The 3rd Alternative, 21st century win-win


21st century win-win paradigm

Title: The 3rd Alternative
Author: Stephen R. Covey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ALL hail the king of motivational theory and practice, and reigning monarch of corporate leadership coaching. Stephen Covey recently hit the big eight-O, but the acuity of his mind is as impressive as ever, on the evidence of The 3rd Alternative.

The multimillion-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which in 1989 kick-started the whole genre, is acknowledged by many as the most influential business text of the 20th Century.

His publisher has presented The 3rd Alternative as a wholly fresh work. But this is slightly misleading. What this is, in actuality, is a well-penned and timely rehash of the book that made his name, thanks to its ground-breaking focus on the importance of synergy and on the win-win paradigm.

Is this a bad thing? No. If you have read now admittedly dated The 7 Habits, you might find The 3rd Alternative underwhelming. If you haven’t, it would behove you to skip it and go straight to this, which has similar content and almost identical messages, but is written from a 21st century perspective instead of that of the good old days of the bullish late 1980s.

The last person to widely use the term the “third alternative” as an approach to living was the late Muammar Gaddafi, whose Green Book expounded an alternative to communism and capitalism through a mixture of theological claptrap and goofy economics.

Hailing from the American rocky state of Utah, Covey is a hard-boiled capitalist, and a Mormon. And so there is an element of religiosity in Covey’s work. But his grasp of the fundamentals of economics is vastly superior to the late Libyan dictator’s. That said, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to call one’s latest book “the 3rd alternative”. However, the book achieves its lofty goals, and is written with the clear-eyed lucidity that Covey’s legions of fans have come to expect.

The 3rd Alternative presents productive approaches to conflict resolution and creative problem solving. In these pages, Covey unveils a powerful methodology that he claims can resolve thorny professional and personal conflicts and yield solutions to apparently intractable challenges.

In any conflict, the first alternative is “my way” and the second alternative is “your way”. The fight usually rages over the question of whose way is “better”. There are numerous methods of “conflict resolution”, but most involve grudging compromise.

The 3rd Alternative goes further it’s about creating, what Covey terms, “a new and improved reality”. A departure from the usual strategies, this book illuminates a more productive mind-set one helpful to anyone seeking urgent solutions in their professional or personal lives.

Covey amplifies his message by means of wide-ranging examples of “third alternative thinkers”. There’s the local police force that transformed a crime-plagued community by casting off its entrenched “them against us” mentality. Another example tells the tale of a father who, during the course of one extraordinary evening, rescued his daughter from years of clinical depression. Then there’s the judge who brought a swift and peaceful end to a massive environmental lawsuit without setting foot in a courtroom.

Like many of the titles examined in the highly influential Read To Succeed column, this is an America-centric text, but there’s a whole generation of budding Stephen Coveys in this part of the world. And I’ll be bringing more of them to your attention in the Year of the Dragon.

But let’s get back to the man who started it all. Speaking to the press recently about his new release, Covey explained: “Most negotiators are trying to get their way. Through rounds of haggling, they usually arrive at a compromise, in which both sides concede something to get an agreement. By contrast, a third alternative’ requires no concessions at all because it’s truly a better deal for everyone. You get to it not by haggling but by asking, Would you be willing to go for a Third Alternative that is better than what either of us has in mind?’”

And that’s the message in a nutshell. Of course a win-win compromise is often a very tough nut to crack for those in the corporate community, and compromising with grace, even more so. The 3rd Alternative provides a whole toolbox of nutcrackers.

It’s a return to form. Totally fresh and original it isn’t, but seeing as it sources Covey in his prime, one cannot go far wrong. Hardcore Covey fans will love this. The newly interested should go here first, and maybe approach The 7 Habits and his other nine titles if they find Covey a sufficiently engaging guru. Many do. He’s got an enormous fan base, because he’s doing something right. And he’s been doing it for over 20 years.

Review by Nick Walker

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