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Oct 31, 2013
Jack Neu

We begin learning about the power of three during childhood with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and the three choices of too hot, too cold, or just right.  We continue our formative years spending time with Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers, and Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

Why three?  Humans like choices, but not too many choices.  Two is not enough and four are usually too many; so we opt back to three. When we are in danger or face a dilemma, we want options to choose from, but too many choices confuse our brain and we become at risk.

The basic and stable geometric shape of the triangle has three sides.  Structures that carry a lot of weight, such as bridges, are based on elements like triangles.  And if you ever served in the Armed Forces or were a Boy Scout, you learned to discover your location by triangulating: using three points 120 degrees apart to figure out your spot in the forest.

Business

I first started thinking about this topic because of how a colleague handled his personal business communications.  Whenever he called a customer or friend he would start out the call or message by saying, “I have three things to talk to you about on this message and here they are …” and off he would go, delineating what he had to ask you or tell you.  This way you were prepared to hear three things from him, and you could easily remember them or write them down quickly.  On those rare occasions when he only had two things to impart he would simply sing something about you or himself.  It’s quick, it works, and it makes him memorable.  That is something all of us in business can relate to.

There are other business examples as well.   We classify contacts as hot, warm, or cool.  This helps us determine how much sales time we invest to get new business or to close the deal.  The website www.pyschotactics.com even suggests using no more than three fonts in a presentation.  Even the use of italics makes it seem like you’re using another font.  On a side note, the site is a great source for looking at why customers buy and why they don’t.

Some famous business logos make use of the power of three:

Design

Architecture often allows us to see the power of three.  The basic classical column has three parts: base, shaft, and capital – a beginning, middle, and end.  Palladian windows are another perfect example.  A Palladian window is a large window that is divided into three parts.  The center section is larger than the two side sections, and is usually arched.  Renaissance architecture and other buildings in classical styles often have Palladian windows.

Interior Designer Marcia Butler says in her blog,There are mysterious forces at work which guide us in the direction of wanting symmetry in our lives in the form of THREE.  In design, the wonder of it all is to just notice it, think about it and then actually decide if this is really correct for each situation.”

How about the design of your favorite websites?  Many layouts that are most pleasing to the eye are three column websites, including our very own www.k4places.com.

www.k4places.com, www.huffingtonpost.com, and www.bbc.com

www.k4places.com, www.huffingtonpost.com, and www.bbc.com

Life

There is also the power of three in religion; starting with the Holy Trinity for Christians, the Triple Bodhi for Buddhists and in Hinduism…The Trimurti.

What about sports?  The Olympics have gold, silver, and bronze medals.  Who finished fourth?  We don’t care, we can’t remember that many.  “Strike three and you’re out” is another use of the power of three.  But if you get three strikes in bowling it has a special name, a “turkey” and what about a “hat trick” in hockey?  I am sure there are many more you can think off, but I won’t belabor the point.

There are even some morbid occurrences of the power of three as celebrities often seem to die in that pattern.  Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon all passed away in the same week in 2009.  Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the “Big Bopper,” all died together in a plane crash in 1959.  Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison all died in close succession in the early seventies.  Johnny Cash, John Ritter, and Warren Zevon all died within the same week in 2003.

We could probably spend hours coming up with other examples, but I’ll leave you with a lyric from one of my favorite songs from Don McLean’s American Pie:  “And the three men I admire most, The Father, Son and Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast the day the music died.”

buddy holly and don mclean