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Part Five: Planning, Problem Solving, Outcomes and Achieving

“Not every end is a goal. The end of a melody is not a goal; however, if the melody has not reached its end, it would also not reach its goal.
A parable.”

Article in PDF Format

Introduction: Models and Achieving

We all build our unique models of the world.

Our model is not separate from our understanding of ourselves. Our identity is a “model” that we experience as our ‘self’. We know of no other self than this. We may have a number of ‘selves’ but they will all be models. To know is to organise. To organise is to model.
Our models are our organised knowledge of our world. As I outlined in my last article when our model “fits” with the on-going flow of our experience then it is reinforced. If it doesn’t “fit” then we can ignore the difference, deny it, or update our model.

We naturally acquire modelling skills and modelling tools. These are “naturalistic” skills rather than formal models or tools. Naturalistic skills tend to be incomplete and often inconsistent. By formalising the skills we enable them to be used with more consistency and increase their effectiveness. We all have our “everyday” ideas about the world and how it works without any need to use the theories of engineering, physics and chemistry. The principles of the physical sciences are used when we want to make substantial developments. The same principles can be applied to thinking, feeling and behaviour. If we only want to make simple changes then a basic understanding will be enough. For more complex situations or changes we require a more accurate understanding.
We can formalise and extend our naturalistic modelling skills to create more sophisticated and effective models and techniques. This is what NLP set out to do.


In this article I will outline some Re-modelling of NLP in the area of planning, organising and achieving outcomes. Unlike other areas I have covered in this series of articles, in this article I have placed much less emphasis on remodelling and more on explaining new models. The reason for this is that there are not many NLP models to remodel – there is however much more territory to model! As a result in this article I am emphasising models “beyond” NLP much more than I have in my other articles so far. I will cover in three parts the following areas: outcomes, achieving them and problem solving. The three parts are intended to draw your attention to three different levels within which outcomes operate.


Part One covers outcomes as a specific part of what we do and will cover some of my re-modelling of the NLP Well-Formed Outcome model (WFO). A number of further developments will also be outlined.


Part Two covers the whole sequence of processing of which outcomes are a part. This will place outcomes in a more holistic perspective and introduce a model for the modelling of planning and the meeting of needs.


Part Three will cover outcomes at the level of a whole field of study through a comparison of the different therapeutic outcomes of NLP and DBM.


As in my other articles I am covering a great deal of material in order to get through the whole NLP syllabus in as few years as possible! There are only four articles per year and I have a lot more material still to cover. I hope that you will again take the time to explore the models and complete the exercises, making connections both within NLP and beyond. The role of a modeller is to seek new connections beyond what is known. There is a big world out there with the vast complexity of human experience, feeling, aspiration, creativity and achievement waiting to be modelled and explained.

The Well Formed Outcome Conditions

I first came across the Well-Formed Outcome conditions in the work of NLP developer Leslie Cameron-Bandler (ref. Solutions). Since that time there have been numerous versions. They all share a common set of checks for establishing a plan for achieving an outcome.


Briefly, the main conditions require that the outcome should be stated positively so that it can be realistically sensed. Then it can be specified in terms of sensory evidence. From there it can be located in space and time – when and where and for how long. The next check is to make sure that it can be practically initiated and followed through and is not dependent on chance or other things that are beyond control. This includes checking that the necessary resources are available such as skills, money, materials, etc. The final condition is the ecological check. This checks how the change fits with the person’s overall well being and specifically with the potentially positive aspects of the current situation.


In practice the conditions are checked more in a circular or recursive fashion with changes made in one condition being cross-checked with earlier decisions.


In the mid 80’s I found Cameron-Bandler’s formulation to be very helpful and used it with many clients as well as friends and colleagues. The main conditions are summarised in the table below. The second condition is one that I added in 1987 after a lot of experience with the model.


My Remodelling of the WFO and New Developments
The 2nd Condition: Direction

In 1986 I was in a staff room talking with a colleague. He asked me if I knew any good places to go on holiday. I had been using the WFO a lot and thought it would be easy to use it to help him with his holiday. Before offering him this help I asked him if he had any particular reason for going on holiday, thinking it would give me the beginnings of a more detailed ‘outcome’. He said he needed to get away from work for a while. I asked him why and he said that he needed to relax. Again I asked why and he replied that he was not coping well with the job at the moment. At this point the holiday seemed a distant and perhaps not wholly relevant outcome!
A holiday would not necessarily be the most useful thing for him to do. He could come back to work and still not cope well. A holiday might be part of a solution but more checking was required. It proved useful to check what direction was involved and if the outcome was the most suitable for that direction. It was also useful to check the different levels of direction.
I then added this check as the second condition. This check saved me many hours of potentially wasted planning and quickly got to the key issues behind the outcome. I was able to be much more effective in first helping clients to identify the most relevant outcome and then plan it well using the WFO.


After adding ‘direction’ to the WFO conditions I began to explore directions more thoroughly. In any direction there are three elements. There is a moving “away” from, a moving “toward”, and the connection between them; the direction itself. Each of these can be attended to separately or in relation to each other. In the following exercise the “away from” is the problem and the “toward” the solution / outcome. Notice the different things that are highlighted.

Exercise: Problem, Solution (Outcome), and Direction Frames

1. Consider a specific problematic situation.
2. Consider the situation for three minutes in each of the following frames, writing down your responses.

  • a. The problem
    b. The solution
    c. The direction.

3. Now compare them.
4. Now combine them. From the feeling of the direction, feel what you are moving away from and towards. Simultaneously.


I constructed well-formed conditions for the away and towards. For example they should be of the same logical type and level. So moving away from loneliness toward eating chocolate would not be well formed in terms of type of things involved. What would be well formed and useful would be to separate the two directions of “hunger towards eating (with chocolate as one behavioural option)” and “loneliness towards company” and then check if they were acceptable to the client.


At this time (1987) I was also familiar with the work of Bateson and some of his former research team including the book ‘Change’ (Watzlawick et. al.). In this highly recommended book they highlight the difficulties in establishing the best form of change and that the attempted solution may be the problem. For example a couple that always talk about their relationship problems of being disconnected could be maintaining this ‘problem’ situation by the way they do so.


In the early 90’s I was working with a colleague with the managing director and board of directors of a large car manufacturing company where a difficulty of this type was evident. The company was in a process of change and the managing director was really keen for his management team to be with him through the change. He was constantly emphasising WHY they should change and was getting increasingly frustrated that they kept talking about things such as what the change would mean, HOW would they make it happen, WHAT would it cost and so on. Because they were not talking in the same way as he was he felt that they were not fully agreeing with him.
From the observers point of view it was clear that they were very much with him, so much so that they had already moved on to debate how to make the changes and what exactly they should change. I designed a model for them to use in their meetings that allowed them to separate the different issues of WHAT, HOW and WHY. Initially the model can be used sequentially as a planning tool. After a little practice it becomes a mapping tool to understand ”where” someone is attending from.


Exercise: Problem Solving Planning

In this exercise it is important to keep within the particular frames as much as possible. After the sequence it is interesting to compare the different frames and how it felt to shift between them. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish one of them. It is often the “How will it be solved” frame that is difficult. This happens because we sometimes jump too quickly from “Why” to “What” can I do about it. Taking the time to think about “How” generally it can be solved is excellent for creating options and as a basis for selecting a more effective plan for “What” to do.
If you explore an outcome that you have already chosen you may be very surprised to discover just how much it changes when you explore it using this model.



Tracking Problems and Solutions

I continued to model problems and outcomes. In reviewing the holiday example above I realised that that higher levels benefits could be re-modelled in terms of sequences of problem solving.
In the holiday example above, the holiday is the presenting problem (Do you know anywhere good to go on holiday?). It is also a solution to the problem of getting away from work. Getting away from work is a solution for the problem of relaxation. Relaxation in turn is a solution to coping better at work. So each middle solution becomes the next problem to solve. At the beginning of the sequence there will be what I came to call a “core problem”. Core problems are the result of our normal stability being disrupted either through a challenge or through a new aspiration.
It is worth highlighting that an overemphasis on problems or solutions separate from each other will only be dealing with part of the situation and will be less likely to be meeting the clients deeper needs. A solution focussed therapy, for example, is in danger of being superficial and only dealing with the initial ‘solutions’. There cannot be a solution without a problem and how do you know if you have the most useful solution and just as importantly the most accurately formed problem?

 Exercise: Problems and Solutions


Emergent Outcomes

Further modelling revealed a major limitation in the outcome approach. There are other types of outcomes than the sensory outcomes with which the WFO deals.


Happiness, meaningfulness, joy and love are all examples of outcomes that most people want to gain but they are not suitable for the WFO model. They are not directions. They are not abstract outcomes that could be reduced to sensory specific level by meta model questioning. They are what in DBM we call emergent outcomes.


The difficulty in planning for emergent outcomes is not because they are at different levels of abstraction. The influence of General Semantics on NLP has been very useful but also limiting. A limitation that has permeated NLP has been the acceptance of the General Semantic over-emphasis on abstraction as the single process that connects sensory detail with general representation. This has distracted many people in NLP from noticing other ways that we connect our experience of the world. General Semantics has influenced my work but I am very sensitive now to the trap of limited vision. Abstraction is one way we move from “Bessie the cow”, to cow, to cows, to animals and so on. We also connect specific to general by generalisation and definition. As humans we also conceptualise which is a totally different process. NLP and General Semantics have overlooked this.
Emergent outcomes are related to sensory outcomes in the way that the square is related to the circles below.


We can optimise the seeing of a square by how we arrange the circles but we cannot guarantee it. If we apply the meta model to the viewing of this figure and request sensory verifiable evidence of what is there then the figure will be reduced to circles as the ‘square’ is not verifiable on the paper but is a gestalt or emergent figure. As I outlined in Article Two of this series, the meta model is not appropriate for such structures.


Another outcome that is especially important in education is the learning of concepts. Concepts are another emergent type structure that does not reduce to sensory evidence.


So although the WFO is ideal for sensory specific outcomes emergent and conceptual outcomes operate differently. Although we cannot make emergent and conceptual outcomes happen directly we can do something to make them more likely to happen.


The processes of gardening and cooking offer useful insights in relation to emergent outcomes. I like to garden and to cook. I can easily say that I grow flowers and I cook bread – this sounds reasonable. Many inaccurate statements sound reasonable. I do not actually do the growing of the flowers or the actual heating and changes in the structure of the dough. All that I do is organise the conditions for the process to be successful. The processes of growing and baking are only influenced by what I do; they are not directly caused by me. This is the same in the therapeutic process although when we use techniques there is more of an illusion that we are causing the change. The illusion of power here is an appeal to many and one that sadly is promoted in some NLP advertising.


The setting of the conditions is in itself a skill and as such there are benefits gained from effective planning and forming achievable outcomes. In further modelling of these emergent outcomes I created a model that covers sensory outcomes, directions and emergent outcomes.

Immanence, Emergence and Transcendence

We can add even more precision to our emergent outcomes work and to outcomes and directions through another DBM model that outlines the three stages in anything that comes into being.

A loaf of bread is a specific outcome. If we want a loaf of bread to emerge from the oven we need to optimise the conditions and facilitate a number of necessary processes.

  1. Firstly we need to get the ingredients. If we buy flour we are more prepared than if we had bought whole grains. The more preparation the closer we are to the bread emerging. When we are preparing we still don’t have a loaf of bread but it is obvious that having flour is closer than whole grains. I use an old fashioned word that describes this difference. When we have flour we have an increase in immanence. Immanence is the potential of something within something else. It has traditionally been used in relation to spiritual concerns but it describes a very important condition that is difficult to label otherwise. This allows us to plan to increase the immanence and to legitimately enjoy the feeling of achievement as we get closer.
  2. Once we have established optimal immanence then we wait for the emergence. Once the dough is ready and it is in the oven and the oven is at the correct temperature we wait. Emergence requires attention. We need to stop the emergence at the required point. Emergence is ongoing. A burnt loaf will emerge if we wait too long. In this stage monitoring is crucial.
  3. When we stop the emergence we are stabilising a change. We are selecting a new structure instead of the old one. Again I have used an old term that best describes this process; transcendence. A loaf of bread is a transcended state of wheat. In this stage the timing is important. The bread will continue to change. The concrete example of bread can provide very useful insights into the processes when the content is of a higher nature. Reports of states of enlightenment commonly mention the brevity of the experience. The process of transcending once stopped is no longer transcending. This is what happens when we stop the emergence. If we stabilise the experience we will stop the process. So it would seem that transcendent experiences such as enlightenment require to be done constantly, just as we need to keep making our daily bread (or at least getting it from the shops).

These processes together with sensory outcomes, direction, and emergent outcomes complete a very useful model for modelling and planning.


Reason – Do – Purpose

“Man would rather have the void as purpose than be void of purpose.”

I continued to explore the outcome work and the problem and solution sequences in order to identify more precisely how they worked. This proved to be very fruitful and I created another model as a result of my investigating.


When we are working toward an outcome we are doing something to achieve some purpose, the outcome. This sequence of attending from our present ‘doing’ towards the future outcome occupies our attention with the result that it is easy to forget or to lose contact with the original reason for doing what we are doing. We drive ourselves forward; and as in the quote above any purpose is better than none!


This explains in additional detail why in the holiday example the plan to go on holiday is not checked against the original reason. When we lose connection with our reasons we are not in a position to choose what is best for us. This is why so many outcomes can fail to achieve what we really need. What is it that we really need though? This question cannot be answered within the outcome frame. Why are we creating outcomes? To answer this we need to move away from these specific models and explore planning in a more holistic fashion. This is what I will outline in the next part of the article.


Part Two: Modelling Needs, Problem Solving and Outcomes

“Everybody wants to be somebody, nobody wants to grow.”

How do we successfully and usefully get things done? If we only take ‘successfully’ or ‘usefully’ in isolation our answers will be limited and possibly unecological.


In planning we are using our model of the world to predict events and to organise appropriate behaviours to meet needs, wants and desires. A number of important issues and questions can be formulated.


What are we assuming about the world and ourselves?
How accurate are our predictions?
How well will our predicted plan work?
What alternatives are there?
How well formed are our needs, wants and desires?
What else could we be doing?
Could we optimise our plan to include other needs, wants and desires?
What are the larger implications of doing/ not doing?
What is our understanding of causation and transition?
How do we plan?
How do we implement a plan?
How do we succeed?
What then?


In DBM we have a model that we use as a basis of answering these and other questions through modelling.Responsible Planning ModelWe are constantly interacting with the world. We need to maintain a healthy flow through life. We need to keep an up to date connection with the world.



  1. We are constantly interacting with the world. We need to maintain a healthy flow through life. We need to keep an up to date connection with the world.
  2. If there are any disruptions to the flow through a problem or an aspiration then we need to identify it. This is usually a feeling; feeling what is important. The more sensitive we are the easier we will identify which specific aspect is upset.
  3. If we know why we are upset then this will be an effective basis for further action.
  4. We need to formulate an appropriate response; how best to respond.
  5. We then need to detail this in an action plan that is realistic and relevant to our whole life. This means connecting specific sensory outcomes with directions and higher emergent outcomes and life goals.
  6. Then we need to make it work. This involves managing what is planned, monitoring the effectiveness, and flexibly adapting. If the plan is committed to then it will become a new structural alignment (new stage 1) that will initiate the sequence and so continue the developing of a living planning achieving life skill.
  7. Finally we need to realise when we have completed. This involves a degree of relativity; deciding on the appropriate levels of quality and quantity that will signify completion.


When completed successfully we will be back at 1., the ongoing flow. If there are still some things missing then the sequence will operate again.


Responsible Planning Model


AligningThatFlow of ExperienceReactivityInteracting in the world
2.Well FoundIdentifyingWhichSelective AttentionSensitivityPrioritising Needs, wants and like
3.Well FeltKnowingWhyFully UnderstandConnectivityWhy Things are Happening
4.Well FormulatedCreatingHowUnique response for unique situationCreativityThe most useful response:
5.Well FormedPlanningWhatRealistic and PracticalActivityOutcome
6.Well FunctioningMonitoringWhatAdaptable and HolisticProductivityImplementing Achieving
7.Well FinishedConcludingThatQuantity and QualityRelativityRealising Recognising Deciding

This model can be used as an effective planning tool and as a model to use in modelling planning. There are DBM models for each of the stages. We covered some for stage 5 in the first part of this article. The WFO is a part of stage 5. The NLP directive to “have a fixed goal and variable means of getting there and the sensory acuity to notice that you have achieved it” is a combination of aspects of 5, 6, and 7. You will recognise that this directive does not ensure that the goals are worthwhile or any of the other important considerations involved in the whole process. All fields have directives like this. The directives seldom include ‘why’ they should be followed. Why certain models are used is not decided within the model but through the methodology of specific field. The outcomes of fields themselves differ and it is to these differences that I would now like to turn your attention.

Part Three: Modelling and the goals of NLP and DBM

“Mankind as a whole has no goals”.

Mankind as a whole has no goal but groups of specific people do. Fields of study have goals and specific people decide the specific goals. The goals and outcomes of NLP and DBM are different.
Professionally I have benefited from a personal interest in gardening. About twenty years ago I began to garden using organic principles. My understanding of the individuals, families and communities I worked with assisted this personal interest. I appreciated that the relationships of certain plants were important, that the environmental conditions were necessary for healthy development. As I attended different types of training and read many books I began to realise that the outcomes of the different types of gardening, inorganic and organic, were like different types of therapy.
The main goals of inorganic gardening are to feed the plants, get the final outcome, the final product. The strength of this approach is in the big final product. The weakness of the approach is that the final products are often tasteless and the plants require lots of external resources to be sustained.
The main goals of organic gardening are to create the optimal conditions for healthy plants. The strength of this approach is its promotion of health and quality of both the products and the environment, its ecology and sustainability. The weakness is that it requires more skills and time.
I came to feel that a healthy approach to therapy should be an organic one.


The goals and outcomes of NLP

NLP, the product of modelling, is a set of tools, models, skills and techniques whose stated therapeutic outcome is to assist clients to establish a desired state (DS) by applying resources (R) to a problem state (PS). Another outcome in some training courses is the creation of maps or models using the strategies model. These “modelling projects” as they are called also make use of other models and are a fill-in for the lack of an explicit modelling methodology in NLP.
NLP, when used as techniques to remedy specific problems, is fundamentally an inorganic approach.
NLP has no explicit modelling methodology. It is very much centred on the NLP practitioner being the expert and applying this expertise to add “resources” (R) to the “problem state” (PS) of the client to obtain the clients “desired state” (DS).
In practice NLP operates mainly through the application of information gathering and outcome-setting models and then through the application of techniques.
The NLP model of change and my re-modelling of change will be the subject of my next article.


Areas of OperationOutcomes and goalsComment
ModellingTo create modelsThere is no explicit modelling methodology in NLP
ModelsTo Organise specific information and experiences
To create maps of specific behavioural skills (modelling projects) using models, especially the NLP strategies model
The main models include the Meta Model, VAKOG,
(See my last article for the remodelling of the basic structures)
TechniquesTo make specific changes to specific problemPre-arranged responses for a limited range of problems using the change model of
P.S. + R -> DS


The goals and outcomes of DBM

DBM began in the late 80’s as a modelling methodology for NLP. It has since then grown extensively to cover many areas not covered by NLP. The outcomes and goals of DBM are very different from those of NLP. It is different in terms of client work with respect to change models, the structure of client sessions and the goals and outcomes for the client.


DBM is designed to truly meet clients at their model.
DBM as a modelling methodology is applied in therapy and change as Systemic Counselling and Consultancy. A modelling methodology is used to “model” the clients “modelling”.


Outcomes are generated in all areas of DBM and applied to the clients subjective processing as summarised in the table below.
DBM is fundamentally an organic approach to therapy.

Areas of Operation

Outcomes and goalsComment
Modelling ModellingIdentify the clients modelling of their modelling.
Assist client to improve their modelling of their modelling.
Deep insight into their own processing. Not the main priority but very important. This is the basis for self-supervision training.
ModellingIdentify the clients modelling.
Assist client to improve their modelling.
This is the main priority for intervention.
Some teaching is usually required.
ModelIdentify the client’s model.
Assist client to improve their model.
This is the second priority for intervention.
Some training is often required.
Modelling ToolsIdentify which tools the client uses.
Add other tools; Assist client to improve their use and choice of tools.
Additional thinking and feeling tools offer more options. Selecting the most appropriate tools is an important skill.
Operationalising ModelIdentify how the client is operationalising their model.
Assist client to improve their operationalising.
Mainly used within other applications, occasionally the main intervention. Coaching is the main approach.
Applying ModelsIdentify how the client applies their model.
Assist client to improve their application.
DBM is applied both as a remedial model and more often as a generative model. Therapy and counselling is the main approach.
TechniquesIdentify any repetitive patterns used by the client.
Assist clients to be more adaptable and flexible.
A minor area of DBM.
Only used as examples of patterns and in some of the teaching and coaching roles above.

Once we have our outcomes and directions the next question is how to do it? This will involve change. In my next article I will cover the area of change.


Concluding comments


The desire to learn and practice a developmental approach that was ecological and sustainable sparked my interest in NLP twenty years ago. It has also been my goal with DBM. We all begin to garden with the soil we have. We can improve the quality of the soil and the environment. It does take time to achieve if our aspirations are high. The goal is not just to achieve our outcomes but also to enjoy the process of getting there – enjoying living.
DBM is a registered trademark.


Cameron-Bandler, Leslie, Solutions: Enhancing Love, Sex, and Relationship. FuturePace 1985
Watzlawick, Paul Ph.D.; Weakland, John H., Ch.E. and Fisch, Richard M.D.
Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, Norton 1974

John McWhirter can be contacted at:
Sensory Systems Training
162 Queens Drive
Queens Park
Glasgow G42 8QN
Phone: 0141 424 4177
Fax: 0141 424 4199