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The Importance of Vision in Business

In 1953, Walt Disney presented his proposal for Disneyland to the board of Walt Disney Productions. They told him it would never pay for itself. As one of Walt's employees later said "Making money was never important to him, just grease to keep his wheels turning." (Mosley, 1986, p 217) When the company turned him down, Walt decided to fund the leisure park privately. His brother Roy Disney, with the board of Walt Disney productions, threatened to sue Walt for using the Disney name on it. Walt explained "The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to spend pleasant times in one another's company; a place... filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our lives."(Mosley, 1986 p 221) Reading this vision, you get a sense of why "Walt had the most dedicated staff in the history of the movies - mostly because they were so proud to be working for such a remarkable man." (Mosley, 1986, p 163).

Walt's brother Roy did not have the vision that enabled Walt to create Disneyland. It is this type of vision which is at the heart of all great business enterprises. Henry Ford explained "I will build a motor car for the great multitude". It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces." (Collins and Poras, 1996, p 74) Robert Dilts emphasises that this sense of vision is the core of leadership, and that NLP has much contribute in terms of teaching the structure of "visioning". He defines leadership as "creating a world to which people want to belong", a quote from Gilles Pajou, a CEO in the pharmaceutical multinational Pharmacia (1996, p x).

Vision: How Far Up Do We Chunk?

Notice that these visions do not talk about the "economic goals" of the company or even about it's position in the marketplace. In fact, in Disney's case, the vision may seem to contradict the corporation's immediate economic goals. The vision is much bigger than that; it is a vision of how life for humanity in general will be enhanced by what the corporate actions achieve. Charles Handy is a former professor at London Business School, and a BBC business presenter. In his book "Beyond Certainty" he quotes George Bernard Shaw: "This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." Talking about what he has learned from working in health and social organisations, he says "The social businesses, even the most muddled of them, know the truth of this". You have to experience it to know what a difference it can make, to have such a cause (1996, p 189).

In the long run, this attitude works at both levels. The US Ethics Resource Centre in Washington checked how many major US companies had worked out a written code saying that serving the public was their central goal, over the thirty year period from 1960-1990. There were 21. They then compared the results of investing $30,000 with those 21 companies over that time, with the results of investing $30,000 in a Dow Jones composite (an average sample of companies) over that time. The Dow Jones average would have left you with $134,000. Not bad; but the companies committed to serving the public would have left you with $1,021,861 -nearly ten times as much! (Kenneth Blanchard in Renesch, 1992, p 226). The flipside is also true. Companies that offend public sensibilities pay a price in terms of their bottom line. The longstanding boycott of Nestle, over it's promotion of milk powder baby food in the third world, cost the company an estimated US$40 million.

But in the twenty first century, chunking up to the good of all humanity is not far enough! The planet we live on is itself in danger of collapse. Ford's motor car ended up devouring God's great open spaces as much as it delivered access to them. When an international agreement suggested countries make a commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses, Ford Motors, as part of the Global Climate Coalition, was an outspoken opponent of this commitment. And Walt Disney's second theme park in Florida was severely criticised for the resulting destruction of 7,000 acres of Florida wetlands. These are but tiny examples of a vast process of ecological destruction currently underway.

The Ecological Crisis

Scientists consider the earth to be 4,600 million years old, but single celled life forms didn't appear till 3,300 million years ago. If we think of Earth as being 46 giant years old, life appeared when she was thirteen - a sort of puberty. Earth was 40 years old by the time simple multi-celled animals like jellyfish filled the seas, and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park fame appeared only a year and a half ago, when she was 45. It was the middle of last week when the first recognisably human animals appeared, and only an hour ago that we discovered agriculture.

But what is truly alarming is what has happened in the last one minute of Earth's life, since the industrial revolution. In that one minute 70% of the earth's natural land surface cover has been stripped. Currently this results in 21 million hectares of new desert every year (Brown et al 1993 p108). New Zealand once had at least 24 million hectares of forest: it has 6.2 million left. This is why when we have cyclones, treeless New Zealand hillsides collapse under heavy rain. This is why flooding is an ever increasing problem on New Zealand farmlands. The news of floods in Africa, Australia and Asia is not the real news. It is just a front for the real news of our decade. The Earth is dying. The destruction of the forests is why about a third of New Zealand's native bird species no longer exist. Worldwide, one plant or animal species becomes extinct every hour in the greatest collapse of life forms in Earth's 4,600 million year history.

In that same time, the atmosphere of the planet has been torn asunder by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from aerosols and refrigerators, and by other poisonous gases produced in our cities (by our cars, factories, coal fires and even by our over concentrated dairy/beef industry - cows produce vast quantities of methane). What does this mean? It means that an estimated 75% of Europe's remaining forests are being eaten away by acid rain (Brown et al 1993 p108). It means that the Arctic ice is melting at 15% per decade and this entire ecosystem will disappear by 2060. It means that New Zealand, being directly below the hole in the ozone layer, has the highest skin cancer rate in the world. Like an air raid warning, the daily newspapers in New Zealand publish the map of the ozone hole each day, so people know to stay off the beaches, and to keep their pets inside (animals such as cats are unable to survive without an ozone layer too).

In the oceans which cover our planet, the devastation is the same. With the larger animals it's obvious: in 1950 there were 200,000 of the great blue whales, the largest animals on earth. Today there are 2,000. The pesticide DDT still being produced in quantities of 18 million kilograms a year in the United States (where its use is illegal), is found in the flesh of Antarctic penguins: the entire planet is now spread with it. DDT causes liver cancer and genetic damage, and particularly accumulates in fish (at up to 2 million times the level it is found in the water. With 3,000 new chemicals being developed every year, it's almost impossible to even monitor the extensive poisoning of our planet currently occurring. (Brown et alia, 1993, 1999, 2000).

The Responses From Business

As they watch the growing concern about the ecosystem, some businesses have learned along the way. Walt Disney World now prides itself that "Years before environmental concerns became an issue nationally, Disney was developing technologies that would serve as models in regions across the country." (Walt Disney World Media Guide, 1996) The Ford Motor company is currently involved in a US$715 million venture to produce fuel-cell-powered automobiles, which will run on vastly less petrol (Atlantic Monthly, June 1998).

Edward de Bono notes "The furrier industry is going out of business. McDonalds has dropped the polystyrene containers that used to keep hamburgers warm. Recycled paper proudly proclaims itself...Smoking is banned on many flights and in many workplaces... These newer values will initially be forced on to business, but will then be embraced by business as part of conventional wisdom." (De Bono, 1992, p 29-30). Why? As far back as 1990, research by Colmar Brunton showed that two thirds of New Zealanders make an effort to buy environmentally friendly goods, and 62% say they're willing to pay more for the choice. A third are even willing to accept some loss of product effectiveness to get something kinder to the Earth. A national consumer survey on food labeling in 1996 showed that over a third of New Zealanders read the labels carefully on all food they buy, aiming to avoid health hazards (ANZ Food Authority, 1996).

In his book "Enviro-management", D. Keith Denton points out that effective ecological management also means reducing the costs of production. The United States consumes 60% more energy than Japan per dollar of national income. The cost of this is staggering. The United States Environmental Protection agency points out that if car fuel efficiency is doubled to 50 miles per gallon, it will not only reduce CO2 emission by half, but also save $400 per car owner per year. In fact, in these cases, economic "success" IS ecology.

The rise of ecological awareness has spawned three types of response from business. The response to the international 1997 Kyoto conference on greenhouse gas emissions is a good example. At Kyoto, 2500 scientists and 2000 economists agreed that there is discernible human influence on global climate, and that controls are needed to avoid major climate shift as a result of our actions. Beder, 1997 and Beder et alia, 1997, Greer and Bruno, 1996) There have been three major types of business response:

  1. Anti-ecology Business Organisations

    Firstly, there are international business coalitions which oppose ecology in the most vehement fashion, lobbying governments to avoid all controls on pollution and taxes on corporate polluters, and spreading scientific misinformation about the topic. Foremost amongst these are the various Business Round Tables and the Global Climate Coalition (of oil companies, automobile manufacturers etc). Their policies match the policies adopted by the US Government, and they fund the party in power to thank them for this support.
  1. "Greenwashed" Business Organisations

    Secondly, there are business groups which support ecological initiatives only when they can be shown to support economic growth, such as the World Business Council For Sustainable Development. The individual members of the WBCSD (such as Shell Oil, Dow Chemicals and Dupont) are not adverse to individually campaigning against the Kyoto greenhouse protocols. The WBCSD acts as a "greenwashed" front for their actions. Their collective call for "sustainability" often involves rather unclear definitions of the notion such as "Sustainability considers the expanding needs of a growing world population, implying a steady and necessary growth." World Bank economist Herman Daly proposes that instead we measure real statements of sustainability by the following three principles (quoted by McDonough, 1995):
    1. Harvest renewable resources only at the speed at which they regenerate.
    2. Limit wastes to the assimilative capacity of local ecosystems.
    3. Require that part of the profit from non-renewable resources such as petroleum be put aside for investment in a renewable substitute resource.
  2. Pro-ecology Business Organisations

    These include the Business Council For A Sustainable Energy Future (a council of producers of alternative energy sources) and Business For Social Responsibility. "Business for Social Responsibility was created in 1992 to develop, support, advocate, and disseminate business strategies and practices that aim for high performance, innovation, and corporate prosperity. It focuses on policies that are responsible for the wellbeing of the bottom line [ie for making a profit] as well as the workforce, the environment, and our communities. Recognising the impact of business on society, the BSR alliance of companies brings the unique perspective of the business community to address the many problems and opportunities that confront our businesses and our society today." (Makower, 1994, p 309)

The Global Business Responsibility Resource Centre ( gives many examples of companies living up to the BSR mission. One example is the producer of Johnson's Wax. A family-owned and managed company for the past 112 years, S.C. Johnson's sustainability initiatives date back to 1935. It conducted the first sustainability audits on record to determine the on-going availability of carnauba from Brazil, a key ingredient in the company's wax products at the time. In 1975, S.C. Johnson unilaterally and voluntarily eliminated CFCs from its aerosols worldwide and set higher industry standards which governments only enacted into law years later. In 1990 the company formalised its environmental programs and within the ensuing five year period, combined air, solid waste and water effluent from manufacturing operations were cut virtually in half, virgin packaging reduced by 28 percent and solvent use reduced by 15 percent. More stringent sustainability targets and refined metrics have been established to guide the company's environmental actions through the next years. Already the company has gained significant value from its investments in sustainability. Since 1992, by eliminating over 420 million pounds of waste from products and processes, the company has saved in excess of $125 million.

One of the programs BSR advocates for companies wanting to commit themselves to sustainability is "The Natural Step" (Nattrass and Altomare, 1999). The Natural Step, first applied in Sweden in 1989, is an international network which requires companies to commit to four "system conditions":

  • Substances from the earth's crust (eg petroleum products and metals) must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.
  • Substances produced by society (eg pesticides) must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.
  • The physical basis for productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished.
  • Basic human needs must be met by a fair and efficient use of the world's resources.

The Natural Step has been supported by theorists such as Peter Senge (author of "The Fifth Discipline") and managers such as Tachi Kiuchi (Managing Director of Mitsubishi Electric). Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, says "The great challenge of this era is to bring human activities everywhere into alignment with the rest of the natural world. Business, with its resources and capacity for innovation, has both the opportunity and the responsibility to facilitate the transformation of industrial society. The Natural step provides an elegant framework, a compass, to guide us on the road ahead." (in Nattrass and Altomare, page i).

What Has All This Got To Do With NLP?

Ecology, the study of consequences, is a fundamental organising principle of NLP. All NLP change processes are to be evaluated in terms of this meta-outcome, as outlined in the first attempt to describe our field: "A meta-outcome is one that organises the behaviour of the system in terms of general goals like the preservation and survival, growth and evolution, protection, betterment, adaption, etc of the system. To be ecological, any other outcome or strategy must contribute to these basic outcomes." (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler and DeLozier, 1980, p 212). This principle has made NLP a radical force for change in education, in psychotherapy, and in medicine. The developers of NLP were quite clear that their intervention in an organisation can be evaluated in this same fashion. "An organisation is in essence a TOTE in which people are the elements that perform the test & operate functions instead of representational systems." (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler and DeLozier, 1980, p 213).

And yet, the most obvious example of ecological evaluation (evaluating the effect of our interventions on the planet itself) is almost completely unmentioned in the history of NLP and Business. We feel very strongly about this. As company directors and members of Business For Social Responsibility, we want to urge the NLP community now to face up to the implications of our own model. In as far as we have not stood up and made our position clear on this issue, we may have been responsible for a form of moral cowardice. We have chosen to see environmental concerns as merely "content", so that it's up to the companies we work with to decide on their policies towards these issues. Perhaps we have believed that we are "just doing our job", as we "empower" them to destroy the earth.

Planetary ecology issues are not mere content, and business goals which contribute to the destruction of the biosphere are not well formed goals. Is it really so dangerous for us to take a stand on this matter? Former NLP Trainer Anthony Robbins, whose annual corporate income is more than US$50 million, concludes the best selling NLP book of all time by saying "That's ultimately what this book is about. Sure, it's about maximising your personal power, learning how to be effective and successful in what you try to do. But there's no value to being a sovereign of a dying planet."(1986, p 403, emphasis ours). Robert Dilts mentions ecology as a possible issue for corporate mission in the current USA setting (1996, p 71), but management book after management book in the NLP field (see, for example, Molden, 1996; Knight 1995) simply doesn't discuss the issue.

Think fifty years into the future, and look back at the business applications of what Nightingale-Conant Corporation calls "the most powerful mind technology for self-change developed in the last twenty years." (NLP). See how those old NLP management books talked about the learning organisation, emotional intelligence, empowerment, visionary leadership, and so many other catch phrases of our time. Look around at the world of 2050, in which almost fifty percent of all species which were alive in 2000 are now extinct. Look around at a world in which water reserves for most of humanity ran out twenty years ago, in which the surviving coral reefs and rain forests are tiny "museum exhibits". Remember how NLP used to claim to be creating "a world to which people want to belong". Remember how NLP used to talk endlessly about "ecology" in personal change. And remember that the children of those company directors who hired you as a consultant back in 2000 are living in this "brave new world" of ecological impoverishment. This is the real bottom line. Many non-NLP business experts, people like Ken Blanchard, Peter Senge, Edward de Bono, and Charles Handy, understand that and talk about it repeatedly.

What Can we Do?

Karl Albrecht, author of a number of many management books, says "In many ways the crisis in business today is a crisis of meaning... Those who would aspire to leadership roles in this new environment must not underestimate the depth of this human need for meaning. It is a most fundamental human craving, and appetite that will not go away." (1994, p 22) NLP can provide an inspiring model for the creation of meaning. Ecology is a concept at the very heart of what we do. It will not seem like a political agenda we have "tacked on". It is a powerful positioning choice by us. It fits with what NLP always was. If those of us using NLP in business want to meet this challenge, we could begin by tidying up our own act. This means assessing our own:

  • Compliance with environmental laws
  • Energy reduction efforts
  • Waste management procedures
  • Environmental sensitivity in packaging and design of products
  • Recycling efforts and use of recycled materials
  • Pollution prevention efforts
  • Choice of suppliers who are committed to the same values
  • Structured goals and assessment processes for our own ecological policies
  • Involvement in international environmental movements such as Business for Social Responsibility (

Then, it means integrating this attitude into our work with our clients. That doesn't necessarily mean evangelising. It does mean:

  • Choosing clients based in part on their environmental record or willingness to examine and improve that record.
  • Demonstrating our own ecological commitment to clients by advising them when we use recycled materials etc.
  • Pointing out where ecological commitment would create more well-formed goal and mission statements for our clients
  • Verbally and in our written materials, advising clients of our opinion about ecological issues

In 1999 the Roman Catholic Pope finally pointed out that the extermination of a species could be considered a "sin". The original meaning of the old Greek word amartea, translated as "sin" is "to miss the mark. We have missed the mark as a species. We in the NLP community may have missed the mark. This is not a time for self-flagellation. Psychological self-flagellation wastes as much energy as physical self-flagellation. We don't have time to waste energy feeling bad about the past. Now is the time to be inspired.

One Person makes A Difference

Some time ago, we began discussions about our shared outcomes with an extra-ordinary New Zealand woman named Kate Dewes. A school teacher from Christchurch, Kate came across some pictures from the Hiroshima Peace museum. They changed the course of her life. As a mother and as a human being, she decided she wanted to do something to put an end to nuclear weapons. In 1979 she teamed up with a retired magistrate and some other New Zealanders on a project to have the United Nations International Court of Justice declare nuclear weapons illegal. By 1987, she was a government advisor on nuclear disarmament, and in 1991 she officially set up "The World Court Project". She met with New Zealand doctors from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. They managed to have the issue raised at the World Health Organisation in 1993. After intense lobbying, the WHO agreed to raise the matter with the UN General Assembly.

The World Court Project collected four million "declarations of conscience" in forty different languages, and rallied the Non-aligned Movement (representing 185 states) behind it. On July 8th, 1996, the International Court of Justice declared that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was "generally contrary to the rules of international law." The implications of this decision are enormous. Under the principles defined by the UN at the Nuremberg war trials, it is correct for any citizen to oppose government action which breaches the rules of international law.

In 1999 the first test of this ruling occurred. On June 8th, three women (Angie Zelter, Ulla Roder and Ellen Moxley) climbed aboard a floating naval base in the North Sea near Scotland. They spent the next three hours smashing perhaps #100,000 of equipment designed to protect Britain's Trident Nuclear Submarines. Then they waited to be arrested. In October 1999, the Scottish court acquitted the three women of all charges, saying "The three took the view they had the obligation in terms of international law to do whatever they could to stop the deployment and use of nuclear weapons in situations which could be construed as a threat... I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent."

Former United Kingdom naval Commander Rob Green is Kate Dewes' partner, and was the organiser of the British branch of the World Court Project. He says (Christchurch Press, 13/11/99, p 6) "Speaking as a former operator of nuclear weapons, I saw the law as the winner in the campaign, because military officers need to be seen as acting within the law." He says that people in the military forces of nuclear states need to examine their position. They reassure themselves that they are just following orders. "That was the Nazi defence, and the Nazi defence failed."

Kate and Rob point out that when slavery was abolished in Britain, it was first declared illegal, and then action could be demanded to honour the law. They see the same process occurring with nuclear weapons. In 1988, the worldwide tally of nuclear warheads was over 65,000. By 1998 the number was down to 35,000 and by 2008 it is projected to be 20,000. What Kate Dewes has done means that by 2020 it may be down to zero.


We began by considering the importance of vision in business. Setting a vision which goes beyond the economic and positioning goals of the organisation actually delivers on both these levels. The situation we find ourselves in globally is one of ecological crisis. Any effective business vision needs to chunk up high enough to encompass this truth. Business organisations have responded in three ways; by opposing ecological changes, by agreeing to limited consideration of ecological changes ("greenwashing"), and by supporting ecological change. Ecology is a central concept in NLP. When setting missions and goals in the business sector, global ecology is an essential measure of wellformedness. Recognising this, we as NLP businesspeople can take a number of actions. We can assess our own use of environment-friendly policies, and we can demonstrate and recommend these to our clients. Together we can change the world in fundamental ways.

Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who has worked with clients individually and as a trainer of groups since 1990. He can be contacted at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, Phone/Fax: +64-9-478-4895 E-mail: Website:


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Dr Richard Bolstad PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, New Zealand
E-mail: Website:

Richard Bolstad is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who has worked with clients individually and as a trainer of groups since 1990.

Richard Bolstad, Transformations International Consulting & Training Ltd