The Magic of Three – The “Windex” of a Winning Business


Throughout my blog posts, you will notice that I construct lots of lists in explaining and clarifying certain points. You may also note that most of these lists have three points. In doing this, I am using a technique I call the “Magic of Three.”

  1. What is the Magic of Three?
  2. Why Think in Threes?
  3. How to Apply the Magic of Three?


What is the Magic of Three?

The ‘Magic of Three” requires that you analyze and organize most concepts and actions in three points.

No more. No less.

In determining the three points, you strive to be MECE. MECE is an analytical framework used by the management consulting company, McKinsey; it stands for mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. By mutually exclusive, you want to have each of the three points stand on its own and be distinct from the other two. By collectively exhaustive, you try to encompass and explain the concept or action as completely as possible in only the three points.

But, you may say, many issues are complex and cannot be boiled down completely to three points. True, you may not catch all the nuances of the issue, but you will catch the gist and the most important points. In 98 out of 100 cases, if you accomplish the three most important points you will have achieved the goal.

Why Think in Threes?

First, thinking in threes requires you to do forced prioritization. It requires you to realize that having 10 goals or 10 action items means that at most one goal or item will be done effectively. Having too many priorities does mean having no priorities, as companies rarely have the talent, energy, and time to accomplish more than three priorities. With the Magic of Three, you are forced to prioritize on the most important three issues. These three issues can be kept front of mind and can then be accomplished.

Second, thinking in threes improves the rigor and quality of your thinking. By forcing you to explain an issue in only three points, you can truly understand the issue and focus on the most important points. This enables you to put together an action plan that can then be communicated.

Third, thinking in threes significantly improves your ability to communicate and persuade. In the best of situations, listeners or readers can only grasp 3 – 5 points at a time. By having a clear, compact and succinct three points, communication can more easily take place and your team will be able to understand the issue and act on it. This allows you to repeat and reiterate the three points so that they stick in the front of your team members’ minds. As Vince Lombardi says, “Effective communication doesn’t take place until your people, hear or see what you say, understand it, believe it, believe you mean it, remember it, internalize it, and begin to use it themselves.” Such effective communication is difficult even with three MECE points, let alone trying to communicate with an unfocused memo or speech that contains 8 – 12 points or action items.

How to Apply the Magic of Three?

Just as Windex was used in The Big Fat Greek Wedding, use the Magic of Three everywhere.

  1. Use in your written and spoken communication
  2. Use in your operational and strategic planning
    1. What are the three key priorities for our business?
    2. What are the three key areas for improvement on the production floor?
    3. What are the three key initiatives for our organization (You will note that in a book I have written about on this blog, Lessons from Private Equity Any Company Can Use, the authors emphasize the need to focus on usually three – but never more than five – key operational improvement initiatives)
  3. Use in employee and leadership management
    1. What are the three key things that you did well this year?
    2. What are the three challenges that you had this year?
    3. What are your three key improvement / development areas that need to be addressed in the next year?



  1. Keep things simple in your complex world
  2. Focus on and achieve the most important things that you set out to achieve
  3. Use the Magic of Three!!


Until Next Time.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Business Acumen, Perform / Execution and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Magic of Three – The “Windex” of a Winning Business

  1. carol hagen says:

    I have seen 3 work well. In social media strategy you must first decide on its purpose: Brand Awareness, Sales and Customer Loyalty. If you have all that accomplished you have an effective reach to every possible customer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s