Raquel and April were chatting over brunch. Both vice presidents of engineering for mid-stage startups, they had met at a fundraiser for their favorite charity and had been best friends ever since.
“I’ve been feeling stuck the last few weeks,” Raquel told April. “I’ve reviewed all my notes from our discussions about sustaining movement, maintaining alignment, and managing impact. But I still don’t know where I’m getting stuck.”
“Does your Council of Counsel have any suggestions?”
“If they do, I’m not comprehending them.”
“That’s a tough place to be. Would you like some suggestions?”
“Yes, I would,” Raquel replied emphatically.
1) If you don’t know where to go, just go somewhere
“I’m going to guess that some of your frustration comes from not knowing how to get started,” April began. “Am I right?”
“Absolutely. If I just had a hint of what to do, I could make that a tiny experiment.”
“If you don’t know where to move, does it matter what you do?”
“If I go in the wrong direction, that’s worse than not moving at all.”
“What do you need right now? More than anything else?”
“How do you get information?”
“Perform an experiment and discover what happens.”
“What’s the tiniest experiment you could do?”
“Well…since I don’t know where to go, I guess I can pick a random direction and start moving. Then, I can use what I know about maintaining alignment to feel whether that direction is taking me closer or further from where I want to be. That would give me the information I need to compose my next experiment.”
April grinned with delight. “You worked that out in about two minutes. It took me about that many years. Nice!”
2) You have at least three options
Raquel grinned back and rubbed her hands together excitedly. Then her excitement drained into a sigh.
“I’m feeling less despair and more hope,” she reported. “I’m itching to get started. My mind, however, points out that random walking through this sludge of stuck could take ages. I can’t afford that amount of time.”
“One trick I use for directing my random walks is to generate multiple experiments at each step,” April suggested. “When I have only one option, it’s more a command than an option. Adding a second option tends to leave me on a fence, wavering between the best choice. Once I have three options, however, one of them often is clearly better than the other two.”
“Oh, right. Thank you for reminding me about the Rule of Three. I do always feel more confident the more choices I have. And, once I develop that third option, a fourth, fifth, and tenth often tumble out right behind.”
“Isn’t that amazing?” April asked. “I think it’s my favorite tool for getting unstuck.”
3) You have options for developing options
“OK,” Raquel said. “I’m feeling even less despair and even more hope now. “I’d like to focus my experiments even more, though. The sooner I find a solution, the sooner I get my weekends back.”
“Don’t you have kids?” April asked. “Do you ever have weekends?”
“Well, no,” Raquel replied with a laugh.
“You’re in luck,” April informed Raquel. “The Rule of Three says you must have at least one more way to get unstuck. And, I happen to have one for you to use: Apply the Rule of Three to each of sustaining movement, maintaining alignment, and managing impact.”
“What? Oh. You’re suggesting I devise at least three experiments specifically around sustaining movement, at least another three for maintaining alignment, and at least three others about managing impact. Do I have that right?”
“Yes, exactly. I find this helps in two ways: First, I tend to get many more options. At the very least, I start with nine. And, since that third alternative often is accompanied by a fourth, fifth, and more, I probably am well into the double digits.”
“Second,” April continued, “I’ve grouped all those possibilities into a hierarchy. Which gives me options for how to choose between them. I can evaluate all of them at once. Or, I can feel into whether sustaining movement, maintaining alignment, or managing impact seems the best area to start. That then limits my next selection.”
“Third,” Raquel added, “I could group all those ideas into other affinities. Maybe I could some do myself, others would need a few additional people, and yet others would need most of my team.”
“That use of the Rule of Three deserves a high five,” April congratulated. “Maybe three high fives,” she added with a chuckle.
4) Phone a friend
“Now I’m feeling no despair and all hope,” Raquel updated April. “And, I have a formula for getting unstuck.”
“First,” Raquel put up an index finger, “take a step.”
She raised her middle finger as she said, “leverage the Rule of Three and develop multiple potential next steps.”
“Third,” adding her ring finger, “further leverage the Rule of Three and experiment with different methods of organizing and grouping all my alternatives.”
“Fourth,” Raquel interjected, “do this with a friend over lunch.”
“Absolutely,” April agreed. “That’s a critical fourth step. Do you have time to dive in now?”
“I sure do,” Raquel replied as she started rearranging their table so they could continue munching as they brainstormed.