Pareto's open secret

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes.

To some people, this seems to suggest:

20% efforts => 80, 90, 99% results! WOW!

It is easy to fool yourself into believing all that matters were those 20%. Once you believe that, however, the Pareto Principle becomes kind of a voodoo ritual: «Hey, just find the 20% of your actions that really matter. Pin them down (pun intended) to make almost all of your dreams come true.»

A few frustrating experiments pass by and disappointment kicks in, because the Pareto Principle apparently just doesn't «live up to its promise». So the 80-20 rule must be «useless», because it can't «tell» you where to pierce the doll.

Take one step back to become aware of how fixated one can become on the 20% part of the rule. Just find those 20%, the most promising actions that target.... ummmm: what exactly do they target?

Where did the 80% part go? It nearly vanished. Well, anyway it's just a negligible deviation from complete fulfillment, isn't it?

The 80-20 rule, however, is about looking at your goals first, before taking action. The first step is to condense

must haves + essentials + nice to haves + crazy ideas

to

=
must haves + essentials

To put it in a nutshell: boil down the flimsy soup of goals to an 80% concentrated stew that will give you the power and wisdom to act effectively.

That's the open secret of the 80-20 rule. It starts with the «80», and so should you.

100%

I've always tended toward a much more pessimistic interpretation of the 80-20 rule. Yes, we may indeed get to 80% of the goal with 20% of the effort. But as we need to achieve 100% of the goal, the remaining 20% are where 80% of the effort are spent.

As such, the rule is a cautionary admonition. If you find that you've come close to your goal with rather little effort, that's no cause for celebration. Don't be foolhardy to expect you'll reach the goal dead on with slightly more effort. Instead, be prepared that the last steps will require an unproportionally large effort.

Do we need 100%, always?

Michael, you're right. I can think of a few occasions where we need the 100%. E.g., the Apollo-13-style things, where "failure is not an option." Do we need the 100%, always?

Yes, we do need 100%

We need 100% of what we set as the goal. Those 100% may in turn be only 80% of what is possible.

Then, when you have set a goal, apply the 80-20 rule.

Unattainable goals?

Michael, I'm not sure I got this right.

I'm used to defining SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). Do you suggest that I drop the "Attainable" requirement and set goals that I know are (partly) unattainable?