THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE, like the truth, can make you free.


THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE, like the truth, can make you free.  You can work less.  At the same time, you can earn and enjoy more.  The only snag is that you need to do some serious 80/20 Thinking.  This will yield a few insights that, if you act on them, could change your life.

The catch is that you must do the thinking.  You must edit and elaborate what is written here for your own purposes.  But this shouldn’t be too hard.

The insights from 80/20 Thinking are few in number but very powerful.  Not all of them will apply to you so if one doesn’t, skip to the next one.

Become an 80/20 thinker, starting with your own life

80/20 Thinking is reflective, unconventional, hedonistic, and non-linear.  It combines extreme ambition – wanting things to change for the better – with a relaxed and confident manner.  It is also constantly looking for 80/20-type hypotheses and insights.

80/20 Thinking is Reflective

The aim is to generate action that will make sharp improvements in your life and that of the people around you.  This kind of action requires unusual insight.  Insight requires reflection and introspection.  Often, insight can be generated purely by reflection, without the explicit need for more information.  Your brain already has much more information than you can imagine.

The predominant type of thinking in today’s world is very closely allied to immediate action and so is greatly impoverished.  Action drives out thought.  Our objective, as 80/20 thinkers, is to leave action behind, do some quiet thinking, mine a few bits of precious insight, and then – only then – to act: selectively, on a few objectives and a narrow front, decisively and impressively, to produce terrific results with as little energy and as few resources as possible.

80/20 Thinking is Unconventional

It teases out where conventional wisdom is wrong, as it generally is.  Progress springs from identifying the waste and sub-optimality inherent in life, starting with our daily lives, and then doing something about it.  Conventional wisdom is no help here, except as a counter-indicator.  It is conventional wisdom which leads to the waste and imperfection in the first place.  The power of the 80/20 principle lies in doing things differently based on unconventional wisdom.  This requires you to work out why most other people are doing things wrongly or to a fraction of their potential.  If your insights are not unconventional, you are not thinking 80/20.

80/20 Thinking is Hedonistic

It seeks pleasure.  80/20 Thinking believes that life is meant to be enjoyed.  It holds that most real achievement is a by-product of interest, joy, and the desire for future happiness.  This may not seem controversial, but most people do not do the simple things that would lead to happiness, even when they know what they are.

Most people fall into one or more of the following traps. They spend a lot of time with people they do not much like.  They do jobs they are not enthusiastic about.  They use up most of their ‘free time’- incidentally an anti-hedonistic concept – on activities they don’t greatly enjoy.  The reverse is also true.  The do not spend most time with people they like the best; and they do not use most of their leisure time on the activities they enjoy most.  They are not optimists, and even those who are optimists do not plan carefully to improve their future lives.

Curious, isn’t it?

Hedonism is often held to imply selfishness, a disregard for others, and a lack of ambition.  All this is a smear.  Hedonism is in fact a necessary condition for really helping others and for achievement.  It is very hard, and always wasteful, to achieve something worthwhile without enjoying it.  If more people were hedonistic, the world would be a better, and in all senses, a richer place.

80/20 Thinking Believes in Progress

There is a lot of hard evidence that things in life have become much better in the last two hundred years, or even in our lifetimes.   Poverty, suffering, and early deaths have become hugely reduced.  Material wealth – not to be scoffed at – has risen and risen.  Often people refuse to believe these facts, but facts they are, and the reluctance to believe indicates a mood of pessimism determined to deny progress.

Yet, progress can always go into reverse.  So rather than rest the case on its track record, I’d like to hang my hat on this – belief in progress has to be an act of faith.  Progress is a duty.  If we didn’t believe in the possibility of progress, we could never improve the world.  Business understands this.  Business, in alliance with science and technology, has provided the greatest evidence for progress.

80/20 Thinking is inherently optimistic, because, paradoxically, it reveals a state of affairs that is seriously below where it should be.  Only twenty per cent of resources really matter in terms of achievement. Therefore, give more power to the twenty per cent, or teach the eighty per cent how to mimic the twenty, and you can multiply results.  Progress lifts us to a new and much higher level.  But even there, there will still typically be an 80/20 split of outputs/inputs.  So we can progress again to a much higher plane.

Construct a huge computer that can make calculations many times faster than any previous machine.  Demand that the computer be made smaller, faster, and cheaper. Repeat the process.  Repeat it again.  Now apply the same principle to other technologies, other parts of business, and other provinces of life.

80/20 Thinking is Non-Linear

Traditional thinking is encased within a powerful but often inaccurate and destructive mental model.  It is linear.  It believes that x leads to y, that y causes z, and that b is the inevitable result of a.  My poor schooling led to my dead-end job.  I have been successful because I am very clever.  My firm cannot grow because the market is declining.  High taxes are necessary if we want to look after the poor, the sick, the old.  And so on.

Linear thinking is attractive because it is simple, cut and dried.  But it is a poor description of the world and a worse preparation for changing it.  Scientists and historians have long cast linear thinking aside.  Why should you cling on to it?

80/20 Thinking offers a life raft.  Nothing flows from one simple cause.  Nothing is pre-ordained, nothing inevitable. Nothing is ever in equilibrium or unchangeable.  Nothing desirable need be unobtainable.  Secrets exist – important things that we don’t yet know, but can discover, to immense benefit.  There was no need for pneumonia or HIV to lead to death.  There is a cure for cancer.  It is not inevitable that a significant portion of our people becomes obese.  The balance of circumstances can be shifted in a major way by a minor action.  Only a few decisions really matter.  Those that do, matter a great deal.  Choice can always be exercised.  Life can always be made much better.

If you are unhappy, do not worry about the proximate cause.  Think about the times you have been happy and manoeuvre yourself into similar situations.  If your career is going nowhere fast, do not tinker around the edges.  Do something radical.  Think about the few, most important achievements in your whole life and seek more of the same.  Do not look for causes, especially causes of failure.  Imagine, and then create, the circumstances that will make you both happy and productive.

80/20 Insights for Individuals

  1. 80 per cent of achievement and happiness typically take place in 20 per cent or less of our time. These peaks can be greatly expanded.
  2. Our lives are profoundly affected, for good and ill, by a few events and decisions. We can improve our lives dramatically by recognizing the turning points and making decisions that will make us happy and productive.
  3. There are always a few key inputs to what happens and they are often not obvious. Identify the key causes and you can exert more influence on them that you think possible.
  4. Everyone can achieve something significant. The key is not effort, but finding the right thing to achieve.  You are hugely more productive and creative at some things than at others.
  5. There are always winners and losers – always more of the latter. Be a winner by choosing the right competition, the right team, and the right methods to win.  You are more likely to win again where you have won before.  You are more likely to win when you are selective about the races you enter.  People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined.
  6. Most of our failures are in races for which others enter us. Most of our success comes in races that we choose to enter.  These are often surprisingly few.
  7. Most people spend most of their time on activities that are of low value to themselves and others. The 80/20 thinker is careful to avoid this trap.
  8. Our choice of allies is critical. Almost nothing can be achieved without allies.  Choose your allies carefully and build alliances to achieve your specific objectives.
  9. Most people have too many friends and too few appropriate very close friends. Ensure you enjoy an intelligently selected and reinforced inner circle, people who stimulate and take care of each other.  This is one of the great pleasures of life which can get steadily better over time.
  10. Choose your life partner with the utmost care and judgment. Nurture him or her purposefully, every day.
  11. Few people spend enough time and thought cultivating their own happiness. It can come from little pleasures but mainly it comes from doing things that you are very good at and which help other people one way or another.
  12. Like the mind, happiness will atrophy unless exercised and reinforced over time. 80/20 thinkers know very well what generates their happiness and pursue it consciously, cheerfully, and smartly, using happiness today to build and multiply happiness tomorrow.

This blog post is partly based on The 80/20 Principle, the million-copy bestseller which has just been published in a new edition with four brand new chapters.

Image credit – Pixabay


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