Modelling success

I give many talks around the world on application of NLP to project management for development of behavioural competences and still get asked occasionally, ‘does NLP really work?‘, and ‘Can you really model success?’

What I teach is firmly ‘anchored’ upon foundations laid by Nobel prize winners including Ivan Pavlov (Anchoring, Conditioning, de-programming) and Daniel Khaneman (Priming, Framing, role of the sub-conscious in decision making). In fact the whole of NLP is a synthesis of earlier work by the most eminent psychologists including Gregory Bateson (Cybernetics and Linguistics), Alfred Korzybski (‘The map is not the territory’, semantics, neuro-linguistics), Eric Berne (Transactional Analysis, negotiation styles) to mention only a few.


I also ‘frame’ it in terms of the modelling of excellence. George Miller, author of the original paper ‘The magic number 7 plus or minus 2’ (Filters) was the originator of the T.O.T.E. process for modelling, extended by Robert Dilts in his exposition of modelling of leadership characteristics.

Indeed, the under-pinning persuasive language patterns of NLP, be they for hypnosis (Milton Erickson), group therapy (Virginia Satir) or Gestalt therapy (Fritz Perls), were modelled on the most successful therapists at the time by UCLA Professors Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

Hence, even the distinctive ‘Phobia Cures’, that you might see Paul McKenna perform on TV, were not invented by NLP but were modelled on ordinary people who had discovered a way to overcome their particular phobia (usually using dissociation techniques, which are also very useful in managing stress). NLP merely provides the insight and questioning techniques to reverse engineer the thought processes from the individual’s language patterns to produce a ‘model’ that can be taught to others. (Hence the ‘Neuro-linguistics’).


Of course, modelling is the way we are engineered to learn. Babies do not learn to walk or talk by reading a manual but by modelling those around them that have a successful strategy for doing so.

Currently I am reading ‘Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything’ by Joshua Foer. In it, while giving a history of the origins and art of mnemonics from the original ‘memory palace’ of Simonides of Ceos over 2500 years ago, also reportedly used by Leonardo da Vinci, he recounts his story, from reporting on the world memory championships, to go on to win the competition himself after being taught to model those successful strategies used by others. Benchmarking studies by UCLA before he started showed him to have an average memory, but after a year of practice he could memorise four decks of cards in fifteen minutes.

In my courses I teach models for many useful strategies, from remembering names, through models for (none aggressive) assertiveness, to negotiation. Today I dialled in to one of my communities of practice in a large IT organisation who had invited in a business relationship manager that several of them had cited as a someone who was very good at relating to the customers’ ‘world view’ so that they could model his strategies. This now brings me full circle, as my own introduction to NLP twenty years ago was as a model for an NLP practitioner group. (If I remember correctly, for ‘getting my point across’, so hopefully I have maintained that skill and am getting this point across to you).

So, back to the original question, how can modelling of things that work, not work?

Or, anyone for cards?