Why 20% of pupils make 80% of the noise in a classroom.

The Pareto Principle (as it has been labelled) was originally identified over a hundred years ago by the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that ‘80% of consequences come from 20% of causes’.

He realised that a fifth of the peapods in his garden were producing four fifths of the peas. Next, he looked at how wealth in Italy was spread and found that in fact it had much the same distribution as the productivity of the peapods at his home: 80% of the land was in the hands of just 20% of the population.

It was an American management consultant, Dr Joseph Juran, who in the early 1950s claimed that the Pareto Principle was in fact a ‘universal’ phenomenon that could be related to a whole range of situations aside from economics. From sales to manufacturing, to productivity, to noisy classrooms and much more besides, Juran identified the same pattern.

For instance, in operations management in factories, he found that 80% of product defects resulted from 20% of the problems in production: ‘The vital few and the trivial many’, as Juran called it.

Equally, the 80/20 idea can apply to spending habits, to business – where it is often the case that 80% of sales result from 20% of clients – and to customer service where you might find that a fifth of customers make four fifths of the complaints.

It is of course not an exact science; 80/20 could be 70/30 or 60/40, but even if the ratio changes, the principle stays the same; ‘These values all show that a low percentage of causes affect or create a high percentage of results’.

The key point of the Pareto Principle is that it can be relevant in so many areas of life. Some other examples include: -

  • Time management: - This tends to be the most common use of the Pareto finding; many people will only use 20% of their time working at full productivity and the rest of the time, their output will be sub-optimal or minimal.
  • Leadership: - If you find yourself in a leadership role, consider spending 20% of your time on team-building exercises such as socializing, mentoring or group games, to enable bonding. This is thought to be very effective.
  • Job Search: - When searching for a job or a university course, you could apply the Pareto rule to make your search more efficient i.e., spend the 80% seeking an exact match to what you’re after and the remaining time looking for similar (but not perfectly matched) opportunities.

In short, applying the 80/20 rule can help you organise yourself better in terms of how you spend your time, money, energy, what you read or listen to, and even your fitness goals (try training at full capacity for a fraction of the time and at low intensity during the other 80%).

Even if it’s based mainly on anecdotal evidence, the Pareto Principle can be very helpful as it can be applied effectively to many different situations.

Suggested Links:

The 80/20 Rule Explained and How To Use It (Plus Examples) | Indeed.com

Pareto Principle Definition (investopedia.com)

TPSS-2014-Vol7n1_140-148Dunford.pdf (plymouth.ac.uk)

Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) & Pareto Analysis Guide | Juran

Pareto Principle - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics