The Rule of Three

I’ve been giving a lot of thoughts to The Rule of Three.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of things in our world somehow come bundled in sets of threes?

I haven’t figured out the scientific or reasonable explanation for this. It’s not as famous as the Golden Ratio. But time and time again I stumble upon things that somehow “feel right” when they come in bundles of threes.

Good Things Come in Threes

The whole teaching of Christianity is centered on the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There were 3 wise men who came to see infant Jesus on the night of His birth.

In the corporate world, people talk about 3 things: vision, strategy, tactics.

Companies’ financial statements revolve around 3 important documents: Income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement.

In his book “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek expouses the value of the Golden Circle.

simon sinek the golden circle
Notice the 3 elements?

And then there’s the saying that goes, “third time’s the charm”.

If you put a little effort into finding things that come in threes, you’ll start noticing patterns in the world. Famous quotes or lines have been created using this simple strategy, and some of them have transcended hundreds and thousands of years.

  • “Veni, vidi, vici”. – Translation: I came, I saw, I conquered. Attributed to Julius Caesar, circa 47 BC
  • “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – United States Declaration of Independence, 1776
  • “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” – Translation: liberty, equality, fraternity. French national motto.
  • “Ethos, pathos, logos”. These are modes of persuasion or rhetorical devices espoused by Aristotle in his treatise Rethoric.

The Search for the Triune Truth

Like the character Walter Sparrow in the movie “The Number 23”, when I first discovered this unspoken connection, it felt like my mind was unravelling and I’m travelling down a rabbit hole.

Or is there somehow an unexplained divine logic behind why the number 3 holds such mystery and power?

I found a Latin phrase – Omne Trium Perfectum.

It means: everything that is three is perfect.

My assumption is that somehow, on a subconscious level, we’re attracted to things that comes in 3’s because it’s not too many, nor too few. It’s a Goldilocks zone (again, the story also tells of 3 bears, and how Goldilocks finds the perfect soup and perfect chair on the 3rd attempt).

On a biological level, our brain is primed to see connections where none exist. Our minds have an impressive ability to make connections. The human brain is a powerful pattern recognition engine.

3 is the bare minimum number of elements to enable the brain to recognise patterns.

Don’t take my word for it. The U.S. Marines uses this rule to blistering effect. It’s no wonder they’re one of the most agile and adaptive combat force in the world. Ponder this paragraph from an article that appeared in the Inc magazine in 1998:

The functional version of the rule dictates that a person should limit his or her attention to three tasks or goals. When applied to strategizing, the rule prescribes boiling a world of infinite possibilities down to three alternative courses of action. Anything more, and a marine can become overextended and confused. The marines experimented with a rule of four and found that effectiveness plummeted.

The Corp Values

The Rule of Three for the Modern Age

I believe that The Rule of Three has an interesting and unexplored potential in our modern world.

Here’s a 3-step process to using The Rule of Three in your life for maximum productivity:

  1. Make a list of whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish
  2. Arrange it in terms of priority
  3. Focus on the top 3 and cut out the rest

This is similar to how Warren Buffett’s 25-5 Rule work.

Rule of Three for Hobbies

A few days ago I came across a popular life hack that advocates for everyone to have 3 hobbies.

  • One to make you money
  • One to keep you in shape
  • One that lets you be creative

For me, writing is a hobby which lets me be creative and hopefully serendipity takes place and this blog makes money in the future. Wishful thinking, but I don’t really care. Writing lets me express myself, share what I learned with the world and inspire others to grow.

Writing is a form of catharsis for me.

Sadly I haven’t found a hobby to help keep me in shape yet.

Rule of Three for Personal Finance

Here’s an interesting point to ponder: try separating your expenses into 3 buckets

  • One bucket for needs
  • One bucket for wants
  • One bucket for the future

Senator Elizabeth Warren came up with her 50-20-30 rule – 50% for your needs, 20% for your future, and 30% for your lifestyle wants.

Everyone has a different preference, find one that suits you.

Finding your Rule of Three

Now you are armed with the knowledge of The Rule of Three. How are you going to wield this new-found weapon?

Use your creativity to combine this rule with your own field of knowledge to create something new. Take advantage of human’s pattern recognition engine to quickly spread your ideas. Or do nothing.

The choice is entirely yours.

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