Article from

First published as Chapter 19 of Innovations in NLP: Innovations for Challenging Times,
L. Michael Hall & Shelle Rose Charvet (Editors), Crown House Books, 2011

The Clean Community

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins

The clean community is a “community of practice.”1 Such communities are created by people gravitating to like-minded people who have a passion for something they do, the desire to learn how to do it better, and the motivation to interact regularly.

The Community

Our community is connected by a shared belief that a clean approach is a highly respectful way to facilitate individual systems and systems of individuals to learn from themselves. The community is made up of individuals and companies who have developed a variety of clean approaches for personal development, health, education, research, commerce, organizations, and a host of other fields. We are fascinated by our own and other’s interior worlds, we like learning by doing, and we have a high value of working collaboratively. If we had our own Temple of Apollo the sign over the door would not read “Know thyself” but “Learn from thyself.”

In researching this chapter we asked the community a clean question: The clean community is like what? A sample of the responses were:
  • A barbecue.
  • A cooperative gardening club.
  • A most enlightening, unfinished, unbound manuscript.
  • A fruit machine that pays a jackpot nearly every time you pull the handle.
  • A network of points of light that send out shafts of brightness that connect across and around the world, sparking together as they meet, forming fireworks, small and large, for the delight and insight of those involved.

Source of the Community

The clean community exists because of David Grove, creator of Clean Language, Clean Space, and Emergent Knowledge.2 David imbued his work with a spirit of generosity. He did not put boundaries and constraints on the use of his innovations; instead he operated from an “open source” and “creative commons” approach long before these became well known. All his life he “chased ideas” and he was still innovating at the time of his death in 2008.

David thought of himself as “a launch pad” enabling others to take his ideas to different worlds. His lack of fixity and delight in discovery rubbed off on those who travelled with him. David was a leader in terms of ideas and methodologies, and the community sprang up around him. He supported it and it supported him, but he never considered himself its head.

How the Community Came Together

When we modeled David Grove and introduced his ideas into the NLP community people began to organize themselves into practice groups.3 Our personal metaphors at the time were “sowing seeds” and “spreading the word.” Even at this embryonic stage it seemed natural to adopt Gregory Bateson’s idea of “code congruence.”4 This meant the way the community went about establishing itself needed to be congruent with a clean philosophy. Traditional metaphors of competition, hierarchy, and centralized control were rejected in favor of metaphors of cooperation and “co-inspiration.”5


Self-organization and emergence are at the heart of a clean approach so it made sense that the clean community network would be flat and open. As a result there is no centralized control, chair, or head. Anyone can join simply by participating. In this way the network grows organically.

The community has no vision or mission statement, no plan, and no strategy. What emerges is what happens, and what happens gets responded to. Ideas and events that survive thrive until they cease to have sufficient participation and then they fade away. For example, while there is no standard training syllabus, demand from students resulted in a “criteria for foundation skills competency” being produced and widely adopted.6

But how does a community that is non-hierarchical, has no formal association, no committees, no constitution, and is continually evolving, regulate itself? Mostly through internal feedback where community members informally canvas others for their opinions, support, and advice before embarking on new ventures and receive feedback on their actions. How that feedback is given, received, and incorporated is key to strengthening the bond between members. One way we do this is with the Clean Feedback Model which helps people to get really clear about the difference between behaviour and interpretation.7

Shared Events

A community is an abstract concept that becomes embodied in institutions and shared events. There are few clean community institutions, but there are plenty of events where community values and practices are embodied. These have emerged from small groups working together to achieve a common objective and are sustained by the active participation of those who attend. For example:

Practice Groups have sprung up in many places throughout the world—like the one in London started by Caitlin Walker and Dee Berridge in 1996.8 Practice exercises are passed around like old-style football cards. Marian Way has documented all of her group’s practice exercises on her website.9

The Developing Group consists of a core of long-standing members of the community as well as highly-trained newcomers who want be part of the latest developments and applications of Symbolic Modelling—our model of David Grove’s work.10

The Clean and Emergent Research Group, initiated by Philip Harland, has met regularly since 1999. It has covered such diverse topics as: landscapes of time, sin and evil, death, memory, and group dynamics, to name but a few.11

The Paris Salon, set up by Jennifer de Gandt and her loyal French colleagues, organized the first cross-channel gathering of like-minded researchers.12

The Clean Business Exchange where people who work commercially and in organizations discuss applications in a business context, receive feedback on their work-in-progress, and develop themselves professionally.13

The annual Clean Conference run by Wendy Sullivan and colleagues at the Clean Change Company has hosted international keynote speakers such as cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Casasanto, author James Geary, and NLP developer Charles Faulkner.14
An important factor in the formation of our community was the advent of the Internet. We jumped on the bandwagon both as a metaphor for the kind of community we wanted to be part of, and as a practical means for making the ideas of David Grove and others publicly available. We started the first Clean Language website in 1995 and now there are dozens. The was established by Phil Swallow and has been hosting discussions since 2003. It provides a free service where announcements of events are collated and fed into calendars of events on other websites. In this way, anyone can support everyone.

The clean community is not just internally focused. Individuals and companies have joined together to support other communities living in the midst of our troubled world. These have included developing a learning environment in a failing secondary school, visioning for a spiritual community, a multi-country environmental regeneration project, and building resourcefulness among those living in a deprived area.

And Currently ...

There are now hubs in the UK, France, Holland, Italy, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand with smaller nodes in other countries. These groups are beginning to cross-fertilize as the network extends across national boundaries. As increasing numbers become involved in the clean community the complexity of the network will grow, necessitating new and innovative systems. In whichever way this happens and whatever direction it takes us, we aim to remember our origins are rooted in the legacy left by David Grove—to be congruent, cooperative, and co-inspiring.

Notes (all links accessed August 12, 2011)

1 Wenger (1999).

2 Articles by David Grove are available at

3 A number of dedicated people in the United States, New Zealand, and England were already supporting David and his work before we met him 1995.

4 Bateson (1972).

5 Maturana and Bunnell (1998).

6 See

7 Doyle and Walker (2008).

8 See

9 See

10 Notes and articles associated with all the Developing Group days since 2001 are available at

11 A list of all the topics presented at the Clean and Emergent Research Group are available at

12 See

13 Sponsored by the Clean Change Company

14 See International Clean Conference 2010 Report by Jackie Calderwood at


Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Doyle, N. and Walker, C. (2008). Cleaning up the F-word in coaching. Rapport (Nov.). Available at

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maturana, H. and Bunnell, P. (1998). The biology of business: love expands intelligence. Reflections 1(2). Available at


Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – first registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. James has also written (with Marian Way) the first book dedicated to Clean Space: Insights in Space. Between them Penny and James have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:

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