Play the Meta-Game with Steven Feinberg

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“When confronted by uncertainty, first adapters win not by pushing harder with willpower, but by unlocking the game of patterns.” – Steven Feinberg

I had the pleasure of speaking with Steven Feinberg,Ph.D., a NeuroStrategist and executive coach. The leading authority on applying NeuroStrategy and unlocking the game of patterns, Steven has been working with entrepreneurs and organizations to strive for exceptionality.

We discuss: 

  • What it means to be a first adapter
  • How to practice pattern busting
  • Why we get stuck in solving problems

What it means to be a first adapter

Steven grew up unconventionally, and part of that relates to his father's many jobs from being a bookie to owning a pizzeria. 

When the restaurant was struggling, Steven’s plans for college were on the line unless his father could pull off a better price for the ingredients from their vendor. His father went behind closed doors with the vendor while Steven waited outside, staring at those doors full of apprehension and uncertainty for the future. 

His father emerged from the room two times: once to inform Steven that it wasn’t looking good. And second, to announce his success. “It was a triumph.” Steven recalls, “I knew about winning and losing. But this was triumph, it had a different quality to it. And I wanted more of that.”

Steven asked himself, “How do you get triumph?” He wanted to know what his father did behind those closed doors to create that triumph—but we’ll circle back to that.

As a neuro-strategist, Steven explains, “I don't get called in to hold people's hands to do what they already know. (…)These are accomplished people, great thinkers on their own. They're capable. They call me when they get stuck.”

We all have an inner game, and there is always an outer game. Sometimes they don’t line up. First adapting means both understanding the inner game and being able to play the right outer game too, in spite of the external stresses that we all encounter, the uncertainty we all know, the chaos we face all the time. 

“A first adapter is someone who spots what's going on in the field of play right away, that doesn't mean that they're the first to take action, they can be very calm and steady. But they're very strategic about the actions that they take. They do three things: game spot, pattern bust, and frame set.” Steven shares.

  • Game spotting — being able to see options on the game board that others do not
  • Pattern busting — being able to defy expectations
  • Frame setting — Influencing others to create the exceptional 

We all have an inner guidance system designed by our ability to find meaning. It's the interaction of prediction, knowledge, and meaning that guides us in our lives and allows us to do what others say can’t be done. 

How to practice pattern busting

We get comfortable with our solutions, using a favorite approach to all problems that arise. Sometimes that leads to more problems than solutions, and we need to break old partners in order to create the exceptional. This was the case in a story shared by Dr. Feinberg.

“There were two executives at a very high level of a technology company.” Steven shares, “And they were both very skilled. One of them—his brain always tended towards what I would call a task commander. He took a task and ran with it, got it done, and was pressing on.” Steven continues, “The other guy tends to always think about the future complications and resolving those complications and complexities in multiple variables before taking action.”

Naturally, these two men were constantly at odds. The game they were playing was who would go first, who was right, etc. 

“The option I saw was to change the sequence.” Steven explains, “They didn't have anything against each other, other than they wanted to win. I set up a sequence that they could follow.”

Steven laid out a plan for them: the analytical, variable-focused one would answer every question up-front and then pass it to the action-based one who would run with it.

By changing the sequence, and the pattern of their daily struggles, they could tackle substantial moves and spend less time fighting for the upper hand.

In another example, a woman struggled to get her solutions approved by the CEO, with a 40% rejection rate. She changed her sequence from showcasing the positive benefits of implementing new initiatives to emphasizing what would suffer if the changes were not approved. 

That simple switch brought her solutions up to an 85% approval rating. She read her audience, adjusted to the outer game, and earned her desired outcomes.

Why we get stuck in solving problems

Why we get stuck in solving problems

One of the most common pieces of advice we hear when dealing with failure is to persist, to try again, and to never give up. That’s all well and good as long as we’re examining the game and recalculating our efforts based on the playing field.  

Now we meet back up with the rest of Steven’s father’s story, and how he earned what he needed to save his restaurant. 

“If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again, right? Push harder, willpower alone. That's the biggest mistake people tend to make.” Steven explains, “Instead of doing that, my father did a 180. He looked at what he was doing and what he could do differently. He stretched his thinking from just his needs to the needs of his network of 25 restaurant owners and the vendor.”

Steven’s father saw that he could help the vendor's business. He saw that he could act as an ambassador for the vendor to the other restaurants in the network and help them get better prices, and the vendor saw the value in that immediately. 

“With Chinese finger cuffs, the harder you pull, the tighter it gets. The solution comes from pushing instead of pulling. So you have to do a 180 to free yourself. And you have to free yourself from the rule, the assumption, that you're stuck in this methodology for knowing how to do it.” Steven explains.

Our brains are energy misers. They find a way to solve something, and they want to keep doing the same thing because it saves energy. But if our attempted solution from one situation doesn't transfer to a separate instance, we get stuck.

Framing the game means taking stock of new information and recognizing when it’s time to shuffle the deck of solutions. 

Be sure to check out Steven’s full episode for further insights into playing the meta-game, and learn more at!