Adrian Savage, the creative force behind lifehack, wonders if the Pareto Principle1 can reliably be put to use in today's posting How Useful Is the Pareto Principle? He concludes that the principle is useless if it only after-the-fact describes the membership of the 20% group. Adrian misunderstands how the principle is effectively used on a prospective basis. He writes,
'My guess is the Pareto Principle distinguishes groups you can only find after the event, once you can see what worked and what didn’t. If that’s so, the Principle is almost worthless as a guide to future action, which is how it’s most often used.'
Since it is not possible to collect facts about the future we are left to making assessments. The Principle provides a way of giving weight to our assessments for the sake of planning.
Adrian does understand that we cannot know for certain what the future holds. He argues that we cannot know what 20% subset of all our possible actions will yield the 80% of desired results. Again, I agree. So are we to subscribe to a random walk of life? I think not. From reading Adrian's postings on other topics, I doubt he would either. We all have learned that some of our actions are more effective for us in some circumstances than they are in other circumstances. This tacit knowledge allows us to respond somewhat effectively and without deliberation as we encounter our everyday world. That tacit knowledge is called upon as we make observations and assessments.
'I get far better results when I proceed with mindfulness of what I want and focus on what can be successful than not.'
We use the Pareto Principle in the same way. We start by making observations (collecting facts) and assessments (developing opinions) about what we intend to accomplish. Since it is not possible to collect facts about the future we are left to making assessments. The Principle provides a way of giving weight to our assessments for the sake of planning. By anticipating what we might encounter we prepare ourself to be ready for action. By exploring multiple future scenarios we are better prepared to select a set of actions that can be most effective for whatever situation we encounter.
The Pareto Principle when applied to the future is about 80/20 thinking. The thinking allows us to interrupt our tacit way we engage in the world that unfolds choosing to act one way or another. Will that mindfulness produce 80/20 results? Who knows. That is not the point. The point is to be better prepared and to shift from our automatic way of being. Speaking only for myself I can say I get far better results when I proceed with mindfulness of what I want and focus on what can be successful than not.
Read more on the 80/20 Principle.
- Italian economist who noticed the concentration of wealth and then generalized the finding to other areas of life [ ⇑ back ]