The Law of Requisite Variety: Navigating Small Business Success through Environmental Scanning and Strategic Planning


Small businesses, often likened to David against the corporate Goliaths, possess unique advantages in their agility, innovation, and close customer relationships. However, in today’s dynamic and ever-changing business environment, these advantages can only be harnessed if small businesses understand the Law of Requisite Variety and how it underpins their journey to success. In this article, we’ll explore this idea and how environmental scanning and strategic planning (scan and plan) are the tools that turn this principle into a practical reality. We’ll also delve into the roles of PESTEL and SWOT analysis in the process.

The Law of Requisite Variety: A Key Concept

At its core, the Law of Requisite Variety is a cybernetic principle that states a system must have as much flexibility, variety, or adaptive capacity as the environment it seeks to control or navigate. In the context of small businesses, this means that to survive and thrive, you must be equipped to respond appropriately to the multitude of changes, challenges, and opportunities in your business environment. The more variety or adaptive capacity you possess, the better your chances of success. This is true business intelligence.

Environmental Scanning: The Radar of Small Business

Environmental scanning is the radar of your small business. It involves systematically gathering and analyzing information from the external environment to identify potential threats and opportunities. It’s your way of ensuring that you have the requisite variety to stay ahead in the game.

  • PESTEL Analysis: This is one of the essential tools in environmental scanning. PESTEL stands for Political, Economic, Sociocultural, Technological, Environmental, and Legal factors. By examining these areas, you gain a holistic view of the external forces that can impact your business. For instance, a change in technology or a shift in consumer preferences can open up new opportunities or present unforeseen challenges.

Strategic Planning: Turning Insight into Action

Strategic planning is the bridge that connects your insights from environmental scanning to actionable strategies. It’s where you develop a roadmap for how your small business will adapt, evolve, and leverage the changing business environment.

  • SWOT Analysis: This is another critical tool in your strategic planning arsenal. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It helps you assess your internal strengths and weaknesses while considering the external opportunities and threats identified through environmental scanning. With a clear SWOT analysis, you can determine how to maximize your strengths, address weaknesses, seize opportunities, and mitigate threats.

Applying the Law of Requisite Variety in Your Small Business

So, how does the Law of Requisite Variety come into play? Here’s how:

  1. Awareness: Environmental scanning ensures you are constantly aware of changes in your business environment. It gives you the variety of insights necessary to make informed decisions.
  2. Adaptation: With PESTEL analysis, you can adapt your small business to the evolving external factors. This equips you with the variety of strategies needed to thrive.
  3. Leverage: SWOT analysis allows you to leverage your strengths, address weaknesses, seize opportunities, and mitigate threats. It’s a practical manifestation of the Law of Requisite Variety in action.


In the world of small businesses, the Law of Requisite Variety is not just a theoretical concept; it’s the lifeline for survival and success. Environmental scanning, PESTEL analysis, and SWOT analysis are the practical tools that bring this law to life, equipping your small business to navigate the ever-changing business environment and seize the opportunities that lie within it. By understanding this principle and embracing these practices, you’re not just surviving; you’re thriving in the face of change.

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