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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 10-Nov-05


Thursday 10-Nov-05

Nature and negotiating like a child

I picked up a book in a bookshop today, entitled 'How to Negotiate Like a Child'. As a 'changing minds pro' as well as a flea-bitten parent, I thought it would be simplistic pap. But I was wrong. Certainly, it wasn't an academic tome, yet it showed well how children get their way, and it is not all about tantrums and wheedling. In short, I liked it. Maybe one day I'll buy it, but today I'm musing about how children negotiate and persuade.

The Law of Requisite Variety

A surprisingly relevant law is cyberneticist Ross Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety. Cybernetics was a popular movement in the early 1960s (and no doubt still has its adherents today) where attempts were made to systematize and define behavior in terms of rules and mathematics. A philosopher's stone for cyberneticists was the dream that if you could reduce human behavior down to a set of equations, then you could perhaps build a machine, a cybernetic robot that would equal man. A dream from halcyon days, perhaps, but the movement did produce some interesting ideas.

The Law of Requisite Variety broadly states that, when two organisms are competing, the one with the greatest flexibility wins. In essence, all you need to beat a competitor is one move that they cannot counter. And this is where children come in. They are generally less set in their ways than adults and, if one approach to persuading does not work, will quickly switch to another. And another and another. They are not fixed in their beliefs that one way will win through and hence confound their parents and teachers with a dazzling array of persuasive ingenuity.

Natural drives

Children negotiate naturally and are, by nature, designed to challenge the rules. In earlier life, they seek to know the rules of the world, what works and what does not. This includes regular testing of the lines in the sand that their betters draw. In their teens they are driven to fly the nest and again challenge and negotiate. In early adulthood again, they are competing for partners, social status and jobs where again, nature rewards the creative persuader.

Staying loose

Only when we fix the rules of what works and what does not work do we limit ourselves and hence risk being out-varied in our negotiations. Even this site, which contains a veritable raft of persuasive knowledge is but a pinprick in the skies of possibility.

The secret, then, of much persuasive success, is 'staying loose', remaining open to unnoticed information and methods that we, despite our experiences, have not considered before. Creativity is fun and interesting, and persuasions can be a fascinating foray into the unknown. Don't worry if ideas don't work, just keep trying something else, just like a child. And maybe you will persuade where you thought you had failed.

My site on creativity gives lots of ideas for being creative and shaking the cobwebs from the attic. You could give it a try and maybe use it to dream up new ways of persuading. Because as children know, there are many ways to get what you want, it just takes imagination and persistence.

As someone once said, 'If at first you don't succeed, try something else!'

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