Rethinking the Rule of Two

 Originally Published on Linkedin.

By Danny Meyer

Anyone who has ever done a home renovation, built a restaurant, an office, or managed any construction project from scratch is likely familiar with the Rule of Two. “Cost, speed, and quality,” say the architects and contractors: “Pick any two.”

Want it done fast, and cheap? Sure, but you’ll need to sacrifice quality. Aiming for perfection with a tight turnaround? Get ready to pay a king’s ransom. Business works the same way: traditionally, customers expect that if they’re getting a product very quickly and at a low price, then quality will have necessarily suffered. And if high quality comes at a low price, they’d better be prepared to spend more time waiting. 

But whoever wrote the rule that 1+1 is the only way to get to 2? What if 2 could instead be the sum of .65 + .65 + .70 — meaning you’d never have to fully sacrifice any one of cost, speed, or quality? What if, by taking some, but not all of the cost and time savings, and giving up just some of the full-service aspects of quality, you could end up with a proposition that offered high value and took a lot less time than you’d expected for such a good product? 

We asked these questions when creating Shake Shack, and found that it was most definitely possible to achieve substantial wins in all three categories by getting creative with the underlying math. And we needed to, because our guests demanded a product that sacrificed nothing when it came to flavor, but one that nonetheless gave them back some serious time and dollar savings. 

We are undeniably in an era where quality is being democratized – and not only in the world of hospitality. Savvy entrepreneurs are finding new ways to make excellent products and services accessible to a wider market than ever by rethinking the Rule of 2. Think of brands like sweetgreenGlossierWarby ParkerDig Inn, and Away. All better, faster, and less expensive.

This isn’t an epiphany about math – rather, it is a reminder that our most innovative thinking often stems from questioning the underlying rules we’d always assumed to be absolute.