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Do You See In, Or Do You See Out The NLP Hierarchy of Ideas Part 1

In NLP there is a little technique called “The Hierarchy of Ideas”. We teach it in every NLP Coaching Practitioner Training. Often overlooked and mostly poorly explained in the average NLP courses, this technique is essential for your capacity to observe and be aware of the bigger picture (or the pattern). In a nutshell “Hierarchy of Ideas” is a technique that shows you how to develop a way of thinking that can easily navigate along the continuum from abstract thinking to specificity or the other way around depending on your momentary needs. Like everything else, both types of thinking can be used in an empowering way for the individual mind or the other way around.

Abstract thinking is used (among other linguistic techniques) in advertising, political campaigns, PR, slogans, as well as in propaganda and mind manipulation. On the good side it is essential in the ability to observe the bigger picture, the hidden “design” behind what’s going on, to negotiate successful deals and reach agreement and to notice similarities behind the apparent differences. It allows you to reach an accurate conclusion – in other words it is the way of connecting the dots.

Specificity allows you to notice details, to specialize in minute differences, to notice those differences, to differentiate in business positioning – as in FastTrak or FastTrack, or to discover the smallest flaws in a product, behaviors or person. It also can lead to nit-picking, indecision, and real trouble in connecting dots. A mind who cannot think abstractly also cannot notice the big picture and is easily manipulated to reach the wrong conclusions.

In this article we will focus on the (in)ability of the average mind to think abstractly.

To put it succinctly, your inability to think abstractly leads to inability to notice and observe big picture patterns. The more specific, narrow and compartmentalized your habitual thinking is, the less you will be able to notice the big picture – what’s really going on in your family, business, work, country, economy, and the world. In other words, you will not be able to see the forest because of the tiny little leaf at the end of a tiny little twig.

In fact, one of our students in Japan shared with us a very interesting system going on in the big corporations. An employee is discouraged and pretty much not allowed to think big picture, unless s/he is part of the upper management or the board of directors. S/he is not allowed to notice the patterns (the real goals/objectives and purposes) ran by the corporation. As a result, normal average employees cannot observe the haystack because all they see is the needle. Some of them only see the hole in the needle.

Somehow, the absolute rule has become the “need to know”. You as an average Joe or Jane have no need to know more than your allocated slot in the cogwheel of society. You are not allowed to know why your life is the way it is, why your health and relationships are the way they are, why your finances seem to dwindle no matter how hard you try, and all this because you’re not educated in big picture or abstract thinking.

Now think of the incredible level of compartmentalization going on in our modern world. Wherever you are, in the US, Europe, Australia, the UK, Canada or elsewhere, you are part of it. There is a systematic requirement of focus only on detailswithout the big picture – in kindergartens, schools, universities, corporations, and of course for all government employees minus a very selected group of elite very top people. This requirement implies a high level of specialization which in turn brings about a lot of diversification. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; however the downside is reflected in people’s inability to think abstractly. All they can see is our proverbial twig, or maybe even less – the veins inside the left hand side of a quarter inch of a leaf. But when this is all your mind can observe and think, you’re missing everything else.

You will have trouble noticing the whole leaf, the twig, the branch, the tree itself and the whole forest. In fact while you’re focused expertly only on the quarter inch on the left hand side of the leaf you may not even know there even is a tree or a forest.

But what about what’s beyond the forest? What about the hills and mountains and then even beyond that, the whole earth and the solar system and the galaxy and the many other hundreds of thousands of other galaxies? They simply do not exist in the narrowly compartmentalized model of thinking who focuses on the upper left hand quarter-inch corner of a leaf.

We will continue this analysis in Part 2 of this article.

Until then be well

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