“Third time’s a charm!”

Omne trium perfectum: Everything that comes in threes is perfect.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” -Buddha

Three is Pervasive

The number three has had significance in human civilizations since ancient times.

The ancient Greeks considered three as the perfect number:

  • the number of harmony, wisdom and understanding;
  • the number of time – past, present, future; birth, life, death; beginning, middle, end;
  • the number of the divine.

And trinities are indeed found in multiple religions, including the three main monotheistic religions – the Christian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Islamic core principles of Shia Tawhid, Nabuwwa, and Imama.

When we got married, Dick Libby, the priest who married us, suggested that my husband and I address problems by putting them in front of us, as in a triangle, rather than between us as in a line. (It’s been excellent advice!)

You see it everywhere, from literature and science to art and psychology – every field includes examples of the “rule of threes.”

Three is Programmed

Triangles, the strongest shape, forming the basic structure of a radio tower.

Why is three so prevalent in human culture? Being the fascinating creatures that we are, why things “work” is usually rooted in science – how our brains and bodies work. And that proves true for why using “three” is so intrinsically attractive to humans.

The reason does indeed lie in our brains – they are wired to process information best in threes. This is because when we think of a list or idea with three components, our brains are able to quickly remember and recall each element easier than if there were more than three elements.

  • Three is the smallest amount of information needed to create a pattern.
  • Studies have shown that human working memory can remember 3-5 items, depending upon the person, so most of the human population can remember 3 things easily.
  • We see in three dimensions. Stereopsis is the process of the brain combining the images from each eye and combining them into a single, three-dimensional image.

As a result, we are programmed to grativate toward and respond positively to things that come in three.

Three is Powerful

Now that you know humans are innately wired in multiple ways for threes, how can you leverage that in business?

Giorgio Mirandi Still Life with Flask
  • Sales – Offer customers three choices. One isn’t a choice, two can be seen as the lesser of two evils, and three offers a real choice. More than three options starts to tap into decision fatigue and working memory overload.
  • Presentations – Use three words, three phrases, three combinations of visuals (font, color, and graphics, or objects or graphics arranged in threes) to appeal subconsciously to your oral, written, and visual audience.
  • Brainstorming – Research has shown that the most productive work relationships meet in groups of three, causing them to think more about the success of the organization or group than themselves.

Work the three. Take advantage of innate, intrinsic human tendencies to make it easier to be effective and happy, and to glide through life more smoothly.