How to do a Modelling Project - Section 3
What is Modelling?
Modelling is a process whereby an observer, the modeller, gathers
information about the activity of a system with the aim of
constructing a generalised description (a model) of how that system
works. The model can then be used by the modeller and others to
inform decisions and actions.
The purpose of modelling is to identify
'what is' and how 'what is' works to produce the observed results - without influencing what is being
modelled. The modeller begins with an open mind, a blank sheet and an
outcome to discover the way a system functions - without attempting
to change it.
[Note: We recognise this is an
impossible outcome, since the observer, by simply observing,
inevitably influences the person being observed. However this does
not affect the intention of a modeller to not influence.]
Steven Pinker in How the Mind Works (p. 21) uses an analogy from
the world of business to define psychology, but he could just as
easily be describing the modelling process:
Psychology is engineering in reverse.
In forward-engineering, one designs a machine to do something; in
reverse-engineering, one figures out what a machine was designed to
do. Reverse-engineering is what the boffins at Sony do when a new
product is announced by Panasonic, or vice versa. They buy one, bring
it back to the lab, take a screwdriver to it, and try to figure out
what all the parts are for and how they combine to make the device
Pinker is not saying that people are machines. He is saying the
process of making a model of human language, behaviour and perception
can be likened to the process of reverse-engineering.
When 'the system' being observed is a person, what usually gets
modelled is behaviour that can be seen or heard (sensory modelling),
or thinking processes that are described through language (conceptual
modelling). Figuring out how great tennis players serve is an example
of the former, while identifying their beliefs and strategies for
winning is an example of the latter.
What constitutes a learning-to-modelling project?
In general, almost anything that interests or excites you enough
to want to acquire another way of doing, being, feeling, thinking,
believing, etc. We recommend you go for something that will really
make a difference in your life – and/or others' lives too.
You need to choose a topic where you have sufficient access to
your exemplars. And you need to remember that your primary purpose is to
demonstrate you are learning how to model. The project is the primary
means by which you will acquire that learning and then be able to
demonstrate your learning.
As a minimum, you need to show that you can model patterns of:
One of the most interesting parts of the process will be selecting
the 'chunk size' of the project. This will require you to balance
your desire to acquire some big chunk skill with the resources
available within the time scales. As a general rule, people learning
to model initially overestimate what they can achieve (i.e. the try to model too big a chunk) and they underestimate the value of modelling a
small chunk in depth.
It's OK to start with a big chunk outcome and refine it as the
project progresses. In fact, it is common not to discover "the
difference that makes the difference " (Bateson) until well
into the process. But when you do, that piece should become the focus
of your project.
The field of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)
was established as a result of several modelling projects conducted
by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. They, in collaboration with others such as
Judith DeLozier, Leslie Cameron-Bandler, David Gordon, Robert Dilts did much of the original work to codify the process of modelling sensory and conceptual domains.
We used sensory and conceptual modelling to study David Grove atwork, and as a result discovered a new way of modelling never
previously documented which we called Symbolic Modelling (see Metaphors in Mind: Transformation
through Symbolic Modelling by James
Lawley and Penny Tompkins).
Definition of terms
Five Stages of a Modelling Project (Figure 1)
The outcome (of a pattern of behaviour) which can be described in
sensory specific terms.
An abstract formulation constructed from the information
gathered from modelling the exemplar(s) which when actioned
by an acquirer produces a similar class of results.
The person (or group or organisation) that consistently
achieves the results the modeller is seeking to reproduce.
(In the early days of NLP, also
referred to as 'a model'.)
The person who gathers information from the exemplar,
constructs the model, and tests its effectiveness,
efficiency, elegance and ethics at reproducing similar results
(usually by first acquiring the model themselves). Sometimes they then
facilitate others to acquire the model.
The person (usually including the modeller) who 'takes
on' the model and attempts to reproduce results similar to
those obtained by the exemplar. The acquisition process usually needs to be facilitated by an accompanying narrative, metaphors and activities.
The process of gathering information from an exemplar,
constructing a model, and testing its effectiveness at
reproducing similar results (which requires someone to
have acquired it). See Figure 1.
Both the plan for accomplishing the production and
acquisition of a model, and the implementation of that plan.
We distinguish five stages that do not necessarily happen in this order:
1. Preparing to model
2. Gathering information
3. Constructing a model
4. Testing the model
5. Acquiring the model
The process of a person constructing a model of how they
achieve the results they get.
Facilitating the exemplar to
self-model in Stage 2 is often a very efficient way of
gathering information. At Stages 3 and 4, the modeller
self-models as a way of making explicit the out-of-awareness
information they have gathered. During Stage 5, the acquirer
can self-model their response to
acquiring an unfamiliar model.
NOTE: A major light bulb moment occurred when we grasped the implication of Michael Breen's statement (at the London NLP Practice Group in about 1993): "All modelling is self-modelling.".