The Rule of 3

Podcasts help make a dull car trip a little more exciting, help to educate me on a range of topics I’ve never heard of and make me think a little differently about the world we live in. Listening to a recent episode of MamaMia Outloud, the hosts were discussing the ‘Rule of Three’. I was considerably interested in the concept so I did a little research…

When we are working on a project, or participating in training , we often use ‘brainstorming’ as a way to suggest options and potential approaches, building on ideas until we reach a preferred or agreed outcome. I always considered brainstorming as pretty run of the mill, never giving it another thought as I set it as a classroom task or used it as a meeting starter. Someone writes the question or problem on a whiteboard and we all throw in options.

But Medium’s Coach Tony (unsure if that’s a real name), has a theory that brainstorming is made better by the ‘Rule of 3’. Here’s how it goes:

  1. One idea is a bad idea – The first idea usually lacks well rounded consideration of the issue. If you agree to use a first idea, it may put people off suggesting other options. If you disagree with the idea, the person who suggests it may feel your are attacking them.
  2. Two ideas is an argument in the making – With two ideas on the table, one will always be the winner and one will be the loser. Enough said.
  3. Three ideas creates discussion – Three ideas means you’ll have to critically analyse each suggestion, weighing up the benefits against the risks. It usually follows that with three options there’s no reason why you couldn’t have four, or nine… Making a suggestion is now less scary.

When leading, we can help set up the situation by not only encouraging a minimum of three options in our team’s next brainstorming activity, but actively contributing to the ‘Three’ ourselves. Don’t wait for your team to put the first or second idea on the table (or whiteboard), jump in and suggest something first. That way you are encouraging others at the same time as setting up a safe environment to contribute ideas. Imagine the opportunity for strengthening the team dynamic when the boss’ idea may be pipped at the post by a truly wonderful 8th suggestion from the floor!

You can read more about the benefits of the ‘Rule of Three’ in Coach Tony’s article on Medium at:
https://medium.com/better-humans/rule-of-three-bad-ideas-arguments-and-brainstorming-ac0d06fbd4ee

If you’re keen to listen to the MamaMia podcast, you can find it at:
https://www.mamamia.com.au/podcasts/mamamia-out-loud/elton-john-princess-diana/

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