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NLP T.O.T.E. Model of Strategies

First formulated in Plans and the Structure of Behavior published in 1960 by George Miller, Eugene Galanter and Karl H Pribram. T.O.T.E. stands for Test, Operate, Test, Exit which is a sequence based on computer modeling.

  1. The first Test is a cue or trigger that begins the strategy. It establishes the criteria "fed forward" and used as a standard for the second test.
  2. The Operation accesses data by remembering, creating, or gathering the information required by the strategy from the internal or external world.
  3. The second Test is a comparison of some aspect of the accessed data with the criteria established by the first test. The two things compared must be represented in the same representation system.
  4. The Exit, or Decision Point, or Choice Point is a representation of the results of the test. If there is a match, the strategy exits. If there is a mismatch, the strategy recycles.
  5. The strategy may recycle by:
    • Changing the outcome or redirecting the strategy.
    • Adjusting the criteria, chunking laterally or reorienting.
    • Refining or further specifying the outcome.
    • Accessing more data.

Structural Well-Formedness Conditions

  • Has a well-defined representation of outcome.
  • Uses all three (3) of the Major representational systems.
  • At least three points in every loop.
  • Every loop includes an exit point.
  • Goes external after "N" steps or "X" time.
  • Uses least number of steps to get the outcome.
  • Logical sequence with no steps missing.
  • Has the internal & external sensory modalities to get desired outcome.
  • Preserves positive by-products and eliminates negative consequences.
  • Follows T.O.T.E. model.
  • Minimizes bad feelings.

Functional Well-Formedness Conditions

  • Trigger which starts the process and carries with it the final criteria.
  • Operations to alter the present state to bring it closer to the desired state.
  • Test which compares the present state to the desired state based on presorted or ad hoc criteria.
  • Decision point which determines the next step based on the congruence or lack of congruence of the test comparison.

Knowing the functional well-formedness conditions allows you to ask very specific and directed questions. Knowing the functional properties of strategies allows one to recognize when one receives an answer to a different question than the one asked.

Questions to Elicit Strategies

Test   What let you know it was time to decide?
When did you begin deciding?
Operate:   How did you know there were alternatives?
How do you generate alternatives?
Test:   do you evaluate alternatives?
What has to be satisfied in order for you to decide?
Exit:   How do you select which alternative to take?
How do you know (or what lets you know) that you have decided?


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