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A legacy built on the 80/20 rule

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

by Morey Stettner

Everyone can cite some version of the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your time should focus on the top 20 percent of your customers, 80 percent of your products are purchased by 20 percent of your customers, 80 percent of errors come from 20 percent of employees.

We have Joseph Juran to thank for the advent of the 80/20 rule. He created it—and labeled it the Pareto Principle—in 1937. His conclusion that 80 percent of effects flow from 20 percent of causes resonates with almost everyone who hears it.

Juran died on February 28, 2008. He was 103.

An Italian economist in the late 19th century, Vilfredo Pareto, analyzed the unequal distribution of wealth. Juran applied Pareto's insights more broadly to the interrelationship between the "vital few" and the "trivial many."

I'm fond of the 80/20 rule. It directs our attention on what's important so that we place our activities in the proper perspective.

As a consultant, I've long championed the 80/20 rule as it relates to interpersonal communication. Specifically, I coach people to manage their one-on-one conversations by spending 80 percent of their time listening and limiting their speaking to the other 20 percent.

It's not easy. Many readers of my book, The Art of Winning Conversation, have told me that they've struggled to apply the 80/20 rule when talking with others. I encourage them to practice—to ask lots of questions and make their statements succinct and compelling—so that they give speakers the gift of silence.

The beauty of the 80/20 rule is its simplicity. When we invest our time, attention and resources effectively on what matters most, we produce better results. Maximizing the value of the "vital few" almost guarantees that you won't get bogged down in the "trivial many."

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