Robert Steele: Landmark Forum Trip Report

07 Health, 11 Society, Cultural Intelligence
Robert David STEELE Vivas

UPDATE 28 June: Added Linked-In Exchange at End of Post

Landmark Forum 001

First, I want to thank Bob for making this experience possible.  I am about to go into an intense three-day boot camp but have already gotten my first insight from a meeting last night.

“Accept responsibility for how you are heard, not for what you say.”

Duh.  Not so obvious to me.  I have gone my whole life assuming that I should put what I think on the table and rely on others to triage, ingest, etc.  So this is my first big insight, the undertone is that your body language is part of how you are heard and obvious impatience, which I have already been trying to curb, is a downer.

I will not return as Miss Congeniality, but I am certainly going to return vastly more sensitive to effect rather than intent.

Landmark Forum 002

This is exhausting.  It is also very worthwhile, and the course does NOT impose any restrictions on going to the bathroom or taking an urgent phone call, nor does the course force everyone to expose their innermost concerns.  In a class of about 120, there are ample volunteers for the training points to be made.  At no time did I feel, observe, or hear anyone else observe, that the course was over-bearing.

Day One focused on three big things:

01)  Listening.  All the obstacles to actually hearing what the other person is saying, and especially the context in which they are saying it.

02)  Rackets.  All the mental and emotional baggage that is used to create stories (excuses) for avoiding responsibility.

03)  Change.  Change is not transformation.  Change is trying to do old stuff better or different.  Transformation is breaking free of old patterns and truly opening up, to including clear respectful communications at all levels among all stakeholders.

The BIG surprise for me is that while this is benefiting me as Bob intended in terms of being more effective as a team player at work, it has exposed the reality that my entire marriage, 24 years, has been a study is avoidance of both responsibility and communication.

Off to class.  Learning to love double and triple espressos.

Landmark Forum 003

Day 2 continued to surprise, and also had two disappointments.  Those first.

Disappointment #1:  Viral marketing is interwoven into the course in a troubling way.  While the course managers have backed off on telephone calls and emails to participants post graduation, and the forms allow for “no call” and “no email” designations (I blocked calls and accepted email), the clear financial intent of the course managers is to bring your children, your parents, and your co-workers into the course, as paying participants in the future.  The viral marketing also includes frequent–too frequent–references to the Landmark Forum as the “starting point,” and a constant “up sell” message to how you must take the rest of the series to be “complete.”  This is probably part of why this company has been banned from doing business in France, Germany, and Sweden.

Disappointment #2:  Over an hour was spent on the twin themes first of getting in touch with your fear of everything, including fear of people, and then ending with the “cosmic joke” that if you were afraid of everyone else, and they were afraid of everyone else, then everyone else is afraid of you.  This is scripted course and this clearly works for them with perhaps 60-70% of the participants, but I was not the only one shaking their heads during this portion of the event.  Perhaps half the people in the room were crying, some to the point of primal screams—this may not have been intended, but for me personally it was seriously at odds with the preceding day and half that had increased my appreciation for strangers and how interesting people could be if you opened up to them.  This script can be improved, in my view, a less primal endeavor, simply make the teaching points, have a two-way discussion, and move on.  For me this was the low-point of the course, and also totally unnecessary.

Now for the good stuff.

01  What really comes across is that “being right” blocks dialog, forgiveness, apologies from others, and human progress.  Combined with the pre-course insight, easily a priceless re-orienting view for me.

02   Most “communications” are either resisted or accepted submissively, the predominant feeling been one of dominating or being dominated.  The course tries to show a third path, one of hearing, interaction, negotiated dialog and win-win outcome.  This is what Danes are taught from birth.

03  Authenticity, accepting 100% responsibility for how your dialog with others go (not allowed to blame others for being ignorant, slow, out of focus, etc), and focus on “opening possibilities” rather than blocking undesired impositions or outcomes, are the core value of the course and very applicable to me.

04  Getting right with your parents is “root” in this course, along with identifying three events in your life that define what does work for you–a childhood, adolescent, and adult event, where you experienced great emotional pain (e.g. being left at boarding school, parents divorcing, losing first love) and then creating “solutions” that could include shutting down, being super obsessive about your process, etc.

05  For me, apart from the surprising focus on how important being right with your family is to being right with your co-workers, the greatest value of the course has been the constructive safe “space” within which to interact with complete strangers in a way that leads very firmly to a wonder at the fascinating diversity and complexity of the human species, with each and every person, however “other” at first appearance, ultimately being “one” within a community of human to human contact.

They say that today (Sunday) is 60% of the value of the course.  More on Sunday tomorrow.

Landmark Forum 004

Sunday has been packed, with half the time of little interest, the other half of high interest.

The morning was spent listening to individuals who had issues with their parents or former wives who had followed the very compelling urging of the coach, to call and make up.  Tears often involved.  The evening was a rah rah marketing session that was a bit off the wall (limitless possibilities shouted out by individuals called on, almost scripted, but over all too weird for a business conference) — this ended up being a personal issues conference.  I left with the strong feeling that the evening session (prior graduates invited) was a warm-up for the Tuesday night session that I am not attending, where “the system” strives to extend “invitations” to all those brought to the Tuesday night “graduation,” i.e. enrolling family, friends, and co-workers in the Landmark Forum and ultimatelt the full series.

The good stuff on Sunday boiled down to  this:

1)  In addition to “rackets” that have been scripted over time to reject personal responsibility, each individual also has strong suits that carried to excess can interfere with group dynamics.  Strong suits develop in relation to three specific occasions, one in early childhood, one in adolescence, and one in young adulthood, in which one is confronted with being all alone or somehow wanting, and invests on the spot in trying to never have that happen again.  Where rackets are focused on avoiding responsibility, strong suits are focused on self-protection in an unsafe world.

2)  Integrity defined as clarity of one’s word and honoring one’s word to others.  Excellent emphasis, certainly pertinent to me, on the importance of honoring one’s word across ALL domains (family, social, business, academic), not something that can be honored selectively.

3)  Useful reiteration on key points from yesterday, that all people, virtually without exception, are likable if one is open to the possibility; and that excuses are just that, excuses, clarity in dialog should focus on facts and reality, not rackets and excuses.

4)  Lose the anger.  Past occurrences are just that–past occurrences.  They have nothing to do with one’s possibilities or circumstances today, UNLESS one is saddled with this anger or baggage from the past.  Cannot run fast in the present if weighed down by baggage from the past.  There is an unstated cross-over of anger from parents to bosses, from siblings to co-workers.

5)  Lose being tired.  Tired is an excuse.  It is not authentic.  Each person is responsible for themselves, for creating possibilities that inspire them to the point of being energized.

6)  Are you happy in life?  If not, why not?  YOU are responsible for doing something about any source of unhappiness, NOT repeat NOT the source themselves.  Later on the point was made that in any relationship lacking love (or in the office, respect), YOU must take responsibility and invent the possibility, not expect the Other to do so.

7)  How are you treating others?  What is preventing you from being patient, gracious, from opening possibilities with others rather than closing them down or shutting them out or making excuses?

8)  If you create for yourself a clean slate — nothing from the past or even nothing from the present created or imposed by others matters — then you are free to define your own possibilities, create your own reality, and your word — your commitment to actualize your word.

General Observations

The instructor, Kathy Bosco, is gifted, and during this third day delivered two “performances” that summed up the typical life as going back and forth between rackets and posturing, leaving very little room for actual productivity, each of which has over 120 people roaring with laughter.  She was very effective at delivering the scripted instruction.

The combination of the script, the personal elicitation by a gifted moderator, and the two-person exercises (great care was taken to ensure every row had an even number of seats) interspersed throughout, was completely effective at achieving its intended purpose.

There were three anomalies that I noticed, I describe them without judgement:

1)  There was intense observation of the class by multiple and often changing staff, and many notes were exchanged in what appeared to be a very structured pre-ordained manner.  I have no idea what was done with these notes, but a back office for the class did exist.

2)  There is a very good chance that the course was leavened with at least ten if not twenty “ringers” disguised at students but actually past graduates and now volunteers whose assignments were two-fold: to fill in at the microphone if there was a lack of volunteers willing to be skewered by the coach; and to sit next to and elicit information from individuals that were “in the stands” and not committing to the Landmark program including implicitly buying into the need to take follow-on courses.

3)  I have never in my lifetime seen a course where everyone changed seats after every break.  It was almost as if half the class was being told to sit is a specific place, or to link up with specific people and follow them into the room.  In retrospect, the series of people that sat next to me remind me of a CIA elicitation exercise where each of ten people is tasked with getting one insight, they are all put together to form a mosaic of vulnerability and need.

We had substantive useful homework both nights (Friday night and Saturday night).  There is no question but that the course is helpful to personal introspection and to acquiring better habits in dealing with others, in seeing how important it is to take responsibility for how others “hear” you, not just for throwing out one’s raw thoughts and actions.  I took the homework very seriously, and ultimately texted my three boys, with the two older ones sending very nice texts back.   Not at all sure how to address the marriage, but for the first time I both recognize the depth and breadth of my irresponsibility, and the possibility that there may be mutually-rewarding pathways for discussion with the wife I have neglected.

As annoying as the constant marketing was, including a hard push to insist that each participant sign up for a “free” series of ten sessions in their home area (almost certainly intended to bridge them into the follow on “Advanced Course,”) I do credit the Landmark system with backing off on EST neo-Nazi restrictions on leaving the room, keeping cell phones, etcetera.  At no time did I feel unduly pressured.  In my view, there are no legitimate complaints to be made about this course.  Below are a number of useful links selected to show the course as it is—serious, with its own aura and culture.

I do NOT recommend the course as a business solution.  Although many businesses have bought into the Landmark Forum, and pay for many of their employees to attend, my own experience suggests that for business purposes the good stuff could be gotten down to a one day course, homework, and then a half morning round-table.  This course is marketed as a business solution (and also as a personal solution, I estimate a third of the participants were on their own time, two thirds funded by their employer), it ends up being about personal relations with one’s loved ones rather than about business productivity.  Although there were a couple of references to work situations, the overwhelming nature of all conversations, the scripted lectures, and the over-all tone, were about personal relations with family and spouses.  It is all relevant to what one brings to the workplace, but not focused on the workplace.

I am certain that Landmark Education could provide a one and a half day solution if commissioned, and if there were a need in the future that might be the way to go.  Personally I am grateful for the chance to attend this course, and particularly to attend it in Seattle.  I will do what I can to bring the fruits of this experience into the office.  In my specific case, this was assuredly worth the cost to the company.

Online Information About the Landmark Forum

2012 Landmark Education Home Page

2012 Landmark Forum Benefits Page

2010 Landmark Forum at Business Week

2010 Landmark Forum at New York Times

2008 Landmark Forum at Huffington Post

2003 Landmark Forum  at The Guardian

Course Leader Comments

The above was provided to the course leader (Kathy Bosco) via email with fulsome praise for her delivery and what I got out of the course.  I have clarified two areas where she has pointed out misrepresentation, to wit, no one paid to be a participant, no intention to cause people to cry.  I did not intend to imply the first, and mistakenly suggested intent rather than outcome on the second.

28 June 2012

Robert David Steele Vivas


Comprehensive Architect, Transparency, Truth, & Trust

  • Matt R Matt R Bob – I am not sure if you realize it, but Landmark is generally seen as a mind-control cult. Many of the techniques that they use (packing people into small spaces, speaking to them for hours on end, and breaking down psychological defenses) are similar to other cults that operate Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT), Moonies, Opus Dei, & Scientology. Lost a friend to these guys; a nasty bunch.
    Hope to see you at HOPE 2012.
    20 hours ago
  • Robert David Steele Vivas Robert David Steele Vivas Yes. ,knew that going in, the decision was made to give it a fair shot, and that is one reason I have the sentence “no legitimate complaints.” As I note in my trip report, they have been banned in Sweden, France, and a couple of other places. For me, at this point in my life, and for my company, which was and continues to invest in me as a high-performer for the next twenty years, it was the right thing to do at the right time. Based on this direct experience, I would say that Landmark Forum is NOT cult-like, it IS a bit over-controlling, but passive aggressive now, not direct. I’ve always been a spring-butt, they did not confront me or anyone else about frequent sidetrips to Starbucks. 20 hours ago
  • Robert David Steele Vivas Robert David Steele Vivas I would classify the Forum version that I experienced as a very well crafted meticulously delivered personal issues forum, one designed to help 80% achieve some sort of breakthrough. It worked for me in that I gave it my full attention (imagine how hard that was), and gained some insights. I am confirmed at HOPE, speaking on Friday and answering questions on Saturday. 20 hours ago
  • Robert David Steele Vivas Robert David Steele Vivas Final comment: Between open spaces, spiral dynamics, and landmark education, I believe there is a day and half convergence that could be extremely successful if it focused on bringing people together from across the eight information communities on any given issue (e.g. water), or bringing cradle to grave supply chains together (client, subcontractors, suppliers, customers, communities, etc. My trip report is quite specific Transparency, truth, and trust…. 20 hours ago
  • Matt R Matt R Perhaps we might have to agree to disagree. I don’t know Bob; life is about hard work, insight and learning over an extended timeframe. Instant breakthroughs only occur when there is some sort of abusive psychology going on. You have been around the block more than a few times. As a man of your education, deep experience and great stature, I am not sure that there is anything Landmark can teach you.
    10 minutes ago
  • Robert David Steele Vivas Robert David Steele Vivas Disappointed at your shallowness of analysis. A break-through is nothing more than a realization. Anyone with even the slightest grasp of psychology will understand that by the time one is an adult there are layers upon layers of protective veils (great movie, The Seventh Veil). Have you read my trip report? I was completely turned off by the one part of the program that drove some, not all, to tears. My report is as good as it is going to get on Landmark Forum in its present day rendition. You appear to have a lot of biased views based on second hand information. 2 minutes ago
  • Robert David Steele Vivas Robert David Steele Vivas I went to Landmark Forum because a billionaire investor advising my present boss recommended it, and the night before I attended I had dinner with the co-chairman of my non-profit, who said it changed his life by forcing him to realize that he was responsible not just for his words and actions, but for how his words were heard and his action interpreted. That insight alone, from someone that works with Dee Hock and is truly a modern pioneer. was worth the trip. I do NOT recommend the Forum for business. I DO recommend some form of the Forum, 1.5 days, with open space and spiral dynamics, as a new form for all organizations. Thank you for drawing out these comments. 38 seconds ago
  • Robert David Steele Vivas Robert David Steele Vivas Those that know me will know how substantive and significant that one insight is for me. I have twenty more years left in me. Necrophilia is out, attracting the future is in. We move on. 1 second ago

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