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bodies, the glazed eyes, the flashing lights, and the juddering and screaming of the machines suggests something from Terminator 2 that was left on the cutting room floor. I am in the games arcade underneath the Cocoanut Grove building in Santa Cruz, California, the hallowed home of NLP. Above me in the huge ballroom and seminar room, the 1997 Visionary Leadership Conference takes a break. One hundred and sixty NLP trainers from twenty six countries around the world have come here to celebrate twenty one years of NLP, and to peer into the future, even to try to create a future for the next millenium. How successful will we be? Where are we now and where are we going? I am playing the video game Terminator two in the arcade, my idea of relaxation, shooting down cyborgs, destroying hunter killers and helping the human resistance to defeat the machines. I run out of tokens. Back to creating the future. Monday 16th June I arrive at San Francisco International Airport in the early afternoon according to the clock on the wall, but my body tells me its late evening. Immediately I meet a friend, Viktoria from Vienna and we talk until the airporter bus arrives to take me across the mountains to Santa Cruz. Bumping along highway 17 through the Santa Cruz mountains I imagine what it must have been like here in 1976 when NLP started, where an associate professor of linguistics and a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz began a discipline that has now spread throughout the world. Then it was brash, confident, iconoclastic, like an adolescent that needs to assert his identity against those entrenched and respectable psychologies that surrounded him like stuffy, established adults. Now NLP is twenty one years old, with all the adult privileges, and perhaps it no longer needs to attack others to establish its identity. This conference could be a recognition of adult responsibilities, a rite de passage into maturity. I check into my hotel, I know I am in America because the receptionist is friendly, helpful and patient above and beyond the call of duty. I unpack and walk down to the beach. Santa Cruz seems deserted. Few pedestrians, but that is normal in American cities, where police regard you with suspicion if you are out walking. I am surprised at the absence of cars. There are some of the big yellow taxis on the streets that I will come to know well in the next few days. The freeways were more crowded than this city. The Cocoanut Grove is a huge yellow building backing onto the beach. It looks from the outside like an old cinema that has been converted to a large multiplex, blown up out of all proportion. It has a health warning beside the door that tells me the state of California has ascertained that this building contains materials that are hazardous to health. Nothing personal, many public building have these warnings. This is the doorway where the small contingent of smokers will congregate during the breaks in the conference, the Cocoanut Grove is a no smoking zone. I climb the stairs, taking me safely above the
First. This is a subjective map and not a cartographic one. In one corner the stage is there for the marimba band this evening. Can the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Santa Cruz cause a storm in Brazil? Or England? Small movements can have great consequences if the time and place are right. tables ring the room set up with books and materials. Suzi Smith and Lara Ewing are our hosts on stage. Judith DeLozier. excited buzz of anticipation that fades just out of earshot when the proceedings start. we arrange ourselves by the number of people who are here. Europe spreads out over the other half of the floor. The windows are at the back looking over the Pacific. yet they last only a few days. the time and place seem right. There is a terrific feeling of occasion. moving greeting friends. Some people who have come from countries geographically distant. The conference starts tomorrow. we lack only the exotic masks. 'the witch. that we know. and Australia jostles for room in the south east corner. Most people are hopeful. meeting soon to be friends who are already known from their training. Brightly colored balloons painted with red and gold butterflies float at the sides of the stage. Tim. This is a very special occasion and the leaders make us feel welcome. The seminar room is huge. We face the front of the stage. but arrive too late to contribute to the preliminaries. and that is .chaos of the arcade below. The round. We do some preliminary exercises in the ballroom that lies behind the stage further into centre of the building. Tuesday 17th June The first full day of the conference. The butterflies seems to be the metaphor for the conference. I meet many old friends and make many new ones. or virtual contact through E mail. Tim Hallbom. Next we arrange ourselves in order of how far we think we have traveled to be here. the atmosphere is like a Brazilian carnival. a constant. We mill around and the a pattern finally crystallizes. Everyone is excited. Butterflies are beautiful. Robert introduces the three ladies as. Suzi. the fairy godmother and the sorceress of NLP'. we bunch around the 70% mark. but wisely refuses to say who is who. place themselves very close . Next. Robert Dilts. an extension of the ballroom in the middle of the building. There is an excellent sound system. Then. One end of the semi circle represents none. Robert asks us to form a semi circle based on the degree we believe we will achieve the visions we manifest in the next four days. This is the uncompromising pessimist end. For now. books. and for the rock band booked for Friday evening. we arrange ourselves around the room to represent how far we have come. The other end of the semi circle represents all – the unbounded optimists. and the whole conference is being recorded on videotape. Lara and Judith are sitting. Many hallucinations are being confirmed and dispelled.they feel they have always been here in spirit. crystal chandelier hangs above us and the hundred and sixty people barely fill a tenth of the space. where Robert. There are twenty two states of America represented and America takes a sizeable proportion of the floor in our metaphoric map. interest groups have been formed and most people have dispersed.
Let's create something beautiful instead. Altogether this has been difficult for the organisers. Robert then asks us to change our perceptual position and take another place in the semi circle to find out what that feels like. including John Grinder. The food is excellent. Then there is professional standards and ethics. Clair would be visiting us tomorrow not in the room . That afternoon we move on. Steve Andreas. family and community. As we all return to our seats. We go to a wonderful buffet lunch in the huge room next door. organisational development. How right I was. We begin to make up the fluid forums that will become the special interest groups. it seems better to commit to what I hope will happen rather than what I fear might occur. the light is blinding for a moment. and incongruence start to seep into the open. The mahi mahi has a great sauce that strips the roof off my mouth and makes me afraid to breathe out in case I set fire to the napkin. on the understanding we can move around later. politics and the shadow (these latter two . There is scattered applause. I do not know if they were both asked. All the chosen fields are interrelated and a lot of people would like to be in all of them. There are twenty two of these discussion forums. but we are asked to assign ourselves to one home group. Then I go to the ten percent mark and indulge in feeling a little smug as a committed realist. Certainly I intend to realise three quarters of the dreams I have for this conference. environment. chicken meat and a mahi mahi. media. and it's a relief when it finally comes. one of the local fish with a wonderful firm taste that is a little like haddock but without the oily taste of the North Sea. epistemology and modeling (this also split into three groups). People wander around. Then he says that John Grinder and Carmen St. How do we address the fact that Richard Bandler is suing several individuals. Robert asks that we do not give this conflict more energy than it deserves. It reminds me of a vast greenhouse without the flowers. health has two sub groups.but out on the beach tomorrow evening to give their statement and answer questions. Chris Hall and Lara Ewing? To sweep this under the plush blue carpet would be denial and not leadership. cross cultural relations. research. This is a strange situation . Already NLP trainers are living up to their reputation of keeping options open. and fairness is a quality we need when we are not sure what is right. and I remember thinking this had definite possibilities. there is a difficult present state. As we go in. The tutor showed us the diagram of the funny face with the eyes staring in different directions. The cat is out of the bag. the business group splits into three sub groups. We all hope that this conference will help NLP to heal. We go back to the seminar room and share with different people what brought us to NLP. although I feel this is a little over optimistic. and being internally referenced in deciding what to do. For me it was a seminar on guitar music in 1983. but in the meantime. Arts and creativity is one. communications and networking. There are some skeptics. but no total pessimists. salads. Wyatt Woodsmall asks the question that has been weighing on the minds of all the trainers here.where I am. it has quite enough as it is. the sun streams down through the glass roof onto the tables with their parasols. I experiment by standing with Robert in the middle of the room and feel keenly interested in the whole process.a major NLP conference without either of the founders. who rigorously play fair.
it is the year 2017.seem to be natural bedfellows and the groups merge into one). These groups will be the centres of the visions. low in the sky and almost full. and the education group and the business group. and my internal pictures develop a shadow like an old film on a poor quality video tape.30. it is hard to empower sheep. What was happening twenty years ago? How was that significant? We look back on the present as if it were the past and try and evaluate the significance of what we may be doing. The waiter puts the coffee down and asks me. We have crossed swords in cyberspace in the legendary NLP section of the AI Expert forum on Compuserve. hanging over the water. and Robert and Lara give us some trancy food for thought. but this is hardly the sort visionary leadership we were engaged in. 'Are you with that conference at the Cocoanut grove?' I admit it. human rights and social issues. eggs and a short stack that are waiting at the excellent Beach Street Café opposite the Cocoanut Grove. Imagine. My submodalities start showing fractal interference effects. At this time of the morning I have no idea. rather than be led anywhere. Today. and emerging blinking into the mid afternoon sunlight. because they have their own strong opinions and generally want to do what they want to do. but I can't find the tracking button. It seems too large to be real. I see a luminous moon. and the evening vanishes. Australia at a bar on the beach. Who are the most difficult people to lead? Well sheep can be told what to do. Part Two Wednesday 18th June Summer is officially here. Rex Steven Sykes of IDEA seminars joins me for breakfast. it's a great group. Robert continues mercilessly. Day two starts promptly at 9. plans and strategies that will come from our four days together. they say. so I mumble something about communication skills and we chat until my eggs come. I am drawn towards the media group. for which I owe her a big hug. in 1995. before Alix von Uhde takes me firmly by the arm and steers me into the epistemology group. How do you lead a conference of leaders? How will the conference go? Can there be a structure that is loose enough to allow people freedom to form their visions. and finally spirituality is represented by two groups. The scene looks like an impossible alien landscape from a science fiction film. and clear enough to prevent visionary chaos? The afternoon passes quickly. I enjoy a meal with Jules and Chris Collingwood from Inspiritive. we have a delightful meal together as real people and not virtual protagonists. I wander around completely lost for several minutes between these strange attractors. 'What's this NLP stuff?' he asks. The air is less clammy this morning as I walk down Beach Street. What do we want in 2017? What . The desired state has become the present state from which to evaluate the present state…or something. and it will be no easy task for our hosts to keep us on task and provide some structure that we will actually stay with. propelled by the thought of coffee. Leaders are the most difficult to lead. and the sea mist burns off the front earlier today.
Resist the Disneyfication of NLP! Let's take the Mickey out of the Disney strategy!! Sorry. Before we can say Donald. We spend most of our time round the table today. we circle the subject like hunters. desktop publishing at its most frenetic. I'm OK now. And. Disney in Business. and getting something down on paper is like trying to pin jelly to the wall. looking out over the sea. knowing that we are both hunters and hunted because what we say about epistemology will lay bare our own . Arghh!! I have a confession .questions do we need to ask? What impossible dreams have come true? I feel like putting my head in the iced water machine. wary. The epistemology group is culturally very diverse.a table in the dining room. he will be installed with Perls. and seems darker when it is not being used for lunch. so he is elected to take notes for our group.. It seems to me that if we code our thoughts in existing NLP distinctions we are unlikely to find anything new. The morning flies by after this. and my critic wants to bang both their heads together. Satir. no thank you. sometimes drifting off to find out what other groups are doing. Charles Faulkner has brought his lap top computer. and epistemology is about exploring distinctions. the man is making a posthumous bid to dominate our inner screens as well. with dreamers.I am becoming allergic to the Disney strategy. Many people have brought lap tops . It tried to keep exclusive control of its technology while the open architecture of its rivals won the day.mostly Macs. Robert plans an instant book of the projects and visions at the end of the conference. Is there a lesson for us here? Some groups are organising their visions on the communal computers scattered around the conference room. representing ten countries. My dreamer wants to force feed my realist with magic mushrooms. poorly marketed…no general strategy… tied into niche markets…never went mainstream… lost its lead and was betamaxed by Microsoft. Dumbo and Snow White costumes. The Mac was a great idea… way ahead of its time…began in California…extravagantly praised… very user friendly. I decide to ignore the Disney strategy. At first we get nowhere. The room is quiet and still. I don't want an allergy cure. NLP is becoming a theme park. There is even software available that makes it easy to organise the data in the form of a Disney strategy .we are encouraged to structure our visions around the Disney strategy. There are fifteen of us. We spend most of it in our focus groups. realists and critics wandering around in Goofy. Not content with dominating our outer screens of films and television. the Mac and NLP seem to have an affinity. close to the window. Disney in Leadership. and Erickson. We have an anchor for our discussion .. Disney in health. in the NLP pantheon of gods. Epistemology and modeling seem insubstantial. It's getting everywhere. Our group talks around the topic. My group is large and we talk about modeling and epistemology.
that did not bother the participants because they knew from their professional experience that nothing ever gets settled in the first half of a conference. I would just hate to be hear with a hangover. John distributes his statement and talks about it for about an hour. Yesterday. 'A plague on both your houses!' Most people come out to listen to John. And those that say with Shakespeare. John is very informal. we start jamming like jazz musicians. and Steve and Connirae Andreas are banding together to fight the law suit. and it's good to meet and talk to him again. In half an hour we have a total composition that was fun to create and we think it has value for the wider group too. there some questions. feeling pressure to produce. not many. their complacency stopped them feeling the urgency of the situation. each adding to the idea and something takes shape between us and around us. I haven't seen John for three years. the group assembled about ten minutes after being asked to come back. This morning it was twenty and this afternoon. Queueing up for the wonderful buffet. Suddenly we catch light. Clair is with John. John doesn't try to persuade. the mahi mahi catches my eye again. he tells us that he and Carmen. Chris Hall is taking separate advice. The whole room wakes up. Those that openly support. Our group returns to stalk our epistemological quarry. This was a three day event and halfway through the second day nothing had been settled or achieved. The group divides into three factions. The sun on the white table clothes is blinding. We are determined not fall into the trap that Gregory Bateson described in his story about a conference of conference organisers. Lara. . Unfortunately. and the hum of conversations and clink of the cutlery is louder than life. Those that are unsympathetic and support Richard's position. Robert. I sense that most people have made up their minds on the issue already. The afternoon passes quickly. and immediately the image of the inside of a blast furnace snaps into my mind. grabs you by the shirt and yells in your face. Now it's half past five. the room has the acoustics of the Sydney Opera house. and the conference ended with nothing concrete attained. just put his position. so they never got down to work. after half an hour. ideas start coming. Lara. but. pure theatre without being theatrical. in fact it leaps out of bed. they bow to the inevitable and let us get on with it. so we circle and circle and go to lunch a little frustrated. Tim and Suzi are fighting a losing battle with group time keeping. I chat with George Zee from Hong Kong about NLP in the Far East. The event is reality with attitude. so I stick to fruit and salad. Lara alone of the presenters joins us. We think about how to work with the group process that is emerging while honoring the wider system of the conference and producing something finally that will be of value to everyone. Carmen Bostic St. or are sympathetic to John. Judy. John Grinder is outside on the grass beside the Cocoanut Grove.assumptions. Lunchtime.
so I wander a quarter of a mile to the wharf. We are all being interviewed on video. get the T Shirt. see the video. Drake Zimmerman asks me questions. Only Robert and Judy are here today. It balances patiently. One settles on the ledge opposite me. for dropping it will register on the Richter scale and scare a lot of people. seasoned wood. There are six viewing platforms cut into the floor where you can look down at the huge wooden cross struts washed by the waves under the wharf. Robert. but on a California beach the other neurological levels are very cool. disappointed. housing several specialised fish restaurants. There are many wooden benches to sit on. . If only it could fly all the time. people keep disappearing into a back room. hoping for scraps of food from the open air diners. A little way down on the left I see one dedicated: 'To memory of Todd Epstein' I sit down here and look out to sea. I like California and don't want it to slide into the Pacific. but today there are none. a huge ring binder crammed with nearly 250 multi colored pages. Huge gulls with thick yellow beaks circle below and above the wharf. enjoying the scene. Be there. I've recorded my guest appearance and it's my turn to stumble out looking bewildered. thank you. perfectly free in flight. Friday 20th June The last full day.an incredible amount of NLP information. fathers. but I have nothing to give it. I walk down to the bottom of the wharf to look for the sea lions.Thursday 19th June Today another thirty people have joined us for the second half of the conference 'fresh meat' as Robert says. and I have to buy another suitcase to get it back to England. These are huge as well . it juts out to sea. it's like walking into an open air sardine can.what brings me here? I say the first thing that comes into my head . No more buffet at lunchtime. I walk down the wharf. only to emerge a few minutes later looking bewildered. thank you for all the work you put in…and….it would have been good to have it on disk. The sea lions apparently like to come and lie on them. husbands. dedicated to friends. I carry my manual carefully. The course manual is awesome. mothers and children. . Throughout the afternoon. There will be a videotape of the conference: NLP's Greatest Hits – Santa Cruz 1997. and hops forward awkwardly. just a little out of the water. Which reminds me. some are commemorative. a quarter mile of very old. Then it's my turn. Five minutes later. Robert also shows us the first two volumes of the Encyclopedia of Systemic NLP. memories that are tangible and enduring. but we don't use it at the conference. expecting some food. I'll take it on CD ROM. each looks more like an albatross than a gull. all you ever wanted to know about leadership. many strut on the wooden rails. and stuffed to overflowing. These are the jumbo jets of the gull world. as well as the inevitable tourist shops. gracefully skimming the sea. It needs two hands to carry. and I start back. it has only one foot. The environment is hot. It is good reference material. It flaps its wings and takes off. the right leg ends halfway up. Thursday afternoon is an epistemological blur.to be with friends. The wharf reeks of fish.
Teresa Epstein. Then. chatting on the beach. I need a break. each with a distinct flavour. It seems like we have been here for months and not four days. He thanks us all and particularly those behind the scenes who have done so much to make this conference possible. I particularly remember the Media and Communications group poking gentle fun with a skit on an imaginary NLP switchboard (1-800-NLP-CHAOS) answering (or rather not answering). I suspect the networking. All the groups have five minutes on stage tomorrow to let everyone know what they have been doing. and a rock and roll band at eight o'clock for those that survive the day. customer queries. however not really about leadership. It starts in less than five hours. many are very entertaining. Also the States is no longer the centre of the NLP universe. It will be on the University California. The whole morning is given over to group presentations. Tim and Suzi. She is the 1-800-NLP-CLARITY right now. (1-800-NLP-CLARITY). dealing with the same queries rather more effectively. over a beer. literal and metaphorical for those relationships and visions to form. Lara. in the East. Thank you to Robert. Then…the cake! Happy birthday to NLP. And. even before Robert's final words. All the presentations are collated and everyone receives another huge book with all that material as well. everyone warmly applauds and each member is presented with the beautifully designed NLP Community Leadership Project Certificate. formal conference. Judy. Sympathetic laughter showed we recognised ourselves here. than in the main. and Teresa for providing the space. so I am going to visit some friends in the North Bay area and join the Health conference tomorrow. over lunch. Saturday 21st June The last day.Everyone is getting ready for their presentation tomorrow morning. The brighter the future vision. It's been a good trip. Back to back action. Final thoughts? A wonderful conference. Now the energy is beginning to break up. with twenty one candles. and everyone gets a piece. who organised so well and has been incredibly helpful and knowledgeable throughout. If only one per cent of all the visions that were expressed here come to fruition. There is a lot of good work going on. And perhaps the most important. more tomorrow morning. NLP is changing in its own way in Europe. the larger the shadow it casts. the meetings and the friendships began and strengthened are significant and may be more important than the actual projects. in Australia. that will be substantial and worthwhile. . Santa Cruz campus up on the hill behind the city. NLP is undergoing cultural evolution. I think too that a great deal more went on at the edges. At the end of each group presentation. a networking list of all the participants. twenty one this year! A big birthday cake comes in. by contrast the NLP switchboard of the future. We finish at one o'clock. many more are staying for the NLP and health Conference as I am. and the more chance to stumble in the dark. and that's fine. Also Drake Zimmerman who has so much to make sure the video and audio taping go smoothly. many people are leaving tonight. And then it's over. Every group has its five minutes on stage to give its results.
Joseph O'Connor July 1997 Material about the Visionary Leadership Conference is at the NLP University web site. Individual butterflies are beautiful. we need to renew ourselves. Like them. I am glad I was here to be part of that renewal. Pretty maybe.I have a sense that the conference was dominated by the dreamer. but uncatchable. and I fear many visions will float off into the sky like helium balloons. but many only last a day. and are strong enough to support us when we want to fly. I hope many of the balloons are not pure helium and that they stay anchored to the ground. The Result of Richard Bandler's lawsuit is on the NLP general information server . for they have no firm anchors in the real world.