The 80/20 Principle – Achieving More With Doing Less

By Richard Koch in Research on December 7th, 2006 / No Comments

The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with LessIt’s now been ten years since the book was published and I think it is fair to say that it has had a major impact in reinterpreting and popularizing the 80/20 principle. The book has sold over 700,000 copies and been translated into 25 languages. It has sold massively in Japan and Korea and heavily in America and Europe. There has been massive feedback, mainly positive, from readers and reviewers. Throughout the world, a large number of individuals, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have found the principle useful, at work and in their careers, and increasingly in the whole of their lives. The principle helps people achieve much more, with much less effort.

What Is The 80/20 Principle?
The principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually leads to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards. Something like 80 percent of what you achieve at work comes from 20 percent of the effort and time put in. Thus for all practical purposes four-fifths of the effort is largely irrelevant. This is, of course, quite contrary to what we expect.

The point is not the precise numbers but the consistently lopsided relationship between time and effort, on the one hand, and results on the other.

In business, around 20 percent of products account for about 80 percent of sales; so do 20 percent of customers. The 20 percent of most profitable products or customers typically give us 80 percent of profits.

In society, 20 percent of robbers make off with 80 percent of the loot. Twenty percent of motorists cause 80 percent of accidents. Even twenty percent of those who marry account for 80 percent of divorces! Twenty percent of children corner 80 percent of educational qualifications.

When you get up, only a handful of your clothes will even be considered as you get dressed. The same 20 percent or fewer of favorite garments will get worn 80 percent or more of the time. The same applies to your toiletries in the bathroom. The same 20 percent of items are used 80 percent of the time. The rest is clutter, rarely touched.

The same odd patterns recurs as you head to work. Out of all the possible routes you could take, you’ll select the same 20 percent most of the time.

It’s the imbalance, the lopsidedness that matters. There’s no magic to the numbers 80 and 20. Sometimes the lopsidedness is less – maybe 70 percent of results come from 30 percent of causes. Other times the relationship is much more extreme. Five percent of web sites get more than 95 percent of the traffic. Just over 1 percent of movies gross 80 percent of box office revenues.

What Use Is The Principle?
The 80/20 principle has two almost opposite appeals. On the one hand, it is a statistical observation, a proven pattern – solid, quantitative, reliable, hard. It pleases those who want to get more out of life, to get ahead of the crowd, to increase profits or decrease effort or costs in the pursuit of gain, to dramatically raise efficiency, defined as output divided by input. If we can spot the few cases where the results relative to effort are so much greater than usual, we can become so much more efficient in whatever task we want to accomplish. The principle allows us to enhance our achievement while escaping the tyranny of over-work.

Here are some the insights revealed by the principle and explored in the book:

  • Who you work for is more important than what you do
  • You can work far less and achieve more, if you stop doing things that have no real results and do three or four times more of the things that really deliver
  • Wealth from saving and investment usually dwarfs wealth from working
  • Free yourself from obligations imposed by others
  • Be unconventional and eccentric in your use of time
  • Become self-employed early in your career

On the other hand, the principle has a totally different side – soft, mystical, eerie, almost magic in the way that the same pattern of numbers crops up everywhere, and related not to efficiency at all but to everything that makes our lives worthwhile. The sense that we are connected to each other and to the universe by a mysterious law, that we can tap into and that can change our lives, generates a sense of wonder and awe.

What is different about my book is that it extends the use of the 80/20 principle well beyond business and efficiency. I suggested that the principle could help enhance the quality and depth of our whole lives. Put bluntly, intelligent use of the principle can make us happier. Again, just a sample of the insights that flow from applying the principle to our personal lives:

  • Identify the times when you are happiest and expand them as much as possible
  • Identify the times you are least happy and reduce them dramatically
  • Make yourself happier by changing the people you see most
  • Avoid your personal ‘snake pits’ – situations which always stress you out and lead you to behave badly
  • Most people derive enormous happiness from doing things for other people – yet spend relatively little time doing so

It’s better to have few friends, chosen carefully, and to see them a great deal, rather than do what most people do – see people just because they are there: neighbours, colleagues, people you run into all the time.

The greatest happiness or misery derives from the deep relationship with a lover – yet few people choose their partner very carefully or intelligently.

It’s only in retrospect that I have fully realized the dual nature of the principle, the curious but perfect tension between the two sides of the principle, hard efficiency and soft life-enhancement. Efficiency clears the space for life-enhancement, while life-enhancement requires us to be clear about the few things that are really important in our work, relationships, and all the other activities that infest our lives.

The great thing about the 80/20 principle is that you can get on with using it right away, both at work and in the rest of life. You can take your own small fragments of greatest achievement, happiness, and service to others and make them a much larger part of your life. You can multiply your highs and cut out most of your lows. You can finger the mass of irrelevant and low-value activity and shed that worthless skin. You can isolate the parts of your character, workstyle, lifestyle, and relationships that give you great results for the time and energy invested in them; and then multiply them. You can become a better, more useful, and happier human being. And you can help others do the same.

Many thanks to Richard Koch for providing this exclusive summary.

For more information please visit: The 80/20 Principle Website

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