For many people, intuition is a wonderful, mysterious, and near-magical phenomena. Yet, what is intuition? What do we refer to when we use this term? And how do we use our intuition in our work as we coaches, consultants, trainers, therapists work with people?
NLP began by modeling the intuition of three world-class communicators. You will find this statement and this language in the early books of NLP, especially “The Structure of Magic, Volumes I and II “ (1975, 1976). Richard and John modeled the intuition that Virginia had about people, communicating with them, deciding on what to do as an intervention. They did the same with Fritz Perls and Milton Erickson. What resulted from their modeling? NLP. That is, the models of NLP and the patterns derived from those models. And more specifically:
- The Meta-Model of Language in therapy: asking the questions of specificity.
- The Strategy Model using representation systems and the TOTE process.
- The Representational Model of how people think, encode “thoughts,” and manifest via neurology.
- The Milton Model of Language for inviting a person to go inside (“downtime”) and access resourceful states.
Modeling Virginia’s Intuitions
In the original NLP books,
‘The Structure of Magic”, Bandler and Grinder talked about the intuitions of Perls and Virginia and said that what they modeled were their intuitions. That how they worked with people, how they chose what to say or do, were the result of their whole lifetime of experiences which had now become habitual and automatic. They noted, “Virginia took a lifetime to learn her intuitions.” Yet we do not have to replicate her life experiences, today we can model those intuitions to make explicit what she does “by intuition.” And doing that, we can then transfer her intuitions to ourselves and others. And that’s what NLP is about (or should be about).
Intuition comes from Latin and refers to “in-knowing”—to what a person “knows” “inside.” And where do people get that inside knowledge? They were not born with it. Nobody is born “knowing” anything. Unlike the animals who “know” what to eat, how to build a nest, who is a predator, etc., we humans are born without content information instincts. Our “instincts” are without content information and because of this gap— we have tremendous room inside for learning— and learning we do! We learn everything. Yes, we have dispositions and latent “talents” that can be developed. Yet without learning, the dispositions and talents do not develop. You may have a disposition for mathematics, or linguistics, or visual-spatial distinctions, or many other things, yet if you are not exposed to such areas and given a chance to develop, the “talent” will lie dormant. It will not develop.
Intuitions are learned. Whatever intuition you have about anything, you learned that intuition. You were exposed to an area of learning and you developed it, consciously or unconsciously. How you made it an “in-knowing” is through exposure, experience, repetition, and learning. You now have an intuition about how to drive a car because of your original exposure to driving and to your experience of driving. Today your learning (in-knowing) is your intuitive sense of driving and is unconscious unless you teach driver’s education. The conscious learnings, understandings, concepts, etc. have “dropped out of conscious awareness into your unconscious awareness.” Now you “know” how to do things and don’t know how you know. You just know— we call that “intuition.”
Intuitions are also subject to the errors and inaccuracy that all learnings are subject to. And given that, then intuitions are not infallible. They are not god-like. They are fallible, human, and subject to all of the fallibilities that all other learnings are— to cognitive distortions, to fallacious thinking patterns, to biases, prejudices, etc. Your intuitions can be very, very wrong and mislead you. This suggests that we should never blindly trust our intuitions. Just as you would not blindly or absolutely trust your thinking, believing, understanding, perceiving — it is not wise to do so with your intuitions.
This fact provides a significant challenge to modeling. When modeling the intuitions of an expert, we have to be cautious about the intuitions that we are modeling. We could model an error in the expert’s knowledge (in-knowing). So we have to test what we are modeling and have to test whether we are modeling an actual knowledge that is accurate and useful.
How do we model an expert’s intuition? This is where the NLP models for modeling offer some very powerful tools. We model intuition by reverse engineering. First we look at the excellence. In the case of Perls and Satir, the ability to communicate in a therapy context with clients and via the therapeutic context to enable a client to change his or her mental models (maps) of the world so that they have more understanding and choice in how to respond to the challenges that they experience in the world. Then we ask, What is the expert actually doing? Here we get a sensory-based (empirical) description of how they are talking, gesturing, relating, etc.
From there we follow the sequence of actions (behavioral and linguistic) from beginning of the conversation to the end. This gives us a “strategy” —a strategic set of actions. As we interview the expert we can get the inside information about the distinctions the person is making about what to do, when to do it, how to do it with the person, and why (which gives us their thinking, believing, assumptions, etc.) for their decisions and choice points. (See “NLP: Volume I”, 1980, Robert Dilts).
But we’re not done yet. Next we go meta. That is, we look for where the expert reflexively thought-and-felt something else about their previous thought-or-feeling and so layered their thinking with one or more additional frames. Human “strategies” do not work in a simple linear way. As we are processing through anything, we have frames of meaning in the back of our mind that govern our experiencing, and we also are constantly stepping back to reflect on our experience. (See “NLP Going Meta”, 2005).
Once we have a “model” —a set of internal and external steps for how the expert produces the excellence, we can test it by trying it out ourselves. Does it work? To what extent can we replicate the expertise? To what extent do we fail to replicate it? These questions drive us back to revisit the interview and to ask more interviewing questions to find out the distinctions we are missing. Doing this recursively over a period of time enables us to finally create a workable, actionable, and transferable model of the expert. And if we do that repeatedly with other experts in the same field, and create a synthesis of the best of each, we can generate a more expansive and rich model for a given expertise.
We model intuitions. So this is one use of the term intuition in NLP and Neuro-Semantics.