“GAP is a good example of a brand that really wasn’t doing anything interesting in the marketplace. And all of a sudden, there it was and it came from the soul of the company. We didn’t give it to them. I say this from having worked there for 10 years. That vibe and that passion and that love was always inside of GAP – it just needed a way for it to be released.”

The above quote is from Tamsin Smith, Project (RED)’s former chief. We spoke a few months ago about a variety of topics, from the launch of the organization to the role of “giants” in giving voice to those who can’t speak for themselves. Her point, above, animated an idea I’ve struggled with for years, namely the catalyzing force that a third element, a new variable, can have on an idea.

GAP, Tamsin tells us, was stuck. Adding Project (RED) to their thinking stimulated a whole new world of possibilities for them. “That vibe and that passion and that love was always inside of GAP – it just needed a way for it to be released.”

So often, we focus on variants of the zero sum game, where I must defeat you (or at least your objections) to win. In a negotiation, I’m trying to get what I want. Even if I assure myself that I want you to win, too, my version of your winning and your version of you winning are likely to be two different things. We all have built-in biases, after all. Adding a third element often serves to take us away from the zero sum mentality and focus our attention on more than that one thing. We see interconnectedness between different ideas. We see opportunities that weren’t visible before.

Adding the third idea works. Why? Good question. Perhaps we are better art critics than artists and need to rely on our reactions more than our creative skills. Perhaps the addition of the third piece of the puzzle just gives us more creative grist for the psychological mill. Bringing the James Bond franchise into negotiations opened up five new international markets for Plantronics a few years ago. The conversation was no longer about our speeds and feeds versus theirs – it was about the emotional impact of Hollywood’s most successful franchise. I don’t know why this works, but it’s worked well for me and I’ll bet it would work well for you, too.

So try this: bring an additional player, a new strategic partner or even a completely new idea into the mix. A Project (RED), a James Bond connection or maybe just a complementary brand that you’ve always thought about finding a way to work with. A new idea that takes your two player, eyeball to eyeball staring contest and turns it into a three person conversation. If you’re like me – and GAP, apparently – adding the right third player breaks the deadlock and what was once stuck is now moving at a million miles and hour.