FLEXIBILITY: THE ROAD TO EXCELLENCE

          "Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example."
                                                                 Mark Twain
Excellence requires work; motivation. And motivation is often generated by intense curiosity. Can you remember a time in your life when you were intensely curious? Make yourselves comfortable…
During the first few years of grammar school, my family and I lived in an apartment complex in Jackson Heights, Queens. Common to several buildings was a playground completely encircled by fencing and shrubbery. Inside the enclosure were enough kid things to consume our energies all day (and benches for parents to discharge some of theirs). Throughout the playground were a series of wire-mesh trash barrels, designed to keep the area clean (of course, being New York City, the cans were rarely full. New Yorkers had a reputation to maintain!). Each day, at approximately the same time, an elderly man-- a "rag-picker"-- entered the park carrying a sack over one shoulder. He began at one end, spewing trash from a barrel in search of aluminum cans. Finding a few, he would place them in his sack, replace the trash and move to the next barrel until he had covered the entire playground.
We never knew what he did with the cans, although they seemed important; very important. But, for all his work, there were few cans to be found, and he would leave the park with the sack half-filled. Yet, curiously, in the shrubbery along the fence that defined the park's perimeter were hundreds and hundreds of aluminum cans! And the man never selected these for his collection, because… he knew where all the aluminum cans were located.
What he lacked, as many of us do, was a concept known as, "requisite variety." In any system-- man or machine-- the element with the greatest variability is the controlling element. In other words, the more flexibility one has in his behavior, the more choices that are available and the greater the likelihood of achieving control in a particular situation. Hence, excellence. There are several ways to achieve excellence by reaching goals. Each of us already have the resources-- stored experiences which have generated successful outcomes-- necessary to get there. The task is to become flexible in selecting from that "file cabinet" of unconsciously stored behavior those which will be most useful for a given purpose. How can you become more flexible and therefore, resourceful in striving toward a state of excellence?


  • 1- Relax. Lighten up. Let the sun emerge from behind that serious frown. One of the bi-products of taking life too seriously is a restriction of choices. When you tense, clench and furrow, you channel your energy toward too narrow a range of focus to be flexible. When is the last time, during your drive to work, that you were able to notice something new and interesting; and wondered if, perhaps, it had been there all the time?
  • 2- Trust in the past. You are your own best friend. Believe in yourself, that your dreams have value; and they can be transformed into realistic opportunities to become effective in some fashion. You need only reflect upon a time in your life when you accomplished something important, despite possibly doubting the likelihood of succeeding...and how delighted you were to discover a strength you did not know existed! One which can now be recalled, representing an opportunity to once again accomplish a goal, adding to that resource as you strive toward achieving excellence.
  • 3- “Listen to those who know ...grasshopper." When you were young you were likely told to listen to your elders. Equally as likely was your inability to realize the prophetic quality of this directive. Seasoned citizens are among the greatest resources available in that they are useful models of success, from whom we can learn. Actually, no matter what the age, it is possible to find an achiever in some realm that has experienced success in some endeavor and therefore, a useful model. Strive to understand. Study him (her). Try on his perception and learn. Make that knowledge work for you.

Once there was a gifted defense attorney who, upon encountering an equally formidable prosecutor in a "scratch-and claw" trial case, hired that prosecutor as a member of his firm. This choice allowed him the flexibility of learning new strategies from the former prosecutor to be used resourcefully by the firm...and eliminated a major headache in the process.