Posted by: Long Huynh | April 15, 2009

Rule of 3

You may have noticed that my last 2 posts started with a number: 3. Before writing another post with 3-something in the headline and lest you think that I use (or abuse) the List post to attract more traffic, I would like to talk about the Rule of 3 as a management practice that I follow almost religiously for many years now.

Simply stated, the Rule of 3 provides a way to structure your thoughts and actions in sets of 3. The practice simplifies an otherwise complex situation in which there are too many options to ponder and keeps the number manageable. It also helps speed up the decision-making process because the number 3 is intuitively wholesome (it is a prime number), complete and satisfying.

If you look around for a moment, you will see that the Rule of 3 is pervasive. We talk about Trinity in Christianity. We use 3 to segment a complete cycle (start-during-end) or a range of possibilities (low-medium-high). We have a tendency to look for a 3rd option whenever facing with a binary choice (yes-no-maybe).

One of the best practitioners of the Rule of 3 is the US Marine Corps. Its basic Ground Combat Element (GCE) structure evolves around groups of 3, from a corporal’s squad to a lieutenant colonel’s battalion level. Its Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a quick-response task force, is assigned to a Fleet under a 3-way rotation principle: one in deployment at sea, one in stand by (training) and one in stand down (resting and reorganizing). In carrying out missions, the Marines always have 3 goals or tasks assigned (they found out that 2 is insufficient and 4 inefficient). The Marines also developed new urban warfare doctrine called the “3-block war”. One could say that the Rule of 3 is ingrained within the Corps.

Here are a few sets of 3 that I intend to elaborate upon in future posts:

  • Reality – Expectation – Perception
  • Vision – Insight – Wisdom
  • Intellectual – Emotional – Spiritual (Intelligence)

Give them some thoughts and see if you can come up with others.

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