If you’ve travelled in a foreign country, you’ve probably noticed how tourists and locals exchange conversation.
The tourist asks about a certain place.
The local, not knowing English, answers in their native language.
The tourist tries again: “Do you know where X is?”
The local is clueless and doesn’t know how to help.
This goes on for a few minutes until the frustrated tourist finds another way to locate their destination or engages in sign language.
It’s a classic example of how we keep doing the same thing even though it doesn’t work the first time.
We try something one way and if it doesn’t work, we keep doing it, this time more forcefully.
But here’s the thing: No matter how fast you go on the wrong way, you still end up at a wrong destination. If one thing doesn’t work, it is obvious to do something else, but most people are averse to such change.
There are more chances of you getting a result if you try a new strategy. Which brings us to the Law of Requisite Variety.
The term was first introduced by Ross Ashby in his book An Introduction to Cybernetics in 1956. The idea came to be one of the fundamentals in the field of Cybernetics.
In the context of improving our life, it means the most flexible person wins.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
The more flexible you are, the more chances you will succeed and get what you want.
Let’s take an example.
Have you had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong? Do you complain about it to your colleagues?
Do you lose your temper over the situation?
Do you give in to frustration?
Most people lose control and choose a response by default. As if you’re on an autopilot – with no manual controls.
But here’s the deal: You always have a choice. Whether or not you exercise it is up to you.
The Law of Requisite Variety simply says that if you’re flexible in the face of a challenge, you’ll adapt and still get things done.
Look at the most successful people in your life – do they sit there and wait for change to happen? I’d say not.
They adapt to new changes and exercise behavioural flexibility.
Take the most successful companies for example. Facebook and Google are always coming up with new products and innovations.
The point? Replace rigidity with flexibility and you’ll not only improve your life but also get to your goals faster.
In order to deal with the diverse challenges you face, you need to have a repertoire of responses and a variety of behaviours ready.
We’re used to hearing statements like: “Oh, she is a go-getter” or “He is a quiet person”.
But guess what? These are labels we put on ourselves – they don’t have to be true. Neither do we have to comply with them.
Most people are stuck on autopilot – they are stuck in a chain of routine and habit, regardless of whether these habits are healthy and effective.
Neuroscience claims that you can change your life at any point by doing something different. Doing a new thing lights up a new neural pathway. If you keep thinking or doing the same thing, you’re lighting up the same areas in your brain and not using it to the full potential.
Respond with a different response, say yes to something new, and escape the personality trap, because nothing is set in stone. You can change your characteristics and behaviour anytime you decide to.
I’ve found that things go much more smoothly if I let go of the need to control everything. Control is rooted in fear and limits your vision. It stops you from exploring new perspectives.
When you’re in control-mode, you aren’t living in the present. You’re always in the future, trying to imagine every little detail and the most-unlikely what-if scenarios.
Whereas when we let go and surrender, we assume we don’t know everything and bring a childlike curiosity to the situation at hand. It allows us to see the more important things, the bigger picture if you may, and connect with our passion and dreams.
In the words of Einstein, some people choose to believe in a friendly universe whereas others believe in a hostile one. If you’re like me, letting go becomes easy because you’re naturally trusting of the world around you.
As ironic as it sounds, letting go of control can feel like freedom.
Behavioural flexibility is the ability to flex your core behaviours. It’s the ability to respond to the same situation differently, depending on which gives you the best results.
Let’s say you’ve been trying to finish reading this book but cannot find the time. Every morning, you leave for work at 8 am. You find that train is usually crowded unlike the one before that. If you leave your house 5 minutes earlier, you can get on the less crowded train.
Here’s how you can practise behavioural flexibility. Take one aspect of your behaviour that you always stick to. If you’re a shy person, the next time speak up by assuming confidence and certainty. If you’re usually wary or too careful, take a controlled risk the next time.
Start out small to make tiny but effective changes to your behaviour.
Do you agree with the Law of Requisite Variety? How can you bring in more flexibility and variety of responses toward a situation? Please share in the comments.
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