lunedì 19 aprile 2010

The Hidden Skills of Modelling – Systems Thinking (Fran Burgess)

People who are modelling pygmies think that modelling is just for academic types, or consultants, or people who want to get rich by discovering the secrets to the stock market or magical selling. The rest of you already know that every time you ask a question you are in the process of creating an internal model.
Whether you are asking questions for a living, as a teacher, a therapist, a consultant, a sales person, or as part of your everyday relating, as a parent, a friend, a partner; you are entering the world of making sense of someone else’s experience. You are a modeller. You have engaged in the process of modelling.
For the population at large this is an unconscious, hit and miss process, with no critical investment in the outcome. For the NLP practitioner, however, this can become a conscious, disciplined process, with the pursuit of a precise outcome taking front seat. The NLP practitioner has the potential to cut to the chase with unerring accuracy, pinpoint the issues, and determine the next steps – time and time again.


A model is a framework which when activated generates a specific outcome. It can be altered to create a different outcome. It can be replicated to create the same outcome elsewhere.
If you asked the average NLP Practitioner, “What is involved in modelling?” their answers would likely cover a mixture of what to do, how to do it and why. Specifically they would mention things like establishing and maintaining rapport with the exemplars and learners, gathering information, using their sensory acuity, identifying strategies, logging beliefs and values, determining metaphors. Many of these skills are covered in the basic practitioner syllabus, and can be visibly demonstrated. They may also talk about intuitive modelling, second positioning, trying on the answers, testing for congruence. They may mention pattern detection, and quote Bateson’s well worn mantra “find a difference that makes the difference”.
All NLP Practitioners are trained in these basic skills and yet few new models are being publicly presented to the world. So it seems that modelling has to be more than the sum of these skills. So what other skills are involved?
The ones that go on inside our head once we have gathered the information! These are the hidden, internal skills which churn, sort, sift, park, activate, match, store, dump, connect data. These skills are the powerhouse of the modelling process. These skills enable us to contain the ambiguity and confusion of the data we are experiencing. And the more skilled we become at holding this data, the more able we are to stay not knowing – until we do. We can be comfortably uncomfortable for as long as it takes.
There are at least four major processes involved here.
  • Holding the Data: The first is being able to hold the data, so that it doesn’t slither about and escape. This requires a filing system that is comprehensive and consistent. David Gordon uses his array as his filter and files under these categories. Judy DeLozier uses the BAGEL model. James and Penny create a metaphoric landscape. Without a filing framework, data gets lost.
  • Thinking Systemically: The second is wrapped up in the area of managing systems – detecting systems, thinking systematically and systemically. This is the ability to determine the connections and relationships between the data, to follow the logical levels and logical types, to discover the direction of energy flows and blockages, and identify the critical points awaiting an intervention.
  • Detecting Patterns: The third is the ability to detect patterns within the data, which create the systems, to spot frequency of occurrence, sequencing, timing, emphasis, and context. This essential skill is fundamental to the scoping process, and requires the modeller to differentiate inherent similarities and differences, and determine their significance. It requires patience and persistence, and a willingness to dismantle any perceived patterns back to their component parts.
  • Recognising Code Congruence: The final skill is the ability to test for congruence, to try on the information and the patterns and get a feel of their ‘rightness’ across context and through time. Deep code congruence is the only evidence for exiting the modelling TOTE.
This article focuses on Systems Thinking, as one of the fundamental NLP Presuppositions:

We are all part of a system.

There are many books out there on the subject, primarily founded the IT world, and merged into business management. Systems thinkers strip away the content to reveal the bare bones of the underlying structure. They put their attention onto those relationships between components, which are responsible for the resulting behaviours. Thinking systematically requires you to know when a system is operating as opposed to being just a heap of data. Thinking systemically allows you to fly in between the links and make connections which were never obviously visible.
So what makes this particularly important for us modellers? As a modeller we are surrounded by systems, and it is really useful to notice which ones are at play when. Here’s the role call!
  • The Modeller’s System: Those of you who are familiar with The Blueprint of Behaviour are familiar with this system. Our own internal system will influence our filters, what we choose to delete or pay attention to, our recall of previous experiences, our ability to detect whatever ‘plops’ into our minds, and our own internal patterns and favoured responses.
  • The Exemplar/Modeller System: “Whenever you view a system you change it” and this is especially true here. As a modeller you need to consider any distortions which can occur because the exemplar is self conscious, your recording methods are a distraction, the levels of rapport shift, the significance and consequences of success have a bearing.
  • The Contextual System: This takes into consideration the possible effects of the wider context of the Exemplar. The modeller needs to consider the impact of say the work environment on the exemplar, for example the team, the leadership, the culture, the levels of success and satisfaction. Or look at the influence at home of family, relationships, community or hobbies.
  • The Operation System: The process of modeling is in itself a system. It follows these 9 Steps: engaging the exemplar, gathering information, filtering for patterns, organising patterns to structure, reducing to simplest format, testing it with multiple perspectives, enabling acquisition, finding the edges and evaluating outcomes.
  • The Scoping System: This is the process of scoping; grouping similarities and differences, deciding when there is sufficient information and when more would make a difference to the patterns established. Some would say this is the art in the science of modelling.
  • The Behaviour’s System: Like a diver establishing his buoyancy in a column of water, the modeller needs to decide where in the process he wants to focus, and place his attention. The territory is a three dimensional process with time being one axis – the start middle or end of the process; scale being the other – the specific details of strategies or within the overall belief system and mindset?; with the third dimension being the filters the modeller is using – neurological levels, meta programmes, symbolic landscape, language patterns. This is the heart of the modelling process, where the modeller can easily become lost, not see the wood for the trees and literally lose heart as a result. The modeller needs to be able to step out, regroup, and refocus, and if needs be start again.
  • The Modelling Framework’s System: The modeller may choose to adopt an existing system and format as the basis for his modelling approach. There are plenty to choose form. David Gordon’s Array combines beliefs, with strategies and TOTE. SCORE uses a time-based system with cause and effect. Meta Mirror operates the systemic use of multiple perspectives to model a relationship. Neuro Logical Levels can be used to model alignment or incongruence.
  • And finally, The Model’s System: Hurrah! This is the system the modeller has created which combines the identified and winnowed-away data in such a way that when activated, enables the desired behaviour to emerge.
I hope these thoughts have been useful, and take you some way further to becoming a successful modeler. The more frequent your success, the hungrier you become for more.
So the next time you get that lost feeling when you are in the middle of your questioning process, just stop a minute and ask yourself – Which system am I in? Which one am I paying attention to? And where would be more useful?

Fran Burgess

Fran Burgess home page


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