Stop using "3 foot stool" to describe an idea


Old illustration of a couple of farmers with a three-legged stool and a milk bucket

Unless you're talking about milking, why do you use a three-legged stool to describe it?

There are dozens and dozens of analogs of 3 legged saddles. The three-legged stool for retirement planning … politics … sustainability … accounting … organizational architecture.

And all the titles: Why leadership is like a three-legged stool. Apple's three-legged stool at WWDC 2019. "The three-legged stool": the recipe for the success of the McDonald's franchise.

Think about it, what was the last time you saw a three-legged stool? Almost all stools now have four legs. Bar stools? Four legs.

Why do we still say a three-legged stool?

Three-legged saddles were associated with milking cows. At a time when everyone had an agricultural history, most had probably manipulated one. I'm not sure if I owned one. My grandparents could have one.

When I was doing this research, the research question suggested above around the 3-legged stools was: "What's a 3-legged stool?" Apparently, many people are troubled by the # 3 stools. 39; expression. The next suggested question was "Why does a three-legged stool flicker?" Apparently, people who find one find it unstable.

We like three-part concepts. There is something satisfying about it being an odd number and only a few things. Even my Idea Friendly method has three parts.

We simply need a better way to describe our three-part ideas than a three-legged stool.

What to say instead

Why not use a more modern 3-legged model? Say a tripod. It has three legs and is much more familiar.

Camera phone on an outdoor tripod

Almost everyone has seen a photographer use a tripod today. Press cameras are often shown on tripods. Video cameras use tripods. Many people have at least one tripod. I've counted ten at home, from the smallest for my heavier phone to my big DSLR camera.

You can probably use this in your analogy, namely that there are tripods of all sizes for ideas of different sizes.

You can even get your hands on a tiny pocket-sized tripod to show people when you talk about your famous three-part idea.

As a bonus, you can explain how photographers can carry their camera when they take pictures quickly and informally. But when they want to be stable, they use a tripod. Can you see a similar theme in your idea in three parts?

No more three-legged stools, agree? Stick with tripods.

Thanks to Kathleen Minogue from Crowdfund Better for the conversation that inspired this post.

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About Becky McCray

Becky launched Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share stories and ideas of building businesses and rural communities with other small businessmen. She and her husband own an Alva, Oklahoma liquor store and a small ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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