The power of three

I recently discovered that I am predisposed to categorize everything into three categories. I mean everything – people, attributes, things, ideas, tv shows, curries, leaders, asians, watches, jackets, restaurants, everything. Seriously. Its not so much that I need to do adopt this kind of stereotyping or assumption-making, its just that its far easier to traverse the graph of decision making when there are only three paths to choose from. Maybe not even for the ease of it, but honestly its far more fun and interesting and makes for great conversation. For the uninitiated, the working the power of three might be to group everything into good, bad and average. Far from it. The power of three is the power of narrowing down of everything in the tangible universe down to three broad but meaningful buckets. Say fruit – sweet, tart, exotic. OK, how about cars – old, economy, can’t afford. Something more generic, leadership – lead by example, lead by influence, lead by both. What about the abstract, punishment – to change behaviour, to change thought process, to change peoples. How about people, maybe salespeople – temporary, natural talent, entrenched.

As you see, the power of three is not just a fun exercise in the art of segregation, but also an exercise in imagination and perception. I think as humans, we like to simplify our choices, and we like to humanize our simplifications. What defines us is not the eventual categories that we come up with, but what the basis is for such broad categorization. Like I said earlier, the simpletons in our midst will almost always use the good, bad, in-between as the sole criteria for such judgement. However, the more complex, insightful, and non-conforming of us will use a more complex criteria based on our experiences and inherent frivolousness to come to a more insightful categorization. I meant insightful as insightful for an observer rather than the person doing this exercise. And this is how I reached the conclusion that this could be a very interesting and insightful interview question which I will undoubtedly use in my future interviews with candidates. Ask anybody to group something random and generic into three types and it will pinpoint for you the g-spot between their left and right brains.

Think about it, if I asked to categorize anything into two groups – you would most naturally be inclined to go on the lines of good and bad. And if I said to categorize into four, a vast majority of people would get stymied by the mental mind block. Hence three. However, remember, its not three arbitrary categories, but three equally distributed categories as per your perception and understanding of said topic regardless of overlap. Its the right number that forces you to think beyond black and white but not get too far into the science. So think about it; how would you categorize the following into three groups – cups, indians, laptops, families, christians, art, phones, sports, buffets, actors, wines, gods, conversations, trees, paintings.

One Response

  1. Boris
    Boris 21 August, 2013 at 9:19 am | | Reply

    Indians – Food, funny clothes, elephants
    Wines – white, red, rose
    Sports – fun, boring, slow
    Laptops – shiny, heavy, fast


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