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The Third Place

Ben Horowitz, in The hard thing about hard things, writes about a person from a client he was dealing with during his time as CEO of LoudCloud, who asked for a connecting flight with the longest layover possible when LoudCloud was booking that person's travel. Curious as to why someone would choose a flight with the longest layover possible, he enquires about it and finds out that the person hates his job and hates his family and wants to spend as much time away from both as possible, and hence the request.

While reading this anecdote, I was reminded of a concept I have previously come across. And that is the concept of The Third Place.

But first, let's look at chimpanzees. They live in groups of 20-30 chimpanzees, and can't easily move between groups. They have to live their lives with that group, whether they like it or not. When a chimp's status in it's group increases, it becomes happy and when it's status drops, it becomes unhappy.

Now, let's look at the man in Ben's story.

He has his job where he is part of a group of employees. If his status increases amongst them, he becomes happy. And if it drops, he becomes unhappy. Given Ben's description of his situation, I would wager that his status was close to rock bottom.

Similarly, he has his family, which is a group that he is part of. If his status increases amongst them, he becomes happy. And if it drops, he becomes unhappy. I would also wager that his status, here too, was close to rock bottom.

A large portion of us have these two groups that we are part of. Work can broadly cover schools as well, such that someone going to college has their peers at the University as one group and family as the other.

Being part of two groups is better than one. As we now have two avenues to be happy (unlike the chimp that has just one).

Naturally, the argument can be extended to a third group, or The Third Place, that we can be a part of. This can be a sports team, a book club, a yoga class, a religious community, etc. This further increases our avenues to be happy.

But, it quickly becomes infeasible to keep adding additional groups, as we simply don't have the time or the mental capacity to be effective participants in more than three to five groups at any given time.

However, a lot of people just have two groups. For them, it makes sense to add a third.

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