Why giving it 100% is a waste of energy

In Change, Creativity, Inner Performance

It takes more energy to create mediocre results than to create amazing ones

At the turn of the 20th century an Italian economist noticed that 20% of his pea pods produced 80% of the crop.  And when he looked in to his field of economics he noticed similar patterns, for example that 80% of the land in Italy at the time was owned by 20% of the population.  His name? Vilfredo Pareto, and so the Pareto Principle, or 80:20 rule, was born.  And the Principle states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort [and over time, the natural trend is from 20% to almost zero energy, and from 80% to almost 100% results]

Now this is great, and management consultants will come in to your company and ‘help’ you find out where you’re wasting 80% of your energy, and point you towards more efficient systems and processes and behavioural change models and programmes that rarely seem to deliver the results promised. And that’s the normal outcome if you have a back to front mis-understanding of the BIG natural system in which you are part of and in which you operate.

So how do you notice when and where and how you’re expending too much energy?  Well, you might notice you or others around you doing things like:

  • Taking stuff personally
  • Stress, anxiety, frustration or anger
  • Over-thinking, intellectualising
  • People saying we have to work harder, longer, put more energy in to it, be positive, be creative, think outside the box…etc
  • Having endless meetings, setting up committees, ruminating over decisions, stuck-ness
  • Engaging consultants, specialists, trainers, facilitators, gurus, motivational speakers
  • Deploying the latest management/leadership fad to make behavioural changes that gives unexpected (and unwanted) results!
  • Analysing, digging deeper, seeing increasing complexity

Have you noticed how familiar and normal this is?  And the mediocre results all this creates?  And have you noticed your energy levels drop, just by reading the list?  There’s nothing ‘physical’ in what you’ve just done, but the mental energy you’ve consumed is considerable.

You see, mental energy, is far more consuming than physical energy.  And when we get tired our performance drops of considerably.

If you want a great example of this, watch the Brazil v Germany World Cup Quarter Final where Germany won by an amazing 7:1.  The German Players we’re all over the pitch scoring goals and playing with nothing on their minds, and Brazil was playing subbuteo: kicking the ball to each other, barely moving, but over-thinking and analysing. [Here’s The Guardian’s ‘Brick by Brick version‘ of the goals ]. At the end of the match Germany could have gone straight on to win another game, the Brazilian players in complete contrast were utterly exhausted.

And none of this is sustainable – nature is not designed to run at 100%. You can run a 100m sprint at close to 100% but you try running a marathon at 100% and see how far you get!!!!!

You are already designed to achieve 80% + of results from expending less than 20% of the energy and action required.  And the great thing about that means you have tremendous spare capacity to deal with the unexpected in a calm, clear manner.  Compare that to the 100% guys who have zero spare capacity and the quality of their responses to the unexpected?

And if you want to notice it even more simply?  Ask yourself: Is this normal?  Or, does it feel natural?

PS – the 80:20 rule also means 80% of your mistakes come from 20% of your effort, so actually changing not very much get’s rid of a whole bunch of errors


[This is an extract from my forthcoming book The Neutral Zone, published in October 2014]

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