Insights from “The 3rd Alternative by Stephen R.Covey”

While conflicts and litigation had taken over the world in economy, law, politics and various other areas. The number of conflicts we are living with, has significantly increased. We have grown within an” I Must Win” paradigm. Whether it is a deal to close, or an interaction to have, we constantly are behind the opportunity to win more, even though it means the other side must loose. We have oriented our behavior toward a “maximize profit reduce cost by any means” , neglecting the other and ignoring the fruitful results that can be achieved through a “we’ll face this together ” way.

In this book, Stephen R.Covey suggests and nicely presents a better approach of our interactions.
Where there are usually a two ways situations, he objects using the 3rd Alternative. An alternative where poeple will get hand to hand and together, come up with ideas that will transcend both initial positions.The 3rd alternative is a inside-out paradigm to deal with conflicts. It is a way where we learn to understand ourselves and reconnect with our principles. We also learn to understand the other’s position, respect it, and even protect it.

The 3rd alternative is a process by which, while unifiying our efforts, being openminded, understanding each others point of view, and moving toward a new solution which encompasses and overcomes all the original ideas, We can achieve extraordinary results that satisfies both sides.

Stephen R Covey described in his book a four step framework that can help achieve the 3rd alternative challenge. Each step leading and preparing for the next step.

Step 1 : I See My Self
It takes confidence and self dedication to be prepared to work with the opponent. It takes also humility and creativity to invite him to take this step with us. We have to be transparent about our expectations and outlaw ourselves any hidden agenda. By bringing together these elements we can establish a fertile ground on which the other can join us safely and comfortably.

Step 2 : I See You
If you have watched the film Avatar from James Camron, Pandora’s tribe used the expression “I See You” by which they were meaning that they aknowledged the other, they understood his position, they respected his personality, and value him as a member of the clan. It is a paradigm of collectivisme rather than individualisme where I can not flourish as a member if I don’t help the other to flourish.
By this approach we work to understand the other’s feelings, position, and expectations. We have to put ourselves in his shoes and see the world through his lens.

None of this can be achieved without a good well established communication between both sides.
Stephen R.Covey describes Sticky communication by the process when I commit myself to listen and understand all your thoughts and ideas. It is when I try to never interupt you or argument with you. All I do is listening to you. Then, when it is my turn I will talk and express my ideas and my concerns. In return, thanks to reciprocity sociale rule, you will have to listen to me. After this exercice, miscommunication and misunderstanding has no place to be. We have communicated clearly about our respective positions and we can work together to solve our conflict, debate, deal, …

Step 3 : I Seek You Out
The truth is multiple, The truth is various. Our truth can differ from yours. Therefore in this third step, Stephen R.Covey explains that we should be prepared to learn from the other. We can use his point of view. It doesn’t need to be mentioned that the more poeple are involved into a task the more creative the result can be. Multi-dimensional point of views can foster the constitution of a better picture of the faced problem, with new measurements and new key success factors. As a result, our insight is sharpened and empowered.

Step 4 : I Synergy with you
When all the previous steps has been correctly respected, we found ourselves in the best environment for ideas to flourish. We have come a long way; understanding our own feelings, discovering the other’s point of view, sharpening our insights and prepared to give birth to sensational new creative ideas.
The process can be time consuming, but all the necessary ingredients has been gathered to favor emergence of incredibly ingenious ideas. We keep exchanging, suggesting, exploring and prototyping solutions. We start, we stop, we start back, we doubt, we critisize. And then, there is the Aha! moment, a moment when this big picture starts to be clearer, when the goal looks to be achievable and finally there we are. All the doubts are cleared, all the walls has been crossed, all the hidden agendas has been leaved back and SYNERGY has taken place. As aristotle define it

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

I would like to illustrate this step with an example from the book.

A team of five professionals from various backgrounds has been gathered to find a solution to the Malaria issue in Africa, conducted and supported by the Gates foundation. The malaria is an infectious disease which is transmetted to humans and animals after getting bit by a mosquito. The insect inserts his horn and introduces through his saliva the disease. The group was composed from an insect physiologist, an optical specialist, a computational modeling scientist, and an epidemiologist. You could imagine how heterogeneous the group is and how different the backgrounds are. However the composed team included incredibly creative people who worked their way and collaborated to uncover a solution for this problem. The bet was very important, millions of dollars has been invested in this project, but you will see how powerful the 3rd alternative can be if correctly conducted. The full team was investigating, prototyping, testing various ingenious ideas. Increidibly talented poeple has been applying every knowledge they have earned during years of experience. The result was as increidible as it could be.
They came up with a device that eliminates the flying mosquitos using an infra-red laser which is totally unharmfull to humans. With the right mindset and the right approach, a big step has been achieved against one of the most and vastly spreaded disease in Africa. The device has been entitled “The Photonic Fence”.

Through this brief story you can witness how powerful this framework can be. The 3rd Alternative can have multiple applications in various fields.  From Law to education, Politics, Economy and also Healthcare.

There are plenty of poeple applying number of 3rd alternative solutions across the world. These poeple are really ahead of their times. This is the type of individuals we need to take as an example to build the world of tomorrow.

I would like to emphasize that 3rd alternatives can not be achieved without a real leadership to work his way against the 2nd alternative thinking. We must not loose sight on the fact that we are willing for a better way. We should constantly be aware of our tendencies to switch to 2nd alternative thinking. The more we work against our 2nd alternative tendencies, the more we enhance our chances to achieve the impredictible.

By this brief post, I tried to give you a taste of what this book is about. It would be very prejudicious to this book to I assume that I summerized it in this post. There are plenty of insightful remarks and explanations given by Stephen R.Covey that will help you understand and learn how to apply the 3rd alternative in your daily obstacles.

I encourage you to take the time and read this book. You would be amazed with the amount of high quality information it does contain.

Looking for your comments.


Bibliography : “The 3rd Alternative – Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems” by Stephen R.Covey
Webography :


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