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NLP and the Philosophy of Pogo

A metaphoric look at the wold on NLP training and certification. Peter F. Kean

Walt Kelly, a cartoonist of considerable note, penned the comic strip, “Pogo”. Walt died some years ago and, with him, Pogo and all of his loveable forest and swamp animal friends...friends who, by the way, had very human characteristics, and were the characters that inhabited Pogo’s world. Kelly immortalized Pogo and, by extension, himself, when in one famous strip Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”. I have long forgotten what Pogo was referencing when he said those words, but, if they were spoken today, he might well be talking about the world of NLP.

During much of the same time period that Pogo was making these social comments, there was a radio (and then a TV) quiz show where contestants were required to state the number of “notes” they would take to identify an as yet un-played melody. A contestant would call out, “I can name that tune in sixteen (or some other number) notes”, whereupon the next contestant would bid a lower number and so on. When the bidding stopped, the band would start playing the song and stopped after reaching the lowest number of notes wagered. The low bid player then had to identify the song. I’ve forgotten many of the other rules of play but I do remember that, whenever there was a lot of money involved, the players would make longer leaps of faith in themselves and claim they could name the tune in two or three notes. There are very few songs that can be identified in three notes!

In 1984, when I first became enamored of the world of NLP, practitioner certification training was usually 22 to 26 days, offered in different formats. Class time was spent with other students in a structured learning environment. Typically, the NLP curriculum presented was practiced by the students under the supervision of an instructor and a training staff. At the conclusion of the training, there was usually a graduation ceremony of some kind and the student left with a certificate, a certain amount of unconscious competency of some of the material, conscious competency of some of the material, an awareness of some of the things they did not learn, and a lot of information they did not consciously know they knew. Many NLP trainers and institutes still use this format. It works and students learn. Of course, just as there are differences in NLP instructors and institutes, there are differences in the NLP subject matter included in the program and in the way NLP training is conducted.

Some trainers have high expectations of their students and have both formal and informal evaluations and tests throughout the course of instruction. Those students who achieve the requisite level of understanding of the NLP curriculum and demonstrate behavioral integration of the NLP Presuppositions are “Certified” as a Practitioner of NLP. Other trainers certify anyone who buys a ticket to whatever certification course they are teaching. Some offer a 45-day Practitioner Certification program (common in Europe) while, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who will certify you as a Practitioner with no requirement to attend a class!

I think of the old quiz program and picture a prospective NLP student listening to the various NLP institutes calling out “I can certify you in 45 days.”, “I can do it in 24 days.”, I’ll do it in 20 days, “I can do it in 18 days.”, “I can certify you in six days.”, “I can do it without even meeting you! Just send your money and watch a few video tapes.”.

Mr. Sy Syms of Syms Clothing sells high quality merchandise. His advertising slogan is "An educated consumer is our best customer." One presupposition supporting this slogan is that someone who recognizes different manufacturers and understands the vast ranges in quality of fabrics and clothing will appreciate Mr. Syms' offerings. A second might be that educated people can appreciate the values he offers. I doubt if Mr. Syms cares very much if his customers have graduate degrees -- or any degree at all, for that matter. Sims' does however, offer a good product for a fair price. Sy Syms sells clothing. He offers a tangible item in exchange for money -- an item that can be looked at, carefully examined, and, if desired, purchased.

Some time ago there was a "distant learning" organization that offered undergraduate and graduate degrees to their students. You could get a degree in any field. All you had to do was let them know your desired degree and level, send a few hands-full of money, and, before the sun set ten times, you had a college degree. For another few dollars they would even back date your sheepskin. This feature was especially important if your prospective employer could do simple math. Lots of people got an overnight education this way and soon the operators of the "university" accumulated large stacks of money. Alas, some good things come to a bad end - V.V. The diploma mill was discovered by the "authorities", closed down, and the wealth that had been amassed was used to insure the financial well being and early retirement of some local defense attorneys.

We are all salespeople in one way or another. In the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming some of us sell training. How many of us pay attention to the signs we display or the real value of what we are selling? "Become a certified NLP Practitioner in 14 days!" "Attend our 10 day, Master practitioner Certification training!" "Certification in 7 days!"

Some of the Practitioner and Master Practitioner certificates I've seen make interesting statements. My favorite is, "Jane Doe has successfully attended the NLP Practitioner training offered by xxxxxx Institute." What does this mean? Can someone unsuccessfully attend this training? Did Jane learn anything? Did she complete a course of study? If so, what was it's content? Is everyone who attends "Certified", or is there a requirement for the student to demonstrate an understanding of the material taught as well as it's utilization?

Questions like this lead to others. Are there standards of certification and were they met? If so, who established the standards? Are they approximately equal to the standards of training met by other NLP trainers? Is a 7 day, 10 day, 14 day, 18 day, or a 20 day practitioner certification program better? Are the trainers that offer the shorter certification programs better trainers because they can "do it" faster? Do they present the same material as those who do longer certification training programs? Are the trainers with the longer programs just slower than the trainers with the shorter programs? Are they more through? Do they teach more? If certifications are equal, how is it possible for a 7,10, or 14 day training to be the equivalent of a 20 or 26 day training?

A consumer going into a Sy Syms store usually knows exactly what he or she is after. They are able to examine the items offered, and, if they are willing to pay the price, leave with the merchandise. In many cases, if the item purchased proves to be unsatisfactory or not useable, they are able to return it for either a refund or a credit toward a future purchase. In the case of the diploma mill, and, without commenting on the ethics, morality, or propriety involved, the consumers also knew exactly what they were purchasing.

Once upon a time, two business partners were in a restaurant having lunch. Suddenly, one of the partners shouted, "Oh my God! I left the safe open! The other calmly replied, "What are you worried about? We're both here!"

We are all partners in the NLP community. We diminish ourselves by our lack of cohesiveness and by our inability to work within an organizational structure. Because of this, our "customers", the people to whom we sell our product, are often not properly served. As a group, we do not practice what we preach, or what we teach. Pogo was right! "We have met the enemy and he is us!"

Peter F. Kean

© 2002