Rules of Threes

While running today, I was thinking about various models out there that describe leadership and change in human systems. I was reacting to an old post by Martin Fowler where he criticized bimodal models of IT as a false dichotomy similar to the Speed/Quality tradeoff.

One example Fowler references is Simon Wardley’s three tiered model of Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners model of organization. A three tier model is better than a two tier model.

A warning oversimplifying typologies, especially kinds of people, can easily lead to stereotypes and shallow thinking.

While these models can be useful in galvanizing groups around a shared identity, they fail to capture the complexities and nuances of real-world systems. All models are wrong…some are dangerous!

This got me thinking—it could be an enjoyable endeavor to compile various numeric rules and continually expand upon them. These rules range from categorizations of types of people to observations in nature and summaries of processes.

Rule of 2’s

The concept of Yin and Yang, representing complementary forces in balance.

Night and Day, symbolizing the opposing yet interconnected aspects of our existence.

Sleep and Wake, embodying the cycles of rest and activity.

System 1 (Intuitive and Automatic), System 2 (Effortful and Analytical) – Two systems of thinking by Daniel Kahneman

Rules of 3’s

Types of people

Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners – Simon Wardley

Commando, Infantry, Police – A variation on the same theme by Jeff Atwood

Sociopaths, Clueless, Losers – A psycho sociological description of organizational pathologies by Venkatesh Rao. It’s humorous because it uses the Office as an example.


Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose – Dan Pink. 3 things that motivate people for complex work.

Autonomy, Collaboration, Empowerment – By Richard Lee – From his Work that Counts in and Across Team work, a great training and book on how to be more effective in a complex organization.

Conscious/Subconscious/Intuition – A model of mind by Carolyn Lewis. Her recommended training helped individuals challenged by a harsh critical inner voice, including myself. The model aligns with elements of Kahneman’s work while introducing the additional layer of intuition.

Rules of 4’s

Seasons – spring, summer, fall, winter

Habits – Cue, Craving, Response, Reward – James Clear

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – The OODA Loop by Boyd.

Rule of 5’s

Mental Models, Team Learning, Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery and, Shared Vision – Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

Rule of 7’s

Effectiveness – be proactive, focus on goals/results, prioritize, pursue win/win solutions, understand others, seek synergy and renew your whole person – 7 habits of highly effective people

Positive Change – 1. Strive for congruence 2. Honor the past, the present, people, 3. Assess what is (one of my favorites) 4. Attend to networks 5. Experiment. 6. Guide and allow for variation 7. Use your self (My other favorite). The 7 Rules of Positive, Productive Change by Esther Derby – a useful guide when trying to influence change in a human system.

Rule of 8’s

Organizational Change. 1. Establish a sense of urgency 2. Build a guiding coalition 3. Establish a Shared Vision, 4. Enlist a volunteer army 5. Enable action by removing barriers 6. Generate Short Term Wins 7. Sustain acceleration 8. Institute change – John Kotter Leading Change

The Five Questions of the Coaching Kata by Mike Rother

I’m sharing these models because I’m interested in exploring leadership concepts and finding ways to distill them into simple, memorable patterns for practical application. As part of my job, I strive to communicate complex ideas in digestible chunks so that teams can effectively utilize them..

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