The Magic Rule | Three Little Words To Help People ‘See The Change’


At the end of the film Ghostbusters the team encounter a giant Marshmallow Man at the top of a massive New York skyscraper.

They are in the middle of getting their asses kicked when one of them comes up with a plan to destroy the Marshmallow Man by “crossing the streams” of their highly dangerous (and unlicensed!) nuclear accelerators that they carry in their backpacks.

This scene is a beautiful illustration of change management in action and it plays out like this:

Egon: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter: What?
Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Raymond: Total protonic reversal.
Peter: That’s bad. Okay. Alright, important safety tip, thanks Egon.
[Later in the scene]
Egon: I have a radical idea. The door swings both ways, we could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Peter: How?
Egon: [hesitates] We all cross the streams.
Peter: ‘Scuse me Egon? You said crossing the streams was bad!
Ray: Cross the streams…
Peter: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client – the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog?…
Egon: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a *very slim* chance we’ll survive.
[pause while they consider this]
Peter: [slaps Ray] I love this plan! I’m excited to be part of it! LET’S DO IT!

Making sure everyone really, really understands an important point in order for decisions and changes to take effect are one of the key things to get right as part of managing change. And anticipating the ramifications and agreed course of action is probably equally as important as making the decision in the first place.

In the Ghostbusters scene, the risk of the danger of crossing the streams needed to be said twice by Egon (once as a warning and secondly as a solution) for the team to really understand what the plan meant in action and ‘see the change‘.

I’ve experienced this in many situations where it is crucial to ensure everyone ‘gets the message and clearly sees the change‘. Otherwise it can come back and bite you – or in the case of a giant Marshmallow Man, stomp on you.

To illustrate, I remember once issuing a set of meeting minutes following a workshop held earlier that particular day. It had been one of those meetings that had been quite highly charged and there were a couple of sensitive areas that the team discussed – and more importantly agreed a course of action in the room.

The minutes needed to be issued quickly before the dust settled and ensure we maintained momentum. I had been very careful to ensure the minutes were peer reviewed by a colleague who was also in the workshop (I trusted them to ensure I had an accurate picture of what had happened that had been sensitively recorded).

And then I received a phone call from one of the workshop attendees challenging a point in the minutes…

It took some time to get to the point that they did actually agree and had signed off that particular action; they were just in the process of still digesting it and wanted to discuss how they could be supported with it (which they were uncomfortable with raising in the room). Totally understandable really. We then proceeded to work up a plan and the call finished on good terms. Phew.

Events like this are hardly surprising. More and more work is often piled on top of already busy people in businesses today. It’s dangerous to assume that everyone will come adequately prepared for a meeting or be mentally prepared to contribute 100% because of everything else they need to focus on.

People need help to connect the dots. And one small but critical thing you can do is ensure what is being proposed is clearly underlined – so the change can be “locked in”.

I always remember a statistic that a fantastic Marketing lecturer once quoted in one of her lectures about the ‘Magic Rule of 7‘.  The rule says that buyers need (on average) to read or hear 7 messages before they decide if they wish to make a purchase from you or not. Now, I’m not advocating repeating an important issue that’s being proposed in a meeting 7 times, but rather to really appreciate the power of repetition.

When you are working with a busy team of people who have a difficult decision to make, it’s worth spending time to ensure everyone really gets what is being outlined on the table and they see the change by using these three little words to help people:

‘Say It Twice’

It doesn’t need to be a robotic replay like you are just re-playing a voice-mail message. But more along the lines of “just so everyone is absolutely clear, what we are saying is this – from next Monday, all new orders for product X will be prioritised by the order intake team with an improved response SLA from the current 3 hour window to the new 15 minute target – are we all agreed?

Next time you are running a meeting that involves a key decision being made (or giant Marshmallow Man that needs overcoming), make sure you channel the Magic Rule of 7 to help people really understand what is being said, so they can  clearly see the change – and Say It Twice.


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