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The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life Paperback – August 30, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 176 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon-Exclusive Q&A with Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan
Author Steve Zaffron
What are the “three laws of performance”?

The laws of performance are universal. That is, any time people are involved in a situation, the laws apply. They aren’t steps or tips, but general principles that are always at work. They are also phrased in a precise way, to give maximum insight and applicability. The laws are:

1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
2. How situations occur arises in language.
3. Future based language transforms how situations occur to people.

In your opinion, what do leaders struggle with the most and how can the laws help them?
The two biggest issues we hear from leaders are lack of buy-in and an absence in ownership. The first problem often becomes acute when the leaders, working with experts, determine what plan people should implement, and the work force doesn’t want to do it, or doesn’t engage with passion. Many leaders try to solve the resulting issues with incentives, which often make the problem worse, as Daniel Pink’s book Drive demonstrates.

The second problem--absence of ownership--is related to lack of buy-in, but runs deeper. The problem, as many leaders have expressed to us, is that people don’t treat the business as though it’s their business. In some cases, it literally is their business, for example when people have some equity in the company through stock options. Yet even in many of these situations, people don’t act as though they are owners. Many leaders have expressed that nothing they ever tried has fixed the ownership problem.

The Three Laws of Performance can help with both problems by encouraging leaders to see that people’s actions are correlated to how situations occur to them. The second and third laws, taken together, say that future-based language—such as declarations, promises, and commitments—transform how situations occur to people. By focusing on the way in which things are “ occurring to the people, their actions naturally shift. The point is clear when we remember that the Declaration of Independence transformed how the experience of being a colonist occurred for the colonists. The facts hadn’t changed—the British still asserted their control. But the actions of the colonists shifted in a dance with the Declaration. What had been skirmishes by the colonists now became full-scale war and eventually the birth of a nation.

Author Dave Logan
The same situation happened recently in Egypt, when decades of tyrannical rule ended in 18 days. What really happened is that the situations occurred in a new way to Egyptians, and their actions naturally shifted. Imagine this level of empowerment and engagement in your organization. Using these three laws in an organization calls forth people’s participation and involvement in surprising and exciting new ways.

It seems that people can apply the lessons here in many ways – how they communicate, how they think, how they act. Since publishing the hardcover version is there a “way” that stands out to you?
Since we’re writing about laws, and not tips or techniques, there is not a single “way.” Rather, there is a general flow of conversations that taps into the power of the Three Laws. The flow goes something like this:

1. Ask people: what is the “default future?” That is, what do people see coming at them in the future, almost for certain and unless something completely unexpected happens? Getting and experiencing what people see as the default future gives everyone insights into how people are experiencing the organization and their opportunities in it.
2. Go deeper:, asking people: “if this default future existed throughout the organization, what actions would people find themselves taking, perhaps even without thinking?” Even though people may not want the default future, it acts as a mostly unspoken, often unconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy. People find themselves making it happen through their actions. Getting people to see their role in this process is critical. People created the default future, and are actively bringing it about. The same people can rewrite the future.
3. Ask people: “is this default future what you want?” If the answer is a resounding “no,” they have the ability to set the default future aside and create something new.
4. Invite people to consider this question: “what do you really want instead?” People should speculate until a new future—technically, called an “invented future,” takes shape. For an invented future to be effective, it must take people’s individual concerns into account, as well as the concerns of the organization and its stakeholders.

5. Develop projects that make realize an aspect of the invented future.

As people successfully implement the projects resulting from this flow, the invented future occurs as more attainable to people. Over time, people will find themselves acting in line with the invented future. There are no steps required, no need to remember to act in a certain way. Elevated performance is now natural and automatic.

In your new epilogue to the paperback edition you zero on the three critical implications for leadership SINCE the first version in hardcover came out. Which one really stands out and why ?

The fundamental aspect of leadership that most people miss is the importance of listening. Listening, as we describe it, is not simply gathering data and opinions from people, but rather exploring how situations occur to them, what they aspire to make happen, and what stands in their way. By listening in this way, leaders combine what they hear from lots of people into an invented future that represents the bulk of people’s concerns. When people hear the invented future, they say, “That speaks for me!” because it is, in part, their idea. Lack of buy-in and ownership are replaced with excitement, inspired action, and full engagement.

People seem to describe this as a “different” type of business book? Why is that?
In working with our editor, Warren Bennis, our goal was not to write another list of steps or platitudes. Frankly, such books accomplish little more than short-term motivation, or incremental improvement. Our goal was to focus on the fundamental laws that govern human performance. We didn’t set out to write a simple book, but rather, a book that would make an impact. People have told us that the Three Laws of Performance has allowed them to approach old problems in new ways, and often move to elevated performance in much shorter time, and with less effort, than they had thought possible.

This book taps into what appears to be a shift in organizations to more openness, transparency etc. Do you agree? How so ?
Yes, we agree. Organizations are going through a shift for a variety of reasons, perhaps most importantly the ability to connect with other people. Years ago, companies could hide activities, especially in the developing world. Today, these activities are captured by cell phones and shared on social media. There’s really no place to hide anymore. As a result, organizations need to transform adversarial relationships with governments, local populations, unions, and communities, into partnerships. Doing so requires really grasping why people do what they do. We believe the Three Laws of Performance gives leaders a unique insight into how to make this shift one in a way that inspires greater levels of satisfaction, results, and the experience of making a difference.


“The Three Laws of Performance provides a list of rules (and stories explaining how they work in practice) that promise to help individuals in leadership roles facilitate the group coherence and cohesion that are necessary to bring about transcendent performance. The book is based on a wealth of experience from decades of applying the ideas it explains. If you're interested in this kind of theory, the book is worth a read.” (BrokenSymmetry.typepad.com)

“I received an email a few weeks ago asking if I would be interested in reviewing the new book from Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan titled “the three laws of performance”. I jumped at the opportunity….free book right?

Well…I’d happily pay twice the list price for this book and so should you….
The full title of the book is The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life and it is called a ‘Warren Bennis‘ book…if you like Bennis, you’ll like this book too.

The premise of the book is that there are three laws that will always affect performance…just like the law of gravity will always have an effect on you.
The three laws are:

How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them
How a situation occurs arises in languages
Future based language transforms how situations occur to people

… This is a great book…I think it is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. Grab this book soon as you can and enjoy!” (EricBrown.com)

“Three Laws is about impossible transformations and how systemic change can remake your life or your organization.” (Life Insurance Selling) --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.


The latest book club pick from Oprah
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 111804312X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118043127
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (176 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Richman on January 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Length: 2:41 Mins
This review covers:

- Why I found Three Laws different from most business books.

- One example of a powerful technique I use from the book.

- The concept of the "Self-Led Organization" - a company that can run itself
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Format: Hardcover
In an age where conversations have become a commodity, a good book on the relationship between organizational performance and language is a must-read; and The Three Laws of Performance doesn't disappoint.

I was interested to see how the authors would handle the issue of generative language, language that's used to create rather than just describe. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the authors do a great job of navigating the delicate balance between the extremes (no appreciation for the power of future-based language on the one hand and a complete disregard for real world limitations on the other); they provided a clear road map along with engaging cases studies that help to guide the reader along a path that I believe will help leaders for years to come take their organizations to new levels of effectiveness and performance.

Ironically, the only thing I would suggest changing about this book is the language. The 3 main laws could have been stated in a way that was easier for the reader to remember. Twice now, I've tried to describe the 3 laws to a friend and I wasn't able to articulate the laws effortlessly. I had to work at remembering the precise language. For those in the same boat, here's the shorter version that I'm now using when I give a quick description of the book to friends.

1) Performance is related to perception
2) Perception is rooted in language
3) Vision casting changes perception (Or, Generative language changes perception)

Rather than perception, the authors speak of the way things occur to the members of an organization, which works great in the book, but not as great in an elevator. I imagine that they strayed from the term perception in order to steer clear of the obvious clichés related to the term.
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Format: Hardcover
The Three Laws of Performance could not come at a better time. Unless you have been living underground cut off from communication with the outside world, you must know that the world is facing unprecedented challenges. From the economy to the environment to global terrorism, the future doesn't look pretty. In fact it looks down right depressing.

While the authors of the book may not have intended it, the ideas in this book could very well be the answer to the question "How do we get ourselves out of this mess?" The US President has recruited some of the best minds in America to his administration to fix the US banking system, jump start the economy and stop climate change. We all may be praying that they are successful, but in each of our hearts we know that we are going to need to each embrace the required change if it is to be successful.

The personal and political habits that got us where we are now will not allow us to get where we need to go. We don't need change, we need re-invention.

So what about this book?

I, like many people want to do something about the issues that we are facing. A friend of mine gave me a copy of the book to read saying that I would like it especially because of the community work that I do. I was doubtful. I found the title to be boring and I am generally not interested in business books. She said that I would like it because I have to deal with a lot of resignation, which is true. Being an environmental advocate can feel like talking to stones.

I began reading it and got immediately intrigued by the First Law of Performance:

"How people perform correlates to the way the world occurs to them"

I would have never said it that way, but it made perfect sense to me.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the things I've always wondered about Management Consultants is "What do they actually do?" Or, to put it another way, "How much difference can they really make, or is it all just a bunch of hot air?"

This book certainly gives some dramatic real-life examples of radical shifts that the authors caused in companies that they advised. Shifts that went way beyond any normal conception of what we would expect to be possible. Right in the first chapter they detail a turn-round at the Lonmin mining company in South Africa, where a disastrous safety record and inter-racial tension stalemated all previous attempts to improve productivity.

The case of Lonmin was an illustration of the "First Law" - that How people perform correlates to how the situation occurs to them. This is profound. It rarely crosses our minds that what we perceive is merely our own interpretation of a situation - we take it for granted that we directly perceive the reality itself. Other people's actions often seem to us to make no sense at all - yet they will be perfectly logical to that person, given the interpretation they have: on that occurs to them as reality!

The second and third laws deal with ways that this perception of situations arise, and what can be done to re-cast them both for ourselves and for others.

Although primarily written from the perspective of resolving conflicts and challenges in a workplace contexts, every insight in the book applies just as readily to our family and inter-personal situations.
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