The 3rd Alternative

The 3rd Alternative: Solving life’s most difficult problems by Stephen R. Covey is the accumulation of a life’s work on leadership, cooperation and achieving greatness. The book centres around the 3rd alternative thinking. To not think in 1) my way or 2) their way, but to 3) achieve synergy together (our way).

This book can be seen as a natural extension of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Especially the second part about win-win situations and other strategies around cooperation.

What makes the book so special is the setup of the chapters. Already in chapter 2 the theory of the 3rd alternative is explained very extensively. You are introduced to concepts as ‘seeing you’, to listen empathically and really understand the other person. And also to let your mind accept a third alternative, to get rid of the idea of finite resources but to see an infinite amount of new possibilities when you work together.

The other chapters are all devoted to explaining what the 3rd alternative thinking encompasses in different facets of life. One chapter is about work, the next about home, school, law, society, world and life in general. It gives you helpful examples of applying the paradigm to your own life, and every aspect of it.

One example from the book is about an executive at a pharmaceutical company. They are struggling with sales and have as many as 8 people calling the same doctor with the same story, there is a gap between what they want (selling as much product as possible) and what the doctor needs to do (helping patients, not being busy with the 8 sales representatives). He changes the ‘we and them thinking’ into a synergistic approach. He stops pushing the product onto the doctors, but starts asking them questions about their needs, how can they help the patients? In this way he discovers that patients do not take the medicine when they have to, thus making the treatment less effective. And from there he starts a new strategy with convenience in mind, with a clear vision on how to get patients to take the medicine when needed, thus also helping the doctors, and sales follow naturally.

One key aspect of the book is listening. To stop for one second to speak up and shut up. To really hear what someone has to say, and know what drives him/her to say it. By this, you create opportunities that neither you or the other person had initially thought of, and achieve solutions that add value.

The book is a comprehensive guide into 3rd principle thinking and I would consider it to be a must-read for about anyone who needs to work with others (and who doesn’t). In the competitive world of today a win-lose or lose-win approach is no longer viable and to get ahead you need to see the synergistic solution. Whilst it is a great read, the real value of the book is to apply it in your daily life, at work and at home.


The Book:

The 3rd Alternative: Solving live’s most difficult problems – Stephen R. Covey – ISBN-10: 1451626274 | ISBN-13: 978-1451626278


More on The 3rd Alternative: – Wikipedia on synergy – Stephen R. Covey on the 3rd alternative – James Caan on creative thinking