It was in the now-classic pilot episode of Schoolhouse Rock, circa 1973, that we learned “Three is a magic number.” Go ahead, check YouTube, I’ll wait. It’s only, you guessed it, three minutes long.
That wasn’t the first time someone articulated the power of three. Horse racing’s highest honor is the Triple Crown, not the Quadruple Crown. The Jackson 5 sang of “ABC” not “ABCDE”. And you know the three most important things in real estate: location, location, location.
There’s so much terrific research behind the power of three, and the conclusion is always the same: important concepts should be distilled to three key points. Giving someone six action items isn’t helpful. Giving yourself eight New Year’s goals is a recipe for frustration. Memory, motivation, and messaging all work in threes.
Today is a great time to think about how you, too, can use the power of three. It's an essential Get Shit Done principle. Here are three examples to inspire you:
1) When you’re telling a story - and we can all benefit by framing things as stories - the power of three helps you remember the flow, helps listeners track what you’re sharing, and helps you be consistent in how you tell and sell your story. For more great tips on storytelling, check out two earlier blogs I published: Take People on the Journey with You and What Story are You Taking Into Battle?
2) When you’re embarking on a new job or project, the power of three can be your best friend. We’ve all been there: we have a lot of requests coming at us, time is of the essence, and we're still finding our way. Use the power of three to triage those requests, and to indicate to others where you’re going to be spending your time. The Green / Yellow / Red construct is super effective in this situation. Green means we’re on track, so I’m not spending much time on those items. Yellow means I’m keeping an eye on it, and Red is “Danger, Will Robinson!” and that’s where I’ll be spending the bulk of my time.
3) When you’re in a rut, use the power of three to get unstuck. Give yourself a framework of what you need to consider or need to do Now vs. Later vs. Way Later, defining those last two however you want. I recently spoke at a conference for digital marketers, and I suggested this framework as a way to distill all of the great ideas they noted down to the three they'd focus on the moment the conference ended.
A great example of the power of three guiding oneself throughout the day is what legendary North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano shared when accepting the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage Award:
“To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”
What makes a heck of a day for me? It’s a day when I’m able to give more, to laugh more, and to love more. How about you?