A guiding principle for me, as a coach, is to act as a facilitator
and stay well away from consultant, advisor or trainer roles, and
this is what attracted me to explore the possibilities offered
through Symbolic Modelling using Clean Language.
I first encountered Symbolic Modelling when Penny Tompkins and
James Lawley ran a two-day module at an NLP Master Practitioner
course I attended. I must admit to having missed the point at first.
This just seemed like another way of helping clients get clarity
about problem states: it was only when I grasped the reality that my
clients had always been using metaphor to understand and describe
their goals that I realised the possibilities and signed up to
Since then, Symbolic Modelling has proved to be a wonderful 'way
in' to clients' generative potential; a way in for them that stays
clear of any contamination from me, and my judgements about such
things as the appropriateness of their goal.
One of the first times I worked in metaphor with a client to
clarify a goal was in a sports setting when a professional rally
driver needed to access their personal state of Flow. This
performance state proved very difficult to re-access and articulate.
However, their metaphoric landscape of the Zone of Flow proved rich
with symbols. They reported a sense of knowing more, without
necessarily understanding, about something that had been out of
consciousness before. Further work followed, but I think it's no
coincidence that they went on to win the championship - by frequently
being able to get 'into the zone'.
Over the past few years I've had the privilege of working with
Heston Blumenthal, whose restaurant, The Fat Duck, has been named the
best restaurant in the world by The Restaurant magazine. Heston is a
highly creative and original chef, renowned for re-thinking the way
that we experience food, and developing dishes such as egg and bacon
ice cream, and snail porridge. In addition to its normal kitchen,
where customers' meals are prepared, The Fat Duck has an experimental
kitchen, where Heston tries out his latest ideas, and puts his belief
in molecular gastronomy - the application of scientific
knowledge to the cooking process - into practice. He has given
me his permission to touch on that part of our work that has used
Symbolic Modelling in a generative frame.
We have often modelled a 'metaphoric landscape' that represents
Heston's desire to achieve a number of clear goals. I think it is no
coincidence that in becoming really clear about his goals he has
achieved international success, including three highly coveted
Michelin stars, and an OBE in the most recent New Year's Honours
However lately Heston has found that success can be a distraction,
taking time away from the process of developing a complete dining
experience for his customers. As demands on his time grow, he has
found that he needs to set aside specific time to be in his
experimental kitchen. And while in that kitchen, rather like the
rally driver's personal Zone of Flow, Heston has found he can use
metaphor to re-access a uniquely personal performance state which
allows him to design dishes that are setting the direction for the
future of haute cuisine.
In our most recent work together we have used Symbolic Modelling
to help open a doorway into his creative place which he calls 'The
Sweet Shop'. This metaphor did not emerge out of a coaching session,
but was one I heard him use when he was being interviewed by a group
of NLP students. They asked how he developed his passion for cooking
and I heard him answer "Once I get going I'm like a kid in a sweet
shop." Since then, we have used Symbolic Modelling to explore this
sweet shop. He discovered that there's an old-fashioned doorbell that
rings as you enter the shop, and an infinite stock of sweets of all
colours in jars that crowd the shelves. The store even has its own
distinctive smell; the aroma of those sweets you may also remember
from the 60s and 70s - Sherbert Dabs, Parma violets and Love Hearts .
There's a cash till that rings behind open racks of sweets such as
Banana chews individually wrapped in that familiar shiny paper. As he
moves around lifting lids off jars, feeling the weight of coins in
his pocket, key emotions arise: curiosity, excitement and
Heston believes that eating is a multi-modal process, involving
all the senses and emotions, so he has begun to actually
'physicalise' his metaphor to bring some aspects into reality. The
first step was to create a physical representation of the metaphoric
sweet shop as his own creative space in the experimental kitchen. He
has installed a bell that rings as you enter, and the intention is to
decorate the shelves with those distinctive sweet jars. In addition,
a top perfume house has been briefed to identify the particular sweet
shop smell so that it can be used in his kitchen.
This is only one way that the original metaphor of 'a kid in a
sweet shop' has helped Heston gain more knowledge about his personal
state of creativity. Now, because he also believes passionately that
being a restaurateur is about sharing experiences with guests, his
team of chefs are working on ways to build some of the sweet shop
elements into the overall dining experience (aromas, colours, visual
symbols) in order to elicit each diner's emotions of excitement and
curiosity - so important to enjoying a visit to the Fat Duck.
I continue to use clean language to facilitate my clients' self
modeling in a generative way because they gain so much from the
process to lift their performance. Also it offers me a means of
staying true to the coaching principle that my clients are the expert
and I should add as little as possible to their inner world.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using
the science of positive psychology to realise your potential for
lasting fulfilment. London: Nicholas Brealey
The positive psychology project: www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu
Lawley, James and Penny Tompkins, Metaphors
in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, 2000.
With thanks to Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck for openly
sharing his sweet shop experience.
© 2006, Mike Duckett