Knowing Where to Tap

Posted by Phil Edwards on

Recently, after a lot of people had asked me a lot of questions about NLP, I told them these two stories. They illustrate one of the key NLP principles that enables people to apply their knowledge and skills in a practical way to achieve measurable results in objective reality.
The first story has been told over and over again, in NLP teaching situations, for decades. There are a few variations but the principle, structure, and plot, are always the same.

‘The Boilermaker, or Knowing Where To Tap – Steve Andreas

There is an old story of a boilermaker who was hired to fix a huge steamship boiler system that was not working well. After listening to the engineer’s description of the problems and asking a few questions, he went to the boiler room. He looked at the maze of twisting pipes, listened to the thump of the boiler and the hiss of escaping steam for a few minutes, and felt some pipes with his hands. Then he hummed softly to himself, reached into his overalls and took out a small hammer, and tapped a bright red valve, once. Immediately the entire system began working perfectly, and the boilermaker went home. When the steamship owner received a bill for $1,000 he complained that the boilermaker had only been in the engine room for fifteen minutes, and requested an itemized bill. This is what the boilermaker sent him:

For tapping with hammer: $ .50
For knowing where to tap: 999.50
Total: $1,000.00

(With gratitude to my high school science teacher, E.R. Harrington, who told me this story in 1952.)’

The second story is from the Edward De Bono book: THINK! Before It's Too Late.

De Bono is the person who invented Lateral Thinking in 1967. Amongst many other things, he worked as a medical doctor for 48 years and also has an M.A. in psychology and currently holds the Da Vinci Professor of Thinking chair at the University of Advanced Technology in Tempe, Arizona, USA. Here is his story about knowing where to tap.

'I once had a patient with Idiopathic Postural Hypotension. This is a rare condition but, for those with it, these unfortunate people spent their whole live lying flat in bed because, if they stood up, they fainted. Various approaches, including Air Force G-suits, had been tried without much success. I figured out that the arteriolar tone going to the kidneys  was poor, so , when they lay down, the kidneys acted as if there was too much blood volume and got rid of the salt and water, so they never had enough blood - and collapsed.

The cure was very simple. No medication and no operations were needed. All that as required were two six-inch blocks of wood under the head of the bed - one on each side. The kidneys now acted as if there was not enough blood so they held on to the salt and water. The patients were now able to live a 100 per cent normal life.

If you understand the system you can design appropriate action. That is what I did.'

This perfectly illustrates the application of the principle of knowing where to tap. So far as I know, De Bono has never studied NLP and that makes his story even more interesting. The principle of knowing where to tap is universal; it can be applied in any situation and in any discipline or field of human endeavour. He summarises the point of his story by telling us that: 'If you understand the system you can design appropriate action'.

The knowledge and skills contained in the original NLP corpus enable you to understand the interactive system of language, neurology, and the way in which we represent reality to ourselves. Once you understand this system then you can work out 'where to tap' to get far more effective results in any area of life.

By the way, it's not rocket science. It's actually very simple and, like many simple processes, can sometimes seem more complicated when you describe it than when you do it.

That’s it for the stories and the principle and, in the words of Robert Fritz (the creator of Dimensional Macrostructural Alignment and author of The Path of Least Resistance) 'Some ways of thinking are more powerful than others.'


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