One of the Most Helpful Ideas in NLP

Of the 12 presuppositions in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, one of my favorites is the principle that:

The person with the greatest number of choices in
a given situation is likely to get the best outcome.


I love the game of chess and have played it all my life. I love it because it is the best game for sharpening your decision-making skills. If you feel that it is difficult to make some of the dozens of daily decisions you have to make, then try playing chess. It will help you immediately. One thing I know from playing chess, is that the person with the most options in a game and the most pieces on the board is most likely to win.

This is true in life too. The choices that you have available to you now might not seem relevant, but it’s always better to keep them there because you never know when you might need them. Think of Steve Jobs’ legendary “Connecting the Dots” speech. He instinctively knew that time spend learning diverse skills was, far from being time wasted, an investment albeit for a future time as yet undefined.

All roads lead to Rome, and if one path is suddenly closed off to you,
chances are that avenue will reopen when you least expect it.


In the science of cybernetics, that is, the study of networks, this whole concept is more formally known as the law of requisite variety. This simply means that in nature and in complex systems and environments, the organism or entity that is most adaptable is the one that survives, proliferates and ultimately controls that system. Note that it is not the strongest or fittest that survives, it is the most adaptable. Likewise, the person, or company or culture that is least able to vary its behavior and change according to circumstances, is the one that becomes irrelevant.

Think about the traffic in your city. Congestion is governed by the law of variety and the drivers who know the streets best, are the ones who don’t get stuck in jams. Think of derivatives traders on Wall Street. When the government introduces new regulations, it’s only a matter of time before someone finds a way around the rules with new types of contracts. Think about crime and burglaries and how security systems are constantly in a
cat and mouse game with the ingenuity of thieves. The winners in any system are those with the most options available to them…

Of course, it’s the same in business and work, and art and in life. Limitations are there to test our ability to think creatively and to use all the resources we have available to us. The problem I have found is that most people are not as resourceful as they could be. Most managers do not recognize potential and most employees do not widen their gaze. Too many of us are limited by job titles and the things that we know how to do. There is far too much “we have always done this way” in organizations and it seriously holds us back. If people were a bit more flexible both internally and externally in companies, they could achieve far greater results.

When a customer asks a staff member if they can do something adaptive or, for the unusual, the reply is all too o\en an automatic “no, we can’t do that” possibly along with “those are the rules, sir”. But by li\ing horizons, enlightened companies teach their customer service employees to try to answer naturally with a “yes” before figuring out how it can be done. Smart people don’t let trivial rules or procedures stop them from helping people and giving value. They find a way. This attitude of flexibility and adaptiveness is
exemplified in this quote from Sir Richard Branson,

“I will never say, ’I can’t do this because I don’t know how to.’ I will give it a go. I won’t let silly rules stop me. I will find a legal way around them. I tell my staff, ‘If you want to do it, just do it.’ That way we all benefit. The staff’s work and ideas are valued and Virgin gains from their input and drive.

I don’t believe that that little word ‘can’t’ should stop you. If you don’t have the right experience to reach your goal, look for another way in.”

From ‘Screw it Let’s Do it: Lessons in Life’ by Richard Branson

By widening your gaze, you can become more flexible and see things from a different more creative angle than everybody else and in that way, make yourself more of a unique talent rather than a boring commodity. Learning new skills and stepping out of comfort zones can stand you in very good stead in later life when those skills will inevitably be called on again.

The same principle works in finding opportunities. You can get your foot in the door of the company, even if you are not trained in a particular field such as sales. If you view the challenge positively and see yourself as a quick learner, then you can learn from the best and establish yourself as a reliable and flexible team member. From this position, you can
move up into different departments and higher parts of the firm. Bosses love to see this kind of behavior in people — it shows a true understanding of how business and life work.

Life is about change and challenges but it is how we approach these that sets us apart. In this, flexibility is everything, so keep your options open and widen your gaze. It never harms to make inquiries and to have doors open to you, no matter where they lead.

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