Clean Language Meets the 5 Second Rule

Clean Language Meets the 5 Second Rule

I’ve been cleaning out my shed.

It’s at the very back of our property and holds books, treasures, and lots of junk. You know how it goes…ten years in the same place. For me small, and not so small, things accumulate and I do the ole “I’ll get around to it…one day” routine.

Here it was – a beautiful day for working outside and I was procrastinating.

I was online looking for something I could listen to while I worked, something motivational – I am cleaning a shed after all. I got side tracked on Youtube by “greatest speeches ever given” and somehow came across a short talk by a woman named Mel Robbins.

Mel has coined a pattern-interrupt strategy she calls The 5 Second Rule. In brief, when you have an inspiration, a thought, or something you want to get done, you 5-4-3-2-1 yourself to action. It is not so dissimilar to snapping a rubber band on your wrist or taking a deep breath and exhaling hard. The important thing is that, once the pattern redirect is done, you MOVE. You get up, you sit down, you do something with your body that begins a trajectory towards what you want to have happen.

What caught my attention wasn’t the strategy of habit redirect, but that Mel came by this idea through metaphor.

In Clean Language we love metaphor. Metaphor is a primary part of a client’s language we attend to. Metaphor in its leanest explanation is simply describing one thing in terms of another.

The thing is, the more personal something is, the more complex, the more apt we are to use metaphor to describe it. And this is what Mel did.

Her marriage was having a melt down. She and her husband had lost thousands in a business venture gone bad. She was depressed, unhappy, and not doing what she knew she should. She wanted to get up when the alarm went off, go walking, look for work, and eat better – the small things she knew would help her feel better and make life function more smoothly.

One evening after a trying day she was watching TV and saw a NASA rocket launch. It was then it struck her. Everyday, pushing the snooze button she was like a rocket that was grounded and what she needed to do was to “launch her self out of bed” just like that rocket she saw on TV. For her, it was the 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 LIFT OFF. She internalized the metaphor of a rocket launch and it changed her life.

Metaphors are powerful, idiosyncratic ways we make sense of the world.

Life can be a “bowl of cherries” or a “sh*t show”  You can imagine how different the experiences of these two people might be.

OK, back to the shed.

I didn’t 5-4-3-2-1 my work, a rocket launch isn’t a metaphor that fits my temperament. I like to wind along like a slow and steady river. So that’s what I did that lovely afternoon. Walking back and forth the length of my ‘back 40’ until I had filled the the pick-up truck with things to take to the local second hand shop.

We use metaphors all the time to describe how things are, what we want from life, and even how we want our dreams to be. Sometimes they are apparent like Mel’s rocket launch, and sometimes they are more subtle, embedded so deeply in our speech we do not even hear them.

Clean Questions are designed to help elicit the metaphors we use in everyday life. What this does is give you more agency and decision making skill in your life. Not everyone has an epiphany moment like Mel. Sometimes we have it and it fades due to time or distraction.

Unless we know what we would like to have happen changing gears, redirecting habits, and making changes might be effort waisted.

Clean Language comes into play because is it is designed to help you define your Desired Outcome. Not just any desired outcome, but yours.

Desired outcomes (DO) are not the same as goals, they are dynamic reference points. As you work toward a desired outcome you adjust your trajectory as you learn more, change a bit, and try on where you are headed.

Desired outcomes begin with the question: What would you like to have happen?

Is there something you would like to have happen and can’t quite seem to make that link between wanting and doing?

Something at work? A promotion, a job change, an artistic endeavor, a love aspiration, a life tangle you can’t seem to over come?

Join me January 13-15, 2019 at Clean Convergence 2019 for the Self-Modeling Retreat

We are joined with the co-developers of Symbolic Modeling, Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, for three days facilitation toward creative solutions designed by you, for you.

Start where you are and let us help you facilitate the conditions of change that need to happen for you to get where you would like to be.


PS. Here is something you CAN try at home

This morning or sometime in the next few days, sit down for a minute and think of something you would like to have happen in your life or work.

And think about how you need to be to move towards that desired outcome. Do you need to be like a rocket launch, like a smooth and windy river, a mountain, the rock of Gibraltar? It can be anything that fits your fancy. It is only for you. And you don’t have to share it with friends – although they might find it less weird than you think.

And from there you can begin to design movements and strategies that can help you bring your desired outcome from the future to real time.

On Clean Interviewing with James Lawley

On Clean Interviewing with James Lawley

This is a transcript for a 20 minute video chat James Lawley and I did on August 21, 2017. All grammatical anomalies simply reflect the conversational nature of this document. (3000 words, approximately 10-15 minutes reading time)

Our two day Clean Interview training is happening again January 19-20, 2019 near San Luis Obispo in California. Links in this document have been updated to represent this newest training date.

Would you like to listen to this post instead?  Click the Sound Cloud icon below for an audio version 

If you are a “real paper” person, click HERE for a pdf that you can print and read.

Would you like to watch the video? You can do this via Vimeo or Youtube using these links below:

Vimeo Link
Youtube Link

On Clean Interveiwing with James Lawley

Sharon: James it’s really nice to see you again and thank you for meeting with me to talk a bit about Clean Interviewing.

We’re going to be doing that training in January 2018 [Clean Convergence 2019 ] here in California and I thought it might be interesting for people to know a little more about Clean Interviewing; where it comes from, what it is exactly, where it can be applied and the benefits of it compared to other interviewing methods.

You’ve been involved in Clean language and Symbolic Modeling much longer than me, being the creator of Symbolic Modeling, could you tell me, I’m curious, where did Clean Interviewing come from?

James: Well, it came out of the work of David Grove’s therapeutic approach that used Clean Language as its main questioning technique. But primarily David was a psychotherapist, a brilliant psychotherapist, and it was left to other people, myself and Penny Tompkins and other people to take his work and see how it could be applied elsewhere.

And fairly early on, people began, without much conscious thought, applying clean language in interview situations where they were trying to gather information about … like some people who went into a company, they want to find out whats going on in the company and interviewed people. What did they do? They asked them Clean Language questions.

A colleague of ours was trying to find out about the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland, so he interviewed some people from the paramilitaries and the armed forces about their experience. And so a few of us, slowly, but surely go “hello, hang on, there’s something going on here, this could become a thing.”

Sharon: Thats kind of what happened with the root cause interviews. With just my background in Clean and Symbolic Modeling I started applying it. So I was really thrilled when I started to see more formalized thinking about the interviewing, and thats something you have done a lot of work with, formalizing, how do you know if its clean?, how are you calibrating?

James: Ya, that came out of it. And as always when you put that kind of thinking in you start to realizing there is a richness and a depth to this you didn’t appreciate at first. But also what you realize is that you don’t need to go on a full training in Clean Language in order to be able to pick up some of these skills and improve the way anybody interviews.
And what we realize is people could learn them fairly rapidly and that would improve the quality of their interviews very, very quickly.

Sharon: So what exactly is clean interviewing? How would you describe it? How is it different?

James: Ya, definitions … I mean it’s principally based on the notion of ‘what is Clean?’ And the idea of the metaphor of Clean is the person who is asking the questions is aiming to put as little of themselves into the interview as possible.

Now lots of approaches do that, or say they do that. Because of the detail paid to the language, Clean goes much, much further than most, than any other approach that I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of transcripts of interviews from different people and the key thing is that the interviewer does not know how much of their own thinking, their own assumptions, their own metaphors they’re bringing in.

They are simply unknowingly doing it and because of that, they can’t not do it, because they don’t know they’re doing it. Whereas with Clean Language, to some degree, it prevents them from doing that.

Sharon: So in a way it’s bringing in an awareness and a more, I’m going to use the word tactical, a more tactical thinking when you’re eliciting information from other people. We had a manager attend our training last year, the Clean Interview training, and she’s gone back and reported to me that it not only changed the way she does her interviews, but it has changed how she elicits information from her everyday workers and helps them find their own solutions. It’s been a real life changer for how she does business.

James: And especially in business, I think, where there is such a pressure to get things done fast. One of the ways that happens therefore is you kind of unwittingly suggest an answer, or the manager has already got an answer in their mind, or the interviewer, so they ask a question that just leads the Interviewee just towards the answer, because that’s obviously the answer, isn’t it?

And those are so subtle language, it can be the structure of the question, it can be presupposition, it can be framing. There are four or five key ways in which interviewers unwittingly bias, or potentially bias the interview towards answers they are already making an assumption about.

And a clean interviewer tends to minimize those. You can’t stop it entirely, but you can take out a huge amount of them. And then the real key is, not so much the interview, but the data you end up with, it’s more robust, authentic because you know it came from them and not from you.

Sharon: A couple of the areas I’ve use the interviewing in is cause evaluation interviews and CAP (corrective action programs) program development. And in those it is so easy for the interviewer, often the interviewer is a specialist and when they are looking at an event, it’s so easy for them to slip their knowledge into the interview without meaning to.

And there are a couple managers that have taken this into the CAP program and noticed the real difference between letting people, having the skill to let the people (involved) devise their own corrective action. Something that will work in their environment, rather than having the corrective actions put their ideas on top of (the people involved). Now you’ve use the techniques in a couple of other areas.

James: Ya, I’ve primarily been involved in using it in a qualitative research method for academics, and been involved in supporting a number of academic programs, one in the Czech Republic, one in Australia, in Britain. So, trying to gather high quality data that meets rigorous academic standards, it’s absolutely ideal for that. And one of the reasons is, that to my knowledge, theres an additional feature called a ‘cleanness rating’ that allows you to go back through the interview and look at just how clean or how leading what the interview and come out with a quantitive method.

There is no other interview method that allows you to go back and look at that and assess the reliability of the data gathered during the interview. That’s a big, big bonus in that area.

Sharon: And even in interviews where there’s not recording capabilities, like with a lot of the businesses I work with, they can’t record, but they can go back and look at their notes. So if your aware of asking clean questions and staying clean in principle, keeping your stuff out, you can still go back and ask “How did I do?”, “Where were areas that I interjected?”, “Where were areas that I changed the frame or even the topic?”.

James: And, I’m not directly involved in some of these areas, but I know people who use it quite extensively these days as a market research tool. And again, if you want to find out what people really think, you better keep your own stuff out of it. It’s also in focus groups, for example gathering information that way. It’s particularly now being used as a specification tool, like in information technology (IT), gathering the users requirements for example.

Again, its similar to what you were saying. Theres a specialist in the IT industry who’s interviewing someone who’s not a computer specialist, and its very easy for specialist to start making all sorts of assumptions.

And one area I am particularly interested in is in the health field. There are no more specialists than doctors. Highly, highly specialized. They have their own language, their own way of thinking. And its, you know we’ve all been interviewed by a doctor. And its really important, I think, that the patients own way of expressing themselves is preserved and not lost.

Sharon: I’m wondering, pretty much what I’ve found is that pretty much any time, any kind of conversation where your eliciting information from someone else, whether it’s a coaching intake, hiring, HR (human resource), I mean, this frame of thinking, this kind of thinking and using these questions can be really useful.

James: And what surprises a lot of people when they first come across this idea is how even changing a single word in a question can have a significant effect on the answer your given. It can get down to that level of influence, unwitting influence. And, as you said, people become much more aware of their language. Instead of just throwing out questions, they take time to ask questions that are formulated to give the other person the maximum opportunity to answer in any way they want. That’s the kind of key benefit of the process.

Sharon: So in a way, better questions and a different kind of listening, lead to more authentic answers which eventually leads to better qualitative data, and results, what ever needs to happen from that data.

James: I think it’s an important point you make that what people report is the more they ask clean language questions the better listener they get, because they actually hear what’s said. It’s a strange kind of by product that comes out of it. But what I reckon one of the reasons is that when you actually get the few basic clean language questions under your belt, you know, easy ..they roll off the tongue quite easily, you’ve got loads of space to actually listen to what the person is saying and actually think about what they’ve just said. But, without formulating what’s the next question going to be or formulate some clever question which can take up too much cognitive space.

Sharon: or go down your pick list.

James: Exactly, thats right. So those interviews where you don’t necessarily know the kind of information you’re going to get, you’re trying to discover that, discovery interviews, Clean Language Interviewing is really tailor made for those kinds of interviews.

There are some interview techniques where, as you say, you’ve got a standard set of questions, well that’s fine, they work in that way. But other ones, where more exploratory, trying to discover information, that’s what their best for.

Sharon: So some of the benefits are becoming a better listener, more accurate listener, lets frame it that way, asking simpler questions that are in context with the information your actually receiving, so you don’t have to be as clever and try to figure out what question’s going to happen next, you just need to know what context your asking in, Keeping your stuff out so, making assumptions, minimizing the influence of your own language, … What other benefits from Clean Interviewing?

James: Well there’s the one I said about if you want to actually go back and check the interviews that you’ve done, meet your own criteria of a high quality interview, a clean interview, you have a method for doing that. Or even having someone else, an independent reviewer do it. The other thing is that I think it is really useful when you want in-depth information.

You know, it seems to me, I’m not an expert, I don’t know about root cause analysis – critical incident interviewing, but what I guess is you want to try to get past the kind of surface things that people say, get them to think deeper about what actually happened and describe it in more detail. And that’s one of the things Clean Language allows you to do, get depth of information.

Sharon: And so earlier before we started recording we were talking about the benefits compared to other interview methods, and I think that what you said bout being able to really qualify, quantify, the cleanness rating is a massive benefit from other interview methods. What other benefits do you see as compared to …

James: Well, it’s interesting what you said about that person who went back and said it changed the way they asked questions generally, not just in an interview. And when I think about the word interview, for me its gotten broader and broader. You know, potentially if I stop someone on the street and ask directions, that’s a kind of interview. I’m trying to get some information out of them. And even in that context its valuable.

What happens, its like many things, the benefits grow over time. At first it seems a bit clunky with the questions, you’re not quite sure what to do. But slowly but surely, the more people practice, the more they relax, the more that relaxed the interviewee, and allows them to sink into their own experience in a very gentle way.

And because of that a level of rapport, an interesting level of rapport is built up without trying. And, also, what happens in some interviews there is a kind of belief that I have to encourage the interviewee with things like ‘good’, “oh ya, right, good good’. Actually, one I don’t think its necessary and two I think its kind of already telling the interviewee that they think some information is better than others. Its already kind of sorting it out. And, Clean Language, if you stick to Clean Language, you don’t need to do any of that either.

And the proportion, if you look at the proportion, of words asked by an interviewer in a Clean Language Interview is very small compared to the amount of words by the interviewee. And it seems to me that the more an interviewee tells you, the more you’re going to get valuable information.

Sharon: Thats a really good point, having that ratio between the interviewers words and the interviewee’s words. And also keeping the questions really simple, so you’re not inadvertently asking two or three questions in one long bit. Often its ‘and, …and, …and …’ and suddenly you have three questions in one which can be really confusing to the interviewee.

James: And similar, like sentence structure. On the course we’re able to show the kind of sentence structures where in the first three words you can tell if it’s a leading question. It doesn’t matter what comes afterwards. And, you know, once you get those clear, those questions that are just slightly pushing the interviewee towards a particular answer or restricting their answers, then you can leave those aside and ask a much more, a question that gives the interviewee more freedom to answer in the way they want.

Sharon: So, you and I are going to be doing an interviewing class, Clean Interviewing class, in January, 2 days, January 17-18th, 2018, here on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo.

[2019 Clean Interveiwing is January 19-20, 2019 – please see link below]

James: Lovely

Sharon: It’s beautiful, ya. And I think whats nice about our combination of working together is we have both been using Clean Interviewing skills and thinking in very diverse areas. Your working with academics, more subjective quality of interviewing, and then I’ve been in business and getting very specific information, like what you were saying, deeper information about what actually happened from their perspective.

James: So, I think its really useful that we bring those two backgrounds. But what I think we share though, is a real desire to make it practical. And thats our primary thing to make it, one, practical, and two make it so people go away with some really useful learnings that they can apply the next day, straight-a-way!

Sharon: And like the interviewer that I was talking about, not just apply it in their interviews, but also apply that kind of thinking and skill across the board.

James: Well I’ve had several people tell me it’s actually changed the way they talk to their children. Because, although it’s not an interview, parents want to find out what their kids are up to. And that leads to all sorts of situations and, you know, the more you stay clean when your asking your children, the more you allow them to answer from themselves. They’re much more likely to give you the truth about their situation, because they aren’t being pushed to give the kind of answers parents wish, so want to hear.

Sharon: I’ve had some personal experience with that. So, I see this interviewing that we’re going to be doing in January as a really nice, not just a nice introduction to interviewing, but a really nice introduction to Clean Language. And for people to get an idea, is this something they might want to learn more of. And also, if they are not in a coaching or therapy field, or doing a lot of in-depth work with clients, the Clean Interviewing is a wonderful way of learning clean and applying it to their context, their work space.

James: Good point.

Sharon: And its beautiful where we are.

James: Sure is, we’re coming all the way over there

Sharon: For those that are watching or reading, James is in the UK and I’m on the Central Coast of California. James Lawley and Penny Tompkins will be coming to California in January to join me for quite an extensive training. But today I really just wanted to have something to share about Clean Interviewing, because I think it is really particular, it’s one of the more vital smaller processes that have come out of Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling, and can just be so useful for people to see – what are they doing. Especially with the cleanness rating you’ve created, being able to really go back and look at something and get clarity on whats happening.

James: Looking forward to it.

Clean Convergence 2019 with Clean Interviewing January 19-20

Clean Convergence 2019

Clean Language is like… Origami

Clean Language is like… Origami

Metaphor is to the human mind what folding is to science.

Everything is made of folds – the earth, our DNA, illness and health in the folding and unfolding of protein molecules, the human brain, our clothes, the folding and unfolding of our memories, metaphors and dreams …

A few weeks ago, as I was watching a documentary about origami (Between the Folds by Vanessa Gould) I found myself thinking about Clean Language, what it means to me, my experiences with it and how I have formed a way of looking at, learning and teaching it to others.

I realized I think of it as the art of Clean Language. Although I know that Clean Language is based in a certain logic – the logic of the client, their desired outcome and the probability that a particular question will elicit a useful answer – to me it is still an art.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. It originated in China in the 2nd century and moved to Japan in the 6th century. Paper was very expensive, so it was originally an art form for the rich: even the smallest scraps were saved to be used in folding.

The epitome of folding is to create intricate design, real and surreal, out of a single piece of paper.

Of course, the human mind has greater complexity than a single piece of paper. But there are some similarities between the art of paper folding and the art of Clean Language. Both were designed by individuals ahead of their time, and both result in the creation of something new: lifelike and surreal forms that are representative of the mind of the person doing the creating.

When the French sculptor Eric Joisel discovered origami he put his career as a sculptor of clay and stone aside.

“Origami is so extraordinary, so magic, that I completely stopped any type of sculpture I have done before. I throw in the trash everything, I don’t have anything to say – and I start origami.”

When I heard Eric Joisel speak of the extraordinary nature and magic of origami, I recognized his sentiments. Six years ago I discovered Clean and began to let go of all the methods I had studied before… dreams, Jungian symbolism, sand-tray, hypnosis, graphology, esoteric arts, the world’s religions… I have been captured by Clean Language the same way Eric Joisel was captured by origami.

In this post I want to highlight some of the ways that Clean Language is like origami. Of course, there are many ways in which they are dissimilar. But just as a metaphor can help to reveal new information for a client, so a look at a completely different discipline shed light on what we do as Clean practitioners…

The Innovators
Innovators are at the forefront of new ideas, either as early adopters of an idea or the creator of something completely new. Innovators tend to be different in thought and lifestyle from the majority of their peers. They are the creators of new seeds, new systems, new ways of doing and thinking about something we think we already understand or know about.

Just after 1937, Yoshizawa Sensei, known affectionately in origami circles as “The Master”, developed the art of “Wet Folding”. This was considered by many to be a paradigm shift that allowed origami to become an art form, rather than a quaint oddity of folk craft. Wet Folding gave rise to a whole new adventure in origami, allowing the artist, or folder, to mold a craft a piece of paper into more lifelike forms and representations of the world around them.

“I wished to fold the laws of nature, the dignity of life, and the expression of affection into my work.”
Yoshizawa Sensei

David Grove, a New Zealander with European and Maori heritage, was a therapist and inventor. David developed a way of working with clients that utilizes the natural metaphors and symbols that arise in a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication.

Over several decades he created new and powerful ways of working with his clients, using simpler and simpler means.

In developing Clean Language, David Grove took plain questions that might be used in everyday conversation and added, not moisture, but the vocal qualities of an Iambic Pentameter and the idea of using the client’s exact language exactly. In so doing, he created a new way of working with people that is uniquely respectful.

David Grove and Sensei Yoshizawa were innovators ahead of their time, taking what came before and changing it ever so slightly to respect the medium more fully – whether that medium is a single sheet of paper of the single system of a human psyche.

The Champions
Every system of science and art has its champions: people who are generally well connected, speak their mind and are generous with their time and resources. When they find an innovation that inspires them, they work tirelessly to bring it to members of their given field or to the general public.

“Between the Folds” presented a number of Yoshizawa’s champions:

  • Michael LaFosse, a paper maker and artist from New York
  • Alfredo Giunta, an origami designer from Italy
  • Eric Joise, a sculptor from France
  • Paul Jackson, a professor from Israel
  • Eric Demaine, winner of the McCarther Genius Award

These artists and researchers have taken Yoshizawa Sensai’s work into studios, schools, laboratories and space. Their work is on the developmental edge of origami and they all have committed more than their professional lives to that development.

Among the champions of David Grove are Penny Tompkins and James Lawley. Penny and James first met David Grove in the early 1990’s. Little did they know at their first meeting that they would go on to dedicate the next five years of their lives to the study of David and his work. From this exceedingly rich joint effort they developed a teachable model called Symbolic Modeling which incorporated David Grove’s Clean Language.

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley have not only modeled David’s methodology but also his generosity. They provide an vast wealth of material on Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling on their website and encourage others to make use of their material (providing they credit David Grove). Penny Tompkins and James Lawley continually share their new learnings and developments freely with the clean community.

The Adopters
Adopters of a scientific or artistic system usual following the lead of a champion.
They are the people who have the interest and the means to continue to cultivate, grow and enhance what the innovators and champions have discovered and promoted.

Each year over 200 academics meet to discuss origami. They are folders of a different kind. They are on the forefront of science, research, product development and more. They discuss ways in which the art and science of folding can be applied across many disciplines. Others meet around the world at different events to simply share in the art of origami – beginners and experts alike.

Similarly, each year growing numbers of people from around the globe meet at the Clean Conference to hear news of what others are doing with Clean Language, share their insights, create studies, have fun and share in their enthusiasm for this way of modeling change. The number of Clean practitioners and enthusiasts is growing around the world as information becomes more available through books, translations, the internet and global training. We meet online and in practice groups to continue learning and foster connections.

The Practice
The practice is what we do as innovators, champions and adopters. It is the application of the process to either the paper or the client’s information. Both result in the creation of something that can be viewed from the outside (as either personal creation of art in origami, or a metaphor landscape in Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling).

Here are just three of the practices origami and Clean Language have in common:
1. Keep it simple
2. Use the logic of the medium
3. Stay steady and be patient

1. Keep it simple
In both origami and Clean Language, the rules are simple and intensify the challenge:

no scissors, no tape, no glue
no suggestions, no fixes, no rescuing

In Between the Folds, origami is described as

“…a metamorphic art form. In sculpting and painting – when you add clay or paint it is an additive process. In sculpture, the chipping away at wood or stone, the cutting paper is subtractive. Origami you’ve got that piece of paper – you don’t add to it, you don’t take away from it, you change it.”
Michael LaFosse

Many therapeutic and coaching methods are also additive or subtractive.

Psychiatry is additive in its prescription of medicines

Mentoring is additive – mentors advise and make suggestions based on their personal experience.

Addiction Counseling is subtractive – the deletion of the substance of abuse is the first step to health.

And although Clean Language is additive in that we acknowledge and work directly from what a clients brings to a session, it is also, like origami, metamorphic. Where origami uses the sole medium of the paper, in Clean Language we use the exact words of the client. We are not adding in suggestions, trying to tell them a different story or trying to take away someone’s pain, suffering or concerns.

At the same time,

“When you put a crease in a piece of paper you are essentially changing the memory, if I try to unfold it, it will go back to the crease, the fold – not flat – I am essentially changing its memory.” Eric Domain, top origami theorist in the world

And when we ask a Clean Language question, we are directing a client’s attention in a certain way, and any knowledge that results from that process stays with the client. Just as creasing leaves a fold in a piece of paper, Clean questions influence a client’s thinking. In this sense Clean Language is additive:

“The repeated use of “and,” and “as” connects each question, and the response to the question, to the client’s preceding experience.”
Steve Andreas, Six Blind Elephants, vol 1

And then there is this…

“One crease – what can you do with one fold?”
Professor Paul Jackson

One question – what can you do with one question?

James Lawley tells a story where the use of one question brought about significant change for a training participant. The participants working in pairs and as James watched, the facilitator continued to ask, “And is there anything else?” until the client had quite a significant change happen. When asked about his reason for repeating this question, the budding new facilitator said that he could not remember any of the other questions.

Clever is not necessarily more effective in Clean Language or origami. Another of David Grove’s innovations, Emergent Knowledge, is intentionally based on the repetition of one question. It can be sheer simplicity that allows the paper or the psyche to give out its form.

2. Use the logic of the medium

“There is a logic and patterning needed to create the basic origami forms – and modeling after to give life to the form.”
Eric Joisel

And there is logic in the questions we ask as Clean Language facilitators – commensurate with the inherent logic within a client’s system. Using Clean Language with a client is like unfolding their metaphors and their relationships, one metaphor to another. David Grove said clients came to him with an “undifferentiated mass of information”. Perhaps information is being opened and unfolded from the recesses of our brains, which is also full of folds?

3. Stay steady and be patient

“There is something about the constraints of the medium … It always feels awkward like it isn’t going to work and this part, the part in the middle (at a juncture where he free folds his origami piece) is the part I can not write down.”
Chris Palmer

There is part of every Clean session that has that kind of feel. We have to be comfortable with not knowing what will happen next, or how a person will answer the next question. Indeed, we want to ask questions they don’t already know the answers to, we want to take someone to the edge of their knowledge. We do this by keeping track of the client’s information and sticking with the logic of that client’s individual system of thought and expression.

“Take it to the edge of something, because that’s where the interesting things always happen.”
Professor Paul Jackson

The shape of things to come

“Origami, the shape of things to come”
NY Times

Origami is being used more and more in the laboratories of science, space and technology. It is being used in class rooms in Israel to teach geometry, in car manufacturing to develop airbag technology, in space to design of folding satellite dishes, in laboratories to look at how DNA and protein molecules fold and unfold in relation to illnesses or lack of them.

As we become more individualistic and less homogeneous, Clean will be the shape of things to come whenever clear communication and sustainable change is desired. We are becoming less amenable to being put into a group or a box or a generalization. We want to be heard, listened to exquisitely and respected for our uniqueness as singular human beings.

Origami is an art form that could allow everyone to make their interpretation of the world in paper. Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling could allow everyone to make their interpretation of the world in metaphor… not just in the natural process of comparing or contrasting one thing to something else, but in a recognized restructuring of our folds, of our mind, our memory, our desires.

There is something elegant and simple in Clean Language that is like a great piece of art – without extraneous lines or medium – there to facilitate desired change(s) expressed by another human being. By learning this language – one can follow the ebb and flow of that human system, more simply, more expressively.

Whether you are an innovator, a champion or an adopter, it is the practice of folding or asking clean questions that will bring you mastery and bring out the true beauty and metamorphic qualities of the medium you are working with, whether that’s a piece of paper or the human mind.

Can you think of any other ways Clean is like origami? We’d love to know what you think!

Originally Published 22 November, 2011 with Clean Learning, UK. Clean Language, Creativity, Metaphor

The Janus Position

The Janus Position

It isn’t just for interviewing.

I just taught a one day Clean Language Interviewing intensive at the HPRCT (Human Performance, Root Cause, and Trending) conference in San Antonio, Texas on the 22nd of June. In this training we talk about a frame James Lawley and I call the “Janus Position”.

Janus is an ancient Roman god with multiple faces. He represents transition, doorways, duality, the beginning and the end.

The Janus position is one of multiple perspectives, including that of the interviewer. Imagine your face in the middle of this image.

Interviewer + Purpose + Interviewee = Janus position

I+P+I creates the Janus position for the interviewer






When interviewing, one is often responsible for multiple desired outcomes:

  • Conducting a comprehensive interview
  • Meeting the legal, ethical, and outcome requirements of their position
  • Meeting outcomes desired or made explicit by management or leadership
  • Gaining rapport and willing participation from the interviewee

Within this there is a prioritization of outcomes depending on the context and conditions of the interview.

Not all interviews are created equal. The question any interviewer must have is:

  • What is the primary purpose of this interview? Who/what is this for?

An example of this might be a qualitative interview in which the interviewer wants to know an interviewee’s experience on a roller coaster. In this interview the rapport and comfort of the interviewee becomes a primary outcome, as well as their connection to their internal state.

In a quantitative interview (for cause evaluation) the priority might be the interviewee’s working memory and the interviewer’s obligation to the cause analysis and corrective actions that are to come partly from their interview information.

A reporter’s purpose might be personal gain through story writing regardless of the outcome to the interviewee (think Paparazzi) or seeking objective facts with the purpose of informing the public of data they do not currently have access to.

The Janus position requires keeping multiple purposes in mind all at the same time. This can be complex and require an occasional review of action to purpose. It is easier to get off task than you might imagine; a juicy bit of information that catches the interviewer’s imagination and curiosity, a secondary condition that arises in an interview that needs attention, a conflict of personality or temperament that creates undue tension in the interview room, a frightened or worried interviewee. These are some of the types of interference that can arise.

Questions an interviewer might ask themselves prior to starting an interview are:

  • What is my purpose?
  • Who or what is this interview for?
  • What is the primary kind of information I am seeking?
  • How will I work with information of other types that come up in the context of this interview?
  • What is the time line for this interview?
  • Do I have the opportunity to revisit the interviewee or is this the only opportunity I have to ask questions?
  • Is there a pick-list I am required to use and where might be the best time to place these questions in the interview?
  • Who else might need a copy of the information elicited in this interview and what form are they expecting it in?

I am writing this article because recently I had need of the Janus position thinking in a personal aspect of my life. It was not an interview and did require a clear idea of purpose to make the best of a difficult situation.

My parents, now 95 and 86, were moving from a 3000 sq ft home to a 1000 sq ft apartment in an independent living complex. A very good move and excellent timing. This meant that my sister and I needed to be in Texas to help them. It meant looking at their treasures, helping them sort and choose what meant the most to them and what they would keep, items that meant a lot to them and they could not keep, and generally doing whatever was needed to make their transition easier.

Independent of that, it also meant my sister and I managing ourselves to keep our relationship in the forefront and the ‘cool stuff’ we wanted secondary.

Hmmm, you are beginning to see my purpose as I write.

  1. My parents comfort and ease of transition
  2. My parents feeling happy that their treasures were not going to end up in an estate sale
  3. Keeping my relationship with my sister intact as we sorted through and divided anything of value that was left from the move

Emotions were high, we were all quite fatigued from long days, and tolerance began to wane.

I asked myself these questions:

  • What is my purpose?
  • Who is this for?
  • When that is the purpose, how do I need to be (behavior and attitude) to meet this purpose?
  • How will I work with less than desirable behavior that might come up? (in both myself and others)
  • How do I need to be to come out of this feeling good about myself (meeting my need for congruence and primary values)?
  • Is there a pick-list? ie: what is on my list as a daughter that needs to be met within everything else that must be done and where do we place those actions/questions?
  • Who else is involved that needs to be kept in the loop?
  • What would I like to have happen? Yup, I did include my lil ol’ self as part of the larger outcome.

Each day I reminded myself who this was for: my parents. What my purpose was: to make their transition as stress-free as possible. This meant consciously determining my attitude and behavior prior to arriving at the house and during interactions with my sister and mother.

What I came to:

  • memories do not live in things
  • people over stuff
  • relationships over acquisition

It is not necessary for you to come to determinations as I have above, and you will find that keeping the thinking of a Janus position will be helpful in both your interview practices and personal/work interactions.