Writing Articles Using Bernice McCarthy’s 4-Mat System – Peter McNab


I have been gratified by the number of members who have approached me about writing something for Nine Points and look forward to receiving some really interesting pieces over the next year or so. Almost as many people have been asking me for some more explicit parameters and so I thought that I would address some of those questions here by sharing a framework that I use in a wide variety of contexts including sales, meetings, and presentations, as well as writing. Please remember, however, that what follows is offered as one way of thinking about this and not as the way of thinking about it.

David Kolb (1971) worked a lot with learning styles and his work informs much of the writing about teaching and learning today. Having been introduced to his work twice, once in the 1970s when learning to be a teacher, and again in the 1980s when learning to be a social worker, I found it pretty impenetrable and couldn’t find a way to apply something that I intuitively sensed was really useful. In the 1990s I was re-introduced to an adaptation of his model by Bernice McCarthy (1987 & 1996), during my training to become an NLP Master Trainer; something clicked and suddenly it all made sense.



Bernice McCarthy had taken Kolb’s model and simplified it to five words – “Why”, “What”, “How”, and “So What” (or “What If”) which is why she called it “The 4-Mat”.

There are at least two ways in which we use Bernice McCarthy’s simplification, as a typology or as a process.

As a typology, she posits:

Those people who ask the question “Why?”

“Why should I be interested in this? Why is it important to me? How does it relate to my life? How does this engage with my feelings and emotions, my heart?”


Those people who ask the question “What?”

What are you telling me? What’s the information? How does that information connect with all of the other information that I have? How does this engage with my thoughts and beliefs, my head?”


Those people who ask the question “How?”

“How can I play with this stuff you are presenting now? Can I have an experience now? How can I engage my behaviours and act, my body?”


Those people who ask the question “So What?”

“So what’s the point of learning this stuff? How can I use it to enhance my life? How can I use this stuff in the future? How can I adapt it to my ends?”

I had been introduced to The Enneagram in the interim and the connection between the two models was apparent immediately. McCarthy’s first three types match almost exactly the three centres of The Enneagram, while the fourth took the learning into the future.

The best way to check this is to consider any good presentation that you have attended (or sales pitch or meeting). As you remember it, which part of the session engaged your interest the most: the stage where the group was forming and the reasons for the meeting, the information being presented, doing something, or being shown how the application of the material can be applied in your life. (I have written more about this in much more detail elsewhere; see McNab, 2005).

For the purposes of this article I would like to concentrate more on the second use of the model as a process.

If you want to keep the attention of everyone in your audience and to meet all of the needs in the room, the model suggests that you cover all four of the bases: “Why?” “What?” “How?” “So What?” In most of the presentations that I give, I keep to that order. Sometimes, however, I may not stick to that order. I may want to give the audience an experience before I explain the content, so I give them an exercise first and then explain.


As I approached this article, I was asking myself why anyone would be interested in reading it. As I put myself into the Other Position, I make the imaginative leap and ask myself who they are, and what might interest them. Some of the things that I considered were:

It is professional members who read Nine Points and they will have a thorough understanding of the Enneagram (many of them much better than mine) and I must therefore introduce something either new or interesting or practical if they are to want to read it.


I could assume that although they might know about the Enneagram, they may not all know about Kolb and McCarthy.

I am writing this specifically for those people who are considering writing for Nine Points, some of whom may be writing in a second or third or even fourth language, most of whom will not be from the UK so I have to consider cultural references very carefully, and many will already have written lots of articles before.

My aim in the “Why?” section is to motivate my readers to read on. Just think of the many articles you did not read beyond the first paragraph because they did not engage you.



In this section I am going to present the information, the content. Some of the things I considered here were:

What knowledge can I presuppose in my audience? What do they already know? What do they need to know in order to understand what I am writing? As mentioned in the “Why?” section, I know that they know the Enneagram, so I don’t need to cover the basics as I would if I were writing an introduction for novices; I do not know that they know of Kolb or McCarthy, so I need to introduce their concepts if all of my audience are going to be able to follow my argument.

I also need to think about what this is not. As I use McCarthy’s model in a wide variety of contexts and situations, I could write about sales’ pitches and chairing meetings and writing proposals and designing presentations and delivering trainings, etc., etc., but this is beyond my remit. It is hard for those of us who are “What” people (and I am not) to restrict ourselves to what is needed and no more. For this article, I may refer to other applications (and will certainly return to this in the “So What?” section) but the main emphasis for this article is the amount of information needed for the reader to be able to use this model when writing an article for Nine Points.

I also need to be aware that “What?” people already know a lot about the subject and also subjects around it and I need to get my facts right as they certainly will. For this reason, it is important that I make clear the difference what is my own creative work and what I have taken from others, and the best way for me to do this is to reference my work (I have used the APA referencing system below for my references, which makes it easier for us to format it here at Nine Points. If it is a general idea that I am taking from the book then a reference is acceptable, but if I am using direct quotes (which I should keep fairly short) or diagrams, then page numbers are necessary.


In this section, I am addressing the needs of those who want to get on with it; they want to do something with what I have shared with them. It is not enough that I can do something differently; will my readers also be in a position to do something different? Some of the things I considered here were:

Is there a practical use for what I have written? Can my readers do something different after reading what I have written?

Have I made it clear what they can do? Is there a clear process or even procedure to follow to put what I have written into practice?


So What?

The final part of the cycle should really close the loops opened in the first section, unless it part of a series the loops need to be closed at the end; in other words, have I answered all of the questions raised at the beginning? This section also takes the reader into the future and into his or her own contexts. Some of the things I considered here were:

Have I covered everything that I said I would? Have I anticipated any questions that they might ask, and answered them?

Have I shown my readers where they might apply the new knowledge and/or skills in a variety of ways in their lives?



 I hope that this article proves useful to anyone thinking of writing for Nine Points (and I hope that that is everyone who has got this far). If you have any questions about Nine Points or the 4-Mat you can contact me at the address given below.



Kolb, David, et al. (1971) Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach,Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McCarthy, Bernice (1987) The 4-Mat System: Teaching to Learning Styles with Right/Left Mode Techniques, Barrington, Illinois: Excel, Inc.

McCarthy, Bernice (1996) About Learning, Barrington, Illinois: Excel, Inc.

McNab, Peter (2005) Towards An Integral Vision: Using NLP & Ken Wilber�s AQAL Model To Enhance Communication, Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing.


Peter McNab is an IEA Board member and editor of Nine Points. He lives in the north west of England where he runs workshops for organisations as diverse as universities, the National Health Service, and several blue-chip companies. He is lucky enough to have taught in over twenty countries on four continents. His work is rooted in NLP, Clare Graves’ Model (also known as “Spiral Dynamics”), Ken Wilber’s Integral Model, and, of course, The Enneagram. Peter can be contacted at:ninepoints@internationalenneagram.org



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