Make better decisions with The Rule Of Three

According to a widely ballyhooed recent study, event planning is the 6th most stressful job. I have no idea if that’s true, but, looking back on the two-day event I ran last week, I estimate that I had to solve well over a hundred on-the-spot problems that cropped up during the twenty-four hours I was on duty.

If you’re looking for a solution to a problem, there’s a natural temptation to pick the first solution you come up with.

In my experience, this is usually a mistake. An understandable mistake, for sure, but still a mistake. Most of the time, the first solution I come up with is not the best choice, so it’s worth taking a little more time to think before springing into action.

You can reduce the possibility of a poor decision caused by a hasty response by employing The Rule Of Three.

The Rule Of Three

Before deciding on a course of action, come up with three alternatives.

Here are three ways of thinking about The Rule Of Three.

1) Family therapist Virginia Satir encouraged people to have at least three choices. She said:

…to have one choice is no choice;
to have two choices is a dilemma;
and to have three choices offers new possibilities.
The Satir Model, Virginia Satir et al

2) Jerry Weinberg (who came up with this rule’s name) puts it another way that should get your attention:

If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.

3) One more formulation: If you don’t have three options for a solution to a problem, you don’t understand it well enough yet, and you might need to explore it more.

Applying The Rule Of Three

It can be hard to apply The Rule Of Three, especially in stressful situations. Sometimes I have a hard time resisting acting on the first idea that pops into my head.

Here are two ways that help me apply The Rule of Three:

1) Get help to come up with more options. When I’m under pressure, asking trusted colleagues to help brainstorm alternatives is a great way for me to widen my problem-solving horizons and avoid missing a great solution. Two (or more) heads are better than one.

2) As with making most changes in your life, practice helps. Commit to apply The Rule Of Three to problems you encounter for three days. Then evaluate the results. How and under what circumstances did The Rule Of Three work for you? Decide whether you want to continue the commitment to maintaining this new approach to problem solving.

Uh oh, only two options here. I’m looking for at least one more. Suggestions?

Photo attribution: Flickr user migueleveryday

19 secrets of consulting that changed my life

fortune teller 1233035451_8214d41282_oYou may not think of yourself as a consultant, but you probably are. Peter Block, in his classic book Flawless Consulting, defines a consultant as someone who has influence but not the authority to make changes. While some, like myself, are full-time independent consultants, a much larger number of people are internal consultants: people who are employed by an organization that, at times, puts them in a role of giving advice without the power to implement it.

So, how do we learn how to consult well? I’ve written before about Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust and his ten laws of pricing, taken from his brilliant book, published in 1985 and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully. If these laws didn’t inspire you to rush out and buy the book, perhaps this selection of some of his (100+) other laws, rules, and principles will. I consider this book and the sequel, More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant’s Tool Kit, essential reading (and rereading) for anyone who consults.

Here are nineteen of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Jerry, followed by the names he gives them and brief commentary from me.

You’ll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit.

The Credit Rule. Check your ego at the door.

In spite of what your client may tell you, there’s always a problem.

The First Law of Consulting. Yes, most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem.

No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.

The Second Law of Consulting. I learned this after about five years of being engaged as a technical consultant and repeatedly having CEOs confiding to me their non-technical woes…

If they didn’t hire you, don’t solve their problem.

The Fourth Law of Consulting. A common occupational disease of consultants: we rush to help people who haven’t asked for help.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The First Law of Engineering. Must. Not. Unscrew the tiny screws just to check what’s inside.

Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell you the solution in the first five minutes.

The Five-Minute Rule. Unbelievably, this is true—the hard part is listening well enough to notice.

If you can’t accept failure, you’ll never succeed as a consultant.

The Hard Law. Everyone makes mistakes, and that can be a good thing.

Helping myself is even harder than helping others.

The Hardest Law. The hardest things to notice are things about myself.

The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.

The Law of Raspberry Jam. Or, as Jerry rephrases it: Influence or affluence; take your choice.

When the clients don’t show their appreciation, pretend that they’re stunned by your performance—but never forget that it’s your fantasy, not theirs.

The Lone Ranger Fantasy. “Who was that masked man, anyway?”

The most important act in consulting is setting the right fee.

Marvin’s Fifth Great Secret. Setting the right fee takes a huge burden off your shoulders.

“We can do it—and this is how much it will cost.”

The Orange Juice Test. Jerry uses an example straight from the meetings world for this one—event professionals will recognize the situation, and appreciate the insight.

Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered.

Prescott’s Pickle Principle. Sadly, the longer you work with a client, the less effective you get.

It may look like a crisis, but it’s only the ending of an illusion.

Rhonda’s First Revelation. A positive way to think about unpleasant change.

When you create an illusion, to prevent or soften change, the change becomes more likely—and harder to take.

Rhonda’s Third Revelation. Notice and challenge your illusions before they turn into crises.

If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.

The Rule of Three. The perfect antidote to complacency about your plans.

The best marketing tool is a satisfied client.

The Sixth Law of Marketing. Word of mouth is the best channel for new work; being able to satisfy my clients led me to a successful, twenty-two year IT consulting career without using advertising or agents.

Give away your best ideas.

The Seventh Law of Marketing. When you teach your clients to handle future similar problems themselves, they’ll appreciate your generosity and are more likely to give you further work or good word of mouth to others.

Spend at least one-fourth of your time doing nothing.

The Ninth Law of Marketing. There are many good reasons for doing this—for some, read Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco.

Well, there they are, some of my favorite secrets of consulting, as penned by Jerry. What do you think of my choices? Are there others that speak to you?

Photo attribution: Flickr user sanspareille

Jerry Weinberg’s Ten Laws of Pricing

soc100dpiIn March I posted a summary of Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust, taken from his brilliant book, published twenty-five years ago and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully. It was clear from the response that many people hadn’t heard about Jerry’s work.

Today I was thinking about adjusting my consulting rates, and remembered that Jerry has a lot to say on this subject too. Understanding his Ten Laws of Pricing made it easy for me to set fees for my work, and, more importantly, helped me feel comfortable with the role of money in my professional life. #2 alone gave me the confidence to bill an additional six digit income during my IT consulting career, and #9 makes setting your rate for billing or being charged anything a snap.

So here are Jerry’s Ten Laws of Pricing. If you like them and want to know more, do yourself a big favor and buy his book!

  1. Pricing has many functions, only one of which is the exchange of money.
  2. The more they pay you, the more they love you. The less they pay you, the less they respect you.
  3. The money is usually the smallest part of the price.
  4. Pricing is not a zero-sum game.
  5. If you need the money, don’t take the job.
  6. If they don’t like your work, don’t take their money.
  7. Money is more than price.
  8. Price is not a thing, it’s a negotiated relationship.
  9. Set the price so you won’t regret it either way. (Also known as the Principle of Least Regret.)
  10. All prices are ultimately based on feelings, both yours and theirs.

Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

laws of trustJerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust are shared in his fantastic book, published thirty years ago and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully:

  1. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
  2. Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
  3. People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.
  4. The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
  5. People are never liars—in their own eyes.
  6. Always trust your client—and cut the cards.
  7. Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
  8. Never promise anything.
  9. Always keep your promise.
  10. Get it in writing, but depend on trust.

Ten laws of trust. Obey them, and transform your consulting!

P.S. Check out 19 secrets of consulting that changed my life for more gems from Jerry Weinberg.