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Written By Michael Hall 

In thinking about the persons who have been major contributors to NLP, as we know it today, as significant as the original contributions of Bandler, Grinder, and Pucelik are the contributions of Robert Dilts.  What Robert has contributed has extensively shaped the very contours of NLP.  Coming into the second group at Santa Cruz in 1975 and studying from John Grinder and Gregory Bateson directly, Robert began immediately writing about NLP.   Now I knew that he began writing soon, but until I began looking over the materials, I forgot or did not know that his first writings were in late 1975!


In 1975 Robert wrote his first “Application” of NLP when he put together “The Meta-Model and the Socratic Method of Philosophical Inquiry.”   This paper is now in the book, Applications of NLP (1983).  In fact, Robert was the first to put forth the Meta-Model in the ordered list that we recognize today.  By contrast the Meta-Model distinctions, which are in the first two books, The Structure of Magic (1975/ 1976), are all over the place.  Robert organized the distinctions and put eleven distinctions them in two categories in 1975.


Information  Gathering                                            Setting and Identifying Limits

1) Deletions                                                                5) Universal Quantifiers

2) Unspecified Referential Index                              6) Modal Operators

3) Unspecified Verbs                                                  7) Complex Equivalence

4) Nominalizations                                                    8) Presuppositions

                                                                                    9) Cause-Effect

                                                                                    10) Mind-Reading

                                                                                    11) Lost Performative


This is a great example of the character of so many of Robert’s key contributions—his ability to collect, organize, and put things in an easy to remember format.  The next year, 1976, he wrote a paper on “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (now in the book, Roots of NLP (1983) and which eventually became the book, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Volume I (1980).  This academic paper framed NLP as an epistemology based on systems or cybernetic principles.  There he extensively used Bateson’s work and extensively quoted him (see pages 22-27).  Here also he presented the Meta-Model in an organized way (as above) and added the twelfth distinction: 12) Comparative Deletions.  He also created another category and put three of the linguistic distinctions in it—semantic ill-formedness: cause-effect, mind-reading, lost performative.


Robert wrote that “NLP is an outcome oriented discipline”1 and then detailed Present State and Desired State which he later called “the NLP algorithm for change” (in the paper, Meta-Model Live, p. 31-32).  Between these two spaces, he put resources as “a transition mechanism.”  Later he wrote, “so present state desired state is the overlay” (p. 33).  From that he later created the SCORE Model which is today a staple for anyone trained in NLP.


Further, he was the person who came up with the first set of criteria for a well-formed outcome.  Compare his six criteria in 1980 with the 18 that we have today in Meta-Coaching.

  1.  The outcome must be stated in positive terms.
  2.  The outcome must be testable and demonstratable in sensory experience.
  3.  The desired state must be initiated and maintained by the client.
  4.  The outcome must be explicitly and appropriately contextualized.
  5.  The desired state must preserve any positive by-products of the present state.
  6.  The desired state must be ecologically sound.


It was Robert who put together the first list of NLP Presuppositions.  I am often asked who put it together, and I had always guessed that it was Robert.  Now I have evidence.  It is in his “Applications of NLP in Family Therapy and Interpersonal Negotiation” (1980).  There he provided a list of nine of the presuppositions with commentary about each of them:

  1.  The map is not the territory. 
  2.  Mind and body are part of the same system and affect each other.
  3.  Individual skills are a function of the development and sequencing of representational systems.
  4.  The meaning of any communication is the response it elicits, regardless of the intent f the communicator.
  5.  Human beings are capable of one-trial learning.
  6.  Individuals have all the resources they need to achieve their desired outcomes.
  7.  Behavior is geared toward adaptation: People make the best choices available to them at any point in time, underlying every behavior is a positive intent.
  8.  There is no substitute in communications for clean, active, open, sensory channels to know what response you are eliciting at any moment in time.
  9.  The element in a system that has the most flexibility will be the controlling, or catalytic, element in that system.


In the collection of his early papers (1975–1981) which are now in two books (Roots and Applications) Robert wrote about his modeling of NLP in such diverse realms as Business, Sales, the Socratic Method, Education, Family Therapy, Creative Writing, and Health.  Thereafter he was commissioned to put together NLP: Volume I — The Study of the Structure of Subjectivity (1980) and in the years that followed, Robert has turned out 30 or 40 more books including the massive Encyclopedia of NLP If Robert Dilts did nothing else than write and extend the literature of NLP, his contributions as a scholar would have been massive and extensive.  But he did more.  Unlike the other founders, Robert has always made himself available for appearances at Conferences and Congresses.


Then in 1997 he along with his significant partners (Suzi Smith, Tim Hallboam, Judith DeLozier) put together the Visionary Leadership Conference which brought together 200 NLP Trainers and Leaders during the middle of the Bandler lawsuit.  Three years later, he sponsored The Millennial Project to bring people together, and this year (2016) he hosted the 40th Birthday of NLP during his summer trainings in Santa Cruz.


Robert, from the beginning has modeled a great many experiences.  At the beginning he started with Socratic Questioning, sales, creative writing, cancer surviving, healing strategies, strategies of genius (Einstein, Disney, Freud, etc.), leadership, etc.  All of this makes him one of the most significant contributors of NLP, and he is still at it to this day.  Recently he modeled Steve Jobs which I heard about at the training he did during the “40th Anniversary of NLP” at Santa Cruz.  That material is now in his latest book, Next Generation Entrepreneurs, Success Factor Modeling, Vol. I (2015).


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