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The Psychedelic Edge: High Stakes in Executive Coaching

Published March 13, 2024
2 months ago

In a quest for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, a bold trend has taken root in the executive coaching industry: psychedelics as a tool for performance optimization. Despite being part of an unregulated multi-billion-dollar coaching sector, the practice of using mind-altering substances, notably psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and MDMA (ecstasy), is gaining traction among high-level professionals seeking to enhance their leadership skills and creative capacities.

Leading the psychedelic coaching movement is Paul Austin, founder of Third Wave, a platform that certifies psychedelic guides through pricy courses reaching up to $14,000. Austin advocates for the role psychedelics can play in today's rapidly changing business environment where artificial intelligence lessens the need for productivity while raising the demand for divergent thinking.

The trend has caught the attention of various business magnates, with high-profile names like Elon Musk inadvertently promoting the discussion on the influence of psychedelics in the corporate realm. This has unsurprisingly amplified both interest and concerns, especially considering the susceptibility of the brain’s executive functions to psychedelic drugs.

With a select group of coaches operating in jurisdictions where these substances aren't criminalized, like resorts in Jamaica, or more surreptitiously in the United States, there remains a fine line between legal boundaries and the pursuit of peak performance. For example, Jim MacPhee, a former Disney COO and now a leadership consultant, credits his psilocybin experiences during overseas retreats for enhancing his consultancy work—even though he doesn't promote drug use among clients.

Despite this rising interest, the potential psychological risks associated with psychedelics cannot be ignored. The long-term consequences may include perceptual distortions and detachment from reality. And while there have been notable increases in hospital visits and drug seizures related to hallucinogens, legalization movements have not eliminated these risks.

Paul Austin's Third Wave has already trained around 200 psychedelic guides, with about a fifth specializing in executive coaching. These guides often blend various methodologies, such as breathwork and intimacy exercises, alongside psychedelic experiences. The goal is to unlock new perspectives and innovative thinking, but integrating these substances into coaching remains controversial.

Safety and ethical considerations have become the mantra of groups like Ethical Psychedelic International Community, promoting a cautious approach to the psychedelic experiences and decision-making. With a sense of urgency, the community advocates waiting significant periods post-experience before making any life-altering choices.

Even in traditional financial sectors, there is an appetite for this unorthodox approach, as exemplified by a New York ketamine and meditation circle – "ketitation" – attended by individuals from Wall Street backgrounds looking for relief from stress and a fresh outlook beyond their financial portfolios.

Critics, however, warn of the pitfalls when mixing potent drugs and Type-A personalities, highlighting the vulnerability and suggestibility that psychedelic substances might induce and questioning the strategic wisdom of decisions made under their influence.

The burgeoning industry and its practices raise vital questions about the balance between innovation and risk, highlighting the fine line between unlocking potential and unmooring from reality.

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