Keeping things simple helps your team stay focused.

This seems like it should be easy enough, but as billionaire investor Warren Buffett says, “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”

We do, in fact, live in a complex world of advancing technology, global competition, brand abundance, unprecedented variety of sales and distribution channels, and blossoming new work arrangements and organizational structures.

Thinking in threes is a technique I have been using with clients for years. It is a powerful way to simplify thinking. As a by-product, it also forces prioritization and focus, and the resulting clarity trickles down into the organization. We need straightforward methods to help simplify our lives. Complicated processes only create more complexity and compound the problem.

Simplify to three by asking three questions:

  1. What are the three __________(e.g., metrics, values, strategies) that tell us most of the story that we really need to know?
  2. Of the ten _________ that we have, can they be organized under three main headings without losing significant meaning or impact? (the answer is virtually always ‘yes’) .
  3. If we could only measure, communicate, execute or invest in three things, which ones would have the biggest impact?

I routinely ask clients to reduce their strategies from perhaps six to three, or to consolidate their values from twelve to three, or to select the three most important business metrics from their laundry list of twenty. No doubt, it’s a struggle. But I have successfully used this technique countless times to help clients simplify their values, measures, strategies, action plans, and message points.

Truth be told, ending up with precisely three items is less important than the clear-thinking that results from this process. For instance, when I encouraged a client to identify just three core values instead of a list of twelve (that no one could remember let alone apply), the client settled on four values. It wasn’t necessary to eliminate one more to get down to three values. The benefit was realized — clear articulation of the core values that virtually everyone in the organization now remembers and lives by.

Thinking in threes forces you to create simple, memorable, focused frameworks for plans, values, and metrics.

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