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I prompted Jan Harness to write about a lesson she solidified for me – the rule of three. As expected, it resulted in two additional posts (“original” + “ignore original” + “apologize for original” = 3). In her third one, she expressed frustration with the first post because the rule of threes is such a part of how she approaches communication that it’s difficult to step away enough to explain it. Jan’s not giving herself enough credit, but in any event, since I’m not as close to it, here are my thoughts on the rule of three.

As Jan notes, the rule of threes works in many situations. Interesting applications among what I do are in both innovation and humor. For instance, many innovation exercises involve:

1. Introducing a current situation

2. Twisting or changing the view of the current situation by altering your perspective

3. Capturing new ideas through having looked at things from this new perspective

The formula in humor looks similar with a slight shift:

1. Introduce a familiar situation

2. Reinforce the situation to create a pattern

3. Change, twist, or break the pattern in an unexpected way to trigger laughter

A more general approach in applying the rule of three to list making, story telling, or information sharing could work like this:

1. State something evident or common

2. Follow item #1 with a related, but slightly modified second item. The modification could be that #2 is more powerful, stronger, or unusual but is still consistent with #1.

3. Follow item #2 with a third item that uses the modifier for #2 in an even more exaggerated fashion – even more powerful, strong, or unusual.

Need more? Click on these three links to see an overview, examples, and how you can better use the rule of three in your communication.

Get it? Got it? Good!

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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  1. Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globes, and 3 Creative Lessons | The Brainzooming Group | Strategy Consulting and Strategic Planning - January 17, 2011

    […] prediction – Ricky Gervais won’t get a chance to employ the Rule of 3 to try going even further, or even in another creative direction next year. His last Golden Globes […]