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Peter Freeth


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NLP is Dead


At least, the market is.

Every market for a product or service goes through a sequence of stages as it emerges, grows, matures and then dies. It doesn’t matter how attached you are to your old vinyl LPs, or your VHS video tapes, or your NLP techniques, their life must come to an end.

First of all, we see the ‘early adopter’ stage. People will buy it because it’s new and different, and they’ll buy it at a premium. DVD players cost over £1,000 when they first came onto the market.

Next, the market matures and we see the ‘mass market’ stage. DVD players fell to around £250 for a good machine, and the market fragmented into ‘budget’, ‘mid-market’ and ‘high end players’, targeting buyers who just wanted a cheap DVD player, or a good brand that they trusted, or a niche, high end player to fit in with their expensive home cinema system. In a mature market, people buy a DVD player because it’s what other people buy. It’s what the shops sell. It’s what the TV tells them to buy.

Next, the market declines as sales reach saturation point. The manufacturers are no longer selling to people who don’t have DVD players, they’re selling to people who are upgrading, or replacing an old machine, or buying one for the kids’ bedroom. Sales decline, so to sustain profits, manufacturers look to push down manufacturing costs and we see prices fall dramatically so that people can afford to buy one for every bedroom, and the kitchen, and the dog’s kennel, and the car.

Falling prices, production costs and quality push the market into the ‘late adopter’ stage. People buy DVD players because they no longer have a choice. Their VHS tapes are all worn out, their friends wedding videos are on DVD and they like the high quality of films they watch at their kids’ houses.

What comes after late adopter? The market is now in sharp decline and reaches the commodity stage. You can now buy a DVD player for less than a DVD. They are becoming disposable. They are being replaced by Blu-Ray players, and players integrated into other things like games consoles. Hard disc recorders, downloadable media and networked hard drives all do the job that DVD players did, but better.

After commodity comes death. The only place you’ll find DVD players soon is car boot sales and museums.

It’s hard to accept the death of a market, because in my lifetime, I saw the rise of CDs, DVDs, mp3s, APS and digital cameras, microwave ovens and a whole host of other innovative products that changed our lives. It’s hard to accept that these markets are in decline because I have personally invested so much in them. Not to mention the fact that, if CDs and DVDs are dead, I must be getting old. Very old.

There is hope, though. When a new technology is first invented, it exists in ‘standalone’ form. A DVD player is a box and all it does is play DVDs. Today, you’re more likely to buy one that’s inside a TV, a computer or a games console. As new technologies evolve, they become integrated into other things to create something that is more useful for the end user.

I first encountered NLP in 1993 when it was in its mass market stage. Paul McKenna was training 400 people in one sitting. NLP was advertised, hyped and embraced by anyone who thought they needed something, but weren’t quite sure what.

Just as the NLP market slipped into the late adopter phase, something came along and killed it. In fact, two things.

The NLP market was in a decline because the market was reaching saturation point. Once you’ve sold someone a NLP Practitioner course, there’s not much else to sell them. NLP Master Practitioner? The political infighting amongst pseudo-certification bodies stripped Master Practitioner of any value by failing to apply consistent standards across the industry. Trainer? A very limited market.

One way that trainers solved this problem is by doing exactly what the DVD player manufacturers did. They pushed down production costs to maintain profits. NLP trainers looked for ways to make money from books, CDs, e-courses, mega-fantastic language sets, workbooks, DVDs, playing cards and whatever else they could think of to brand as a NLP product. From a single trainer’s point of view, it’s the goose that lays the golden egg – passive income. Customers all over the world buying your information products while you’re asleep.

The problem is that this might be fine from an individual trainer’s point of view, but looking across the industry, it is what pushed the NLP market into decline. However, this didn’t kill the market, it just shifted it. Whether trainers did this or not made no difference to the fact that the market was becoming saturated. The main effect was that commodity products provided a low cost entry point for late adopters, as well as something for NLP’s die hard fans to keep spending their hard earned cash on. But even that market is in decline, because there are only so many ways that you can phrase the Meta Model and stick it on playing cards.

Let’s compare NLP to other types of training.

Health and Safety? The government has a law that says that anyone who needs H&S training has to renew it every few years. It’s built in market protection for the training providers. For the student, it might seem inconvenient but it also protects the end user. If you had an accident at work, how safe would you feel if the nominated health & safety officer said, “Ooh... Now let me think, I did my training ten years ago, now what do you do if you suspect spinal damage? Oh yes, give it a good stretch.”

Psychotherapy and counselling? The professional bodies create a barrier to entry, and that makes the training valuable. You pay a membership fee and that gives your clients confidence. Rigorous checks and supervision means that there are quality checks in place. They can’t stop you practising, but they can take away your membership.

If the BMA strikes a doctor from its register, that doctor can of course still get a job, can still practice medicine, just not in any reputable surgery or hospital. I know a doctor who was struck off for fraud and he is now the medical director at a pharmaceutical company.

Unfortunately, Richard Bandler has spent the last 30 years criticising the therapeutic community, amongst other things. He chose to alienate NLP from mainstream therapy, which in the short term lowers the barriers to people coming onto the courses, but in the long term destroys any inherent value. There are no quality standards on Practitioner certification. Regardless of what any trainer, reading this, will plead, there are no quality standards across the market, and regardless of any claims to the contrary, there are enough people who only received certificates for turning up to the training that damage is done to everyone with a certificate.

We criticise people who buy university degrees, but buying a Practitioner certificate is no different, I’m afraid.

So what did kill the NLP market?

Firstly, life coaching. Since NLP had no professional standing, thanks to Bandler’s anti-establishment stance, it was extremely vulnerable to attack to any new product that occupied its target market. And since a large proportion of people on NLP training courses are there, not because they want to learn NLP but because they want to improve their own lives, the marketing hype of life coaching enticed them away. And why would they need to learn both?

Yes, some people did attend life coaching training, find it superficial and ineffective and then seek out NLP training to ‘fill in the gaps’. But they were in the minority.

The life coaching hype was brilliant. The sales model was exactly the same as for pyramid selling franchises, the ones who drop catalogues at your door, selling wonder cleaning products and devices for slicing tomatoes and shelling peas that gather dust at the back of your kitchen cupboard. The websites and brochures featured happy people, standing in front of cars and boats and big houses. Happy people with suntans and pastel coloured slacks. NLP’s advertising featured miserable people who had something wrong with them, and NLP could put it all right.

NLP was for people who knew they had something wrong with them. People who wanted their own lives to be better.

Life coaching was for people whose lives were so fantastic that they could now go and teach other people how to have fantastic lives.

NLP’s market positioning may have been “right”, but it’s generally not what people want to hear.

And of course, another aspect of NLP was growing, quickly. The aspect of influence and seduction. Learn NLP so that you can bend other people to your will. Learn to influence like a Jedi. Learn the power of influence. The magic of influence. Ultimate mind power. Get the life you want. Be rich beyond your wildest dreams. And have more clients and women chasing you than you can shake a stick at.

Is anyone advertising NLP seduction methods for women? Why is that, do you think?

Yes, there may be a market niche for that kind of thing. But it is one more nail in the coffin for NLP, one more reason for a potential customer to not want to be associated with NLP, thank you very much.

The second event that killed NLP?

In late 2008, the British chancellor Alistair Darling announced that the economy was facing its worst crisis for 60 years in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, saying the economic downturn would be more "profound and long-lasting" than previous predictions.

To be fair, anyone in the financial service industry had known what was coming for up to four years previous to this. Banks had collapsed, put up interest rates, withdrawn products, sought government support and all of this was played down in the media, with the government assuring us that it was just a minor hiccup, a temporary problem, but thanks to their wonderful leadership, the economy was still growing, in real terms, and if there was a problem you should blame the Conservatives. But there isn’t a problem, everything’s fine. The problem didn’t really hit the man in the street until the government finally said that there was a problem.

The economic downturn was known either as the ‘credit crunch’, or, more ominously, as the Global Financial Crisis. The government blamed the bankers for being greedy, the bankers blamed the government for not stopping them.

And the ordinary man on the street gazed gloomily through the shop window at the shiny new Blu-Ray player, or digital camera, or iPod, or NLP Practitioner course, and thought, “I can’t afford it. There’s a recession coming.”

Public course bookings nose dived overnight. Students thought, “I’d better keep that £1500 in the bank just in case.” If only they had known that the banks were the last people to trust with their money.

The GFC hit the banks hard. There were redundancies. Lots of redundancies. But walk into any bar or supermarket, and the only real evidence of the problem is the offers of ‘recession specials’, cut price drinks, two main meals for £10, bargain product ranges and DVD players for £15.

Some NLP trainers have followed the same path, I’ve seen a 18 day Practitioner course for £495, and I suspect there are even lower price courses around. I also suspect that a worrying number of course places are being given away, just to make the courses seem more valuable to the few people who are paying heavily discounted rates.

No matter how trainers dress it up, an ‘early bird discount’, a bursary or a special rate for public sector staff means cutting prices to attract students. But price is not the barrier. The barrier is that people out there don’t need NLP. The NLP industry has done nothing to cultivate need, and nothing to protect investment.

What’s going to make me feel better? Spending £1500 on NLP training, or £1500 on a nice holiday? Ah, but a holiday is a temporary fix. Sadly, so is NLP. When people continue to make the same mistakes in life, NLP just puts off the inevitable for a while longer.

The major effect of the GFC is that it was used as an excuse for cost cutting across the economy. Corporate clients cancelled Christmas parties and service contracts, all because of the credit crunch. Staff were offered pay cuts in place of redundancies. Suppliers were offered eye watering price cuts, or face having contracts cancelled altogether.

Where is the NLP market now? You can buy online and distance courses on eBay. 18 day Practitioners for £495. Sales and seduction experts offering to share their secrets of mind power and influence. NLP diluted through absorption into other fields such as coaching and even DHE, which Bandler created himself. Some would say it was a fantastic evolution to the body of knowledge of NLP. Others would say it was a way to get round the trademark and IP dispute that further harmed NLP’s credibility.

Search for a ‘NLP’ job on a major recruitment website and out of 94,130 vacancies, 59 mention NLP. 9 are for corporate trainers, 16 for recruiters, 28 for telesales and 4 for a software engineer – the other kind of NLP.

Search for ‘coaching’? 4468  jobs. Anything from debt collectors and telesales advisors to sales franchises and retail store managers. Everyone’s a coach, these days.

But even the coaching market is following the same trend. Coaching is becoming more and more integrated into management practice as companies see the value of coaching in the workplace but don’t want to employ full time coaches or, worse, expensive external coaches. Similarly, NLP is integrated into so many other activities now, from sales and marketing training to, of course, coaching and other alternative therapies. When knowledge becomes common knowledge, integration is the only way forwards.

The NLP market has had a wonderful 30 year ride, but the fun is over. Falling, inconsistent standards, a failure to protect students’ investment and a failure to protect trainer’s investment from competitive threat have all contributed to its demise.

You might now expect my rallying call, my invitation for all NLP trainers to unite and restore NLP’s honour. Let’s move on from the politics and in-fighting, let’s work together, let’s set up a new licensing body with better quality standards. I’m sorry to say that I have no rallying call, no message of hope for a new dawn of NLP. Maybe the market has evolved, but surely the technology lives on. Surely we can reinvent NLP and remind the world of how wonderful it is and how relevant it is to our problems in this post-war, pre-war, post-recession, pre-ice age, pre-global warming, pre-2012-Mayan-end-of-the-world, post-modern, topsy turvy world we live in. And this presents the biggest problem of all. No-one is listening any more.

Life moves on. The market changes. It’s just the way things are. As individuals, we can cling to our collections of vinyl and VHS, or we can stop struggling and get with the beat.

But, let’s face it, as a species, we don’t really embrace change, do we?

Peter Freeth has 20 years of experience in learning, developing and teaching NLP. He has delivered NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner programs, as well as bespoke programs, to audiences and corporate clients across the world. Author of seven books on the subject, he has contributed both to NLP’s body of knowledge and, ironically, to its decline into a commodity market.

© Peter Freeth 2011-2012. All rights reserved.

6 Responses

  1. NLP has died – hallelujah!

    Very interesting blog, thanks for this.

    You miss one key point, though.  NLP has died a death because it has been widely discredited.  You may blame Bandler for his anti-establishment stance, but then various other charlatans have purported to be anti-establishment rather than face the rigours of credible investigation into what they were peddling.

    You may have read this, I wish I’d written it. If you haven’t seen it before I strongly recommend it as a quick review of NLP and why, finally and with great rejoicing from many of us, it has finally died a death.

  2. Will I miss what I never had?

    I just read yoru article with great interest, as a relatively new freelance training consultant I was over the moon to find a FREE 2 day course on NLP being offered locally – however, I cancelled just this morning, partly because I couldnt give up a weekend for it, and partly because, on the whole, the businesses I work with these days are just not interested in anything ‘fluffy’.. they want pragmatic, down to earth solutions for their people.

    Having said that, I would like to broaden my understanding of all things related to the way we communicate with each other, and I have dipped a toe into the world of NLP many times in my career to date, and I suppose I worry that I might be missing out on something that would enrich my knowledge and my offer to others.

    I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are on this subject, and whether it’s something I would benefit from as an individual and in my professional capacity.




    I am wondering whether it’s just me thinking the silly season is upon us.  I note Peter’s heartwarming ‘critique’ on NLP then publishes links to his wares. It’s not clear whether Peter is ‘RCL’ or ‘RCL’ is merely a troll.

    Robin provides a link to a VERY old blog from someone who, with others, know very little of NLP to critique with any relevant authority.  Search the TZ forums for previous ad-hominem attacks on NLP proponents and make up your own minds.

    However, I agree with some sentiments of the article though it is unfortunately quite limited in its overview.

    Most NLP courses were originally 21 days and most participants had a postgraduate qualification.  It was essentially an add-on for professionals. 

    It was Paul McKenna’s tie with Richard Bandler that commercialised ONE aspect of NLP. However, the marketing took over and before long, seven day practitioner courses became the norm and anyone could enrol with few limitations. Then a seven day master practitioner might follow – fourteen days  – where before it took six weeks.

    There are now over 80 organisations (as logged on the NLP Conference website) that offer NLP in some form and supply & demand suggests that oversupply will – and has – led to falling prices for courses.  And there is likely to be many organisations that evolve or go out of business.

    There are issues around certification and competency.  On my course, each delegate was supervised to ensure they understood and applied the learning.  I subsequently supervised on six practitioner courses.  Now I am sceptical about some businesses offering on-line skills training, for I know there are some elements require supervising/witnessing for robust certification. (I can compare this to skills competency within a regulated occupation).

    Richard Bandler is not the only NLP originator/Society founder and there is no central body that monitors practitioner, master practitioner standards.  Why? In the main, the original therapist delegates were members of their original therapy schools/registrants.  It is not widely understood that NLP is NOT a therapy, but a model which spawned techniques for communicating with therapists’ clients. A means and not the end.  I am ‘registered’ with the CIPD as a professional member and NLP is an add on.  I use it to communicate with my clients, as yes, a means and not the ends.

    I fervently hope that the NLP and coaching mass market crumbles as quickly as possible, and harvests some of the poorer performing players from the market.

    Behind the scenes, there is university (Surrey, Kingston etc.) research being carried out that is based on providing data that backs up the model (or not).  In the final analysis, what will survive will be the consistent, robust knowledge, put to use by those who deploy it with competence, successfully with results.

    Other techniques and methods have a period of popularity but they all regress to a mean.  Transactional Analysis had a surge of popularity in the 60’s-70’s and yet, after a ‘decline’ it is still with us and available to you if you know where to look.

    In the final analysis, you get what you pay for.  Pay for cheap Training, get cheap Training.  Pay for cheap NLP, Get cheap NLP.

    Who will remain in the NLP market after the regression to the mean? Time will tell.







  4. A fundamental flaw in the thinking

    Peter, a very interesting article. However there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking. You see here you focus on the product and not the problem. Your examples of video and dvd provide excellent illumination.

    The product may have changed, but the underlying problem has not. Video recorders and their successors were successful because they solved the problem of having entertainment when you wanted it, not when it was being broadcast by the BBC and ITV – Ah! remember the days when we only had 3 channels to choose from?

    Nowadays that problem is solved by Sky plus and TV / Video on demand. Even love film wants to stop sending out DVDs and hopes that we will just download the films instead – no more sticking discs!

    So the market for NLP is crashing, but that’s the product. so what problem did people hope it would solve? Increasing confidence, improved ability at sales, life improvements in general? Well, as far as I’m aware those problems still exist. If NLP was still fixing them, then the market would not crash, but perhaps – for many of the reasons you have said – NLP is no longer fixing them because of the influx of badly trained practitioners. (In terms of full disclosure, Peter did some of my training, so obviously it was excellent 🙂

    So the brand NLP has lost its trust, much in the same way that Ratner’s lost its trust. (I do chuckle when I see some of the top trainers saying "This isn’t NLP it’s something different!")

    But cheer up, all we need is a new name – neurological repaterning perhaps – oops that one’s taken! Search Tony Robbins website for the term NLP, I doubt you will find it. And yet many of his techniques look very familiar.

  5. In response…

    I enjoyed reading all of the replies to my blog post, and I thought some of them merited a reply:

    Robin – I certainly take your point about NLP being discredited. I have to say that in my experience, articles like the one you linked to polarised the market rather than killing it, contributing to the love/hate relationship between NLP and the ‘establishment’. However, Steve Cowie says that the blog link is "VERY old", which points to another possibility, that Bandler’s lack of credibility came when the NLP market was still strong. Overall, I think it’s a contributing factor, but not the main driver.

    Sara – I think that you have made a very important point which I often say to people who think that reducing prices or running loss leaders will bring in business. It’s that your time is far more valuable than the cost of the course. The ‘acid test’ question that I always ask someone who is weighing up an investment in training or something similar is "would you do it if it were free?". Often, the answer is still "no", so price isn’t the barrier.

    Steve – I agree with a lot of what you say, I would add that Paul McKenna could be linked to the commercialisation of an aspect of NLP, but outside of the UK, the story is the same. And Robin’s blog link may be old, yet still perhaps relevant. Newton’s laws of motion are very old, but they still hold (fairly) true. By the way, RCL is my company name, I am by no means a troll. It is safe to cross the bridge. As for peddling my wares, as you put it, of course I am. The fact that I published a NLP Practitioner Manual is in keeping with the decline of the NLP training market. There, I just did it again.

    Eric – I did indeed delivery some of your NLP training. And you quite rightly say that NLP is not the product, it is the mode of delivery and I feel that is very much a theme of my original post. The creation of new names for the same(ish) thing is a function of market evolution, and the decline of the market leads to exactly the things you describe.

    Overall, I’m very pleased that my blog post sparked a discussion, which was my intention.

  6. Long Live Neuro-linguistic Programming; as a great example of ps

    The online discussions I have viewed have taught me a lot about the nature of faulty thinking, bad training, and the nature of misconception in general.  But one of the most useful examples of this is neuro-linguistic programming.  It has become a great example as it contains so many misconceptions that can be debunked quite easily with reference to both online and otherwise published information on science and psychology.  

    But its also really entertaining as a collection of quite inept individuals who have bought into this "Amway for the mind":

    Neuro-linguistic programming should be upheld as a great spectacle within a museum of pseudocience containing its outdated and half-witted bedfellows physiognomy, spiral dynamics, dianetics, emotional freedom technique, and holes in the head. 

    There is much to learn by learning from those rich fields of mistakes!


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Peter Freeth

Author, Coach, Trainer, Talent Expert

Read more from Peter Freeth

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