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“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”   ~ J.K. ROWLING, speech to Harvard Alumni Association, 2008

The last few tips have generated many requests that we expand more on the topic: the persona of results. If you remember, we have been reflecting on the archetypal ‘personas’ that govern all you do…

This week we will continue with our story of the Quest for the Holy Grail, by focussing on the Wizard Merlin.

Merlin is known by most Western adults. His name and the image popularized in Disneyian fantasy of the robed Wizard with conical hat and magic wand are known even by most children. This makes Merlin the icon of “magician” for our culture and gives us the opportunity to learn more about the nature of magic as we study a figure that continues to enchant us.

Scholars differ in their opinions about the extent to which the Merlin stories that have endured are based on an historical figure. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote the original Knights of the Round Table stories, Merlin’s influence began when he was aged 7. He was brought before King Vortigem, who had been told that the walls of his tower, which kept collapsing, would stand firm if their mortar was mixed with the blood of a fatherless boy. Merlin was fatherless, but was able to save himself when he used his clairvoyant powers to tell the King that if he dug beneath the tower he would find the true cause of the tower’s instability: two dragons, one red, one white (symbolizing the struggle of opposites) fighting. In this tale, Merlin represents the wise child who has the ability to see beneath the surface and diagnose the roots of a problem that cannot or will not be seen on the surface. With this ability, he is able to transform situations.

Merlin represents your magician or wizard: the part of you, your team or your company that acts to open up opportunities and root out success.

How? “Merlin sees beneath the surface to diagnose the roots of a problem…”

And he uses a very simple tool to do this: the meta-model, which offers the ability to discern deletion, distortion and generalization. Its originators’ Richard Bandler and John Grinder often refer to this tool as the ‘structure of magic’ because when it is used ‘magic’ seems to result.

  • Deletions happen when you omit parts of an experience
  • Distortions are when you modify the description of an experience
  • Generalizations occur when you make general conclusions about an experience


At the risk of simplifying a little too much lets look at this a bit further. The meta-model operates on a number of basic premises:

  1. We do not perceive the world in which we live directly. Rather we create models or maps of the world and use them to guide our behaviour. These maps differ from the territory they represent because of three universal human processes: deletion, distortion and generalization.
  2. People in all walks of life block themselves from seeing options or possibilities open to them because these options do not exist in their map of the world.
  3. The magicians in your organisation have the ability to enable clients to change how they represent their experience and open them to new possibilities. (This is the essence of the sales process when done effectively; it is also the basic process behind innovation and product development)
  4. These magicians use words and questions to challenge the surface structure (words or stated experiences) in order to get to the deep structure (beliefs, strategies, memories, values).
  5. When the deep structure of experience is challenged, new possibilities and opportunities emerge.

Bob is an example of one such organisational magician, who sells insurance to the general public. He does not know exactly how he gets the results he does, but it seems to have a lot to do with the structure of magic.

Client to Bob: “I want a change”.

This is an example of deletion. The traditional sales response would be to say: Oh OK let me tell you about my product. Because Bob is a magician, he knows that the statement is purely surface structure and to make magic he needs to identify the deep structure. So he probes:

“What change specifically?”

Client: “Well I need to change my health insurance”

Again the temptation for Bob is to jump in and sell his insurance product. But he realises that this is an example of distortion and challenges it gently:

“What is urging you to change your health insurance?”

Client: “I am paying too much each month and it is not right.”

At this point, Bob knows that he has a possible fee objection that he needs to deal with at a deep level. So he probes further.

“What makes you think that what you are paying is too much?”

Client: “Well, I pay all this money and they won’t even cover my prescriptions.”

Bob: “What is important to you about making sure your prescriptions are covered?”

Client: “I have some ongoing medication each month and I want to find a medical insurance that will cover that for me.”

Bob realises that he might have a way forward even though his insurance product could be more expensive than the client expects. So he probes even further.

Bob: “What would that do for you?”

Client: “I would feel as if I was getting something back for all the money I pay out each month.”

Bob: “So getting something back is important to you? If I could show you a health insurance product that is focused on your getting something back each month, would you be interested?”

Although this is a simplified and very limited example of how such magicians work it does illustrate their very basic formula that can be applied anywhere anytime:

By using words such as who, what, how or when, they probe the surface structure desires to find the deep needs beneath. And then they seek out and offer solutions to these deep needs.

Simple? Of course! Its magic!

What can you do to develop your own inner magician this week? And how can you grow your organisational magicians to generate even more of what is already possible?

© Anne Fuller-Good
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