The thing about cognitive biases is their pervasiveness. They can affect all areas of our thinking. But some have a bigger impact on management, leadership, and business decisions. And one example is the Halo Effect.
The halo effect can take a single example of excellence, and create the impression that we have a star in our midst. This could be company results, an effective middle manager, or a new hire.
With all of these, we have the ability to see something great and assume it is part of a pattern. The evidence for this may be lacking. Indeed, it may be a one-off hot-spot in a field of mediocrity.
When I created the Management Thinkers series of articles, I always intended a proportion of the thinkers to be doers too: entrepreneurs, business leaders, and management practitioners.
In the course of over 160 articles, and nearly 200 eminent individuals, I reckon (because I’ve not counted) around 40 to 50 of them have been active practitioners.
A Range to Choose from
Some of those are pure business-people: entrepreneurs, managers and business leaders. Others have been managers at one stage of their career, and then moved into academic or thought leadership roles. If I were to include all the intellectuals and academics who have monetised their thinking with paid consulting, we’d be up to pretty nearly 100 per cent, I’d guess.
So I have plenty to choose from in selecting my favourites for you.
Next week, we start afresh with a new style of article, so I want you to be able to review my list (if you choose) in good time. This list is therefore as restrained as I could make it.
My Top Pick
And I’m starting with Jane ni Dhulchaointigh. She gets my top place for not just being a massive inspiration and someone I’d not heard of before researching her post. She is also the only entrepreneur, business leader whose product I went out and bought as a result of researching the post. Check out Sugru, if you’ve not heard of it. If you have stuff to fix, or want to adapt things to work a little differently, you need some Sugru in your fridge.
Top Performer, Financially
My next pick is Warren Buffett, legendary chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. I’d buy one of Berkshire Hathaway’s shares if they didn’t cost nearly as much as my house… each. Trading at over a quarter of a million US Dollars ($250,000) per share, you can get a sense of the genius of Buffett and his long-term business partner, Charlie Munger, by looking at the stock price in 1995 ($25,000) and 1965 ($19).
Eastman was also a philanthropist and ahead of his time in the way he treated his workforce. So too was Robert Owen. His ideas management over pure command and control seem to us now, 160 years on, to be fresh and modern. I knew nothing of Owen before researching the article, and he blew me away.
For over three years now, we’ve been running an extended series of articles about some of the finest management thinkers (and doers). Over 150 articles representing very nearly 200 great minds. I used to think our 18 month Pocket Correspondence Course series was a big project!
But all things must end. I’ve decided to wrap up this particular series. It isn’t that there are no more management thinkers, business leaders, and entrepreneurs of note.There are plenty. But it’s time to move on.
I may return to this theme for occasional one-offs, but from October, we’ll start something new.
So, before we do, I’d like to highlight a few of my favourites. There’s no rhyme or reason to this list. They aren’t the best thinkers, nor the best articles.
some because they taught me something new,
some because I liked the ideas,
some because I’m proud of the article, and
some because reading them again made me smile.
But preparing this was a deep pleasure. I indulged myself in re-reading a lot of content: between 125,000 and 150,00 words. That’s about half the length of Game of Thrones!
The First Thing I noticed…
Was how many women made it onto my long-list of 30. There were 14, yet in the series overall around 33 percent of the people featured were women. Indeed, with the single thinkers, I set out to maintain a one-in-three ratio throughout.
So here are my selections of my very favourites…
and my reasoning:
Amy Cuddy and Teresa Amabile – because in doing both of these, I found that the work that most interested me of theirs is not the work they are famous for.
Marshall McLuhan because I finally got to learn more than just a slogan, and the Woody Allen clip still makes me smile like it did when I saw Annie Hall in the cinema.
Kenneth Thomas gained his BA from Pomona College in 1968, quickly becoming a research Fellow at Harvard for a year. He then started a PhD in Administrative Sciences at Purdue University, whilst holding a junior teaching position at University of California, Los Angeles. It was at UCLA, that Thomas met Ralph Kilmann, who joined the doctoral program.
Ken Thomas stayed at UCLA until 1977. He then went on to hold a series of academic appointments; Temple University (1977-81), University of Pittsburg (where Kilmann was then teaching) from 1981-6, and then the US Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from academic work in 2004.
Ralph Kilmann studied for his BS in Graphic Arts Management (graduated 1968) and his MS in Industrial Administration (1970) at Carnegie Mellon University. He then went to UCLA to study for a PhD in Behavioural Science. There, Kenneth Thomas was part of the faculty whilst himself working on a PhD.
Kilmann rapidly became interested in Thomas’ research into conflict and conflict modes. They shared a dissatisfaction with the methodology of Blake and Mouton’s version, though they liked the underlying styles and structure. Kilmann focused his studies on the methodologies for creating a robust assessment.
Publishing the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Together, they published their work in 1974. Partly by luck and partly good judgement, they chose not to include their 30-question assessment inventory in the academic paper they published. Instead, they took it to a publisher, who made it a widely-used tool. It is still published by the successor (by acquisition) of that original publisher.
Over the years, they have worked with their publisher to use the vast data sets now available to increase the reliability of the instrument, and extend its use to multiple cultures.
The questionnaire has 30 pairs of statements, of equal social desirability, from which you would select one that best represents what you would do. It takes around 15 minutes to complete. It is not a psychometric and requires no qualification to administer and interpret. So, it can be readily used to support training and coaching interventions around conflict with groups and individuals.
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann are neither the first nor last to categorise your possible responses but, measured by popularity, they are by far the most successful. Like Jay Hall before them and Ron Kraybill later, their model looks at our responses on two axes.
The first axis is ‘Assertiveness’, or the extent to which we focus on our own agenda. The second is ‘Cooperation’, or our focus on our relationship with the other person.
The Five Conflict Modes
As with other models, there are five Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes.
A high degree of assertive behaviour, with little focus on the relationship, is referred to as Competing. In this mode, we seek to win above all else. It is a suitable style when success is vital, you know you are right, and there is a time pressure.
The opposite extreme is Accommodating. Highly cooperative and non-assertive behaviour is useful when you realise the other person is right, or when preserving the relationship or building emotional credit is foremost in your strategy.
When we want to invest little effort in the conflict, we use the Avoiding mode. With no effort deployed in either getting what we want or building a relationship, this is appropriate for trivial conflicts, or when we judge it is the wrong time to deal with the conflict. This may be due to hot tempers or a lack of sufficient preparation.
The good old 50-50 solution is Compromising. When you and I give up equal portions of our objectives, neither gets what we want, but it seems fair. Likewise, whilst our relationship is not optimised, neither is it much harmed. Compromise suits a wide range of scenarios.
What can be better than compromise? When the matter is sufficiently important, it is worth putting in the time and effort to really get what you want … and build your relationship at the same time. This is the Collaborating mode, sometimes called “win-win”. Reserve it for when the outcomes justify the investment it takes.
Critique of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
The Thomas Kilmann Instrument has its critics. Many users find the forced choice questionnaire frustrating – sometimes wanting to select both options; sometimes neither. There are also concerns about applying the examples to users’ real-world contexts. Unlike the Kraybill tool it lacks distinction between normal and stress conditions.
Accepting these weaknesses, the model finds a range of useful applications, even beyond conflict; in team development, change management and negotiation, to name three. Above all, consider it because most users value the insights it gives them.
These two strikingly simple and obvious questions have been answered rather well, by two British management thinkers, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Rob Goffee is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School and is a long term academic. Gareth Jones, on the other hand, has alternated between academic and corporate roles, teaching at LBS too, and also the University of East Anglia, Henley, INSEAD, and currently, IE Business School, in Madrid. But he has also held senior HR roles at Polygram and the BBC.
Their first collaboration was a relatively unremarked book, called The Character of a Corporation. But it introduced ideas that they were to return to in their second, breakthrough book, and then again in their recent fourth book.
Their second book was called Why Should Anyone be Led by You? It introduced a mass business audience to the concept of Authentic Leadership. This was emphatically not their creation, tracking back to classical Greek thinking, and the Delphic injunction to first know yourself.
But their articulation struck a chord. It came at the right time and was delivered compellingly. Goffee and Jones argued that companies are led in far too much of a technocratic way, by people acting as managers and bureaucrats. They lack sufficient human connection with their people, and self awareness about their shortcomings.
Real leaders, they argued, are confident in who they are and what they stand for. They are not afraid to put that on show and constantly act with integrity in the way that they live the values they espouse. They are able to communicate well, and remain true to themselves, whilst still coping with and adapting to rapidly changing events. Consequently, they can inspire people to extraordinary levels of commitment.
Leading Clever People
The next book Goffee and Jones wrote addressed the challenges of leading an organisation or team made of smart, creative people. This is a typical challenge for many of today’s start-up businesses. It is also important for established businesses that want to bring together innovation teams, and for professional service businesses that want to create a great culture. The book is called Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People.
A summary of the do’s and don’ts might look like this:
Explain and persuade
Give people space and resources
Tell them what
Give people time
Provide boundaries (simple rules)
Protect them from the rain
Give real world challenges with constraints
Create a galaxy
Conduct and connect
Tell people what to do
Allow them to burn out
Tell them how
Give frequent feedback
Expose them to politics
Use bullsh*t or deceive
Build an ivory tower
Recruit a star
Take the credit as a leader
Creating an Authentic Organisation
Goffee and Jones’ latest book is Why Should Anyone Work Here? It applies many of their earlier ideas to making a great organisation. At its heart is a simple mnemonic that spells out the six ingredients they argue are needed for a ‘dynamic and future-fit’ workplace: DREAMS.
Diversity increases creativity, which decreases with uniformity. Don’t do diversity because legislation compels you to. Do it because it has a positive impact on the bottom line: more creativity, better decisions, happier workforce.
(I know – a bit of a fix)
The more open and transparent you are, the happier people will feel. And if being open is likely to expose unfairness that will anger people, radical honesty will compel you to fix the problem, rather than hide it beneath dissembling..
“You need to tell someone the truth before someone else does,” said Jones. “Think of BP’s failure to control information after the [Deepwater Horizon] oil spill. Reputational capital is much more important and much more fragile than we ever thought.”
(This acronym-building is tough!)
This is not just about improving the business; it’s about adding value to the people within your business… as a means of improving your business.
There it is… Their earlier work popularised the concept, so its front and centre here too.
But, reflecting on how the ideas have settled in over the years, Goffee and Jones note that in the US, authenticity is too often read as ‘be yourself… find your true north.’ But their view is that an effective leader needs to be ‘yourself more skilfully.’
This is about ensuring everyone in the business understands the real purpose behind the tasks they do.
(one last shoe-horn!)
Businesses need systems. But this too easily leads to over-bureaucratisation. Rules need to work for the business and enable staff to do what’s right, not just prevent every single possibility of doing wrong.
Management literature is chock-full of books about the best companies and how to emulate them. Arguably the best of all these books is Tom Peters’ and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence.
After 35 years, the book remains in print and, while some of its exemplars have not proved to show such enduring excellence, the ideas persist.
We have covered Tom Peters in some depth in an earlier Pocketblog. He was born in 1942 and went to Cornell University on a US Navy scholarship. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and served for four years in the US Navy. Following that, he got a PhD in Organisational Behaviour from Stanford University.
In 1974, he joined US management consulting firm McKinsey in their San Fransisco office, quickly becoming a partner. There, he took on a major research project looking at the organisational and implementation aspects of companies, while colleagues in the New York office got the plum research project around strategy.
As Peter’s project matured, long-serving McKinsey colleague, Robert Waterman, became involved, and their work morphed into the McKinsey 7S Model and then into the book, In Search of Excellence.
Robert Waterman grew up in the US during the war and attended the Colorado School of Mines, where he graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor’s degree in Geophysics. He then went on to gain an MBA from Stanford University in 1961.
He joined McKinsey in 1964 and remained with the firm until 1985, leaving as a senior director and a member of the Firm’s Executive Committee. He working in Australia and the San Francisco office. It was in the latter that he met and started to work with Tom Peters on the project that would become the book, In Search of Excellence.
When Peters was fired from McKinsey for an article that was read as denigrating strategy in favour of operations and implementation, Waterman remained with the firm. Peters was granted 50 per cent of the royalties of the book the two were working on. McKinsey retained the 50per cent share for Waterman’s half.
Eventually, this hard line rankled and Waterman left the firm. He co-founded energy firm AES, and served on a number of corporate boards. Increasingly his non-executive roles focus on not-for-profits.
The McKinsey 7S Model
In researching ‘cool’ companies, Peter began to assemble a humanistic set of criteria for what made them work well. He was working against the paradigm of rigid strategic planning and financial focus. This theme would be picked up again ten years later by Kaplan and Norton.
Working with Waterman and Julien Phillips, they synthesised his findings into seven mutually interacting areas of business focus that need to be addressed and co-ordinated.
In Search of Excellence evolved from unstructured research into a two-day, 700-slide seminar that Peters gave in Germany, to Siemens. Invited to do the same for PepsiCo, Peters was requested to trim down and focus his presentation. The result was eight key lessons he drew from his research.
These eight lessons were to become the core eight chapters of In Search of Excellence:
A bias for action
‘Getting on with doing the job’. Rapid decision-making unhampered by bureaucracy. This has since morphed into the concept of ‘Agility’.
Close to the customer
Trying to serve each customer as an individual. This has since become business orthodoxy.
Autonomy and entrepreneurship
Each part of the business acts as an entrepreneurial centre, rather than as a part of a machine. This creates greater innovation. Now, of course, entrepreneurialism is part of the zeitgeist.
Productivity through people
Individual contributors are the source of quality. Peters and Waterman were fundamentally in the humanist management tradition.
The 7-S framework started with shared vales. These need to guide everyday practice.
Stick to the knitting
Stay with the business that you know; your core competencies. Diversification carries big risks.
Simple form, lean staff
Some of the best companies have small headquarters and simple process. What company or public authority has escaped the ‘Lean’ revolution?
Simultaneous loose-tight properties
Centralised values, but autonomous operational choices combine the stability of a large organisation with the adaptability of a small one. Many start-ups are seeing the same challenge as they grow, from the opposite direction to Peters’ and Waterman’s large corporations.
After the Search
Both Peters and Waterman followed up the book with their own takes on what next and, in particular, addressing the shortcomings of their earlier research. But apart from one fascinating interview, I don’t think they have worked together since the two or three years of touring, following the release of their book.
That’s a shame. Two remarkable minds came together and, arguably, each did their best work in collaboration with the other.
Take two electrical engineers. Put one into a management consulting role and the other into academia. Mix them up, and what do you get?
Yes, it is a trick question. Robert Kaplan and David Norton developed a powerful business strategy and performance measurement tool. Indeed, it’s a tool all managers should be aware of and understand: The Balanced Scorecard.
Robert Kaplan was born in 1940 and studied Electrical Engineering at MIT, gaining a BS and then an MS, before moving to Cornell, to take a PhD in Operations research.
He started his academic career directly afterwards, moving to Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in 1968. He remained there until 1983, serving as Dean of the school from 1977.
In 1984, Kaplan moved to the Harvard Business School, to take up the chair as Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, which he now holds emeritus.
In 1987, Kaplan, along with William Bruns, first defined Activity Based Costing. It was to become a widely used methodology for gaining control of strategic revenue expenditure in industry. Ironically, it only started to lose ground when a new, more broadly-based approach started to gain popularity.
David Norton was born in 1941. He too studied Electrical Engineering, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He moved to the Florida Institute of Technology for an MS in Operations Research, and then to Florida State University for an MBA. He also gained a PhD from Harvard Business School.
Norton’s career was in consultancy, cofounding Nolan Norton & Co in 1975, and serving as president until it was acquired in 1987 by KPMG Peat Marwick. He became a partner, but shortly after the publication of Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance‘ in 1992, he founded a new business to promote consulting with the Balanced Scorecard at its heart.
The Balanced Scorecard
We’ve covered the Balanced Scorecard before. But let’s revisit it in some more detail.The idea supposedly came from a conversation David Norton had on a golf course with IBM Executive, John Thompson. Thompson reportedly observed that he needed a scorecard, like the one they used in golf, for running his company.
In a variant metaphor, Kaplan and Norton suggest that it would be an unsafe airplane that had just one gauge in its cockpit. So the idea was born for a scorecard that looks at the business from multiple perspectives. Initially, it is four:
Internal Business Perspective
Organisational capacity and learning Perspective
Together, the key measures (or KPIs – Key Performance Indicators) under the headings articulate the organisation’s strategic priorities.
The Origins of the Balanced Scorecard
The original idea, however, tracks back to Art Schneiderman in 1987. He went on to work on a research project with Kaplan, and Norton’s firm Nolan Norton. This collaboration led to the publication by Kaplan and Norton in 1992, and their subsequent 1996 book, The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action. It’s now out of print and available only second hand or in digital editions.
The broad approach to implementing a balanced scorecard is:
Make sure you have a clear vision and strategy
Find the performance categories that best link your vision and strategy to success (Here are some different examples: service standards, thought leadership, marketing activity, performance management, internal morale)
For each perspective, define a small number of objectives that support your vision and strategy
Develop standards or ways to measure progress and build simple systems to monitor and communicate performance against each perspective
Spread the word throughout your organisation that these measures will drive your reward and promotion mechanisms
Monitor performance and compare it with your objectives
Take action to bring performance in line with your objectives
The Legacy of the Balanced Scorecard
As a tool for controlling a business, the balanced scorecard tracks back to Taylorist Scientific Management. However, its flexibility allows managers to monitor and therefore control the measures they choose.
The One Minute Manager series is a landmark in book publishing and popular management education. We’ve covered it already in our assessment of one of its two authors, Ken Blanchard.
But the series began with a book co-authored by two equally prolific thinkers and writers, and it’s time to redress the balance. This article started life with the title Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson: One Minute Manager.
But that just won’t do.
As author of books with sales claimed at over 50 million copies, Spencer Johnson deserves his own article in full, so here it is.
Spencer Johnson was born in 1940, in South Dakota. His undergraduate degree was at the University of Southern California, where he got his BA degree in Psychology in1963 (avgy). He then went on to study medicine in Dublin, at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
From there, he worked at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School, before joining Medtronic as their Director of Communications.
Through the 1970s, Johnson was writing a series of books called ‘Value Tales’. These drew lessons from famous lives, like Elizabeth Fry, Louis Pasteur, and the Mayo brothers, who founded the Mayo Clinic, where Johnson had worked.
Johnson and Blanchard began their collaboration with The One Minute Manager, published in1982. This was to lead to both of them writing a clutch of other titles, sometimes with other co-authors.
However, Johnson’s other biggest sellers were not One Minute books, but:
For managers, it is Who Moved My Cheese that you will want to be aware of.
Who Moved My Cheese?
Like many of Johnson’s books, Who Moved My Cheese is written as a parable: a simple tale that encapsulates the message Johnson wants to communicate.
In this case, it is about the choice to fight or embrace change. And the tale concerns four characters, who respond differently to finding their cheese has been moved.
In Johnson’s parable, cheese represents what we want in life – or perhaps what we think we want. Because two characters, ‘littlepeople’ called Hem and Haw, turn up at the cheese station every morning, much as many bigpeople turn up to work.
Hem and Haw are resistant to change, fearing its impacts, and only learn how to adapt when the benefits are proven.
Their counterparts are two mice called Sniff and Scurry, who sniff out opportunities and scurry into action when they find them.
It’s a short book that you can read quickly, or absorb slowly.
Yes, to some readers it is ‘cheesy’ in the sense of corny, homey, and lacking in sophistication. But my opinion is that it is well worth the time to read and absorb it. Like all parables, the wrapper is far less important than the message.
The messages in Who Moved My Cheese
Who Moved My Cheese has simple but relevant messages for organisational life:
Change happens – all the time. Tomorrow, your cheese won’t be where it was yesterday.
You can either anticipate and engage with this, or you can fight it. But the faster you adapt to the change, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable.
Embracing and enjoying change will be the best way to thrive
The simplicity of style coupled with the precision of its message has led to many abuses. Because in organisations where change occurs, there is often resistance. Managers promoting the change see that resistance as hem and haw behaviours. Who Moved My Cheese is too often seen as a simple antidote to a complex problem of resistance.
At its worst, a client once told me of a manager who, exasperated by the resistant behaviour of a team member, simply left a copy of Cheese on their desk. I don’t know how well that worked.
The best time to read and understand Cheese is not in the throes of change. Read it when you are comfortable, or on the edge of change. And take the time to think about it carefully. It is worth the effort.
This question has been asked time and again through the centuries. And it has been an enduring staple of managerial and business school education through the twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
So is it a surprise when a simple model, articulately expressed, leads to a 2 million-copy best-seller?
Perhaps not. But what makes James Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s Leadership Challenge remarkable, is its longevity. In the light of the constant flow of new leadership ideas, a model that sells as well after thirty years, must have something valuable to offer.
James (Jim) Kouzes was born. We know that. But there’s little biographical detail available to the casual researcher. He attended John F Kennedy’s inauguration as part of an Eagle Scout honour guard and was inspired by Kennedy’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you…’ sentiment.
So, following his graduation in 1967, with a BA in Political Science from Michigan State University, Kouzes joined the Peace Corps. He served for two years. On his return, he started a career in training and development, giving seminars for Community Action Agency staff and volunteers.
In 1972, Kouzes founded the Joint Center for Human Services Development at San Jose State University. He served there and at the School of Social Work, University of Texas, until 1980.
In 1981, he became Director of the Executive Development Centre at Santa Clara University, where he met Barry Posner. In 1988, he left, to become a Director at TPG/Learning Systems for 10 years, moving to become CEO and Chairman of the Tom Peters Company from 1998 to 2000.
Barry Posner was born in 1949, and graduated with a BA in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1970. He gained an MA in public Administration in 1972, from Ohio State University, and a PhD in Organisational Behaviour and Administrative Theory from The university of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1976.
From there, Posner joined the faculty of Santa Clara University, where he remains today, as Accolti Endowed Professor of Leadership, at the Leavey School of Business.
The Leadership Challenge
Working together to develop a talk on leadership, Kouzes and Posner developed their first surveys in 1983. These asked leaders what they were doing when they were at their best. In documenting the practices of exemplary leadership, they have to date surveyed over 75,000 respondents.
The burden of their work is the Leadership Challenges model, which articulates five practices. This has been documented in books, articles, and development tools like card-sets and 360-degree feedback surveys.
Model the Way Leaders establish and work to a set of principles for how people should be treated. They create standards for how to do things, and set an example for others to follow. They recognise how bureaucracy can impede action, and so act to reduce unnecessary impediments to meaningful progress. They show people what they expect of them, and create opportunities for success.
Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders are confident in their capacity to make a difference. They create a vision for the future of their organisation, which they use to inspire their followers. At their best, they influence through charisma, gravitas, and quiet persuasion. But they also are aware of the need for practical efforts and so incite action too.
Challenge the Process
Leaders are never satisfied with the status quo. They look out for new ways to improve their organisation. This means experimentation and risk-taking. And because leaders know the nature of risk-taking, they are tolerant of failures and mistakes, treating them as learning opportunities.
Enable Others to Act
Leaders actively involve others to encourage collaboration and build effective teams. They know that mutual respect is crucial if they are to foster extraordinary efforts. So they build an atmosphere of trust and confidence. They empower and develop their team members, to make each person feel capable and trusted.
Encourage the Heart
The kind of changes extraordinary leaders try to make, are hard to accomplish and often risky. They therefore deploy high levels of emotional intelligence to keep motivation going and maintain resilience and determination. They recognise effort and celebrate achievements.
John Grinder and Richard Bandler are credited as the co-founders of NLP. This is a basket of behavioural, therapeutic, and influencing techniques that comes in and out of fashion in the organisational world.
However, in the self-help world, its ups and downs are less pronounced – it has continually received accolades and steadily grown its influence.
So here then is the central dilemma of NLP for managers and professionals: how important is it? And therefore, how seriously do we need to take Bandler, Grinder, and their ideas of NLP?
John Grinder was born in 1940, and studied psychology at the University of San Francisco. After graduating with a BA, he joined the US Army as a Captain in a special forces unit. He then joined a US intelligence agency, before studying for a PhD in linguistics at The University of California, San Diego.
Grinder completed his PhD in 1971, and after a short time in George Miller’s lab at Rockefeller University, he joined UC Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor in Linguistics. His research interest was the then very new and fashionable transformational grammar pioneered by Noam Chomsky.
In 1972, a psychology student called Richard Bandler came knocking, looking for help with a research project in which he was transcribing hours of Gestalt Therapy sessions. Bandler wanted help in analysing Fritz Perls’ language.
This was the start of a collaboration that led to the founding of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The story of their collaboration, and of the other people involved – it was far from a two-person endeavour – is well documented elsewhere. So too is the acrimonious breakdown of their working relationship, and the court actions over ownership of the NLP name and ‘brand’.
The upshot of this, by the way, is the court’s decision that NLP is a generic term and no one can own it. This meant that, after the split, Grinder could continue to develop his own new ideas, which he came to call ‘New Code’ NLP in contrast to the earlier work he did with Bandler, which he refers to as ‘Old Code’.
Grinder has authored many books with Bandler and others, and continues to teach NLP, through his own business (Quantum Leap) with his wife, and for other NLP schools.
Richard Bandler was born in 1950. His first few years were spent in New Jersey, before moving to California. He studied Philosophy and Psychology at US Santa Cruz, where he graduated in 1973.
There, Bandler met John Grinder and other early collaborators in developing what became NLP.
Bandler and Grinder became close colleagues studying and teaching the communication patterns of a number of therapists, like Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson. They gathered a number of other interested researchers and teachers around them.
Inevitably, as what they were teaching became more popular – and therefore more commercial – tensions arose. Like Grinder, Bandler formed his own business and continued to teach and develop new ideas. He too still teaches NLP, along with hypnotherapy, around the world.
Bandler and Grinder were co-authors of a number of the seminal books in the emerging subject of NLP. None are aimed at ‘lay’ readers. They are written for aspiring and experienced practitioners and, even having studied NLP and received Practitioner and Master Practitioner certificates, I find them barely readable.
There are many more modern books aimed at introducing NLP to interested readers. Browse your favourite book site and take your pick.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: NLP
So, what is NLP? It stands for Neuro-linguistic Programming (yeah, I know), and it is fundamentally an assorted bag of methods and models designed to help understand communication and behaviours and elicit behavioural change.
At the root – and this is something Grinder constantly emphasises – is the idea of modelling. Whatever you want to be able to do, find an example of someone who does it to a level of excellence. Document everything they do, say, and think when they are doing it. Then try out being exactly like they are. Start to strip away elements, to find out what parts make no difference and which parts, when lost, become significant.
You’ll end up with a core of beliefs, behaviours, and communication patterns that materially affect your outcomes. Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson were the first people extensively studied in that way.
From them, Bandler and Grinder extracted two of the biggest and most influential models within the NLP corpus: The Meta Model (from Satir and Perls) and The Milton Model (from Erikson).
The Meta Model
The Meta Model documents language patterns that allow the therapist, coach, salesperson (choose your role) to spot patterns of thinking in the other person. A long list of linguistic patters betray distorted perceptions, generalisations, and subconscious deletions of possibly relevant information. By challenging these, coaches and therapists can open up new possibilities to the person they are helping, and salespeople can breakdown objections to buying.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were The Structure of Magic, volumes 1 and 2.
The Milton Model
Milton Erikson was a masterful user of hypnosis in his therapy. Indeed, his style is sometimes called Eriksonian Hypnosis. Once again, Bandler and Grinder documented his language patterns. They found a similarity to the meta model, but that Erikson was being deliberately vague, to elicit gaps in thinking, through which he could insert therapeutic suggestions. The Milton model can help move a listener into a more receptive state. Again, this is useful to therapists, coaches and salespeople.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. volumes 1 and 2.
Evaluation of NLP
NLP is like Marmite: it evokes love and hate reactions in broadly equal measure. And its popularity goes through peaks and troughs – big ones for business, smaller troughs for the self-help industry. It is currently a multi-million dollar industry world-wide.
Three factors are perhaps responsible for the extreme views:
NLP is presented with a lot of complex and intimidating jargon. Indeed, the name Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests a level of mind-control which can intimidate or seduce. Some wonder if the jargon is merely designed to create a quasi-academic glamour the discipline does not deserve.
Some practitioners make extravagant claims for what NLP can achieve. Everything from magical sales efficacy to curing phobias, to curing serious mental and physical illnesses.
There is a limited research base. A lot of the evidence for the efficacy of NLP techniques is anecdotal, and many serous academic therapists have offered detailed critiques.
On the other hand, there are also three good reasons to learn more about NLP:
Many people find that much of it really does work. The ideas are taken from observations of effective behaviour. You can apply the modelling process to find out how to replicate the results of your best performers
NLP is respectful of our potential. It encourages personal responsibility and asserts that we can all access the resources we need to make the changes we want
The criticism that much of NLP is ‘just common sense’ can also be seen as a strength. By codifying common sense, we make it more accessible.
You can find much in NLP that is of value to you; and much that is not. If you are prepared to be selective and evaluate each tool on its merits, NLP is a powerful resource.
Here’s a video I did for another business that will echo much of what’s here.