This innovation leadership tool is about rapidly identifying the vital few issues and obstacles that need to be managed or dealt with, and allocating attention and resources to them.
The “Rule of 3” is an idea I engineered from studying leadership, change and innovation. It’s the product of combining Pareto’s Principle, Williams’ close observation of Field Marshall Montgomery’s characteristic approach to getting things done and Max Atkinson’s research on successful speech-making.
Pareto’s Principle suggests that 80% of the effects observed in a situation are caused by a mere 20% of the population. His original 1906 observation was that 80% of the wealth in Switzerland was held by only 20% of the population. This has become a quality method for identifying the most powerful variables in a situation which need to be controlled to manage failure.
Field-Marshall Montgomery: Brigadier Williams serving as Montgomery’s Intelligence Chief [i] noticed his preference for 3-part lists as a means of simplifying complex issues and concentrating resources. In Hamilton's biography of Montgomery[ii] , he notes that in the last year of WW2 Monty was constantly trying to stop the Americans attacking across a broad front to incur 100,000 casualties instead of concentrating at a few points, feinting at one and then making the main effort at another. As Monty said in a letter after the command performance scandal of the Battle of Bulge: "We have failed to date by trying to do too many things and not giving enough resources to any of them to ensure success..."
Max Atkinson[iii] points out the power of leaders simplifying big issues through 3-part focused lists in his analysis of powerful political speeches, particularly their “air of unity or completeness”. It is as though we are programmed to listen more deeply to a 3-part list when we know it is coming, and that audience interruptions tend to occur after 3 points have been stated within a longer list.
Chunking as a Technique (or Identifying and Working on the Vital Few)
This technique is designed to gain a rapid understanding of the vital few issues that need to be managed to be successful. It requires use of the Creative Silence technique to brainstorm all the problems and obstacles involved in delivering the goal.
The goal or the aim must be clearly stated. The team must have had time to immerse themselves in the data involved in the situation.
In preparation a flipchart sheet needs to be prepared with the word “Start” at the top and “Finish” at the bottom, everyone must have pink post-its (for brainstorming issues or obstacles to delivering the goal) and black medium pens to write with. You invite the group to silently brainstorm the issues or obstacles that need to be managed to deliver success. They share these, 3 at a time. You apply CGSM (Common, Ground, Special, Missing) and concentrate the groupings to simplify the themes down to at least 3, with a hidden willingness if necessary to reduce to 2 or expand to 4 or 5, depending on the nature of the challenge. These pink issues or obstacles post-its are then put in an approximate sequence to the left of the vertical arrow connecting “Start” and “Finish”.
Having broken down the issues or obstacles to the vital few (possibly the top 3), then break your team into 3 parts, and allocate 10 minutes for the 3 sub-teams to work concurrently on developing solutions for overcoming the top 3 issues, writing their solutions onto blue post-its and positioning these to the right of the vertical arrow, parallel to issue or obstacle they deal with.
Invite the sub-teams to share these and for the others to add value to their prototype solutions. Identify or vote on the optimal solutions. Use the 3-part list of obstacles and matched solutions in your communication strategy.
[i] Howarth, T.E.B (1985) Monty At Close Quarters, Leo Cooper/ Secker & Warburg: London/ New York, p22.
[ii] Hamilton, N. (1987) Monty: The Field-Marshall, Vol.3; Hodder & Stoughton, p254.
[iii] Atkinson, M. (1984) Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body Language of Politics, pp57-72.