Solve Problems With the Rule of Three

Solve Problems With the Rule of Three

You may have noticed in these Pragmatic Manager emails that I articulate a problem I've seen and then offer you a minimum of three potential reasonable solutions. Sometimes, I even offer four solutions. That's because I use the Rule of Three to help develop these solutions—and it works.

Most of us feel time pressure to solve problems. We generate one—or even two—alternatives to a problem. We choose one of those solutions. If we're really pressed for time, we choose the first possible solution we consider.

However, what we don't realize is that the first solution—even a great solution—is a trap. That single-solution thinking makes us think there's only one way to solve this problem.

You've probably said to yourself, “There must be a way around this problem.” You're right. The Rule of Three helps us generate those alternatives.

With two potential solutions, I have a dilemma. Which solution do I choose? How can I make a decision?

But once I have three solutions, now, I have a real choice. And, I have likely broken the logjam thinking that I had with the first and second solutions. I might even be able to generate solutions four, five, and six, just because I have generated solution three.

And, when I generate multiple solutions, I often realize I have a much deeper understanding of the problem. Or, I might need to discuss the issue with someone else. I might need to collect more data. I might need to experiment.

This kind of problem-solving leadership is not common. And, it is what's needed in our organizations today. Practice using the Rule of Three, and you will be much more successful at work.

Learn with Johanna

I don't tend to teach the Rule of Three by itself. However, it arises in almost all of my consulting and coaching. And I teach it in all my private and public workshops.

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Till next time,


© 2011 Johanna Rothman

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