovery to seek mutual understanding. Participants discern and connect patterns, developing new ways of seeing and being together.

PRINCIPLE 4: EMERGENCE. Co-creation Involves Both Harmony and Chaos

Co-creation involves awakening capacities and possibilities in our humanity to participate in the inner unfolding of our Being. This can be confusing, liberating, insightful, or unsettling.

What emerges may not first be understood but may point to new questions, different inquiries, or some reflection.

The experience of the inner wisdom that emerges from our true nature involves a process that includes deep knowing, clarity, truth, love, intelligence, compassion, curiosity, emotional courage, and resolve.

The previous principles and practices offer partnership, foundational grounding, and space. We tune into an interdependent awareness and realize interconnectedness or flow that can be with anything as it is without adding or subtracting anything.

Acceptance slows the conversation down. People listen deeply, and silence becomes pregnant with shared meaning. Themes emerge from chaos to connect dots, create meaning, and support previously unseen and unpredictable directions.

PRACTICE

1- Generativity and Flow. As noted earlier, David Bohm believed that an alternative way toward understanding any whole arises through participation rather than abstraction. He speaks to a “different kind of consciousness that is possible among us, a ‘participatory consciousness.’”

This level of consciousness enables flow, which defines generativity as the rarest field of conversation. Bohm speaks of it as a special listening:

If we are to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature, we need to be able to communicate freely in a creative movement in which no one permanently holds onto or otherwise defends his own ideas.

Listening from “being” allows us to be with and experience others newly. Cultivating this non-dual consciousness creates the space for emergence as boundaries dissolve and people “think together.”

As we deepen the previous principles and practices, the boundaries between chaos and harmony disappear. We realize that clarity is born out of confusion and honor the importance of patience, space, and understanding. We witness the seeds of understanding and connection.

In this space, we cultivate a natural flow or presencing (per Otto Scharmer). We are aware of and receptive to the emergence of the unpredictable that can reveal future possibilities.

Finally …

The co-creation process can awaken, enliven, encourage, and surface discoveries. Regardless of how science, business, or technology might reduce this process, it is fundamental to the human spirit — an art that expands the spectrum of human consciousness.

What’s possible in this art of co-creation is an exploration of the unknown beyond our habitual patterns to connect with an experience of humanity.

Coaching is suited and situated to be a primary mover of co-creation, which is central to our human experiences as we connect and collaborate more frequently.

The four principles support spaces for partnership, openness, inquiry, and flow, and the seven practices support ways to habituate our minds.

As coaches, we can live each practice in daily conversations, rituals, and reflections. Reflection is key. As we complete our day, we can reflect on how these practices have supported us.

Bringing awareness to parts of our lives with reflection is like shining a light in the dark—you now have a better understanding of the whole. That awareness will support a deeper connection to co-creation.

Reading Time: 8.5 min. Digest Time: 12 min.


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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.

As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.