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NLP on the threshold

"My concern is that the well will dry up... unless some group accepts the challenge of continuing to model and present new patterns" John Grinder.

"NLP offers an alternative learning paradigm to challenge the unbalanced nature of our epoch - the age of the accountant not the poet, the politician not the singer" John Grinder.

Sian Pope has interviewed John Grinder. This article is the result of her extensive conversation with the co-creator of NLP. Sian is a personal development coach using NLP, business processes and a spiritual approach. She can be contacted on 0127 585 6537.

Has NLP lost its roots?

John Grinder and Carmen Bostic return to London in July with their seminar "Tapestry". They are calling again for a return to the basic foundations upon which NLP was developed - Modelling. Modelling was the heart of NLP. But is it still? John Grinder believes NLP is currently more about marketing. He is concerned that the well of inspiration which is NLP is in serious danger of drying up. "The vast majority of the classic pattern originally coded by Bandler and myself have already been incorporated into, for example, state of the art management training work as an application". He fully respects people who translate the patterns of excellence codified out of context X into context Y. However, his challenge to us is that "NLP has no future unless a group of men and women emerges who are dedicated to the modelling and transfer of new patterns." "Carmen Bostic and I will continue to identify and code patterns of excellence in larger systems - corporations, institutes, governments." "Where," asks John, "are the people who will refresh the wellspring of NLP?"

'Content' is in danger of replacing 'Form'

One of the tributaries, which is in danger of becoming the main stream, is that 'content' is replacing 'form', and that this key principle of modelling is becoming lost. John and Richard were both Mavericks, unorthodox thinkers. They were the originators whose job it was to be different. Their fundamental question - "What are the differences that make the difference?" - was revolutionary. They chose at that time to use psycho-therapeutic change as the context for their work, investigating the genius of Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson. They wanted to not only discover patterns but also make them teachable to others. Virginia Satir herself was amazed by receiving a description of how she worked. "What Richard Bandler and John Grinder have done is to watch the process of change over a time and distil from it the patterns of the how process." (Introduction to The Structure of Magic I). These patterns are the content.

NLP is not sub-modalities or eye movements or linguistic patterns, or fast phobia cures. Those are results in the field of enquiry. They are a function of the questions that are asked, coded into usable patterns. The originators contributed not only patterns, but also "and of far more importance, the method of modelling and coding with precision the set of differences which distinguish between a genius and an average performer in any field." "An aspect which," John says, "has unfortunately received little attention."

"I know of very little modelling of quality (or even of non-quality) occurring at present'" says John, "There has been a reduction in the non-linear qualities of NLP in favour of a rational, logical, step-by-step feeding of the conscious mind. " The most important distinction between NLP and other models is the distinction between form and content." Clearly NLP patterns in an applied version have successfully infiltrated enormous areas of human activity - business, management, therapy, education, sports - and this is to be applauded. Yet, unless some group accepts the challenge of continuing to model and present new patterns, NLP will be a simple historical footnote by the middle of the 21st century and the origins of the applied patterns found in many disciplines will be unknown."

We need to be less sophisticated

When Grinder and Bandler created NLP through modelling high performers in the field of psychotherapy, the motivation was exploration of human change, using questions such as 'how does he (or she) do that so well? What is the specific difference which makes for excellence? Can we teach someone else to become excellent in that way? " Modelling is a sophisticated version of what we did well as children." says John. "We need to become less clever, less sophisticated, less conscious, and more like the fool, more present in our everyday experience, letting go of the rules and participating in our own enquiry."

The Tonal dominates the Nagual

In shamanistic language: in NLP the Tonal has came to dominate the Nagual! Once before John tried to redress the balance with New Code NLP. He offers one example: "In all the classic formats of NLP (with the exception of reframing), the conscious mind of the client is assigned the responsibility of selecting either the desired state, the new behaviour to be substituted for the behaviour to be changed, or the specific resource which will make the difference. This is patently absurd. The assignment of such responsibility to precisely the part of the client least competent to make such a selection is a monumental error. Such responsibilities are best accepted and implemented by the unconscious mind. This significant reassignment is achieved in New Code NLP ." (see "Turtles all the way down")

Shamanistic metaphors about Sorcery, Magic and Incantations abound in the early books (Frogs into Princes, The Structure of Magic I & II), but John wants us to go further than just using the metaphors - he wants us to become warriors. If we take up the challenge to live on the edge of curiosity," to commit to the coding of new patterns in a vocabulary which makes it eminently learnable," and hold a value of renewal as a constant principle, we can keep alive a fresh living spirit as the wellspring of NLP. Then it will not die.

Advice from John

  • Cultivate greeting with glee what others refer to as disappointment or surprise or unanticipated responses from the world
  • Sensitize yourself to the body responses which indicate that what is occurring is different from what you unconsciously and possibly consciously expected
  • Move cleanly and quietly into the presence of the unknown, alert and relaxed
  • Enter states of disciplined not-knowing
  • Interrupt your own patterns
  • Develop friends who are as different from you and one another as possible

Become Learners

We need to become true learners. John's definition of a learner is someone who "utterly lacks self importance, subordinates ends to means, plays the fool and enjoys it (whether or not he notices), and is phobic about routines." "At the same time this describes my fourteen month old grandson perfectly" says John.

Balance conscious and unconscious functioning

We need to balance our conscious and unconscious minds. "An imbalance here condemns the person to an inability to make emotional and spontaneous responses (both prerequisites to artistry) or directionless (although adventurous) wandering without much coherence at the end of the day." he cautions.

Seek to prove yourself wrong

"There is a certain epistemologically disciplined attitude that many of the geniuses I have modeled have, which is nearly non-existent in the general population - to seek to prove our own putative patterns wrong, rather than to seek confirmation of what we believe." He gives us an example. "Suppose that I have, through a series of experiences, come to believe that people with green hair are untrustworthy, now how shall I proceed? My answer is, I would assume (that is, set up a filter) the opposite and attempt to prove it - that is, to find a counterexample, a green haired person who is trustworthy."

What gets in our way

We get in the way of our own learning "when we are too substantial, constantly adjusting our behaviour to the requirements of others, when we sacrifice today for the future, accept co-dependant relationships, have an intense need for self-revelation, are committed to logical conscious processes, seek attain and sustain comfort , bend to the twin tyrants of foveal vision and internal dialogue and live predominantly anywhere but in the present"


In their workshop "Tapestry" John and Carmen invite us to tease out the threads which form the tapestry of our personal and professional lives, to understand them better, and to weave them more consciously into creative and effective patterns. 'Patterns are formed out of seemingly insignificant threads - those recurring elements of our lives we often overlook or become obscured through habit."

An experienced master can tell us what he has found. But he can help us more by helping us to find out ourselves. John Grinder is not easy to understand or pin down. He is elusive, a wizard. The challenge laid down at the beginning of The Structure of Magic I "is the reader astute enough to reconstruct the context or shall he simply enjoy the exchange and arrive at a useful unconscious understanding of a more personal nature?" remains. He and Carmen are interested in creating the context for us to make the leap to another level of consciousness. They will lead us to our edges until we reach some new level of understanding, beyond that of our conscious comprehension. Prepare to be fascinated, provoked, challenged, - literally beyond beliefs. Then we have a chance to take a Quantum Leap. We will be required to bring our own Artistry into being.

What of NLP's future?

Like a great river arising from a tiny mountain spring, we have seen NLP evolve, branching out in several directions as the originators 'seeded' those who have followed, and as a body of experience has begun to build. What of the future, as we stand on the threshold of a new century? Will NLP grow and consolidate itself as 'first among equals', maturing with the insights of its practitioners or will it become a footnote in the history of the 20th century? It is a future that we need to actively create, and the well-spring needs to be re-sourced. "NLP offers an alternative learning paradigm to challenge the unbalanced nature of our epoch, the age of the accountant not the poet, the politician not the singer." says John. "The question is whether others will join us in this pursuit of excellence and its modelling? "


The Structure of Magic Parts I & II - Bandler & Grinder
Frogs into Princes - Bandler & Grinder
Turtles all the way down - Grinder & DeLozier

Further Information

John and Carmen's seminar "Tapestry:Weaving Your Life" took place on 7-9 July 2000 in London.