Friday, January 31, 2014

Have you wondered how the rose feels about loosening up?

I wonder why we expect growth to be comfortable. Getting better and feeling better are frequently not the same thing.

As a coach, one of my primary functions is to help people endure being uncomfortable while they are growing. When I am the one growing, this awareness helps me interpret the signals that I am uncomfortable so that I do not quit on something too soon.

The caterpillar might actually know what it will be like to be a butterfly, and the rose might not mind giving up the tight curling petals of the bud for the splendour of the rose in full bloom. But a person knows down to their bones that it is hard to know oneself. Growth means getting to know a different self. It means going through all the klutziness and awkwardness of not knowing how big or strong  you really are.

Look around you. If someone you know is growing (physically or emotionally), don't expect it to be all giggles. Expect that growth requires support because it isn't very comfortable while it is happening. If you are growing, find the people and situations that distract you from the feeling that you do not quite fit in your skin.

In less time than you will fear, you will take a break from growth and simply live in your skin. And when you do, you'll be glad to own the new strength and awareness that developed in the process of growing.

If you're curious about how people change and grow and decide, visit me at

Monday, January 27, 2014

Who should be leading affluent communities?

I listened to the mayor of an affluent community talk about the prospects for his city. Although his voice was strong as he went through the obligatory thank yous and held up well for the review of 2013, it almost disappeared before he started talking about the future. I mean literally: a member of the audience jumped up with a glass of water to ease his poor dry throat.

It seems that the community services have been financed by rapid growth, growth that will have to slow soon. Half-hidden by the pictures of new business areas and better roads, there was a scary message about an uncertain future. The mayor had solid presence. He seemed to genuinely care about people and about prosperity. But he lost his voice before presenting a vision that would lead into a new year.

A friend describes him as a mayor with heart. She says he cares about the 10% of residents who are poor, and the 30% of those who are extremely poor. Watching him, I believe that he does care, and that he thinks it will be hard to keep the needs of the poor on the agenda as the purse strings tighten.

What I wonder is whether he respects the poor, whether he understands that the answers to doing more with less are more likely to come from the recently poor than the eternally affluent. An infographic was circulating today on twitter that claims that 86% of millionaires are self-made. I have no idea if it is accurate, but it does suggest that some people are good at figuring out how to make more out of a little. It does suggest that the answer to a future of doing more with less is not likely to come from the people who have been rich all of their lives.

Below a modest level, income is related to happiness. After people are able to pay for food and shelter, the impact of money on happiness dwindles. Somewhere in that band of people who have just enough, there are answers to being satisfied with less and answers to turning less into more. With respect and attention, we might be able to learn how to do that collectively.

It's unlikely that the affluent will look to new millionaires for leadership. Their leaders, however, have choices about where to turn for models of how to navigate a leaner future. And those choices are rooted in respect for what it means to learn to tie satisfaction to having enough, not more than enough.

NLP is not about celebrating poverty. It is about identifying models of success and observing them so closely that you can replicate their success. When we pay real attention to how people move from not-enough to just-enough, we learn about the difference that makes a difference. We learn the key skill to a future where growth no longer drives our investment in civic well-being.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Does the NLP practitioner certification teach 'soft skills?'

I was watching a promo video for a program in leadership. The speaker said she taught the 'soft skills.' Hard skills, technical skills will get you a job, but soft skills, she said, would help you progress through your career.

I've played contact sports and I've gone through labour twice (the second time without drugs). I would rather do that than be torn to shreds by the words of someone I trusted. So I am not sure that I can get on board with reading and responding to people being 'soft' and manipulating stuff that doesn't fight back as being 'hard.'  I think the hardest moments in the life of any leader are the ones where she has to make a decision without knowing what is right, when she has to stand in front of people and show more confidence than she feels so that they will have courage, when she has to back off and let people make their own mistakes.  It takes skill to navigate those kind of situations and that kind of skill takes a lifetime (or more) to master.

So let me be clear what we do in the trainings I lead. We practice the core competencies of relating to other human beings in ways that yield predictable, desirable results. The tools we use involve a basic understanding of neurology, decision making theory and research, heightened sensory awareness and models of values like grit, determination and vision. We cannot give any of these qualities to anyone, but we can condition them to actively value them in themselves and others and to develop them intentionally so that they have enough of what they need when they need it.

Beyond this, we use the same mindset as lean managers to cut waste and produce synergies so that people can get more reliable results with less waste. In our case, that means less time in the training room, and more conditioning to practice and adapt outside the training room. Our training is shorter because we work very hard to produce efficiencies in attention and accelerate learning.

Some people train NLP techniques as soft skills, options to be used intentionally only some of the time. Some people train NLP techniques as a set of strategies and techniques that take many years to learn and are mostly either too complicated to apply in conversation or too simplified to be of use when someone has a lot on the line.  We train NLP practices for building the core of human achievement: integrity, vision, awareness, resilience and connection.

When you meet someone who exemplifies integrity, vision, awareness, resilience and connection, I bet you don't think of them as 'soft.'

Monday, January 20, 2014

How much do you value people who make you learn something new about yourself?

Yourself. For each of us, our very own self is the most fascinating of explorations, the subject closest to us that often seems like new territory. We skate along on assumptions about ourselves because they are hard to test.

When you encounter someone who somehow makes you see more of yourself, what do you do? Some people run. Some people hide. Some people say thank you.

All three are fair responses. While knowledge is generally a good and useful thing, it is not always an easy gift to find out something about yourself that you didn't know. It's disorienting. It makes you wonder a little what else is waiting to be discovered.

There's bound to be a period of not being sure that you are happy to have the new information. Even if you like it, you know it means rethinking a lot of related parts of your life and that takes effort. If you make the effort, if you stick with awareness until it settles into knowing, you will be different. You will probably become better at predicting what will satisfy you, what you need, what you want. 

Some of us believe it is always worth the effort. That's why we stick with people while they are going through the confusing process of sorting out how the new information fits into their lives. It's not because it's easy. It's because yourself is the one person you absolutely have to learn to live with. You might as well build that relationship on your most complete perceptions of what you are.

Friday, January 17, 2014

3 Presuppositions about Blogs, Personal Opinions and Information You Find on the Internet

I was concerned recently that a friend was circulating a blogpost that contained opinions that could be used in damaging ways. The response I got to expressing that concern was this: "[that the] point was delivered without rigour seems to me to be the point of a personal blog in which one writes opinion pieces."

Now I'm confused about the point of posting on the internet. Let's examine the options.

1) Blogs are for posting personal opinions which everyone should understand have been developed without evidence or logic and so can be broadcast and disseminated without evaluation.

This is not how I write a blog post. I write in the hope that it will connect with something in readers that will allow them to think more clearly and work through issues with the balance of an outside perspective. It's a conversation in which I get to do the talking and am held to the same standards I would be held with in a face-to-face conversation. If I take a strong position, I expect to be asked what evidence I have to support it.

2) Rigorous thought is something to be saved for special occasions.

Do you know people who do this? They are really, really good at precise reasoning some of the time and completely undisturbed by logic and evidence at others. The mayor in Toronto wants us to think that this is who he is. Sometimes he is providing sound management to the city and sometimes he is telling the world that he was in a drunken stupor when he decided to try crack.

Clearly, some people do save their best reasoning for specific circumstances. However, when you think of the people you respect for their thinking, is this how you think of them? Do you think that they will turn sound reasoning on and off to conserve thinking power? Or do you expect that someone who thinks clearly will want to think clearly all of the time? You might expect that, since thinking begins in unconscious process and that does work the same way all of the time.

3) You cannot be held responsible for how people respond to your communication.

This is tricky. On some levels, obviously people take things in different ways, read with more or less skill and good will, and may take things out of context and use them in ways the writer never intended.

However, in NLP it is considered useful to take the position that "the meaning of my communication is the feedback I get." So if I write a piece that hits enough known anchors to make it easy for people to take a predictable action, then I am responsible for the response I get.

The piece in question wanted to dance around a difficult hiring issue. The issue in its broadest terms is this: one kind of person and one kind of thinking dominate a field. Should the field seek diversity or does that just lower its standards? No one is saying that people who are different are necessarily less competent, but surely everyone can see that if you force new thinking into a field you weaken it.

Well - I don't see it. I don't see it based on historical thinking that spans more than centuries of history and includes many different fields and cultures. I don't see it based on an analysis of how people are actually hired and how accurate most hiring processes actually are at predicting success (not very if you trust research). I see big holes in the argument.

The results of a piece like this are twofold. People look at the people who are 'different' in their field and wonder if they were hired by quota and are really less competent than the people around them. Just in case that's true, they consider it whenever that different person does something different. The other result is that people only hire to the highest known standards. This means they hire people who can do the things the people hiring can do. The leading edge doesn't move very far, because people are only valued for meeting standards that have already been set (so the bar never goes any higher).

But then, I am just a rigorous thinker. And rigourous thinkers really spoil the fun when someone wants to use the internet to spread ideas that are just 'personal opinions' not designed to have an influence on anyone who reads them. After all, "I read it on the internet" is practically the same as saying "it's an urban legend and no clever person would fall for it." Isn't it?

For the record, all of my opinions are personal, subjective and part of my own experience and values. Especially the ones I argue with the most rigour.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Myths of false precision in NLP manuals

I have been reading an NLP book. I won't say which one, only that it includes many instructions that include what I would call a false precision. Let me give you an example.

Anchoring is a technique that associates a particular physical stimulus with a state, memory or behaviour. In NLP, anchoring is widely used to stabilize, modify or create states that are suitable for particular situations or tasks. Many instructions will tell you to set an anchor just before an experience peaks.

This is nonsense. You only know the peak by the descent from it. You cannot set an anchor just before an experience peaks because you do not have access to that level of detail about the future, nor can you read someone else's state so accurately that you notice the difference between at the peak and just past the peak. You can pretend to accuracy, but not achieve it.

I know that the people who write this stuff believe they have developed a meaningful level of precision. There is just a lot of evidence (scientific and anecdotal) to suggest that is not possible, and almost no evidence (except their feelings) to say that it is.

Fortunately, you do not need to achieve this level of precision to do good work. The really precise work is handled by unconscious processes that move too quickly for you to recognize or manipulate them consciously. This is not mysterious: think of it like a blink. You cannot change the pace of your blink and you can only rarely (and with concentration) control whether or not you blink. The same is true with giving someone a light touch on the shoulder (a common anchor). The more you try to consciously control your pace and pressure, the less precise your touch will be.

It takes a lot of time and effort to condition someone to over-ride natural processes. It is faster and more effective to teach people to work with natural processes. Once they have a conscious understanding of the process and how it relates to an outcome, they need only allow it to happen as they have already allowed it to happen at other times. Training is a matter of giving the conscious mind a structure for change and the unconscious mind permission to carry it out.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The paradox of follow the leader

In NLP, there are many people playing follow the leader. To some extent that is inevitable. Neurolinguistic programming is a toolkit for observing and replicating success. It makes sense to use the tools to walk the path set by a leader.

Is that enough to model what made a leader worth following?

It is important to recognize that a leader didn't have a path: she made one. You cannot ultimately think like a leader by following in their footsteps: they didn't follow in someone's footsteps. To be a leader is to have the eyes and the heart to walk where there are no footsteps.

If you are training to be a better follower, it makes sense to train with an excellent follower, someone who offers a training exactly the way they themselves were trained. If you are training to be a leader, find someone who has taken steps into an empty field, someone who loves to look at fresh footprints and know they made them.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What are you searching for when you begin to look for self-development?

It all started with a marketing exercise on search terms that would lead someone to my website at I dutifully made a list of the kinds of keywords Google suggests and realized that they didn't fit the way I write on the site and they didn't fit the way people talk when they first connect with me on the phone or at a program.

So I made a list of what I think is really going on when people say, "I heard about NLP and I've been interested for a long time. . ."

I’m stuck
I want to know me better
I wonder where (else) I fit
I need my kids/partner/employees to understand my priorities 
I have to learn more/better/faster
I need to make adjustments
I need to get it together
Could I communicate more clearly?
Could I get other people to do what I want them to do?
How do I help other people without suffocating their independence?
How do I teach people to “get it” faster?
What do I really believe about success?
What should I be doing? Is there such a thing as should?
I need to set some priorities
How do people make choices?
How could I make better decisions?
How do I stay energized enough to cope with my responsibilities?
How do I fix my relationship with my partner/coworker/child/ parent?
I need better relationships at home/ at work/ with friends
I want something and I don’t know what it is yet
I want to want the things that will be good for me
There’s something missing
I have never been able to get past X
I don’t trust myself
I wonder if I could do better
I need to do something different
What now? What else? What will I be when I grow up?

How do I make it better for me? for someone I care about? for my clients?