The Rule of Three

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

“Three Blind Mice”… ““Three Strikes and You Are Out”…. “Location, Location, Location”… these are examples of how the Rule of Three governs almost every facet of daily life.

As children we enjoyed stories about the Three Bears and the Three Pigs. In our teenage years we adhered to basketball’s three second rule and cheered the Olympics’ gold, silver and bronze finalists. Then, while enjoying a breakfast cereal that snaps, crackles and pops, many prayed to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit on Sundays.

As consumers we have the choice of small, medium and large and when shopping, there are “three levels of customer experience”. Insurance programs, credit cards and loyalty/reward packages are all based on the Rule of Three.

The main reason for our surprising involvement in “threes” is that people have difficulty handling too many choices and an unwritten standard in business says that when forced to do so, it is easier when there are only three possibilities.


Although politicians prefer to grant government contracts to the lowest bidder however, experience shows that when forced to make a decision that carries a financial commitment, budget-conscious executives will usually pick the second option.

They will find the first option as the most appealing “blue sky” choice, but a prohibitively expensive budget will make it difficult to back. The second option usually retains some of the first option’s glamour, and has a budget that is easier to defend. The third option is the least expensive but it does not have the “bells & whistles” appeal of the first two. Executives therefore know that choosing option two suggests that a careful comparison of the three possibilities has been done, therefore reflecting the individual’s professionalism and fiscal responsibility.

In marketing a project’s potential is judged as high, medium and low and in sales leads are often described as hot, warm or cold. Similarly, business forecasts and probability theories describe potential scenarios as optimistic, average or pessimistic. A choice of three is a vital part of any business decision today.

Public speaking

Apart from the traditional basic steps to speaking in public (Stand up to be seen, Speak out to be heard and Sit down to be appreciated), a speaker wants to ensure that the audience learns something about his topic and has the opportunity to absorb his ideas. To do this successfully, the key message should be repeated three times during the presentation, but using different words.

1. Tell them what they are going to hear. The introduction should outline what the speaker is going to talk about, and how it will be presented.
2. Tell them. The body of the presentation is when the actual message is delivered. The audience already knows what is coming so this is when they learn the details.
3. Tell them what they heard. At the end of the presentation the speaker briefly summarises his presentation and tells them what he told them. By describing the main points a third time the speaker ensures that the audience will remember his message.

Profitable everyday philosophy

Many successful companies rely on the triple principle of people, services and profit (P-S-P). This philosophy states that happy employees (the most important asset of a company) who work in a positive environment will always provide quality customer service, resulting in higher profits for the organisation.

Because they are more comfortable with a limited choice, executives fulfill their corporate social responsibilities by relying on a simple 1-2-3 approach in everything they undertake. Many find it an effective way of planning daily, monthly and annual activities, in both business, social, and everyday life.

And so, as we teach our children to “stop, look and listen” before crossing the street, we are actually reinforcing the importance of simplifying life by following and relying on The Rule of Three.

Ennio Vita-Finzi is a former Trade Commissioner, banker, service sector entrepreneur and College and University lecturer. Retired, he now writes and often mentors others.