Recently I had a ‘Core Process‘ session with Nick Heap, which was interesting, inspiring, and I’m still thinking about it. This article aims to say about about what Core Process is, its parallels with Appreciative Inquiry and other approaches, and to explore a bit what my own core process is about.
What is ‘Core Process’?
‘Core Process’ is a method created around 1970 by Chris Bull, Robin Coates and Calvin Germain to help individuals to find their own core mission (it’s not to be confused with Core Process Psychotherapy, which as far as I can tell is a different approach based on mindfulness and influenced by Buddhist teachings).
Nowadays, Nick seems to be the leading practitioner and champion of the Core Process approach. He has a number of articles explaining the process on his website which go into a lot more depth than I can here.
The positive centre of each individual is unique. As that person goes through life she/he will find situations in which everything goes well. Then the core process is operating freely. The core process is consistent through time for an individual. The life/job that will best suit a person is consistent with the core process.
Your core process shows you what you are here on the planet to do.– Nick Heap, Core Process – Appreciating Who You Are
How It Works
Working with a facilitator, you describe three or four peak experiences. The facilitator helps you to draw out the feeling and meaning of these experiences. Then, going into more depth on one of the peak experiences, you come up with a list of verbs that describe what you were doing, and nouns that describe what you were doing it with, or to.
Eventually these get refined down into one verb/noun phrase that identifies your core process – your ‘positive centre’ that is profoundly meaningful to you and which you can use as a guide to living and working at your best. Mine was ‘Inspiring Realisation’.
The whole process took about an hour, maybe a bit less.
Reflections on the Process
I could hardly miss that the investigation of a peak experience parallels the Discovery stage of Appreciative Inquiry – something that Nick, as an Appreciative Inquiry practitioner among other things, acknowledges.
This isn’t to say that it derives from Appreciative Inquiry – its early seventies origin predates that approach by around 15 years. It’s more a case of parallel evolution, where living organisms (or ideas) start out from different ancestors but evolve in response to their environment so they end up looking like each other, even though they’re not genetically related – like storks and cranes, for example.
Similarly, the core process phrase that’s the end result could be thought of as akin to Appreciative Inquiry’s ‘provocative proposition’.
It’s also reminiscent, perhaps, of something up around the Spiritual or maybe Identity level of NLP’s ‘Logical Levels’ model – although there’s a ‘Core Process 2‘ (that I haven’t investigated) that seems to expand upwards to higher levels of abstraction from the Core Process statement, as well as down into the ‘how to’ details.
And if you’re wondering what might be the parallel to the ‘affirmative topic‘ that an Appreciative Inquiry process starts with, I guess it’s implicit and the same every time, along the lines of ‘discovering your core process’.
Reflections on My Own Core Process
During my Core Process session with Nick I don’t recall describing three or four peak experiences – we jumped straight to the in-depth investigation of a single experience. This might have been because I found it so easy to identify the one I wanted to explore, because I was still buzzing about it.
The experience that I chose – or perhaps it chose me, as it was still at the forefront of my mind – was a Practical Appreciative Inquiry training course that I had run for a group clinicians, educators and managers at an NHS trust in the UK (if you’re outside the UK, think ‘hospital staff’).
It was the first face-to-face training I had run for about four years, and it had gone spectacularly well. They were a great group to work with, and I felt like I was at the top of my game. In fact the evaluation results might just have come back when we did the Core Process session – they were so good I wrote about them here. So choosing the peak experience to explore was a no-brainer.
As I told Nick about the experience, I began to feel similar emotions to those I felt at the time – a kind of controlled excitement, centred, elevated, and a slightly hightened sense of awareness (it’s pretty standard in appreciative interviews for the interviewee to re-access some of the same emotions they experienced in the actual event).
As I thought about how I had interacted with the training participants, and what they got from trying out Appreciative Inquiry, the verbs that came to me were words like ‘inspiring’, ‘revealing’, ‘releasing’, and ‘kindling’. The nouns included ‘realisation’, ‘awareness’, ‘connection’, and ‘elevation’.
As we focused in further to choose one of these verbs and nouns in particular (or a new one in each category that sums them all up), I settled on ‘inspiring realisation’.
As I thought about these words, I realised that each is rich with multiple meanings. Like all abstract concepts, realisation is what philosophers describe as ‘open textured‘ (a fancy way of saying that it can mean different things to different people, or in different contexts).
‘Realisation’ can mean ‘the moment (or process) of becoming fully aware of something’; it can also mean ‘the act of bringing something (e.g. a plan or vision’ into reality’. Both the awareness and the making real are often, perhaps usually, the results of Appreciative Inquiry – it’s certainly what I’m aiming for when I train or facilitate the approach.
‘Inspiring’ also has multiple meanings. Originally having the meaning ‘to breathe life into’, now ‘inspire’ can have the following meanings according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:
- to spur on (I prefer ‘to motivate’ as there’s not really any pain involved in Appreciative Inquiry – the motivation is far more ‘towards’ than ‘away from’)
- to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on
- to affect, in the sense of bringing about an emotion or state
- to bring about
- to draw forth or bring out
- and to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration (this would be a bit of an overclaim for my work, I think)
Additionally, like the ‘-ing’ form of any verb, ‘inspiring’ also works as an adjective.
All in all, I’m happy with that as a description of my core process. It describes what’s happening when things are at their best for me, it gives me energy and motivation, and I believe it will act as a guide when taking decisions in future.
I may well look into Core Process further, as it fits so nicely with Appreciative Inquiry. If you’re looking to discover your own core process, you’re probably better off going to Nick rather than me for the moment, as he’s the one with the experience. There are lots of resources about it (and much else besides) on his website.