What is it about 2-to-3 people? I wrote a while ago about the precious people in my life who meet me half way. When I looked closer at it, I realised that I knew only 2-3 such dear specimens. At various points I’ve also written about the clients I’ve worked with. In the technical and creative web-of-fields that is Design, the client ideally has certain responsibilities and qualities. There too, I think there have been around 2-3 clients who have understood and practiced their part of the bargain in building something useful. The repeating numbers seemed like too much of a coincidence to me. I wondered, why do these groups of exceptional people in my mind, and perhaps all stand-out groups, have (not so) precisely 2-3 people?
Why 2-to-3 People?
A good place to start was to ask myself why it wasn’t a precise number. The made-up 2.5 kids is a function of statistical arithmetic, but I was talking of specific, real people. So why were they varying in and out of my estimate of their abilities and behaviours? I realised that while the statistics were trying to capture the tangible behaviour of intangibly large numbers of people, I was trying to capture the intangible and ever-changing (they’re human, not automatons) behaviour of a very specific and tangible number of real people. So the fuzzy-figured results made sense.
Watching the Whales
In work and in personal matters, when we hold some people to be exemplary, we’re not doing anything as precise as singling them out on a 1st, 2nd and 3rd position athletic podium on a spotlit stage. Think of it instead as standing on the deck of a ship, surveying a field of magnificent whales in the frothy ocean before you.
The water, in this thought experiment, is the level of your expectations, your personal standards. If you have very low standards, there’d be very little water, lots of giant creatures flapping around in the muck and you’d see them all as exemplary. High standards means a deep ocean with most of the creatures below the surface, not making the cut. This deep ocean would have some whales flirting with the surface, others breaking it often, and have some rare treasures launching themselves from the crowded depths into the sky. Those would make their nature known far and wide with a mighty roar of celebration and a giant splash as they toy with the surface of your standards.
Changing Tides, and Views, and Yous
Like the constantly changing human creatures we observe, we must realise that we are also constantly changing, our attention is a process, not a conclusion. When we think of 2-3 exemplary people in any realm of behaviour, we’re most often thinking of one person. The last whale we saw, or are seeing at this very moment, soaring through the air in front of us with a song on its lips. Ask me in another 5 minutes, or tomorrow, and I’ll likely be thinking of someone else all together. But with time and experience, we figure out the 2-3 people we can consistently depend on to make a good showing.
This fable of watching whales in the ocean also neatly provides us with many important lessons in measuring the quality of people. Standing on your ship and looking in one direction at a time, you will miss many great whales and their many leaps of faith. Some will be just off to one side, barely visible from the corner of your eyes, some will be behind your back and you may never see who they are. You will hear the splashes and the songs, however, and perhaps in time they will reveal themselves to you.
Remember that there will be some less showy specimens who may never leap high, but will always be playing on the surface and keeping you company. Those consistent ones are often worth a hundred dramatic jumpers who will need to go back to the depths for days to recover from all the showmanship. Don’t let the gleam of your standards hide the consistent ones from your recognition and appreciation.
More to Discover
Last, but certainly the most important lesson to glean, is that there are plenty more fish and cetaceans in the sea, and there’s plenty more sea. You stand on a small ship in a small corner of a vast ocean, in both spread and depth. There are many more exemplary ones out there who you have simply never been in the presence of. You are not omniscient. Take pleasure in that anticipation and enjoy the songs and the view from your ship. The ever shifting 2-3 exemplary people in your life need discerning ears, eyes, and an open mind to share things with. Be there for them as consistently as they are here for you, and enjoy the breeze.