Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Credentials, Competence and Learning

The problem with recognizing learning through credentials is that it creates a muddy line. Some people pursue learning and earn credentials as a result. Other people end up chasing the credential (learning optional). At the one extreme, people pursue doctoral degrees in academic disciplines. At the other, people buy degrees from matchbook covers. There's a lot of mud in the middle.

Today I had a conversation with a prospective client who was, understandably, confused about NLP credentials. It's hard for people to understand that NLP exists outside of governing bodies, peer review or structured, international consensus. If you set out to develop a set of practices that effect change, the only way to judge them is by whether or not they reliably promote the change they promise. There are no tests, no contests and no meaningful stamps of approval.

There are, of course, lots of efforts to create tests and contests and stamps of approval. People create official-looking stamps for various organizations or associations and encourage their members to disseminate them as if they were meaningful beyond the group they represent.

We quite often train people who followed all the rules and paid for training that follows guidelines. The problem is that too many of them are unable to demonstrate effectively any of the competencies of those credentials. They sometimes know about a variety of techniques. They are not good at getting the results that those techniques are supposed to get.

When I teach Business Communications courses to college students, I tell them that the way to judge a communication in business is by whether or not it gets the results they intend. Grammar, format and rhetorical strategies increase their odds of getting what they want. They are not the ends: they are some of the means to the end.

Credentials without competence are a lie. Credentials earned over a few days or weeks of study are unlikely to measure any significant skill sets. Skills are built by deliberate, attentive practice over time. We all know this. Whether or not we believe that it takes 5 years of full-time practice to master a skill, we believe that mastery of meaningful patterns of thinking will take more than a few days.

It seems to me that a basic presupposition of NLP is that the meaning of a pattern of behaviour is the result it gets. I judge the quality of the work I do as a trainer by the quality of the feedback I get back from students - feedback in the results they get as well as the way they choose to frame their experience, and feedback in the patterns with which they maintain their relationship with me and my work over months and years.

If I were willing to be judged by someone else's stamp of approval, I would have stayed in the academic mainstream, where those stamps are offered according to predictable (if not always good) standards and processes. As far as I can tell, my desire to be judged by results instead of by authorities gives me much in common with the founders of NLP. NLP was not developed by followers seeking a credential - it was developed and practiced by the kind of people who want to be known by their results - not by a stamp of approval.

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