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First published in Rapport, journal of the Association for NLP (UK), Issue 56, Summer 2002
MODELLING:
A tribute to Simon and David

by Sue Knight

Just over a year ago I worked for the first time in Australia and I fell in love with the country and the people that I met there. I was running two workshops for Karen Corban of Universal Events one on High Performance Coaching and the other on Modelling. I was impressed with the level of learning and interest that there was in Australia and although the bulk of the participants were from Sydney many others came from other cities and other countries. One of the people who assisted me on the programmes was a young man called Simon Blanda. He was the epitome of the welcome that I received in Sydney -- he was fun, sensitive and giving and much much more. He filled the room with his charisma and his learning. We chose Simon as someone that we invited the group to model because of his enormous capacity for building relationships. He was without doubt a model of excellence. A subgroup of participants spent half an hour with him modelling his skills and his capacity to work with them and just be himself combined with their skilled observations and questioning skills meant that within an hour they were exhibiting some of that same energy for connecting and building relationships. It was a joy to watch the process and they had a great time together.

About 6 years ago Spence (my husband) and I attended a workshop run by David Grove. I am not sure what it was that drew me to that workshop -- something about the way that it promised to major on language perhaps. A few days in the Lake District were we would have a chance to walk and reflect on our learning if we chose to. That decision was one of the best of my learning life. I was fascinated by the neutrality of this man and his skill to reflect back the subjective experience of each of the participants on that programme. I quote from Metaphors in Mind by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins whose work I will come back to in a moment:

David Grove is a New Zealander whose unique psychotherapeutic approach, experience and style make him one of today's most skilful and innovative therapists. In the 1980's he developed clinical methods for resolving clients' traumatic memories, especially those related to child abuse, rape and incest. He realised that many clients naturally described their symptoms in metaphor, and found that when he enquired about these using their exact words, their perception of the trauma began to change. This led him to create Clean Language, a way of asking questions of clients' metaphors which neither contaminate nor distort them. Initially David Grove specialised in 'healing the wounded child within'. These days his interests have widened to include nonverbal behaviour, perceptual space and inter-generational healing. He is constantly developing new ideas and creative methods which continue to fascinate and inspire.

I attended a subsequent workshop by David, which centred on exploring how we use perceptual space. I would have said at that time (and I still do) that David is one of the most skilled modellers that I have come across. But he would not use that term. He most definitely distanced himself from any aspect of NLP so I guess it must have been some challenge when James and Penny asked him if they could model him and from what Penny tells me it was! I still recall the profound learning that I gained from his questions about the space (more to the point -- lack of it) on a visual that I had drawn on an exercise on that later workshop! You could say that he was using the Meta-model but he would not thank me for saying that. But the way in which he used it was revolutionary in my experience. So I was intrigued when I later heard that James and Penny were modelling him and delighted to hear that they had written up their findings in the book -- Metaphors in Mind. This is such a significant piece of work and for me is the essence of what NLP is really about. I suspect that Penny had that same fascination for David's work that I experienced and persisted in her contact with him until they were able to model him. Now that was no mean feat. In the limited time that I had with David he was a constantly shifting target (and he would have a feast with that metaphor and that one). My admiration for what James and Penny have done is unbounded and it has in the modelling tradition enhanced what is available in the NLP world for us all to use. It would have been akin to a sin if what David is doing had been lost to the world.

And given the complexity and the changing nature of what he was doing it is even more impressive how simply and elegantly James and Penny have modelled the structure of his work using Clean Language for Symbolic Modelling. Articles on the topic of Clean Language have appeared in several previous issues of Rapport so I am not going into the details here but I do recommend the book. However the paradox is that to come up with the results that they did and to write them up took them five years. So modelling can take many forms. I was delighted to have Penny and her colleague Caitlin Walker present the results of this modelling on a recent Business Practitioner programme. What they demonstrated is what should in my mind be included in every practitioner or master practitioner programme and that is not what was discovered ten years ago but what is being discovered with the process of modelling today and in so doing helping the rest of us to develop our modelling skills so that we can continue to do the same.

So one hour or five years. More or less. Modelling takes many forms and is an attitude of admiration and curiosity and the will to do what it takes to discover what makes the difference between excellent performance and merely average.

Just last year I received the news that Simon Blanda had been killed in a car crash. I am eternally grateful that we had the time with him that we did. His impact was such that I can imagine him as if he was here today. We were able to learn a little of his very special magic. The modelling that we did that day had a purpose that none of us involved will ever forget. I hope that we can all learn a little more how to make immortal the outstanding qualities that we sometimes experience in others that might, just might otherwise be lost to the world.

© copyright 2002, Sue Knight

Details of Universal Events In Australia can be found on www.universalevents.com.au

Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins is available from The Developing Company Press at www.cleanlanguage.co.uk

For information about Caitlin Walker and Training Attention see www.trainingattention.co.uk

Sue Knight
Sue Knight is an international consultant, NLP trainer and coach. She is also an author of several books including her new much revised version of NLP at Work. You can find out more about her books and her work on her website www.sueknight.co.uk or you can email her on sue@sueknight.co.uk 
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