The 80/20 Principle: A definition and examples

richard koch book

I recently finished Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less. The book takes Pareto’s Principle and applies it to business and life. The Italian economist Pareto (long deceased) found that a minority of causes, inputs or effort usually leads to a majority of outputs, results or rewards. In other words, 20 percent of the effort gets you 80 percent of the results. It’s not always 80/20. Sometimes it’s 95/5 or 70/30, but 80/20 is the shorthand for saying that the majority of effort put into an endeavor is, largely, meaningless. Anyone who has worked for a government agency or large corporation already understands this.

Whenever I read a book like this, I apply a trick I learned in magazine journalism class at Ohio University. The trick is a good one for finding value. When you outline an article, my professor said, ask “What is this article about?” The answer, in the case of this book, is efficiency. This book is about efficiency. Then, he said, ask yourself, “What is this article really about?” The answer for The 80/20 Principle is focus. What the book is really about is focus.

If you think your career, work or even personal life lacks focus, pick up The 80/20 Principle. It’s a good starting point for anyone who is trying to make better use of their time.

I applied the 80/20 principle to the book itself. I read only the chapters in which I was interested. It made the book much more enjoyable, as “Contribution to overhead” is not one of my primary concerns in life right now, as opposed to exploring unconventional thinking, a topic with which I am currently obsessed. See, it’s already paying off.

Update 2-25-11
I am going to add 80/20 examples to this post as I find them. Last night in Maxim I read this quote from Matt Stone: “We never thought the footprint of our comedy would be as big as “South Park” is. And “South Park” isn’t nearly as big as “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” or “Two and a Half Men.” I mean, those shows are massive, you know? They get, like, 10 times the audience we do. But we know that to get the 20 percent of the people watching to laugh really hard, 80 percent of the people aren’t going to get it. We’ve learned that if every single person thinks what you do is funny, it’s usually fucking stupid as shit.

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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