donald miller blog

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, was proposed by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who noticed that statistics rarely broke down into even 50/50 dynamics. Instead, they more often broke down into 80/20 categories.

What he proposed is something like this:

About 80% of your health problems are likely being caused by only 20% of what you eat. Or 80% of your companies profit is coming from 20% of its products. Or 80% of your relational frustrations are being caused by 20% of your relationships.

The ramifications of the Pareto Principle are staggering. This means you can likely cut manufacturing on 80% of your products, saving your company millions. Or you can jettison 20% of your relationships and sleep better at night because you have less relational tension. Or replace only 20% of what you’re eating and enjoy 100% greater health.

It’s an enlightening theory.

I was thinking about this principle for those of us who create, though, and wondered how we could apply it. The main way I thought we could apply it would be to understand that our work isn’t going to please everybody.

Now if you write a bad song, give a bad sermon or write a bad book, you’re likely going to get a lot more than 20% of people panning you. But just know, if you hit it out of the park, there will still be 20% of the population noticing your flaws.

Count on it.

You can create the most beautiful work in the world and 20% of people are not going to like it. Just go to Amazon and read the reviews of Grapes of Wrath. How could anybody not honor that accomplishment? Turns out exactly 20% didn’t think it was a 5-star book, while 80% thought it was great.

For the record, I think it’s great.

What happens with a lot of creators, though, especially perfectionists, is they listen to the 20%. Wired as perfectionists, they feel like they have to completely please everybody. This shuts some creative types down.

They get scared, and then get careful.

And that makes their work worse, not better.

It’s the creators who understand they will not please 20% of the population who then have an amazing epiphany that changes their careers forever. And the epiphany is this: They start creating for the 80% who like their work rather than the 20% who don’t.

Photo Credit: Mikaela Hamilton

The Pareto Principle says it clearly: You aren’t going to convince at least 20% of the population to come with you, no matter what you do. So why try? Why sail a boat into the wind when you could glide across the water at top speed, sailing the other way?

Plus, the 80% already love you.

Serve them. They deserve it!

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from criticism. It only means some people are just not wired to understand you or your work. That’s fine. Just make sure you keep the 80% inspired, encouraged and entertained. Work as hard as you can to make them happy. Serve them humbly.

The 20% will live on without you.

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