Pareto was right! (and why you should care)

I first learned about the Pareto Principle over 25 years ago while I was in the early stages of my manufacturing career.  In 1983 I had the opportunity to attend a statistical quality control course at Ford Motor Company where I had my first brush with Pareto and the basic, but broadly applicable principles, that his principle provides.

Here is the definition of the Pareto Principle as shown on Wikipedia:

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

My earliest applications of this principle had to do with process controls and the development of a mindset that helped me realize that my focus needed to be on key factors and not on all issues I might encounter in a process.

As my career has grown and expanded I have discovered that the Pareto Principle also has value in a number of different areas.  Let me share just a few for you to consider:

1.  Business Development-Regardless of the type of work you do, the industry or country you work in, or the time frame you employ, you need to find factors to determine what is valuable and important now to keep from spending time on activities that are not directly related to the goals/strategies you are pursuing in your work.  I often find myself violating this principle since I have such a wide variety of interests, but it is of great value to constantly review what is important so that you can spend time on the “vital few” and not the “trivial many”.

2.  Volunteer Time-As stated earlier, I have a wide variety of interests.  To make matters worse, I am also a “cause guy”, meaning that I like to invest my time in causes i find to be important.  What I continue to learn, often painfully, is that I would be better served to do more for fewer versus trying to spread myself over too many causes.  I see this issue also come up with others and when I try to be too much to too many, I get frustrated, they are underserved, and we all lose in the long run.

3.  Family Time-I like to be involved with activities outside of my family and this previously caused me considerable stress and frustration because I was spending time in a wide variety of issues that were not nearly as important as what is most valuable to me, family time.  There were often times where I had to “re-calibrate” my schedule to make sure I was spending time with the “vital few” of my family versus the masses in the causes I would become immersed in.

Pareto was right!  We each need to understand the vital few issues, items, people, or causes to invest our resources and time into.  When we try to satisfy the many, we spread ourselves too thinly and make no one happy.

Take time to reflect and review who your vital few are today.