Dimensions of Modeling:

How Modeling Evolves from Strategies

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“Is “strategy” elicitation the same thing as “Modeling?”
Or does Modeling go beyond Strategies?
If so, what else does Modeling include?

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Over the years there seems to have crept into NLP a particular confusion about modeling. That confusion involves assuming that working with strategies is the same thing as, and equivalent to modeling. But these are not the same. When we work with strategies, even when we unpack a strategy and re-design it for more effectiveness, we are not necessarily engaged in modeling. Of course, on the other hand, strategy work may indeed involve “modeling,” and yet it does not necessarily involve it. So while modeling human experiences does almost always involve eliciting, unpacking, re-designing, and installing new strategies, modeling also involves a lot more than just understanding and efficiency with strategies.

Undoubtedly, there are now thousands of people with high level skills in NLP Strategy elicitation and installation. And yet, there tends to be little new modeling going on in NLP. Why?

Part of the reason lies in this very distinction.

Modeling involves a lot more than just working with strategies.

I think this will become clear if you consider the beginnings of NLP itself. When John Grinder and Richard Bandler began, they did not have “the strategy model” by which to model Perls, Satir, and Erickson. In fact, the strategy model slowly came together and emerged from what they found in the three therapeutic wizards along with some of the original models that they used.

  • So, how did they do it?
  • How did Bandler and Grinder originally model without the strategy model?

They modeled, that is, they built a model regarding what the three magicians did by taking the raw data of their words and actions (transcripts, audio-tapes, notes, etc.) and formatted them using the tools that they had at their disposal. And what tools were those?

John brought the model of Transformational Grammar to the table.
And some of the Cognitive Behavioral tools, Constructionism as a model from Korzybski’s Map/Territory distinction.
Richard brought his model of mimicking, copying the language and tonal patterns.

And both brought the meta-level “tool” (hence a meta-state) of looking for patterns, using their great curiosity and belief in finding the structure.

Model Making

John and Richard created several explanatory “models” of their experts, models that allowed others to replicate that expertise. Compared to what we have at our disposal today for modeling, they didn’t really have much to work with–which gets my respect regarding their initial genius in achieving what they did! From those original “tools” they began to put things together and to create patterns. They created models:

1) “The meta-model of language in therapy” — the Meta-Model. 12 distinctions indicating ill-formed structure and 12 questions to elicit a more well-formed and fuller linguistic representation.

2) Representational Systems Model. They took the “model” of “the five senses” and asked the curious question– could it be that we represent information using these and that predicates indicate and sort out these five systems?

3) Eye Accessing Cue model. Listening to people use the Rep. Systems and watching people move their eyes, they asked, “Is there a pattern here?” What if there were correspondences between lateral eye accessing movements and use of the Rep. Systems?

4) The Milton Model. Using these facets, Bandler and Grinder modeled the hypnotic patterns of Erickson and affectionately labeled the model, “The Milton Model.”

5) Strategy Model: using the TOTE model and enriching it with Rep. Systems, a richer model emerged from the Miller, Gallanter, Pribram TOTE model. They didn’t create this model, they enhanced an already existing model.

And Then There was Something Else…

Achieving these first five models is impressive. Prior to their collaboration, there were already “models” about hypnosis– Erickson has his own ideas about it, so did Haley, and others who were studying Erickson. There were models about language use in therapy– in fact, Grinder had just completed a text on de-mystifying Transformational Grammar (1974) and his dissertation on Nominalizations, and Watzalawick and some associates had just completed a book detailing their model on Change Principles (1974).

I refer to this to underscore the fact that Bandler and Grinder’s original “modeling” was right in the spirit of the times and that they mostly combined and recombined current ideas and tools until they generated a workable model. This was true for four of the first five models, but not true for one of the models. And in is in that model where we can clearly see something truly unique, wonderful, magical, and intuitive about modeling.

In 1870, Galton specified and explored the sensory systems, dividing people into visual types, auditiory types, etc. Wilheim Wundt, the father of modern psychology, two decades later, did the same and was one of the “almost inventors” of NLP. Korzybski has an extensive description of the sensory systems in Science and Sanityapplyas a template of thought.

It was left for Bandler and Grinder to do that. Bateson noted in his Introduction to The Structure of Magic that this very thing was the very thing that he and his associates looked for and never found.

Applying the sensory based system of awareness to “thought” as a model for how “mind” works created the Representational System of NLP … and making this “model” gave NLP its unique impetuous and power.

Yet this model did not come from the having elicited, unpacked, and articulated the strategies of Perls, Satir, and Erickson. Bandler and Grinder did not get it from them. If they didn’t model it from the experts they studied, then where did they get it?

They invented it.

This highlights the key difference between strategy work and making both explanatory and replicatory “models.” Often times, the models that a given person creates (even using NLP tools) does not come from strict strategy elicitation. It comes rather from multiple strategies, and creative ideas from other areas, and a strange mixture of the two.

Thomas Kuhn (1962) in his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, talks about the models of science in terms of a field developing its paradigms. He describes paradigms as explanatory models that allow scientists to answer various questions and solve various problems. This initiates a community around the paradigm, a community that supports and validates the paradigm, and applies the model to more and more applications.

When the community does this, they find out not only all of the new things that the paradigm or model solves, but also its limits. As time passes, more and more “problems” and un-answerable facets of the paradigm emerges. Dissatisfaction grows with the paradigm. It becomes more and more inadequate. Politics typically occur in the field between the defenders of the paradigm, and those strident voices who see and articulate its inadequacies.

Then, more often than not, someone new to the field– someone not blinded by the current paradigm walks in, see what no one else sees, and offers a new paradigm. And when the new model solves problems, dilemmas, and answers questions that the current paradigm cannot, this creates the scientific revolution.

This happened with Bandler and Grinder, a college student who loved rock ‘n roll and a linguistics professor in the field of psychology and psychotherapy. They were not blinded by the current paradigm. They saw things with fresh eyes. And this freshness of perspective, this willingness to look at things apart from the blinding presuppositions of the current models is what allowed them (empowered them) to create some new models.

Modeling Our Models

After Bandler and Grinder came up with their initial models, these models became their tools for subsequent modeling. Then they began modeling their models. They looked at their models and stepped back and using the same kind of fresh, unassumptive, thinking began asking questions about the models. This is much of the power of NLP –to not get blinded by our own paradigms. To always step back and explore our assumptions. From that arose other models.

6) Meta-Programs model. Are there patterns in information processing, sorting, and attending?

7) Submodalities or Pragmagraphics (the original term) model. The distinctions and features of the Rep. Systems. Can we systematically order and structure these features and then use them for something? In revisiting this model, Bob Bodenhamer and I ended up re-modeling the so-called “submodalities” and thereafter created a new model about the features of the VAK (The Structure of Excellence, 1999). This then led to 6 new sub-models. We now know that these distinctions occur at a meta-level rather than at a supposed “sub” level, and that the model works “symbolically and semantically” rather than merely representationally. That is, a given distinction of a Rep. System works according to the meanings that a person attributes to it.

8) Time-Lines. Is there a pattern in how people sort out and make distinctions within the concept of “time?” Inheriting the Temporal Model (Past, Present, Future), and based on the work by Edward Hall (no relation), NLP did not invent or create this model, but adapted and extended it (as with the strategy model). We now know that this model works at a meta-level and as a meta-state about ideas of “time.” (Time Lining or Adventures with Time-Lines, 1998)

9) Specific models for specific outcomes. After NLP came up with this basic models– models that now define specific domains of the field, various people applied them and came up with smaller models, that is, specific models for specific outcomes. Some transpire and occur in a moment of time, others occur over a much longer period of time, from an hour to a day, to years.

Taking Criticism Positively
Naturally Thin Eating Strategy
Spelling Strategy
The Phobia Resolution Model
Motivation Strategy
Decision Strategy
Positive Parenting

10) The Meta-States model. Using the idea of logical levels found in Korzybski and Bateson, Meta-States emerged from finding the strict linear nature of the NLP enriched TOTE model ineffective and inadequate for following the strategy of complex states like resilience, proactivity, self-esteem, etc. Upon extending and enriching the Strategy model with meta-levels, Meta-States emerged as a model by bringing in system ideas from cybernetics, meta-cognition, reflexivity, etc.

11) The Frame Games Model. In an attempt to “simplify” Meta-States and to put the meta-stating processes into a more user-friendly language, we happened upon the template of thinking about our states and embedded states-upon-states as Games driven by Frames. This has lead to seeing thinking not only as “representation” but as “referencing,” and the levels of referencing as higher level frames.

Appreciating the Rich Complexity of Modeling

So while we often use the term “modeling” as if it is an equivalent for “strategy elicitation and design,” and yet because the term can also signify much richer and more complex facets, it helps to think of modeling in terms of degrees of complexity. Given this we can think about various “modeling” projects in terms of the following dimensions of complexity.

Modeling I: Getting the Strategy of a Skill

Finding someone who does something in a particularly fine way and eliciting the strategy. Basic NLP Strategy work, the skills of elicitation and unpacking using Meta-Model Questions and the ability to format using the Representational Steps to put into a flow chart format (the TOTE model).

Modeling II: Getting a Multiple Description of a Skill.

Finding the strategies of multiple persons (10 to 100 or more) with the same skill. Eliciting the multiple strategies and developing a more general model for replicating the skill. Streamlining the steps and making more elegant and refined.

Modeling III: Review of Literature Modeling.

Taking the model from the multiple modeling and with “model in mind” reading the literature of the field regarding that skill to understand more fully and integrate into the model concerns, distinctions, features, etc. for the skill set.

What is the current knowledge in the field?
Who are the leading thinkers, theoreticians, developers?
What are their models, principles, understandings?
How can they be applied and integrated into your model?
What is the language of the field?

Modeling IV: Interaction with Experts on the edge of the field modeling

Moving from a thorough understanding of a given field and skill, to interaction with the experts and people on the cutting edge of that field. Exploring and extending the model to answer the questions that the older paradigms cannot answer, designing a fuller model for extending the boundaries of that field of knowledge.

What are the questions in the field?
Who is on the leading edge?
What can the current models not do?
What hopes, dreams, imaginations are currently being explored?
What else could there be?

In Modeling IV, we also study at a meta-level “modeling” itself. We learn and try on multiple models.

The Re-Modeling Within the Meta-States Model

I’ve often been asked about how I came up with the Meta-States Model. Part of the story is told in both Meta-States (2000) and in Dragon Slaying (2000). It happened, as you may well know, while eliciting the strategies of resilient people. I was interested in the subject of resilience and having learned the Strategy Model, I wanted to find out how people “ran their brains to create that result.”

After eliciting more than two dozen strategies, I began trying to find out the elements that had to be present for a person to experience “resilience.” By that time I had elicited so much material. It was becoming overwhelming. The modeling question, “What is sufficient and necessary for the experience of resilience?” re-directed me to develop the bare-bones of the structure.

I felt confused at this stage. What was “sufficient and necessary” for a quarter of the persons was not “sufficient and necessary” for the other three-fourths.

So I headed to the literature. I began reading in the field, finding the experts, the studies, the experiments, etc. This helped clarify as it also began to provide trans-cultural information about resilience, the language of the field, etc. It enabled me to more fully understand the questions governing the researchers, the problems faced by the persons wanting to transfer it to others, etc.

During the time I was also reading broadly. I revisited two of the “grand-fathers” of NLP– founding thinkers and theorists about neuro-linguistics: Bateson and Korzybski. I was reading in Cognitive Linguistics. Then, while presenting a workshop on resilience in Denver at an NLP Conference, I heard myself say a couple things:

“It’s kind of like the person has a state about his state of having experienced a set back, a state meta to that state that allows him to believe in bouncing back.”

“Yes, there’s a higher level state of mind about the experience throughout the steps and stages in the process of bouncing back and being able to ‘go for it again,’ it’s almost like a state about the other states, a meta-state.”

That was the magic phrase. “Meta-State.” The session was video-taped and so I know that I finished it, but my mind wasn’t on it. I was doing that part by rote. Inside a thousand thought balls were energetically bouncing here and there and occupying my awareness as I was applying this new templet to states and strategies. Afterwards I talked about it with several colleagues, mainly Doug Adams and Dr. Carl Lloyd and within two weeks had written the first paper on Meta-States, the 40-page document that I submitted to the International Association of NLP Trainers.

That’s how Meta-States began. Thereafter, I have spent several years using Korzybski’s General Semantics, models from Cognitive Linguistics (that makes the old model of Transformational Grammar irrelevant), Bateson, Holland, Cybernetics, Wilbur, Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphor model, Korzybski’s mathematic models of differential calculus, Game theory, Systems, etc., to continually enrich and refine the Meta-States model.

I’ve used this description of the development of the Meta-States model because I know how that modeling project pretty well. In more recently applying Meta-States to Defusing, Selling, Wealth Building, Learning, Writing, etc., I find that I often need to revisit the model as a model to add, refine, or change something.

This has happened to NLP on a much larger level as many people have refined, updated, streamlined, and offered transformations for the NLP model. This shows the dynamic nature of a good model. It keeps growing. Rather than thinking of a model as a finished product, we ought to think of it as a way to map something that continues to grow and improve.

More recently, I brought to metaphors as templates to the Meta-States/ Neuro-Semantics and NLP models. I brought “Game” and “Frame.” Frame was the easy one since so much of NLP is about frames, framing, and reframing and so much of Meta-States is about outframing with all kinds of ideas and concepts. Games framed the frames at even a higher level –adding as every meta-stating process does, more qualities, properties and features and thereby changing the very feel of the model. This has resulted in the Frame Games model. And the strange thing about it is that I did not set out to do that. In fact, I set out to do something very different. I was trying to simplify Meta-States, but extend and expand the model. Yet as I revisited Transactional Analysis, Psychoanalysis, Game Theory, Control Theory, etc., and brought these ideas, implications, models, etc. to Meta-States, yet another model emerged.

From that I again went back to Meta-States and realized that the simplest structure inside that model was “The Levels of Thought” model. This opened my eyes to a new appreciation of Korzybski’s “multiordinality.” I had been using the word “thought” without realizing that “thought” differs at every higher level.

As Frame Games has developed, and as we have been thinking about modeling larger level structures, cultural phenomena, I have revisited numerous sociological models: Freud’s tripartite id-ego-superego model, Sullivan’s self-system model, John Searle’s construction of social constructs model, Family Systems, Becker’s self-value sociological model, etc. These have expanded my awareness as I’ve applied it to Violence in America, Hitler’s Frames of Persuasion, and Racism in the world.

Where do we Go From Here?

We have just barely “touched the hem of the garment.” There is so much more to discover and invent. There are hundreds and thousands of new Patterns to create for the human technology of expertise, excellence, genius. And that’s what we’re committed to in the field of Neuro-Semantics. What is the structure of meaning at the individual, family, and cultural level? How can we replicate the highest forms of empowering and enhancing meaning for our lives and for the lives of the generations to come? That’s our vision as Neuro-Semanticists. Come and join the Revolution of Discovery.