It seems unlikely that an economist would have an insight that ultimately inspired a philosophy of living, but that is exactly what happened. In 1906 an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population, and that this ratio seemed to recur with regularity even in nature. This observation was picked up by management consultant Joseph M. Juran, who named it the 80-20 Rule, or Pareto Principle. Also know as the law of the vital few, it has become an accepted phenomenon that in business 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.
This was taken up as a core theme by Richard Koch, a successful management consultant, entrepreneur, and author, who wrote a series of books such as Living the 80/20 Way, centering on the law of the vital few as a Way of Life. He provides lots of anecdotal evidence on how the principle occurs and recurs in business, in nature, and in our experience, but also provides practical advice on how to get better results for much less effort.
The promise of his philosophy is a way to work less, worry less, succeed more often, and enjoy life more. It is a practical philosophy, one which focuses on getting results, not through the conventional approach of working harder or more efficiently, but by thoughtfully focussing on the 20% of your ideas, contacts, and activities that will yield 80% of your results. He speaks convincingly to business audiences on how most people work too hard for meager results, when they could accomplish and enjoy more by learning how to find and focus on the vital few.
Avoiding digital distraction
It is hard to fathom the degree to which digital technologies and computers have transformed our world. We can now virtually transcend space and time. New economies of scale bring goods from the world to our doorstep the same day. Computers give us windows on the world and affordable access to information, education, media, and entertainment. Through our smart phones and tablets the digital window points in so many directions, it feels as if we have the world at our fingertips.
For all of its fascination, fun and convenience, we should not forget that the world at our fingertips is actually a world under glass, a virtual reflection of what actually exists elsewhere in analog form. Moreover, since we are not actually there, we can easily go somewhere else. We are always just a click away from zillions of choices! Even if your mind is only preoccupied with 3 or 4 choices, that is already enough to cause you to become digitally distracted and lose your 80/20 bearings, losing sight of the vital few.
Bret Victor wrote A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design, an article which raises questions few people seem to be asking; about what we are giving up when we limit the many dextrous functions of our hands to the simple action of swiping our fingers or tapping on a screen. He believes that our future is in our hands, our ability to feel, manipulate and make things, and not in pictures under glass.
In our digital dreams we should not forget the importance of focus, the analog world of sensory experience, the world of sensory serendipity, the world which to appreciate you have to have been there.
Finding fun in focus
In his book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success, Carmine Gallo attributes the success of Steve Jobs in part to his ability to “Say no to 1000 things.” Apple’s ability to focus has resulted in game changing innovation, making it one of the most profitable companies in the world today.
For most of us it boils down to the art of time management, which in fact is really the art of self-management. Edwin Bliss is an internationally known consultant on time management, and although his books were written in the 1970s, they as timely today as they were when they first came out. Written in brief chapters with practical advice on everything from managing your schedule to increasing your energy and focus, they are also illustrated with amusing illustrations that depict the dilemmas that we all face in time management. For a wealth of tips on how to manage your time and increase your productivity, is well worth reading his two classic titles on time management, Getting Things Done and Doing it Now.
Your path of least resistance
It is not only digital distraction and poor time management that take us off of the 80/20 Path. One of the most fundamental mistakes that you can make is to spend your precious life energy working hard on something that does not come naturally to you. Sadly, many people find themselves stuck in a job or career in which they spend years developing an average level of competence, when they could truly excel at something else in a much shorter time if they found the right path.
This is not just the classic dilemma of the would-be artist who works at a detestable day job just to pay the bills and get by. It can apply equally well to anyone in any line of work. It is more a matter of finding your flow, according to Roger J. Hamilton your Wealth Dynamics profile. There is no sense in putting this off. It is one of the most important things you should know about yourself, if you wish to succeed on the 80/20 Path.
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that only a few things matter. How tragic if you look back at the end of your career or life, and feel as if you frittered away your life pursuing things that did not really matter. Take an 80/20 inventory of your life now, and focus on your few true friends, gifts, and goals.
For a visual summary of these ideas and approaches download here the 80/20 MANDALA. Catch up on other articles and Mandala downloads in this series by accessing the Time for a Change file on GOALSCAPE Connect.
—William Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.