By Dr. Ron Cruickshank, Golf Mind Coach & GGA Director, Canada
Technique: Applying the Law of Requisite Variety
Early in my professional career as a behavioral scientist I was exposed to the Law of Requisite Variety. The law of requisite variety (also known as the first law of cybernetics – cybernetics is the science of systems and controls in animals, including humans, and machines) states: “in any cybernetic system the element or person in the system with the widest range of behaviors or variability of choice will control the system”. In other words, the system with the most options wins!
We hear his law reflected in our culture with a couple of colloquialisms that surface regularly in our everyday discussions. The first is the popular statement. “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.” That is followed up with the next most popular statement. “Hey, if it’s not working, try something different.” This last one is usually prefaced by, ‘’Duh!’
Humans tend to generalize their experiences. In fact, this ability to generalize is thought to be one of our strongest evolved capabilities, because it means we can do one activity (like taking a shower, walking across the street, shaking hands) without having to think our way through the event each time. The capacity saves time, generally, makes us more effective and allows us to think about more important things.
However, this feature of our mind also has a downside. The negative is that once we generalize we don’t tend to question our behavior any longer. In fact, if we meet with resistance or failure the most often seen human response is to keep doing the same thing, only do it with more force or determination. In other words, we don’t question our generalizations (now a belief). Rather, we just keep hammering away rather than recognizing that our actions are failing to get the desired result.
To make this point, when giving a talk I will often make the statement that ‘”we humans are dumber than rats.” That always quiets the room. For proof I ask them how many times a rat will go down the dead end of a maze if there is no cheese? The answer is ONCE. I then ask how many people in the room will keep making the same mistake over and over? Again, the room gets very quiet when people get the implication that to produce superior results, we must constantly observe our outcomes and have the behavioral flexibility to change our actions when we don’t achieve the desired results.
I consider Moe Norman an admirable example of behavioral flexibility in practice, leading to becoming a golfing genius. In the book A Feeling of Greatness, by Tim O’Connor, Moe described his process of hitting balls until his muscles would ache. He would pay attention to his stiffness and soreness and modify his swing to free up the flow of his swing. What genius! Rather than be succumbed by traditional thought Moe relied on observable distinctions and modified accordingly.
The genius Moe demonstrated was his constant attention to the outcome and making new DISTINCTIONS about what he was doing. If what he was doing didn’t work, he would change it, modify it and test it. At some point he concluded his move was the most efficient he could make it and then he focused on building his brain’s skill circuits by doing millions of repetitions, such that he couldn’t do it wrong. Moe called this, ‘making it stronger, making it stronger’. He succeeded and is recognized the world over as a true golfing genius.
What is necessary to be a genius? You must acquire more distinctions about a given subject than most people. Do you want to be a genius? Go learn more about the subject than others do and integrate that information by building skills circuits through constant repetition of proper practice and movement. This holds true for all sports and all subjects as far as I can tell. Genius can be learned and earned; it is not just the province of a superior mind.
On The Golf Channel the other day I was watching Gary Player talk about bunker play. He described going out every day as a young pro in South Africa and hitting balls from the trap with a wedge, but also with every other club in the bag. He practiced getting out of the bunker with all his clubs, and during this time he made thousands of distinctions about the sand, the lies, the texture, his grip, stance & swing path. He described learning the balls reaction to certain types of lies and how over time he built supreme confidence in his bunker play such that he never feared to go into the bunker. This resulted in a distinct competitive advantage. He sagely noted, “This allowed me to go for tight pins others would avoid because they feared the sand.”
The Law of Requisite Variety states the system with the most options wins. My translation of that is that if you have more distinctions and learning you have more options, hence your probability of success improves dramatically. Couple this acquisition of distinctions with a willingness to modify what you are doing and you too can become a golfing genius. Remember: Give yourself a chance!