The Structure of Synergy Applied to the NLP Community
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
Whatever Happened to ‘Abundance’?
Did the Scarcity Meme Gobble it Up?
As you look out onto “the NLP community” does it strike you (as it does me) that we have an abundance of the Scarcity Model and a Scarcity of the Abundance Model? We talk about, and even presuppose, a Model of Abundance, and yet as a community we seem to live and act more according to a Model of Scarcity. What gives? How do we explain this? And even more important, what can we do about it in order to get Abundance Mentality more and more into our way of being in the world and recognized as the very spirit of NLP?
When NLP first burst upon the scene, Grinder and Bandler spoke about operating from a model of the world that presupposed abundance rather than scarcity. This attitude, in fact, set NLP apart from most of the other models of human beings and human functioning. Now I don’t know where precisely they picked this up from, but I would suspect they got it from Satir or Erickson with their abundant attitudes of possibility, optimism, options, and flexibility. And they may have also picked it up from Bateson who wrote extensively about systemic processes and the abounding emergence of new properties.
Now some theorists might want to argue that scarcity has deep roots, even “deep blood,” in our very “nature.” They might want to argue that we have evolved successfully by adapting to scarcity and so we inevitably default to a competitive Win/Lose style. Such genetic determinists would reason we fall back to Win/Lose competitiveness, beating out a competitor, operating from scarcity, etc. as part of our genetic heritage. Evolution has made win/lose, scarcity, competitiveness, etc. our “natural” default program.
Personally, I don’t believe that. It seems to me that at best, the idea of scarcity exists as a meme (a culturally transmitted idea) rather than a gene in our species (see Mark Furman’s articles on Memes, July and August, 1998). And if our race has experienced scarcity of resources and unmistakable universal experience of the Win/Lose mentality (as it surely has over the centuries and millennia), it only makes sense that a meme on the order of — “Survival of the Fittest,” “There’s only so much of the pie to go around,” “Every time someone wins, someone else loses,” etc. has developed as a model of the world. Aristotelian either-or thinking would have further supported this idea.
The Price We Pay for the Scarcity Meme
The idea of scarcity, as a basic model of the world, has further infected (as a toxic virus) many of the most important fields of human concern. In the area of negotiation and conflict resolution, it sets the frame that resolution will involve some kind of compromise or submission. In the area of economics, management, and leadership it leads to one-up-manship games, hostile take-over of companies, strikes, lock-outs, management-labor hostilities, “Wining by Intimidation,” etc.
Personally and interpersonally, scarcity seeds such ideas as “tightening the belt,” passing laws to limit growth, distrust that others will get too much, resentment when someone else “wins” or succeeds, competitiveness against colleagues in the same field for their promotions, refusal to share the newest ideas, refusal to quote or recommend colleagues, the lack of a collegial attitude, lawsuits for resolving conflicts, etc.
The high price for scarcity also includes a whole range of ego games that we play in a bid for gaining some advantage over others. This sets up antagonisms rather than co-operations, it sets up a critical attitude rather than a supportive one.
The Structure of Abundance
Suppose we decided to apply our own model (NLP) to understanding the presupposition of abundance. As we do this, we would undoubtedly begin by meta-modeling the terms abundance and scarcity.
When we examine the term abundance, what do we find? Certainly not a noun (a thing) or verb (action, process). We rather have a nominalization with an underlying hidden verb, “to abound.” Hence, “to experience an abounding of resources.”
As such, this process term speaks about a set of relationships and so we also have an Unspecified Relational Term.
What is abounding?
In what way does it abound?
From what (or whom) and to what (or whom) does it abound?
According to what standard and criteria does it “abound?”
And while we’re at it, we could similarly meta-model the term scarcity.
Scarce in what way?
Scarce according to what standard and measured in what way?
What specifically are the perceived scarce resources that we must fight for?
Can we increase the scarce resources?
Kinds of Abundance
Abundance, as a relational term (hidden inside a nominalization) speaking of a process of abounding may also refer to various kinds of abundances. This means that in this term “abundance” we have a multiordinal term. This cues us to recognize that its meaning depends upon its level of abstraction or context (Korzybski, 1933; Hall, 1998).
1) It may refer to a static kind of abundance: a large inheritance, an abundant corn field, a lush peach tree with abundant fruit, etc. Tangible things.
2) It may refer to a dynamic kind of abundance. This would include any kind of abundance that has a self-renewing kind of internal process: a living field or orchard that we could work and nurture to make more and more fruitful, a creative mind with abundant ideas, etc. Tangible processes.
3) Or it may refer to a systemic kind of abundance. Here we have ever-increasing abundance with every feedback loop in the system. Every time “the system” (whether a mind, a team of people, a company, couple) acts and interacts, more resources get fed back into the system, thereby enriching the system even more. Intangible processes.
The Strategy Within “Systemic Abundance”
The conceptual and personal strategy that brings forth abundance interpersonally depends upon the attitude or state of trust to drive it. It necessitates first of all that we trust in the concept of abundance, that we trust in others that they operate primarily from positive intentions, that we trust in the process of abundance — that abundance will emerge, that we trust in ourselves as having the coping skills to deal with the lack of trustworthiness, etc. And that we trust in that from out of this overall experience, we co-create the experience of abundance.
Conversely, distrust creates the concept of scarcity (the scarcity model), the perception of static and limited resources, that others operate primarily from selfish agendas, that “the Iron Rule” predominates, etc. Both function as self-fulfilling prophecies.
Typically, then, when a person operates from scarcity, he or she has had experiences of distrust, disloyalty, betrayal, etc. Out of such experiences, they mapped the world in terms of scarcity.
In a work on conflict management and resolution, Hocker and Wilmot (1974/ 1991 3rd. Edition) speak about abundance and scarcity as systemic and relational processes. In terms of the “influence” people have in relation to each other (“power”). As a result, they describe how “power” becomes an emergent property that abounds for all parties.
“Both parties can increase their power at the same time. A thorough understanding of interdependence makes this clear. If John and Sarah are dating and decide to live together, they both increase their dependence on one another…. as John becomes more dependent on Sarah, Sarah’s power increases. Likewise, Sarah becomes more dependent on John, thereby increasing his power. When two people elevate their dependence on one another, BOTH increase their sources of power. Each one expands his or her currencies valued by the other. Therefore, power in enduring relationships is NOT finite — it is an expandable commodity. The real question isn’t the singular ‘amount of power’ each one has, but the balance between them.” ” (p. 82, italics added).
“We have power over people and they over us because our social relationships means that we are interdependent — we influence one another’s ability to attain goals. Furthermore, the degree of power is a function of the comparison of the dependence the two parties have on one another. And the degree of dependence is a product of one’s investment in the goals the other can mediate and the number of other avenues available for the attainment of those goals.” (p. 82, italics added).
What enables the sense of power to increase for all parties? How does this process work? It occurs when both parties work from clearly identified goals (having well-formed outcomes). Such clarity itself from well-formed outcomes grants visionary power (a sense of control) to each person. Next, each party makes him or herself vulnerable to the other by presenting the awareness of what they want, what need from the other, and their sense of “dependence” on the other for the accomplishment of their goal. As both parties do this, each empowers the other and thus it also makes abundance possible for both of us. As you become more ‘powerful” (influential) in my experience, and I become more powerful (influential) in yours, a systemic property emerges — we experience a much more abundant relationships. Synergy occurs.
Thus, the more A depends on B and B on A, the more each becomes invested in the other and that, in turn, allows each to become more Important (valued) to and by the other. And inasmuch as “power” refers to the ability to influence another’s ability to reach his or her valued goals, this increases the power of each person. Each person becomes more powerful in the eyes and experience of the other.
“Power” increases (becomes more abundant) then through the surprising means of each party becoming more dependent through inter-dependency and vulnerability. Yet to walk into such open disclosing necessitates taking the risk of trust.
Let’s run the same pattern on another intangible process. Consider the abundance of the experience of love as a systemic inter-action between people. The more John loves and expresses his love in ways that count for Mary, the more love John has to give. He will never run out. In fact, the more he gives to Mary, the more Mary has received and also has to give back.
This illustrates the nature of intangible processes. They come into being (emerge) from the very process of expressing them. This explains why we can describe them as unlimited resources, and not as limited resources. The same applies to the distribution and creation of wealth in economics, respect and honor in interpersonal relationships, appreciation and status in businesses, creativity and new ideas, etc.
Bob Bodenhamer speaks about this idea of abundance (as a highly desirable meme to contribute to our world) in terms of a metaphor. I’ve heard him use it repeatedly. In his North Carolina accent he says, “When the tide comes in — all ships in the harbor rise equally.”
Hocker and Wilmot (1974/ 1991) have applied abundance thinking to negotiating in the following words.
“If you stick firmly to a collaborative approach, you will find creative options that someone with a competitive approach simply would not find. Creative options often become available (Fogg, 1985) but unless the negotiators believe it is possible and do the hard work to jointly produce those options, the negotiating will begin and end on a win-lose footing.” (p. 221).
The mental set then that we use as we think about negotiating and relating determine to a large degree what we will see and create. Our mindsets of either abundance or scarcity then establish a meta-state.
Basically, cooperative and competitive climates are self-reinforcing — competition encourages more competition and collaboration brings collaboration in return” (p. 223).
Identifying and Getting a Push Away From Scarcity
Most of us (if not all of us) have been deeply contaminated, indoctrinated, programmed, and affected by the Scarcity Model. It exists as deeply within our history as a race. And most of us experienced it for years as young children in school and on playgrounds. Now fully elicit any thoughts, representations, references, emotions, etc. that may indicate its presence in your thinking and emoting.
When I think about people in general or colleagues in my field in particular, or the business opportunities before me, I sense that —
1) There’s not enough for all.
2) There’s a limited amount of the pie
3) I need to show my superiority over others.
4) Get what you can when you can.
5) Nice guys finish last.
6) Let’s work as a team and we’ll generate more for all.
Now elicit all of the reasons and values for developing more and more of a propulsion away from the scarcity model. To do this, first examine the high price you pay for operating from the scarcity model. (When you do this, you’re building a propulsion system in your personality from Scarcity and toward Abundance.)
1) Feel inferior/ superior to colleagues
2) Constantly judging who’s ahead, biggest, better, etc.
3) Feel lessened by the success of my colleagues
4) have difficulty cooperating or collaborating.
5) Filter everything through your own ego, self-value, and dignity.
Now list all of the problems, head-aches, and undesired results that you have actually experienced from using the Scarcity Model as your operation frame. Given these understandings of both abundance and scarcity, I have presented a contrastive analysis of these two ways of viewing the world in Figure 1.
Comparison Chart of Two Models of the World
|Limited amounts & quantity
|Abundant quantities, Plenty
|Deficient in quantity, not plentiful
|Ample, overflowing quantity
To abound, plentiful
Trying to get an Advantage over
|Dynamic, Systemic, Things Emerge
Colleagues / Collegial
|Distrust, hidden agendas
Threaten by success of others
Fear of the other
Dis-value of the other
|Trust, Disclosure, Vulnerability
Enriched by success of others
Not about Ego at all
Desire for the other’s welfare
Value of the other
Get all of the Pie I can
Share the Pie & Expand the Pie
The Abundance Pattern
A pattern for providing more opportunity for abundance. The following steps allow us to install within ourselves the Abundance Map.
1) Fully represent “abundance.” What VAK pictures, sounds, and sensations come to you as you think about the idea of abundance? Generate a movie for yourself of what you see, hear, feel, and say as you move through the world operating from abundance. Make this as vivid, dramatic, and compelling as possible.
2) Identify the supporting beliefs, values, frames, and meta-states for abundance. What beliefs support this state of abundance for you? What beliefs about yourself? Others? The world? The process of collaborating? What values? What identify beliefs? What other frames of references? What meta-states?
3) Access a Supporting Meta-State of Self-esteem. To prevent yourself from stepping out of the Abundance Frame and into the Ego-Concerned Frame, access fully and completely a strong meta-frame of self-value, worth, and dignity — one totally independent of your behaviors, one totally unconditional. Use this “My esteem and dignity is a given” frame in order to avoid getting sucked into a one-upmanship spiral.
4) Contrast your Abundance Frame with your current model or with the Scarcity Frame. Note how you represent “scarcity” and compare that to your representations of abundance. Turn down and de-energize those representations … let the pictures fade out, the sounds get further away and more quiet.
5) Step into the Abundance Frame fully and imagine using it as your way of thinking, feeling and acting in the world. Future pace yourself tomorrow, next week, next month … using various contexts (work, personal relationships, hobbies, friends, etc.).
6) Check for any remaining objections. If you find any, answer them by establishing some higher frame or state that effectively answers it or that allows the installation of the abundance frame. Treat every objection as legitimate and important. Inquire of the part of you that doesn’t want to release Scarcity as to its fear or concern. Then respond to it appropriately by building in various safe-guards.
For example, you may want to build in a temporary time-frame. “We’ll do this for a week or a month and then check to see how this works.” You may want to build in some good personal boundaries. “To stay alert to anyone who may want to take advantage of me because of my collaborative spirit, I’ll keep aware of anything that seems disadvantageous to me and not mutual.”
7) Make an Enhancing Decision to Commit Yourself to Living by Abundance. Go to a meta-position and grant yourself permission to fully accept and commit yourself to Abundance. As you observe your representations of Abundance, say “Yes!” to it, as you observe your beliefs and values of Abundance, say a strong confirming “Yes!” to those meta-frames. (See The Meta-Yes & Meta-No Belief Change Pattern, Bodenhamer, Anchor Point, May, 1998).
Whatever happened to abundance? It depends. What relationship have you decided to take toward the idea of abundance? Will you use this as an NLP presupposition and enhancing Resource State? I hope so.
Not only can we develop healthier and more respectful attitudes about each other that reflects a Model of Abundance, but as we do we step into a frame-of-reference that allows us to explore new and unthought of ways for expanding the pie. When we operate in the world from a perception of scarce resources, we compete and engage in antagonistic relationships. When we realize that we can expand resources — we have moved to a meta-level state of resourcefulness that gives us the power to create the abundance we have mentally mapped for ourselves and others.
Bodenhamer, Bob. (1998). “The Meta-YES and NO Pattern.” Anchor Point, Volume 12, No. 6, June, 1998, pp. 20-25. Salt Lake City, UT: Anchor Point Productions.
Fogg, R. W. “Dealing with conflict: A repertoire of creative, peaceful approaches.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 29 (1985): 330-358.
Furman, Mark E. (1998). “Marked for Death: NLP and the Behavior of Information.” Vol. 12, No. 7; July, pp. 27-33 “Manufacturing Reality,” Vol. 12, No. 8; August, pp. 34-40), Salt Lake City, UT: Anchor Point Productions.
Hall, L. Michael (1995). Meta-states: Self-reflexiveness in human states of consciousness. Grand Junction, CO: ET Publications.
Hall, Michael L. (1998). The secrets of magic: Communicational excellence. United Kingdom: Crown Publishing House.
Hocket, Joyce L.; Wilmot, William W. (1971/1994). Interpersonal conflict. (3rd. edition). Dubuque IA: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.
Korzybski, Alfred. (1941/1994). Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics, (5th. ed.). Lakeville, CN: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Co.
Michael Hall, Ph.D. now travels and trains internationally in Meta-States, author of numerous NLP works, most recently The Structure of Excellence, The Secrets of Magic, Sourcebook Of Magic, and Figuring Out People. P.O. Box 9231, Grand Jct. Co. 81501.