Saturday, January 24, 2009

Four Hundred and One

According to Blogger, this is post 401 of ntgr8. For those of you not from Toronto, the 401 is also an expressway that goes from Windsor to Montreal. I lose track of how wide it really is - there are places in the north of Toronto where the 401 includes at least 16 lanes of traffic. It is, I will freely admit, not my favourite route to drive.

The 401 seems to have two speeds: too fast and too slow. When it is going too fast, it is easy to find oneself on the wrong side of the exit you did or didn't really want. Suddenly, you're heading north instead of west, and the world is a different place. This happens to me occasionally when I am not on the 401.

On the other hand, the 401 is the route we take for holidays. Whether we are heading to Prince Edward County, for wine and sand dunes or to Prince Edward Island (for lobster and wine and sand dunes), we head east for vacations and we take the 401 to drive through Toronto and onwards. Often, we leave early in the morning, when the lanes are less densely populated. The 401 outside Toronto is quite a good route, dotted at regular intervals by rest stops with relatively clean bathrooms and decent coffee. If you know where to stop, you are never far from views of the Lake or lovely home-style baking.

I wonder whether you clicked on this entry expecting to move more quickly to your destination or to move forward with time to think as the trees pass the windows and you sip your Tim Hortons coffee. Maybe you know now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Credentials, Competence and Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The foundation of Ericksonian Language

Nothing human is foreign to me.
Everyone has the resources s/he needs to live better.
If you connect, people will follow your suggestions.
There is always reason to hope.
Expect success.

p.s. leave your ego at the door.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Practical Suggestions

Here are three practical suggestions for making suggestions that work:

1) Only make suggestions when you have a connection. There's no point in making suggestions to someone who is not listening. The best advice is advice that gets heard - so get a connection before making a suggestion.
2) Suggest what you want - not what you fear. We all know that it's hard to hear all of a suggestion. The easiest part to miss is the negation - hypnotists say that "Do not think of red apples" and "think of red apples" are roughly the same suggestion. So let go of fear and irony and suggest exactly what you want.
3) Make the suggestion more than once in more than one way. If you're not committed enough to think of different ways to suggest something, why would someone else be committed enough to follow the suggestion? Mindful repetition makes an impression.

Think about something you'd like to suggest. Get a connection. State what you want simply and clearly. Then find three more ways to work it into your conversation (ensuring you have a connection each time).

Try it. Connect, suggest, repeat.

Like I just did.

Monday, January 12, 2009

There's no such thing as a fresh start

It's the beginning of a new year - technically. For many people, the new year begins in September when summer vacation ends. This is true for teachers and people with kids, and often it's true for people with long summer holidays or summer properties. Some people welcome spring as a real beginning, when the snow melts and things start to grow again.

The truth is: we all come from somewhere. Even a new baby carries genetic memory with genetic potential. There are no fresh starts; maybe there are not really any beginnings at all.

That doesn't mean that we give up on change or hope or the excitement of the first day of school. Tomorrow I start school again, and I am already experiencing butterflies. I love first days. I love the illusion of starting with a clean slate, an empty notebook, a blank page. It's an illusion that makes change attractive.

It's an illusion. The reality is that I come to school carrying memories - some of them light, and some of them hard on my shoulders. So do my students. The reality is that this January is very fresh (if we mean cold and snowy) and also very old (if we mean it carries the weight of the past with it). We are living out the consequences of economics and politics that started long ago.

It's good we do not have a fresh start. We would not know what to do with a new beginning. Our learning depends on connecting with our experience: what we have made with our pasts - whatever our pasts - is the possibility for meaning.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Beginning with hope

I have been reading two books lately that say hope matters so much that it is a foundation for both health and achievement. Hope means being able to hold a picture of something good so strongly that you believe in it even when all the evidence is working against you. Hope means believing that one day will be better than this day. Maybe not tomorrow or the next. But one day.

When we talk about someone having "high hopes" we distort the nature of hope. Wishing is not the same as hoping. In fact, it's the precise opposite of hoping. When we wish something we hold onto a picture of it without believing we can make it real. We wish for things when we need a cheap replacement for hope.

Have you found many cheap replacements that really work? Wishing is not an adequate substitute for hope. You need the real thing.

Here's the secret: the people without hope think that it is a gift - either people have it or they do not but there's no way to get it if you do not already have it. They are wrong. Hope is not always a gift: it is a seed. It can live and grow; it can go dormant; it can grow a little and then die. The choices we make determine how much hope we can grow.

If you have read this far, you have enough hope to grow more. If you have hope in one part of your life, you have enough to grow more. If someone close to you has just a little hope, you can grow more.

You just have to make the choice to grow the hope you have.