Home > GeeWhiz > The Wonderful World of Seven

The Wonderful World of Seven

Have you ever wondered why US phone numbers are seven digits long? Or why there were seven brides for seven brothers? What about the seven books in the J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series?

While researching my post on planning I continually stumbled onto lists of ways to plan. It seemed odd to me that each list contained seven elements. Seven New management and Planning tools. Seven Principles of Planning. Seven things that keep you stuck – Part Seven Planning.

What gives? What’s will all the sevens? We’re all familiar with the Seven wonders of the world, seven days of the week, the seven deadly sins, and the seven seas. Though some may be coincidental, it turns out there truly is some scientific fact surrounding seven.

In 1956, George A. Miller, a cognitive psychologist, pioneered research on the limitations of short-term memory in adults. He published a landmark paper describing our abilities to retain a maximum of 7 ‘chunks’ of data (including words, digits, letters or other units), in our short term memory. Later, this became known as Miller’s number. ABC did a story December 6, 2009, on Miller’s number which is slightly more interesting and easier to read than Miller’s actual report.

It turns out that the human brain is wired to remember lists of about 7 elements. (Check out this excerpt from Boost Your Memory.) But does that answer the significance of the plethora of articles I found that use a list of seven? Consider this fractional sampling:

I also read an article Monday morning that caught my eye: Microsoft by the numbers: http://tiny.cc/rgbqt.Windows 7 sold 7 copies per second every day for 7 months. (Actually 8 months, but 7 months worked better in that sentence. Besides, if the did it for 8, then they certainly did it for 7, too.) Coincidence? It almost sounds like marketing hype, but I’m not in a position to judge. I, myself, once went seven years without singing seven songs for seven days. But then again, didn’t everyone?? (Sorry. That was a bit of randomness.)

We haven’t even touched all the biblical references to the number seven. The seven notes of a piano scale, seven point rating scale, seven categories for absolute judgment, seven levels of hell,  the seven sisters of the Pleiades constellation, or seven ages of man.

So what does all of this have to do with Repeating Excellence? Perhaps nothing. But, maybe the next time you’re listing to your boss the reasons you need a raise, or to your spouse why you were late getting home from work, or to your children why they’re grounded…you might want to limit the number of reasons to seven.


Let’s see how many we can come up with. What other “sevens” have you seen?

Categories: GeeWhiz
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