The Rule of Three

Every solution comes with costs and consequences. If you get stuck on the first thing that comes to mind, you aren't necessarily choosing the solution with the most desired balance of costs and consequences.

I use something I call "The Rule of Three."

Find three distinct solutions to every problem.

This helps me in a couple of ways.

First, I force myself to select for different characteristics in the solutions. Often, one will be efficient but less flexible. Another will be flexible but require a high degree of knowledge from the consumer. Another will be easy to learn but more expensive to build. (Simplicity is never cheap!) Enumerating three solutions helps me understand my assumptions about those characteristics and judge whether my inherent biases actually match the situation or not.

Second, throwing multiple solutions out there separates me from them. We've all seen debates where people get stubbornly stuck on their solution. By enumerating multiple solutions, I'm much less likely to fall in love with any of them, so I don't have to defend the first thing that popped into my head. I can remember that when someone attacks one of the solutions, they aren't attacking me.

It's important that the solutions are truly distinct. Creating divergent solution helps you avoid mental pitfalls. You will discover really creative approaches that weren't "mentally adjacent."

Finally, if the environment is "political" (you know what I'm talking about) then I can get sneaky. I don't often resort to this, but I can use the Decoy Effect to promote my preferred approach by introducing a false middle alternative. This is a less-desirable version of the one I really want. Exploiting this cognitive blind spot is a powerful technique, so please use it only for good!

This Rule of Three works in any kind of problem-solving, not just software or design. I hope you find it as useful as I have.