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How Useful Is the Pareto Principle?

How Useful Is the Pareto Principle?

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the results from any series of actions are caused by 20% of the actions themselves. In other words, most of the results we get are because of a small minority of our actions. The rest are either wasted or produce little of value. This sounds like a useful observation. However, before you decide the Pareto Principle is true and can be used to guide your actions, I want to ask two important questions.

  1. Can you identify which actions make up the useful 20%? And can you do so in advance?
  2. Does this useful 20% always contain more or less the same actions?

Let’s take the first question. It’s easy to feel intuitively that most results arise from a small group of actions. The Pareto Principle feels immediately valid. It also feels like a practical tool. Identify the “magic 20%” of actions and you can more or less dispense with the other 80% without much impact on your results. What a marvelous saving of time and effort.

Of course, this only works if you can reliably distinguish the 20% of actions (or people, or events) that produce that disproportionate amount of benefits. It also assumes every result comes from a single, identifiable action — or at least a small, obviously linked group of them.

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But is this true? Don’t some results rely on the interaction of large numbers of events, choices, actions and decisions? Can we know which count and which don’t? What if we dropped some, only to find later they were essential in some way? Maybe they only produce good results in combination? Cutting seemingly unnecessary actions because they don’t obviously fit into the “magic 20%” might turn out to be a poor idea.

The Pareto Principle is perhaps most often applied to sales. Suppose you could reliably identify the 20% of sales calls that produced 80% of the orders you took this week. How much might the success of those calls rely on the market intelligence, knowledge and simple practice you gained by making the other 80%? Could you miss out all the rest, or even a significant number of them? That would include new customers being encouraged to place larger orders, prospects and old customers who might be won back from a competitor.

My second concern is this: is it always the same 20%?

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Let’s stick with the sales calls. This week, 20% of your calls produce 80% of your sales. Pareto rules! Next week, you need to sell just as much. Will you visit the same 20% of customers and receive the same orders?
Surely that’s unlikely. They only just placed an order. Most, maybe all, need to use up that order before buying again. Fine. You just need to find another 20%. But how? Everyone else was in the “unproductive” 80% last week? But if Pareto works, at the end of the next week you’ll once again find 80% of orders came from a new 20% of calls.

What’s going on? My guess is the Pareto Principle distinguishes groups you can only find after the event, once you can see what worked and what didn’t. The membership of the “magic 20%” of people or actions shifts each time. Wait long enough and every one will sometime be part of that 20% group.

If that’s so, the Principle is almost worthless as a guide to future action, which is how it’s most often used. There may be some actions or people (20% again? Who knows?) that figure so rarely in the “magic group” they could be removed without loss. There may be some regular members of that group that could be identified and given more focus and investment. Either way, what’s needed is time, careful observation and recording over many occasions, good records and much patience and reflection. None of these are actions or qualities much associated with today’s frenetic organizational pace.

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I’m not saying Pareto is wrong. I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone has ever done the lengthy and extensive research needed to find out. I’m merely suggesting it’s neither the universally applicable principle, nor the simple measure, nor the practical guide to decisions we’ve been asked to believe it is for so long.

To sum up:

I think the Pareto Principle has great intuitive attractiveness — which says nothing about whether or not it works, nor how it works (if it does). However, these questions remain unresolved:

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  1. How do you know which 20% is producing the results? Can you even find out at a time when the knowledge might be useful? I suspect you can usually only find the answer — if there is one — after the event. And if that’s so, it leads me to a second question.
  2. Is it always the same 20%? If it’s not (and I suspect it isn’t), over time maybe the whole 100% will be in that magic 20% group sometime. And if that’s true, the Principle applies only to a specific occasion (if it applies at all).

If any of my concerns is valid, the whole idea becomes worthless as a guide to future action or allocating resources (which is how people try to use it).

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his thoughts most days at The Coyote Within and Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the fun and satisfaction to management work.

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

20 Unusual Uses for Coca-Cola That You’ve Never Considered

20 Unusual Uses for Coca-Cola That You’ve Never Considered

Coca-Cola is an adored product the world over. While keeping yourself in good health means moderating how often you enjoy this drink, Coca-Cola lovers will be happy to hear that there are plenty of uses for the soda pop that don’t involve ingesting it. Impressively, Coca-Cola can be used to help you clean, get rid of rust, and even help maintain your garden. Whether you are looking for a way to finally get rid of those pesky stains, or just want to find new ways to love this drink, these 20 jaw-dropping and unusual uses for Coca-Cola will blow you away.

Kill pests in your garden

Coca-Cola is also an effective pest control method for your garden. To rid yourself of plant munching slugs and snails, pour a small bowl of Coca-Cola and place it near your garden or flowerbeds. The smell will attract these crawling bugs and the drink’s acidity will kill them.

Defrost your windshield

Incredibly, Coca-Cola can also defrost your windscreen in the wintertime. Simply pour Coke liberally across your windshield and wait about a minute. The ice should turn to slush for easy removal.

Clean your pans

Coca-Cola is also useful in the kitchen, especially on burnt pans. For any pan with burnt on messes, pour a can of Coke into the pan and simmer. The mess should easily wipe away. You can also soak kettles and other kitchen items in Coca-Cola to remove scale and build up.

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Clean bugs from your windshield

Another way Coca-Cola can aid in your car care is by removing bugs and gunk from your windshield. Soak a cloth in coke, then rub across your windshield. Just be careful not to get any on your paint job.

Remove rust from your car

Coca-Cola is also useful when removing rust. The simplest method is to dip crumpled tinfoil in Coca-Cola, then give the item a scrub and you should be rust free.

Loosen rusty bolts

Similarly, use Coca-Cola to loosen up a rusty bolt. Simply unscrew the bolt half a turn and pour on Coca-Cola. Let it sit, then give the metal a wipe. The bolt and screws will be one hundred percent in no time.

Remove stains from your fabric

Surprisingly, Coca-Cola is incredibly helpful when removing stains from clothing and fabric. Coke will easily remove grease stains, as well as blood spots. Remember that Coca-Cola itself is brown, so stains on light fabrics might be better removed another way.

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Remove oil spots

Another way to use Coca-Cola is to remove oil stains from cement. Whether it’s your garage or your driveway, soak the stain in Coca-Cola for a few hours then hose off.

Relieve jellyfish stings

Should you be unwilling to neutralize a jellyfish sting the traditional way (with urine) pouring Coca-Cola on the sting will also do the job.

Clean your car engine

Coca-Cola is also an effective ways to clean your car engine. Believe it or not, Coke distributors have reportedly been a fan of this technique for ages. 

Use it in cooking

Coca-Cola is also a fantastic addition to many recipes. Using Coca-Cola to cook pot roast or steaks in will easily tenderize the meat for you. Mixing Coke with ketchup or barbecue sauce also makes for a delightfully sweet glaze.

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Clean your old coins

Another way to use Coke to clean is to soak tarnished coins in the soda. About ten minutes should be enough to get rid of the muck.

Clean your tiles

Incredibly, Coca-Cola can also be applied to tiles to effectively clean grout. Let Coke sit on the tiles that need cleaning for a few minutes, then wipe away.

Supercharge your compost

Coke is also an impressive way to speed up your compost. The sugar in Coca-Cola feeds micro organisms, plus the acidity will help your compost break down faster.

Remove gum from your hair

Coca-Cola can also help you avoid a major hair disaster. If you have gum stuck in your hair, dip the gum into a small bowl of Coke and let it sit for a few minutes. The Coca-Cola breaks down the gum, allowing you to wipe it off.

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Fade unwanted hair dye

Similarly, if you made a mistake with your hair dye, Coca-Cola comes to the rescue. It’s probably best to get in the shower first, then pour Diet Coke over your hair. Let the soda sit for a few minutes, then wash your hair like normal. This method is effective in removing temporary hair dyes, but will likely only fade professionally applied dyes.

Clean marker stains

Coca-Cola is also an easy way to remove marker stains from carpet. Apply a small amount of Coke, scrub the spot, then clean with soapy water. Again, remember that Coca-Cola is brown, so removing stains on white or light-colored carpets might be better achieved with another method.

Clean your toilet

Coca-Cola can also help you clean elsewhere in the house. To easily clean a toilet, pour Coca-Cola all around the bowl and let it sit. There’s no need to scrub, simply flush and your toilet should be sparkling clean.

Feed your plants

Coca-Cola is also a surprising way to add a little extra life to some flowering plants. Particularly with azaleas and gardenias, adding a small amount of Coca-Cola to the soil can deliver nutrients your plant may be low on.

Get rid of bugs at a picnic

The last of our unusual uses for Coca-Cola is to safeguard your picnic or outdoor lunch from pests and wasps. Simply pour a small cup of Coca-Cola and set it out about a half hour before you start to eat. By placing the cup away from your site, bugs will be drawn to the soda and not your lunch.

Featured photo credit: Omer Wazir via flickr.com

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