• Posted in January 2024

Grinder and Bandler, How Their Unique Traits Merged to Create a Global Phenomenon



NLP has grown to a global phenomenon, with millions of people around the world having learnt the patterning that emerged from the accidental collision of Grinder and Bandler’s unique life antecedents which were ideal priming experiences for the modelling process they undertook together. This article explores how those life experiences provided a foundation for the modelling activities that created NLP.


NLP co-creator Dr John Grinder, is fastidious in his assertions that the heart of NLP is modelling, he should know he co-created the field.  The distinctive individual characteristics of the co-creators of NLP (Grinder and Bandler) were an accidental yet incidental blend of tacit skills and knowledge, acquired through their different life activities which just happened to be perfect for the modelling tasks ahead of them.


John Grinder, was in his early 30s, at the time of NLP’s inception. John had previously developed a penchant for learning languages, where he immersed himself in interactions with native speakers of the language he was learning.  By learning simple questions, common to the questions children ask early in language acquisition, such as ‘what is this? what’s it for? how does it work?’, he would engage with native speakers and mirror back their responses to the questions, using identical voice tonality and physiology the native speaker naturally used in their communication. John’s attention, in the early phase of the language acquisition project, was on learning unconsciously the structure of the language and not the content. He was able to suspend his filters as a native American English speaker, so his mind was like a childs, totally open to the rapid acquisition to the structure of the language he was assimilating. In other words, he learned languages through modelling native speakers of the language.


Additionally, and prior to co-creating NLP, John had worked undercover for the American Intelligence Services, travelling behind the iron curtain at the time of the cold war, where he learned how to completely assume the human patterning of being another person in accordance with the mission he was working on. One mistake in this endeavour, such as even momentarily accessing the filters of John Grinder, would have cost him his life. John was very adept at totally absorbing himself in a completely different set of filters, the filters of ‘identity’ of the character he was being in the project. This is not acting, it’s being a completely different person, a discipline that later cross pollinated for his deep modelling which formed the creation of NLP.


When John left the world of undercover work, he worked in worked in George A. Miller’s laboratory at Rockefeller University and received a PhD in linguistics. He soon became a prominent voice in the emerging linguistics field of transformational grammar created by Noam Chomsky.  Transformational grammar broadly speaking, studies how language is formed structurally and points to the symmetry across all languages from a structural perspective.


Transformational Grammar was a radical shift in the world of linguistics which previously had focussed on semantics, the meaning of language; in other words the content.  John’s acute interest in syntax, on which he had co-authored several academic papers, led him to deeply study the form of spoken language without analysis of the content.  John’s enormous academic experience as a syntactician was the perfect primer for his next endeavour, the modelling and coding of patterns of human excellence; the creation of NLP.


Richard Bandler, had a very different set of life experiences prior to creating NLP, equally as useful in preparing himself for the modelling work he would undertake with John Grinder. Bandler, by his own account, came from a highly abusive family background and developed a high level of sensory acuity, to be able to read and interpret non-verbal behaviour in his family unit, and demonstrate behavioural flexibility to avoid abusive situations.


Bandler in various public presentations has told how he left home at 16, and was resourceful to persuade whoever he could to give him accommodation in the town of Oakland, California, where he was living on his wits surrounded by gang culture on the streets. Constant danger combined with interactions with the police to avoid arrest, Bandler became very adept at switching personalities and being highly proficient with behaviourally ‘acting as if’ for whatever the situation required to ensure his safety from gang violence and police action.


At the time Grinder and Bandlers’ paths first merged, Bandler had already been successful in unconsciously modelling Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy. Bandler had become so effective in the modelling, Perls’ publishers, Science and Behaviour Books, hired Richard to posthumously edit the book Fritz Perls had been working on prior to his death.


Bandler had seen and heard Fritz in action at the Esalen Institute and also had access to hundreds of hours of film of Fritz Perls conducting live therapy sessions with clients. Richard’s style of learning was to naturally absorb Perls’ work by ‘acting as if’ he was Perls. He did not attempt to analyse Perl’s behaviour and language from the perspective of his own (Bandler’s) filters, which is the learning style of most adults, but not children.


When Grinder, compared Bandler’s version of Perls conducting Gestalt Therapy sessions,  with the films of Perls himself in action, Grinder affirmed that Bandler was a better Perls than the real Perls in Gestalt Therapy client work.  This is remarkable, given Perls himself was carrying out his work unconsciously (without direct awareness of the structure) as was Bandler, who had unconsciously assimilated Perls’ behavioural and speech patterns.  In doing so, Bandler now had Perls’ tacit knowledge embedded within his own tacit knowledge vault and without altering the structure of these patterns, was able to naturally improve the efficiency of the patterning.


NLP modelling has two key factors, i) the assimilation of pattering exhibited by a genius, and ii) the coding of the patterning, for others to be able to learn it.


The first factor, the unconscious assimilation, requires sufficient exposure to the genius in action, where the modeller suspends their own filters to totally absorb the patterning the genius is naturally displaying. To deploy the patterning the modeller(in the modelling state), ‘acts is if’ they are the genius, until such time the modeller has developed the circuity to unconsciously execute the behaviours of the genius to the level required of the modelling project. It is worth noting that Bandler exceeded the competencies of Perls through modelling, and the NLP modellers were consequently able to replicate similar results to Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson, generally quicker and arguably more efficiently


The second factor, the coding of the patterning, requires a shift in logical levels, which can only occur after competency with the patterning being modelled has been acquired. A child is not able to analyse language whilst in the early acquisition phase of learning, which is fully immersive and full of trial and error experiences. There are different stages of linguistic competence in children, and in most cases children have unconsciously mastered the rules of the language, structurally defined by grammar, by the age of seven when they are capable of analysing theirs and others language. 


In NLP modelling, through deep immersion and learning the ‘how’ through trial, error and adapting according to feedback, the modeller will get to the stage, where they can provide recursive analysis of the patterning they have unconsciously assimilated. Recursive analysis is the process of detecting the rules for the patterning to work as it does, the rules provide the structure and the structure creates the model.


The next step is to create a way of communicating the rules and the structure of the model at process level, so a person who has not had exposure to the original exemplar, can follow the code and with practice of the process can also carry out the patterning efficiently.  This is the coding of the patterning modelled from the exemplar.


The two activities inherent in modelling are very different in style, one is immersing yourself in the being of another, the other is analysis to formulate a code. It just so happened that both Grinder and Bandler were naturally proficient in both. Grinder’s style of learning languages through immersion in natural speaking contexts and his ability to suspend his own filters when acting as another person in his undercover work, provided him with experience to naturally assimilate behavioural patterns when modelling. Likewise, Bandler’s experiences in quickly adapting to contexts he encountered on the streets, and in doing so changing perspectives and personalities to meet the needs of the situation, gave him direct experience to be able to rapidly act as another and learn their patterning, as he did with Perls and then Satir and Erickson.


For the analysis and coding of the model, Grinder drew from his transformational grammar expertise, which in itself is a process model for the rules of all languages. Similarly Bandler was able to draw upon his mathematical expertise, particularly rule based formulas for algorithms with input and output variables incorporating loops, which isomorphically can be mapped to complex human interactions.


Grinder and Bandler had very different life experiences prior to working together. From a content perspective, defined by what psychologists refer to as ‘identity’ they were very different people. However the processes they had both applied in their life activities, the ability to suspend their own filters and rapidly shift and maintain their perspectives with filters for another, paved the way for their modelling prowess. Additionally, both had acute deductive skills geared towards rule based activities, linguistics and mathematics; ideal for the coding of patterning.


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