Robert Dilts, originator of the ‘Logical Levels’ model – photo by Christian Aubry via Wikimedia Commons

The Design phase is sometimes described as “building a bridge from the ‘best of what is’ (revealed, at least in part, in the Discovery stage) to the best of ‘what could be’ (the vision set out in the Dream stage)”. But how to bridge that gap, particularly when the Dream seems far removed from even the best of the current reality?

As we mentioned in the post about using Fishbone Analysis with Appreciative Inquiry, many Appreciative Inquiry textbooks can seem rather vague in supplying actual step-by-step procedures for getting from the Discovered present to the Dream future.

Here is another method you can use for getting from Dream to Delivery – “Logical Levels” of organisation.

This model, originated by NLP author Robert Dilts, posits six levels at which change can occur. These are the levels, with some key questions for each one:

Spirit (Purpose): What are we here for? What are we as an organisation part of that is greater than ourselves?

Identity: Who are we?

Values and Beliefs: What is important to us? What motivates us?

Capabilities: What do we know how to do? What skills do we have?

Behaviour: What are we doing?

Environment: Where do we operate? What is around us?

Dilts suggests that each level organises and influences the ones below it. A change at a lower level may change the levels above, but it is far more likely that change at a higher level will change the levels below it.

  • Our Behaviour acts on our Environment
  • Our Capabilities (skills) govern our Behaviour
  • Our Values and Beliefs determine which of our Capabilities we use
  • Our Identity is supported by our Beliefs and Values
  • Our sense of Purpose and of being part of something more extensive and important than ourselves shapes our Identity.

When we look for connections with the AI model, we see that:

  • ‘Provocative propositions’ are usually statements of Identity and/or Purpose. When they are inspiring, as they should be, they will also resonate with:
  • Values, which are what motivate us as well as our criteria for deciding what is right or wrong, will emerge from questions in the Appreciative Interview: “What’s important about this experience? What do you value about it?”
  • Capabilities and Behaviour are pointed to by questions such as “What is already working? What should we be doing more of?” This level also equates to the new forms of organisation, workflows and processes that are often mentioned as emerging from the Design stage in the AI literature.
  • Environment is what the organisation operates in: customers, other stakeholders, competitors, partners, markets, and regulatory frameworks, as well as physical locations and resources. This is also where we would look for consequences and knock-on effects of our changes.

Each level needs to be aligned with the others – for example, the Behaviours we need to undertake in order to achieve our Purpose and fulfil our Values may require us to expand our Capabilities.

One way of using this model in the Design stage would be to start with the Provocative Proposition (a bit of Appreciative Inquiry jargon to signify a ‘mission statement’ or slogan which sums up the aspirations coming out of the Dream stage, which is meaningful to the people within the organisation or team who have come up with it, and which acts as a ‘stretch’, inspiring people to raise their game and make the Dream a reality) at Identity or Purpose level, and to examine the Behaviours needed to make it a reality.

Or you could start with the Values and work down by asking “What Behaviours do we need to pursue? What Capabilities do we need?” At the same time you could work upwards by asking “Who are we when we truly fulfil these Values?”

As you examine each level in the light of the others, expect more information to emerge at each level. You may find yourself refining the Provocative Proposition in the light of the re-examined Values, or that the Values set expands as you consider the implications of Identity or Behaviours.

When each ‘Logical Level’ of the organisation is aligned with the Provocative Proposition and with the other levels, you have a sound basis for action.


Using the NLP ‘Logical Levels’ model with Appreciative Inquiry

4 thoughts on “Using the NLP ‘Logical Levels’ model with Appreciative Inquiry

  • Hello,
    The article incorrecly describes “Neuro-Logical Levels” as “Logical Levels”.
    Dilts created the former.
    The latter is a separate model of thinking/action found explained in “Whispering in the Wind” quite well.
    Or, you can look them up in Wikipedia.
    It’s an open question whether “Neuro-Logical Levels” is actually NLP.

  • (Warning – this discussion is going to be of interest only to NLP buffs)

    Hello Neil,

    Chris Collingwood, of whom I’m sure you’re aware, has already taken me to task about this on Facebook. My reply to him is below – however, just to reply to your specific point about looking the models up on Wikipedia, the pages for ‘logical levels’ and ‘neurological levels’ have unfortunately both been deleted, so that’s a blind alley.

    Here’s my earlier reply to Chris Collingwood which pretty much addresses your points and saves me typing it all out again:

    I’m aware of the criticisms of the model’s name(s), and of how the ‘levels’ aren’t logical and aren’t really levels – there were articles by Wyatt Woodsmall and Klaus Grochowiak in ‘NLP World’ Vol 6 no. 3 that really took it to pieces.

    However, that’s the name we’re stuck with. The model *is* widely (if erroneously) known as ‘logical levels’ within the NLP community, and Dilts himself seems to use ‘Logical Levels’ and ‘Neuro-Logical Levels’ fairly interchangeably – see this page in his ‘Encyclopedia of Systemic NLP’

    I did call it ‘Neuro-Logical Levels’ when teaching it on my NLP Practitioner courses, and when mentioning it to a predominantly NLP audience.

    However, I didn’t want to call it ‘Neuro-Logical Levels’ in this article aimed at a more general / Appreciative Inquiry audience, because as far as I know there’s no evidence for Dilt’s assertion that the levels relate to different parts of the nervous system (or endocrine and immune systems in some cases). So I would have to explain what the ‘neuro’ meant (not much) to readers interested in Appreciative Inquiry who really couldn’t care less about these quite fine distinctions.

    Plus, no-one outside NLP, and many people inside it (including the ANLP who for better or worse include the model in their required practitioner syllabus), cares if it’s a content model or not, only if it’s a useful one.

    Given the choice between making things unnecessarily complicated for our readers, versus mildly offending the (justifiable) sensibilities of NLP purists, I’ll go for offending the purists every time – and ask your forgiveness.

  • Thanks for replying to the comment- I appreciate the time, and appreciate the detail, but I confess that I genuinely don´t understand.. as to what you would change the name for that Dilts uses and then explain it would be too confusing for an audience?

    My motivation was mostly about making the two thinking processes available to many people- logical levels may not be understood by many people who have been introduced to logical levels. If you know what I mean..

    Then again, we could explain to Dilts that he could change the name himself. And call imagino-logical levels or something like that. I actually think that might be useful. Or behaviour (self) logical levels..


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