How emotionally intelligent minds like Steve Jobs use the rule of 3 to become exceptionally persuasive
The best way to explain all of this is to just show it off. But I hope you read to the end, because the big reveal which I think makes it even more fascinating.
Let’s start with three examples. here is how Jobs publicly showcased three legendary Apple products over a 23-year period. See if you can spot a pattern.
First, in 1984, Jobs introduced the Macintosh:
“There have only been two flagship products in our industry: the Apple II in 1977 and the IBM PC in 1981. Today, one year after Lisa, we are launching the third flagship in the industry: the Macintosh .
Then, for our purposes, in 2001, he introduced the iPod:
“There are three major advances in the iPod. Let’s take a look at each of them. “
Finally, in 2007, he presented the iPhone:
“[T]Today we present three revolutionary products to you … The first is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a revolutionary Internet communication device.
… An iPod, a telephone and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … do you have it?
These are not three separate devices. It’s a device, and we call it iPhone. “
When you line them up like that, I think it jumps out at you: Jobs was a master of a very efficient framework that we call the rule of 3. Chances are you would use it yourself, can -being without even thinking about it.
Jobs passed away 10 years ago next week, and we’re going to hear a lot about what he accomplished, why he was successful, and how the future he envisioned matches the present we live in today. .
But looking back, I was struck by the extent to which he continually used this unique, simple and powerful framework. This is how he organized his thoughts, took advantage of emotional intelligence, and became more persuasive.
As I explored recently, the Rule of 3 works because:
- Lists of three items create short and recognizable patterns.
- Three is the maximum number of disparate items that most people can remember after a single exposure.
- Lists of three demand attention because they signal progress, or at least a change from the status quo.
Jobs used this device over and over again – before large and small groups, in his private life, and even long before most of the world had ever heard of Apple.
Perhaps his most famous example is the opening speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005:
“Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s all. No big deal.
Just three stories.
The first story is to connect the dots. “
(And, later: “My second story is about love and loss” and “My third story is about death.”)
Or, consider his first big speech to a fairly small group of Apple executives in 1997, just months after he returned to Apple as CEO.
He got right to the point, outlining the three key things he wanted to focus on:
“I’ve been back for about eight to ten weeks and we’ve been working really hard. And what we’re trying to do isn’t really something that big. We’re trying to get back to basics.
We try to get back to basics excellent products, great marketing and large distribution. “
Or, go back far in history, to 1976, when Jobs sketched out what some consider the very first advertisement for an Apple product – literally in pen, on a piece of loose-leaf paper, with two instant photos. Polaroid attached. He highlighted three main characteristics:
- All power supplies
- 8K bytes of RAM (16 pin 4K dynamic)
- full CRT terminal – input: ASCII keyboard, output: composite video
(At the end, he added, “$ 75, a real deal.”)
Support me, but here’s another favorite, which really has nothing to do with marketing or Apple, but shows how ingrained it has become for Jobs.
This is the weeks-long debate Jobs had with his family when they wanted to buy a washing machine, choosing between a traditional American model and a more efficient but slower European machine.
How did he break down the problem? You guessed it, organizing it into a three part analysis. Here is what he said to his biographer:
“We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family:
- Do we most want to do our laundry in an hour rather than an hour and a half?
- Or did we care the most that our clothes are really soft and last longer?
- Did we take care to use a quarter of the water?
We spent about two weeks talking about it every night at the table. “
We could really go on and on here. If you’ve ever seen this famous video of when Jobs faced particularly sharp criticism during a presentation, you’ll notice it begins with a famous quote that follows a rule of 3.
“You can please some people from time to time,” Jobs begins in this speech, but then stops, before organizing his response and responding to the critic with a very effective three-part argument.
Before we go back and watch this video (or any of it, for that matter), let’s make sure we tackle the big and final tip at the end, so to speak, which is about emotional intelligence. .
It’s funny; I don’t know if people would often think of Jobs as having been an emotionally intelligent person. But, that’s because a lot of people have an incorrect understanding of emotional intelligence, to begin with.
- It’s not just about being nice to people or connecting with them on an emotional level.
- It’s not all about empathy, either. (These can all be wonderful side effects, but they are neither the basic definition nor the goal of emotional intelligence.)
- Instead, emotional intelligence is all about being aware of how emotions affect your communication and organizing efforts, and even leveraging human emotions to make your points clearer, more relevant, and more persuasive.
So, the big reveal here? It’s that for most of those “here are three major breakthroughs” type speeches that Jobs made, if you look back at them, there weren’t actually three things.
In some cases there were two. In some cases, five; in some cases probably 30. Three was really just a number and a rhetorical device.
This is perhaps the most fundamental part of the “reality-warping field” that Jobs claimed to have – and one that you should consider using because it translates even the most difficult concepts into organized roadmaps that people can understand.
So when Jobs said in 1984 that there were only three flagships in the computer industry at the time, well, reasonable people then and today could argue for days of what the real number was.
Or, think of the iPhone you might have in your pocket, or even reading this article. Even with the original model almost a decade and a half ago, there were more than three key features; this is how Jobs organized and framed it in his introduction.
Finally, if these examples don’t quite convince you, let’s quickly go back to the famous speech given by Jobs at Stanford, in which he said he had three stories to tell.
Over 38 million people have watched the official version of this “three stories” speech on YouTube, but guess what? By my calculations, Jobs actually told eight separate stories.
It’s just that he organized them together under three themes, and literally told the audience that the number was three.
(The eight stories, if you’re really counting, include one about his adoptive parents, one about dropping out of college, one about studying calligraphy, a fourth about the firing of Apple, a fifth about rebounding with NeXT. and Pixar, a sixth on considering death as a child, then one on his cancer diagnosis, and finally, one on the Whole Earth Catalog.)
Jobs understood that no matter how smart, good, and clever your ideas are, what matters more than what you have to say is what the people you speak with will actually hear.
So if getting your arguments across in a way that people understand requires somehow cramming them all into a three-part framework, I say roll up your sleeves, take Steve Jobs’s inspiration and go. -y.
(Don’t forget the free ebook: Improve emotional intelligence 2021, which you can download here.)