What is Avid Weekly Ideas?
Each week I publish an idea or two either from a book I am currently reading or from my backlog of book notes. 📚
Of course, this isn’t intended to replace book notes or reading the book itself. Instead the aim is to extract a key idea or two from a book that struck me as insightful and share-worthy. Then I package it into a bite-sized digestible chunk. I hope these little nuggets of insight will spark some inspiration or ideas in your own mind. 💡
Now most people are probably familiar with the Pareto principle, named in honor of Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Here is a succinct explanation of what it is:
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few (and trivial many), or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
There are many applications of this principle in many different fields such as economics, computing, sports, engineering, and the list goes on…
A lot of this is well-documented and I believe many people are familiar with this.
But while I was reading The One Thing by Gary Keller I was impressed that he takes this to the next level and I thought that was pretty interesting and quite original (a great example of putting an original twist on a well-known concept).
My notes from The One Thing
This is how Keller explains Pareto’s Principle (spoiler: he calls it “one of the greatest productivity truths ever discovered.”):
Pareto’s Principle, it turns out, is as real as the law of gravity, and yet most people fail to see the gravity of it. It’s not just a theory—it is a provable, predictable certainty of nature and one of the greatest productivity truths ever discovered. Richard Koch, in his book The 80/20 Principle, defined it about as well as anyone: “The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.” In other words, in the world of success, things aren’t equal. A small amount of causes creates most of the results. Just the right input creates most of the output. Selected effort creates almost all of the rewards.
In a nutshell he puts it this way:
Pareto points us in a very clear direction: the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. Extraordinary results are disproportionately created by fewer actions than most realize.
So far so good, this is widely known and widely quoted in many success books that predate The One Thing. But the next bit is what I found (to me at least) to be quite original.
Keller goes on to explain that though it is often referred to as the 80/20 rule it can actually take a variety of proportions:
Depending on the circumstances, it can easily play out as, say, 90/20, where 90 percent of your success comes from 20 percent of your effort. Or 70/10 or 65/5. But understand that these are all fundamentally working off the same principle. Juran’s great insight was that not everything matters equally; some things matter more than others—a lot more.
Then he further develops that idea to the natural extreme. He poses the question, what if you took the so-called 80/20 rule of Pareto and went further? What if you took the principle to an extreme? What if you identified the 20% and then further narrowed it down by finding the “vital few of the vital few.”
Keep going. You can actually take 20 percent of the 20 percent of the 20 percent and continue until you get to the single most important thing! (See figure 5.) No matter the task, mission, or goal. Big or small. Start with as large a list as you want, but develop the mindset that you will whittle your way from there to the critical few and not stop until you end with the essential ONE. The imperative ONE. The ONE Thing.
And I bet by now you can guess where the title of the book comes from right? 😀
He then goes further in the book developing this idea and gives many examples of applications of this “extreme” concept.
Now this seemed pretty radical to me at first glance. Many people might struggle with such ruthless filtering to the point that only ONE thing remains.
But thinking about it it certainly seems directionally correct. More than ever before we live in a world of noise. So much information out there competing for our attention.
Never before have humans been inundated with so much information mixed with misinformation. With so much you could do and so many choices, ironically the problem of the modern world is not so much one of scarcity than one of abundance as Naval Ravikant put it so eloquently: “Most of modern life, all our diseases, are diseases of abundance, not diseases of scarcity.”
So the thing is, many people are probably trying to do too much, thus achieving too little. Even light loses potency when scattered and becomes laser sharp when focused.
This principle is an acknowledgement that you have limited resources and therefore you need to focus on the right thing because focusing on too many things exacts an opportunity cost on the thing you should really be doing.
For me personally I have committed to devote more time to improving my writing hence the blog and newsletter.
I’m interested in what is your “vital few” or “ONE thing” so feel free to reply in the comments or tweet me @AvidBookReadr.
As always, happy reading! 📚
TL;DR of key ideas
- The Pareto principle is a powerful tool in helping inform decisions around the allocation of resources. It states that 20% of the causes account disproportionately for 80% of the effects, hence it would be wise to focus more on the 20%.
- Extreme Pareto is an idea I first came across when reading The One Thing by Gary Keller. Keller takes the idea to the next level by suggesting that you should further filter down the 20% into just ONE thing in order to get outrageous results.
If you liked this week’s idea, please consider reading the entire book to get the full context and meaning.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoy these weekly bite-sized chunks of ideas from books and would like to support them, there are a couple of ways you could do that.
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- If you have the means you could subscribe to my paid Substack publication. It would go a long way towards helping me devote more time towards my pursuit of lifelong learning and enable me to create more content. 📚
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