The Law of Requisite Variety

While I lived in Spain, I commonly had the chance to view the following exchange between foreigners and locals:
Tourist: Do you know where X is?
Spaniard: ¿Que? No hablo ingles.
Tourist: DO YOU KNOW WHERE X IS?
Spaniard: Disculpa, pero no entiendo usted.
Tourist (now aggravated): DOOO YOOUU KNOOOWWW WHERE X ISSSSS?
Spaniard: ¿?
And to a certain extent, we are guilty of doing something similar. We try something one way, and if that doesn’t work, we try it the again the same way, only more forcefully. Just like Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” What to do?

While this might be the most obvious answer, it is also the hardest for us to accept: Just do something different! Yes, that’s right. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try anything else, simply because anything else has a better chance of getting you the result you want. Now, some people find this less than easy to do, yet it is actually dead simple and a lot of fun while you are at it.

The basic premise is to relax and realize that the world is one big laboratory, where you get to experiment all the time, and all you are doing is experimenting. With that in mind, it is easy to stop yourself from doing the same thing over and over again, and just going out on a limb to try something else. Not only will you have a laugh doing it, but it also feels great, because you are increasing your flexibility.

To the best of my knowledge, Milton H. Erickson MD first formulated what is now known as the law of requisite variety. This law, forming one the basic principles of hypnosis, stipulates that the individual with the highest amount of flexibility of behavior will have the most influence on the system. That basically means that the more choices you have, the more freedom you will feel, and the better a quality of life you can have.

So, being inflexible not only maintains status quo, but is also severely limiting to your own life. Flexibility is easy, and it is fun. Do it, just for today. When you feel you aren’t getting anywhere, do something different, do anything different, and see what happens. You might just get what you want…

If you want to read more about flexibility, check out this blog!

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4 thoughts on “The Law of Requisite Variety

  1. Izabel says:

    Well, in my case, when I lived in China… and when I still coudn’t speak Chinese… I was lost and wanted to know where X was. I asked a Chinese in the streets, and of course, he didn’t understand a word I said and I didn’t understand a word he said! I laughed… walked away and found by myself… of course it took a while, but I got there and just laughed of the situation!

  2. Cosmo says:

    Seems odd that you want to ‘dress-up’ humans knowing something so simple as, “if banging your head against a brick wall is hurting, stop doing it,” as being profound, somehow.

    When what you seek is for those people who haven’t done so already to break with their conditioning, it’s way too easy to forget that these people may have ingrained these behaviours because they’ve been successful thus far or that, for very many people, deploying ‘higher-order’ or, ‘introspective’ thinking or, ‘solution-oriented cognitive behaviour,’ is simply not an option. In entirely non-PC-speak, they may just be too thick and no amount of cognitive-behavioural (or any other) psychotherapy or, NLP or, hypnotism is going to ‘do it’ for them.

    On, Milton H. Erickson MD and, “only variey can absorb variety.” W. Ross Ashby and Stafford Beer were early (1950’s) adopters that I know of. Also, as this Law describes the viability and sustainability of ‘systems,’ I guess that Darwin trumped all of them with his context of, ‘fitness’ applied to the viability and sustainability of organisms; i.e. organisms as biological systems.

  3. this is one of those laws, that changes your life instantly just the moment you get aware of it. That’s great!
    in my student success coaching’s again and again students have been so grateful just to learn about it.

  4. simonmcewen says:

    “To the best of my knowledge, Milton H. Erickson MD first formulated what is now known as the law of requisite variety” – Yep, that seems to be about the best of your knowledge! Try “William Ross Ashby”, try reading a book with less pictures than words, try really engaging in a conversation with someone who doesn’t agree with you, try really hard to justify how “This law, forming one the basic principles of hypnosis, stipulates that the individual with the highest amount of flexibility of behavior will have the most influence on the system” can form a reasonable derivation of “variety absorbs variety, defines the minimum number of states necessary for a controller to control a system of a given number of states.” Got any snake oil?

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