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View Full Version : Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule)



catherine
9-10-11, 7:50pm
We spent the month of August in VT as always, and the good thing about being away from home for a period of time is you see your home with fresh eyes when you come back.

In this case, I wasn't liking what I was seeing. I had a very busy spring/early summer with work and I just wasn't keeping on top of things. Plus we had water in the basement from Irene so we were pulling stuff out so we could dry the basement up, so everything just looked cluttered and just plain yucky.

So, I've been on a mission to clean up and declutter (in a way, I have to thank Mother Nature for the help in that regard--we had to throw a lot of stuff out--nothing important).

I was thinking of the Pareto Principle (80% of the results come from 20% of the causes). The rule can be applied to anything, such as, I'm pretty sure that only 20% of my stuff gets used 80% of the time!

So, in my decluttering efforts, I'm trying to apply that principle to good use. I'm attacking my clothes closet for instance. I know I really wear about 20% of what's in there most of the time, so I'm going to either get rid of a lot of the other 80% or store some of it in another closet (like put fancy dresses and out of season stuff in one of my kids' old rooms).

I went through my make-up basket and picked out the 20% of the stuff in there, which is stuff I use every day and just tossed all those old creams and unflattering lipsticks, etc. and old hotel lotions that I've picked up along the way.

I'm actually kind of psyched to apply this "rule" to my decluttering efforts!

Just thought I'd share--have you ever applied the 80/20 rule to anything?

razz
9-10-11, 9:05pm
Neat concept and a good approach to decluttering. Have to think about it some more.

Rosemary
9-10-11, 10:17pm
Learned about this back in my engineering days, and I find it true in many places!

fidgiegirl
9-10-11, 11:26pm
Funny, I read about this in my new job training just this last week. Never having heard of it before, it's funny that now it would pop up on the boards.

I hadn't explicitly thought about it, but their example was that 20% of the people do 80% of the innovating or something similar, so basically figure out who those 20% of teachers are to get them on board with new initiatives you want to move forward.

My coworker pointed out that it's probably actually less than 20% of people doing 80% of the work, though!

Nice application for decluttering!

Dragline
9-11-11, 2:17am
The principle here is more correctly known as a "power law", which governs everything from earthquakes to wealth distribution to stock markets. While Pareto popularized the basic concept, the most important work was done by a very brilliant and kind man name Benoit Mandelbrot who passed away last year. Nassim Taleb ("The Black Swan" -- no, not the movie) has recently popularized this. I think we will find Mandelbrot to be the most important thinker of the last century.

I find it interesting that Pareto was heralded as a genius by the fascists in Mussolini's Italy while a few decades later Mandelbrot hid from the Nazis in France as a young Polish Jew. Confirms to me that this particular idea is universal.

flowerseverywhere
9-11-11, 8:50am
Dragline, there was a PBS special on Mandlelbrot and Fractals, if it is in your library or you can find it online, it is absolutely fascinating. I believe you are right about Maldelbrot and his genius. Nassim Taleb is very interesting, and if you haven't read any of his work, Malcolm Gladwell also writes fascinating stuff.

A decluttering tip for your closet I read here was to put all of your hangars backwards, after wearing put in the correct way. In a set amount of time, enough to go through the seasons, whatever hasn't been turned around get rid of, with the exception of a few things you might wear to a funeral or wedding for instance.

The 80% rule is a great application for decluttering. We used to say when I worked in an MD office that 20% of the patients used 80% of the appointments and resources. But I like this more positive spin. It is so freeing, isn't it?

catherine
9-11-11, 8:58am
The principle here is more correctly known as a "power law", which governs everything from earthquakes to wealth distribution to stock markets. While Pareto popularized the basic concept, the most important work was done by a very brilliant and kind man name Benoit Mandelbrot who passed away last year. Nassim Taleb ("The Black Swan" -- no, not the movie) has recently popularized this. I think we will find Mandelbrot to be the most important thinker of the last century.

I find it interesting that Pareto was heralded as a genius by the fascists in Mussolini's Italy while a few decades later Mandelbrot hid from the Nazis in France as a young Polish Jew. Confirms to me that this particular idea is universal.

I googled Mandelbrot and I can see why it was Pareto's version that caught on... not being a mathematician, 80/20 is a LOT easier for me to grasp than f(k;N,q,s)= 1/(k+q)2 over H(subscript N,q,s) where H is given by...etc. ;)

catherine
9-11-11, 9:20am
...However, I just googled Taleb and I think I'll investigate further... he looks like a very interesting guy...

Flowerseverywhere: Thanks for the two tips: the PBS special AND the backward hanger tip!

Marianne
9-11-11, 9:33am
I thought I got rid of a lot of stuff before we moved, knowing that everything except esentials would remain in boxes for some time (we're in a constant state of construction). But after watching a few episodes of 'Hoarders', I started keeping a box by the door for donation stuff. Sometimes it was three boxes. That show just scares the crap out of me!

Neat idea about the hangers. I have noticed that it's the same clothes over and over in the laundry. I could do some thinning in this area, too.

Fawn
9-11-11, 10:38am
Catherine, it was this concept or a version of it that convinced me that I didnt need most of my stuff.

For me, it started by keeping anything that wasn't used every week out of our 1000 sq foot trailer peopled w/ 6 humans. We lived on a farm, had storage sheds and barns everywhere. But I found that I didn't really need the stuff in the sheds.

Where the concept gets very interesting is if you declutter the 80% you don't use and then live with the 20% you do use for awhile, it begins to sort itself into a new set of 80/20. If you get rid of the new 80% and repeat the process over a couple years you will get down to the real essentials. I used to think my goal of 100 things could not be attained while I had children at home and was still working....and now I am down to 88 things. :cool:

loosechickens
9-11-11, 3:51pm
You know what one of the things I LOVE most about these forums is that you can click onto a thread about something simple like decluttering, and learn about stuff to the point where one thread sends you off to "The Google" for hours and hours.......

I always knew of the 80/20 rule, and see it operative in SO many areas of life, but had no idea of the background, the people involved in the principle and all the other fascinating stuff that I can tell will have me on the internet for hours today reading up on yet another something found here.........

So great........ I just love you guys.......

Zoe Girl
9-11-11, 5:02pm
i have collected a lot of good ideas over the years, and that hangar one is pretty great! Hmm, will think about how to implement it. Unfortunately my weekday job has gone to t-shirts that identify us when we work with kids so I don't get to wear what I choose very often any more.

We are going through another downsize process. My exhusband was laid off and I truly depend on what he gives me. he has been very reliable all these years, but I also had to add kids to unsurance since he no longer has that available. I am looking at if the house we rent is too much (and the stupid yard is too much after my dog died a month ago) than an apartment would be a better idea. So from 3,000 ft2 to half of that to smaller. Wowee, I think that should be my next writing topic.

flowerseverywhere
9-11-11, 5:44pm
I can't take credit for the hangar idea, I read it here. Those kinds of ideas keep me coming back for more.

Anne Lee
9-11-11, 6:09pm
Hunh. And I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell on CD and he talked about the power law applied to social problems.

Dragline
9-11-11, 7:01pm
I have found that the power law concept permeates almost everything of importance and is fundamental to understanding how the world works. Mandelbrot's brilliance was that he could look at pictures of things -- like coastlines, mountains or charts -- and translate them back into mathematical concepts. But he preferred the pictures, which made him very accessible to ordinary people. Here is one of his last talks: http://www.ted.com/talks/benoit_mandelbrot_fractals_the_art_of_roughness.ht ml

Taleb observes that the world is divided into two kinds of things: Some that are described by "normal" or "average" distributions and others that are described by power laws and 80/20 type rules. For example the height of humans follows an "normal" or "average" distribution. You never see adult humans as big as 10 feet tall or as small as 2 ft. But the important stuff -- like earthquakes and the weather -- is not organized like that. It's described by power laws like the 80/20 rule. So you have these huge events that are totally devastating every once in awhile, but most the time not much happens.

The most interesting practical applications of these ideas I have seen recently have to do with the way humans were designed to live, eat and exercise. There is an assumption in modern culture that we should live by "normal" or "average" distributions, with exacting schedules, mealtimes and exercise routines. Yet our ancestors did not live that way -- their lives were more like power laws. They laid around and did nothing a lot (like lions or other big mammals), and then had bursts of activity that accounted for most of their food, exercise, etc. There is a lot to suggest that regimentation for humans is completely unnatural and that variation with occasional more extreme intensity is very important for health and happiness.

Here is a power law based fitness "pyramid": http://www.google.com/imgres?q=mark+sisson+fitness+pyramid&um=1&hl=en&safe=active&sa=N&tbm=isch&tbnid=hyiz8UI4-a-OTM:&imgrefurl=http://thesolutionpost.com/exercise-king&docid=IqwebUZbZzwcpM&w=865&h=716&ei=Pi1tTvmUJOXz0gGL0NT-BA&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=187&vpy=152&dur=55&hovh=204&hovw=247&tx=163&ty=113&page=1&tbnh=150&tbnw=181&start=0&ndsp=17&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0&biw=1280&bih=703

These power law (80/20) things are everywhere!

Madsen
9-11-11, 10:20pm
Interesting you bring up the fitness application of power laws and Sisson's triangle --- I was just talking with my friend today about Art DeVany's work in this area. Have you seen his material on "evolutionary fitness"?