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Law of requisite Variety the key to becoming successful

How do children control their parents? In my case frequently by the threat of embarrassment; and boy did I feel it on this occasion! The hot glare of disapproving eyes from the people around me felt like daggers as my four-year-old son threw a tantrum and dropped to the ground kicking, screaming as he demanded an ice cream.

My initial reaction was to extricate myself from this socially embarrassing situation by snatching the boy up and carrying him back to the car still having the outburst. Instead, I chose to use this rare and unprecedented incident as a chance to learn something about my son. I decided to enter into his world and show him that I understood.

Passers-by were astonished as I also threw myself to the ground next to him and started kicking and screaming too.

My son was stunned into silence and he immediately stopped screaming to study me.

Law of Requisite Variety

From the study of cybernetics the ‘Law of Requisite Variety’ states, “The thing or person with the most flexibility will control the outcome.”

Isn’t that exactly what children do to control their parents? They go to places that their predictable parents are embarrassed to venture. The child knows exactly how the parent will react because the parent has become somewhat rigid in their thinking.

When to break your own rules

We embrace structure because it helps us to understand the world around us and gives us meaning. When we find a behaviour that works we repeat it to get the same outcome. We continue to repeat the behaviour until it becomes automatic and ultimately a habit.

What was good is now rigid. It’s now a personal rule. It’s set in stone. It’s predictable.

The child is well aware of how we choose to do things and so controls the situation by moving outside our regular comfort zone. This leaves us feeling off balance, outmanoeuvred and quite unsure of what to do.

However, it’s easy to control someone who isn’t certain of their next move.

Shake it up baby

How do you prepare for such abrupt departures from the “normal?” Well, it’s by regularly changing something about our personal daily routines.


  • Sleep on the other side of the bed.
  • Turn your alarm clock off.

Eating and drinking

  • Eat more slowly. Chew every mouthful at least twenty times.
  • Eat something different for breakfast.
  • East your main meal at lunchtime instead of in the evening.
  • Eat only when you are hungry.
  • ‘Graze’ throughout the day rather than have set mealtimes.
  • Leave some food on the plate at the end of a meal (or conversely eat everything).
  • Only start preparing a meal for your partner when they’re at home with you.
  • Drink a different beverage.

Bodily skills

  • Cross your arms the other way.
  • Take phone calls using your other ear.
  • Wear your watch on the other wrist.
  • Breathe more deeply, sigh and smile. Shift your breathing pattern from high chest to mid chest to belly.
  • Use the gym the next time you stay at a hotel.


  • Remain completely silent for one day.
  • Speak in a foreign language, or in gobbledegook, for a period of time.
  • Communicate using only questions.
  • Prepare a letter rather than phoning.


  • Avoid reading any newspapers, listening or watching the news for a period.
  • Read a newspaper with a different editorial policy. One you normally wouldn’t read.
  • Do not watch any television for a week or a month.
  • Drive without music in the car and focus on the external world.

Shaken not stirred

Flexibility in our routines isn’t just about helping to deal with children. It can be a great advantage in business too.

Allen Lane worked for his uncle’s publishing firm and had developed a reputation of having nothing but bad luck. It was in 1934 after a weekend in Devon with Agatha Christie, his favourite author, when he became aggravated to find nothing in the Exeter station bookstall that was worth reading on the journey back to London. His mind turned to the possibility of republishing readable high-quality fiction and non-fiction titles in an inexpensive paperback form. But with his reputation who would take him seriously? His boss seemed openly hostile to the idea, or was it to Allen? Most of the people who heard his idea were, at best, indifferent. But he was resilient and nothing would deter him as he persisted in visiting and meeting people coming in and out of the company. He even wrote letters to those who wouldn’t schedule time to meet with him.

Have you had an experience like Allen’s? Have you had an idea that you knew would work, perhaps an improvement on an existing service, or product, or procedure? But people around you assumed you were not able to follow through and told you so. Naturally you are likely to start doubting yourself and ask, “If this is such a good idea, why isn’t it being done already?”  If so then you’ll understand Allen’s belief that he had a marketable idea, even if no one else thought so.

Allen wanted to publish cheap paperback books and his co-workers and supervisors asked “Who would buy such a thing?” Paperback books were thought to be of low quality; the paper quickly turned brown, the binding fell apart and besides, who would buy them when they could find the same book in hardcover at the library?

But where everyone else saw ugly design and no demand, Allen saw the chance to turn book borrowers into book buyers. In 1935 Allen Lane successfully launched Penguin Books. The first run of ten titles was successful and was achieved without the support of the traditional book trade or the media. Allan had created a new form of publishing that today dominates the book market worldwide.

  • He used style, keeping the books clean looking, bright colours and crisp printing
  • Creative marketing
  • The nature and quality of the authors
  • Innovate constantly

Within two years Penguin had a hundred titles, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of the authors resisted at first. George Orwell said, “As a reader I applaud Penguin books. As a writer I pronounce them an anathema.”

Allen knew what parents learn. The person with the most flexibility will control the outcome.

It was that kind of flexibility that had me lying on the ground kicking and screaming with my four-year-old. As people walked around us, he sat up quietly. I stopped the behaviour when he did and sat up too. We sat together, neither of us making a sound, until he said “It’s OK, Dad. I don’t want an ice cream.”

We had a pleasant shopping trip.

Next Step:

Wish to learn the skills that will allow you to elegantly deal with teenagers, difficult people and easily influencing those around you? This kind of behavioural and lingual flexibility is taught in our NLP Practitioner course. Click here to book your place

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  1. There is a child psychologist/paediatrician that preaches the same thing, and uses a similar example of the adult mimicking the child’s tantrum to change the child’s behaviour. Perhaps he saw you that day John!
    Just checked and his name is Dr Karp. The article I saw in the Times was called “Dr Karp: how to tame your toddler”, published in November 2012.

    1. Hi Dave, Have not seen the article but will see if I can find it online. Parents use what works. I sure you have done similar things, I remember one of children storming into the room and I sent him out to storm back in but bigger and louder which turned it into a game.

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