We make decisions all the time—both minor (what brand of milk should I buy?) to major (which strategy will give us the biggest ROI?). If we want better outcomes from our decisions, we could use a tool to help us first narrow down our options. And we could clearly identify when there is only one viable path forward so we don’t waste time chasing dead ends.
The 3T Model
The 3T Model is one such framework that helps you quickly break down big problems or dilemmas so you can start to accelerate toward a solution. It assumes that at any one point in time, if there’s a problem, an issue or a decision to be made, you really can do only one of three things. You can tolerate, transform or transcend it. What do these choices mean?
For an individual it looks like:
- Tolerate – Whatever the problem, issue or decision, I can tolerate it/the status quo
- Transform – I can fundamentally change things in order to manifest something very different
- Transcend – I can change myself enough that the current status quo or situation no longer affects me the same way.
So, these three choices (tolerate, transform or transcend) are the basis of the 3T model. How can you use this model in a real-life situation?
Every Choice Requires Energy and Resources
Energy and resources are the two basic forms of currency in the 3T model. These are the things you’re exchanging for your choice, or making decisions to use.
Whatever you choose (tolerate, transform or transcend), each choice requires either energy or resources to carry out. Transforming spends energy or resources to learn, reflect, or grow on a mental level. And transcending requires deeper action—often beyond you.
But many people think tolerating doesn’t require resources or effort. How can it take energy to stand still? But in fact, it does take energy. There’s no such thing as true stillness in any organization. It expends energy and resources to maintain the status quo, along with managing any collateral issues or damage that produces.
Here’s an example: As of this writing, Kadabra needs a new website. Right now, we’re tolerating an old site and managing our way through it. Even though we’re not making a change, we’re still expending energy and resources to maintain our site and deal with the drawbacks and issues from it.
We could transcend this issue by deciding to throw out the idea of a website at all. Do we need a website to function? Could we do something else, like use only social media or jump to the next century and create holograms of ourselves? Clearly, that’s not an acceptable or workable solution for us right now.
Our best decision is probably to transform it—tear it down, start over and create a whole new platform. That’s another set of energy and resource costs for us, but strategically, that’s the best decision to make for the long-term. The benefits we’ll see from transforming it outweigh the benefits of tolerating it as it is.
The 3T model really challenges the notion that you can just opt out of making a decision; because opting out is a decision.
Since there is no choice that won’t cost something in terms of our energy or resources, sometimes it’s better to make the decision to transform or transcend. If you’re expending energy or resources anyway, you might want to direct that energy into doing something that will improve your situation or yourself in the future. That’s often a much better payoff in the long run than continuing to expend energy and resources into “doing nothing.”
How Does the 3T Model Apply to DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)?
A lot of people report to us that they perceive their organization to be “stuck” somewhere along the path to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture. One way to help get unstuck is to apply the 3T Model because essentially it asks, “What are our choices?” To build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, there’s really only one.
If we believe that systemic oppression is real (that racism is systemic and institutionalized and not just a function of individual actors and groups), then it quickly becomes apparent that tolerating the status quo is not a viable option because people will continue being harmed.
It’s also not possible to transcend it, because transcending suggests we can bypass the work we need to do individually and collectively to root out forms of systemic oppression. It’s tempting sometimes to think that if only we could choreograph the right mental gymnastics routine or pop the right pill then racism or sexism would just magically disappear. But that’s not the way it works. You can’t magically erase racism or sexism, for example. We can only transform our way out of it.
For example, when we look at George Floyd and Black Lives Matter and how a lot of organizations have reacted to that, there was a huge range.
Some organizations issued statements with plans of action, immediately jumping on the bandwagon of transformation.
Others were hesitant to do anything at all (tolerating the status quo). Still others thought everyone was overreacting, and that if we could all just calm down a bit, we could get past it (or transcend this issue). Either way, most were trying to do as little as possible perhaps hoping the impetus for all of us to change would pass.
Whether the leaders at any of those organizations yet recognize it or not, they were sucking enormous energy and resources out of the people in their organizations. I can guarantee you that at least some people in their organizations or ecosystems were not okay, even if they appeared to be publicly. They were, in fact, experiencing additional trauma and harm.
In these cases, it’s pretty easy to see that some organizations’ choices weren’t optimal investments of their resources or energy. It would be far better to direct that energy toward organizational culture transformation and in so doing, healing.
How to Move Forward
Even if you already understand all of this, what should you actually do? As a leader, you have a million things to do and not enough time (or budget) to do them. Trying to make the right decisions and plans of action around a huge issue like systemic oppression can seem impossible. With that, there’s really only one choice: to transform the system.
But what about choices that are less clear? How should you direct your energy and resources? Relative to other things, how important is this, really, to the success of your organization? This is where the 3T model can help.
The 3T model isn’t a precise tool with a digital readout. It isn’t even a Magic 8-Ball with a definitive answer to every question (even if it’s “ask again later”).
Rather, it’s a blunt instrument meant to break a big rock of a problem into three smaller pieces, so you can get a handle on it and start to have a productive conversation about it. It helps break away the ideas that will waste your time and help you to a faster solution. It sends you in the best direction. What’s more, it forces you to directly address the tradeoffs that come with every decision, and reveal the core of what matters.
And allow me to remind you—every decision comes with some kind of tradeoff. Nothing’s perfect. But the truth is, we can unleash more power and possibility when we let go of the pursuit of perfection. Nothing is perfect, but many things are good. When we give ourselves permission to look for the good rather than the perfect, we accomplish a lot more. Getting to the good can spark profound transformation.
If you’d like to find out more about the 3T model and other practical leadership lessons, stay tuned for my upcoming book, Learn, Lead, Lift: How to Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way to Greatness, coming May 12, 2021.