Werner Erhard
The Transformation of a Man:
The Founding of EST

by W. W. Bartley, III


This is the only book I ever found so useful, inspiring, and compelling that, immediately upon completing it, I turned back to page one and read it again. That happened fifteen years ago. I just finished reading it a third time and got just as much benefit again.

I first encountered life coaching and executive coaching in 1992 when I participated in the Forum at Landmark Education Corporation. As for many graduates, that weekend course remains one of the most beneficial experiences in my life. I continued to participate in Landmark programs and I became curious about the man who originated the work.

Werner Erhard founded est in 1971 and “The Training” became a major cultural phenomenon of the 1970s, with hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic graduates around the world, including leading academics, for example Harvard Business School’s Michael Jensen and MIT’s Warren Bennis, and many celebrities such as John Denver, Valerie Harper, Ted Dansen, and Raul Julia. Tiger Woods’ first and most important coach, father Earl Woods, credits est with preparing him for the task. In 1991 some employees of est, including Werner’s brother and sister, bought the rights to much of the material and formed Landmark Education Corporation. Werner left the public eye while continuing to train executive coaches, Landmark Education employees, and ministers.



This biography was written by esteemed philosophy professor and est insider, W. W. Bartley. His background and access allow for a fascinating structure of alternating chapters on Werner’s life story and the major influences on his work, from Dale Carnegie to Jean-Paul Sartre, from business books to Zen meditation. Bartley also provides the best philosophical treatment I have found of est‘s essential message.

This book is no substitute for the experience of executive coaching or Landmark Education’s programs. I am not sure it would even be comprehensible without a strong background in the work, as transformation is necessarily an experience, not an intellectual exercise. I do recommend a close reading of this book to anyone who wants to take their coaching experience deeper or improve their own skills as an executive coach.



Selected excerpts. [Items in square brackets are by Tony Mayo.]


Sigmund Freud General Introduction to PsychoanalysisGeneral Introduction to Psychoanalysis

Whoever has passed successfully through an education for truthfulness towards himself, will thereby be protected permanently against the danger of immorality, even if his standard of morality should somehow differ from social convention. — Sigmund Freud Chapter 27 (Quoted on p.91)


Business became for me a vehicle for having people to work with. Being successful in business was the dues that I had to pay to do what I really wanted to do. What I wanted to do, and by now was doing, was working with people; I saw what I was dong then as a sort of counseling.

For I saw, under the influence of Maslow, Rogers, and others in this field, that people who are healthy and developing as human beings are naturally successful in their jobs. Then you don’t have to motivate them; they motivate themselves.  –Werner Erhard p. 93

Carl Rogers

people hungered for groups wherein they could express themselves and communicate openly without defending their facades–where they could relate closely to others and share deep experiences without threat of being ridiculed or diminished. Where one approaches a state “where all is known and all accepted,” Rogers writes, “further growth becomes possibles.” Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups p. 99

I got stuck with our marriage. I literally could not end it.

It is a law of nature that you cannot be satisfied with something that you are stuck with.

Why was I stuck? I was stuck by my image of who I was.  …

I had to put up with it no matter how bad it might be, because there was no way for me to get out of it without losing my self-righteous image of myself.

As a result, I put a lot of energy into pretending the marriage worked, and trying to make it work, and working at making it work, ad nauseam. Underneath the soap opera was a nonsensical heroic epic  in which the worse the marriage got, the more of an internal hero Werner Erhard–that unflinching crusader for the truth and man of his word–became.

These unconscious patterns really do make puppets our of us. –Werner Erhard p.140-141

Most people have never experienced enthusiasm. It is an inspired state. Whereas excitement, which is a common experience, is only a high-energy state. … Excitement is related to personality and Mind; enthusiasm is related to the Self. When you reach the Self, you get enthusiasm. The enthusiasm may be quiet or humorous or exuberant or buoyant. It is there naturally, whereas excitement is something added on or put out. Excitement is noise or outer form. You can fake or pretend excitement. Enthusiasm is what you are essentially. You can’t pretend it. Everybody is already enthusiastic. One reveals or discovers one’s enthusiasm.  –Werner Erhard p.143-144

I had to acknowledge and correct the lies in my life. I saw that the lies that I told others–my wanting my family, or [my wife] Ellen, or anyone else, to be different from the way that they are–came from lies that I told about myself–my wanting to be different from the way that I was. All attachments come from lying about who you really are. When you don’t have any real identity of your own–when you don’t know who you really are–you will fault the identity of others.

You won’t grant beingness to others as the are. –Werner Erhard p.169-170

A Ladder to the Self.

Tractatus Logico-philosophicusWittgenstein spoke of philosophy as a ladder that one uses to climb [Prop 6.54]. The image is an ancient one in Western philosophy, going back to the Hellenistic Greek skeptic Sextus Empiricus. It has also been used in the yogic tradition.

Werner’s point is that you don’t agree with or believe in a ladder. You climb it. And if it breaks you get a new one. Thus to treat his philosophical perspective as a system to be believed, or to be committed or attached to, is to miss its point. As he puts it: “The truth, believed, is a lie.”

The key to Werner’s thought is the recognition of Self. … there is nothing personal about Self: it is misleading to speak of my Self. The Self is beyond any individual, identification, form, process, or position–and gives rise to them. … Nothing, the Self is the space of things. It contains the “screen of life” but never appears on it. The Self, as Werner prefers to put it, is the context of all contexts.

It is after transformation that one recognizes the Self as that which one really is. One then “comes from” Self. One’s “ground of being” has been shifted from Mind to Self. No longer identifying oneself as this or that, one no longer comes into life as a personality, ego, or mind. Rather than having an identity, one is the space of identities. One is now complete– and from that state, natural creativity, vitality, happiness, true self-expression, all arise spontaneously. –p. 180-181

[Tony Mayo’s outline of Bartley’s four key concepts in est. See also, Last Word on Power: Rackets]

  1. Mind structures, or the “organizing principles” of Mind,
    serving mainly the survival of the ego:

    1. Being right/making others wrong (see also OK/not-OK),
    2. Domination/avoiding domination,
    3. Self-justification/invalidating others; positionality
  2. Mind Traps
    1. Resentment
    2. Regret
    3. Righteousness
  3. Life Programs, for example:
    1. Poor me
    2. Mr. Reliable
    3. If only…
    4. And many, many more.
  4. Incomplete traumatic incidents or dramas

… See also Milton’s Paradise Lost

Finger Trapsthe organizing principles of the Mind [that generate Ego, personality, etc.] … will be used to further [their own] survival. Any Mind content whatever will be used to make the Mind right and others wrong; to dominate and avoid being dominated; to justify the Mind and invalidate others. Mind structures are thus not composed of specific belief systems, attitudes, or points of view. Rather, Mind structures govern all belief systems, attitudes, and points of view… in the Mind state, one is “coming from” survival, domination, perpetuation of positionality; and will use belief, knowledge, attitudes, points of view on behalf of such aims. One will not live to know, but will know to live. … There are “Traps of the Mind state.” Among the most important of these are resentment, regret, and righteousness … these traps define contextual styles of operation engendered by Mind structures regardless of specific content. Any person who is in the Mind state will tend to operate in life in a righteous, regretful, and resentful style. These traps will deter escape from the Mind state, and deflect attack on it. [These are traps in the sense of the Chinese finger trap: the more energy you put into the trap, e.g. righteousness, the more stuck in righteousness and the Mind state you get. Only after relaxing our efforts to escape are we released.] p. 201-202

Werner Erhard: “The real value of est is found in the transformation of the quality of graduates’ experience, which is difficult, if not impossible,  to measure in the commonplace scientific sense.

A more informative behavioral survey would, then, need to identify those manifestations that are emphasized in the est training. These might include responsibility; freedom from resentment, righteousness, and domination; the ability to “be here now” without being controlled by memories or images from the past; the lack of positionality implicit in being able to “get off” one position after the other. p. 262



Werner Erhard
The Transformation of a Man:
The Founding of EST

by W. W. Bartley, III