Last Word

I opened the registered letter and was shocked. My best clients were joining together in a class-action lawsuit against me. The letter stated that I had promulgated a false allusion of success by having them follow the 80-20 rule. The 80-20 rule has myriad applications. For example, some argue that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the workers. You get the idea.

The letter alleged that I brainwashed my clients into thinking that the 80-20 rule was a basic law of business and nature. I had blatantly stated that they could ignore all the mundane advice of their accountants and lawyers. All they needed to do was follow my advice. They did, and many of them had gone bankrupt.

I confess, I do quote the 80-20 rule like it is divinely ordained. I start all my training sessions with a simple question: Which of the Ten Commandments do you think generate most of our sins? “Do not covet…” is obviously No. 1. The group usually argues over No. 2. Lately, “Honor thy father and mother” has been the runner-up.

My point: Each commandment does not generate an equal amount of sins. “Do not covet” and one other commandment (20 percent of the commandments) could well make up 80 percent of our daily transgressions.

My audience loves the story. They initially argue that the 80-20 rule does not apply to their unique businesses. However, I show them data and a lot of anecdotal evidence. I can be very persuasive. Finally they succumb and buy my book, training tapes and subscribe to my Web site in order to follow my latest advice.

We live in times when consultants are being sued by their clients for a lack of ethics, conflicts of interests and downright stupidity. Consultants are paying hefty fines, even getting jail time.

I started working on my defense at the library. I researched the great scientific discoveries of the Renaissance. I believed that the 80-20 rule could be found in the footnotes of Sir Isaac Newton’s manuscripts on the universal laws of gravitation. I was wrong.

An alternative, for sure, would be Charles Darwin’s law of the survival of the fittest. Again, no luck. I started to worry.

I did find some stuff on an Italian economist of the late 19th century, Vilfredo Pareto. He developed “Pareto’s Law,” which he presented as: log N = log A + m logX. When dumbed down, it is the 80-20 rule. I showed it to my lawyer. “Forget it,” he said, adding that I would lose the jury with any math beyond 3rd grade.

I decided to tell my lawyer the truth.

My pals in high school promulgated the 80-20 rule. We were trying to figure out the probability of getting dates on any given Saturday night. We collected data from our classmates. Surprisingly, a small percentage of the guys (20 percent to be exact) dated most of the girls (80 percent to be exact). These guys were considered the “in crowd” and always had dates. On the other hand, my friends and I, “the nerds,” the other 80 percent of guys, were always competing to get one of those few girls (the 20 percent that would date a nerd) to go out with us.

The rule applied in college, too. Eighty percent of the beer cans could be found in front of 20 percent of the dorm rooms. We knew because we collected them for recycling. It just seemed that everywhere I went this 80-20 thing worked.

Did you see me on Court TV? Not only did I win, I got the judge and 80 percent of the jury to buy my book.

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