Martin Messier

July 24, 2023

The magical tip of the deep structure of genius

When Bandler and Grinder published The Structure of Magic in 1975, the title itself suggested that the incredible has an underlying structure. Those able to tap into that structure would instantly acquire the same super powers as the "magicians" themselves.

Let's take a closer look at the notions of "magic" and "underlying structure," shall we?

Surface structure vs deep structure

As a linguist, Grinder knew Noam Chomsky's transformational grammar very well. He was quick to import many distinctions from the field into NLP quite early on as a tool to model people's language.

A key tenet of transformational grammar is that outward expressions, utterances, and behaviors are "surface structures" that manifest or emerge from "deep structures".

In the case of the therapeutic wizards that Bandler and Grinder modeled, Perls and Satir, the questions they asked — the magic — was the surface structure. These questions emerged from an understanding, a comprehension, a fundamental intuition — the deep structure.

A single deep structure can give rise to multiple surface structures. This is very important to know when you're modeling because it means you have to access multiple examples of surface structures in order to identify the deep structure from which they emerge. Surface structures express and reflect many important clues about the deep structure.

Let me give you three examples of this.

When you were a child, you learned to write using one of your two hands. Surprisingly enough, once your hand had mastered this ability, you could immediately apply it with a different body part. For example, you can probably write your name holding a pencil in your mouth. Or, you can make out the letters of your name using one of your feet. The deep structure of your name isn't confined to your hand. You can express it using almost any body part.

If you want to model Steve Jobs' skill at presenting product launch events, you should procure several examples of his product launches in order to identify the deep structure. A single product launch will probably not allow you to get to it.

Image Credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

When I developed Meta Model Mastery, I illuminated the deep structure behind the key Meta Model questions so that my students could create any number of questions — or surface structures — from that deep structure. Whereas most NLP students struggle to memorize and deploy the 25+ Meta Model questions, my students only have to learn 5 patterns and then they can not only deploy the 25+ questions but even come up with as many new ones as they wish.

That's the power of tapping into the deep structure!

Cities vs maps

Here's an analogy to help you understand the relationship between deep structure and surface structure: cities and maps. A city is a rich, deep structure that contains many layers of information. When creating a map of a city, the mapmaker has to simplify the city by choosing which layer (s)he wants to express. A mapmaker could create a road map, a topographical map, a thermal map, a physical map, and so on. Each of these maps is a partial expression of the deep structure.

The big challenge you face when modeling is that you have to select which piece of the deep structure you will include in the model. It's also likely you'll have to distort those pieces to make it fit the model. For instance, a map of the Earth is presented on a flat surface even though the Earth is spherical — a blatant distortion.

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Language as a surface structure

When we speak, we have to select what pieces of the deep structure (the mental images, sounds, physical sensations, smells and tastes we perceive, experience or recall) will make it into the surface structure (the words, gestures, or facial expressions we choose to represent our experience). What we say is only a partial expression of our experience. 

People's deep structure consists of sensory and emotional experiences — or "primary experience." Language is "secondary experience" — that is, a part of our model of the world that is generated and expressed from our primary experience. 

People who seek therapy generally do so because they have selected a layer of reality that has resulted in a disempowering map. Now, they are navigating reality in a way that makes them feel bad.

Bandler and Grinder developed the Meta Model as a systematic approach to help people work with the surface structure of their language and reconnect with their deep structure in order to generate new and more empowering surface structures, or maps of reality.

This fundamental principle is the reason why we can't simply ask outstanding performers to tell us how they do what they do. What they say will only be a partial expression of their experience, and it's unlikely that they'll know to select the most meaningful parts.

The goal of NLP Modeling is to build as useful a description of the deep structure as possible so that anyone can embody it and begin deriving similar surface structures as those of the outstanding performer.

In other words, if you model Steve Jobs's product launch presentation skill effectively, you will build a useful description of its deep structure. With that deep structure in hand, you should be able to derive product launch presentations of a comparable quality to is.

NLP Modeling is the attempt to identify the patterns of deep structure that generate the surface structure expressions of genius.

You get to experience all of this in depth in the Modeling Experience.

For now, simply start noticing everything that you say and everything you hear others say as surface structures, partial expression of a deeper, more complex and complete reality.

:: Surface structures manifest from deep structures.

:: Surface structures are partial expressions of deep structures.

  • This makes a lot of sense to me and puts learning about the Meta Models in NLP in context

    I like the practical examples too

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