The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto developed the principle by observing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.
It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients”. Mathematically, the 80–20 rule is roughly followed by a power law distribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.
Does this natural phenomena exhibit itself in our relationships? Are 20% of the people you call friends actually friends and the rest are acquaintances? If so, that would equal a distribution of 2 friends per 10 that you call friends. Among adult Facebook users, the average (mean) number of friends is 338, and the median (midpoint) number of friends is 200. That would mean that only 40-68 of your Facebook friends are friends and actually make an effort to connect. How does this play out in our intimate relationships?
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit my sister in Pueblo, Colorado. My sister is 32 years old, married to a great provider, loving husband and an amazing father. They have 3 children, ages 9, 6 and 2, and my sister treats her job of stay at home mother as professionally as any business person I have ever met. While visiting, my sister she shared with me the gifts that she and her husband exchanged to celebrate their 11 years of marriage. She first shared with me the present she had given her husband. It was a hand crafted, compilation of the letters, cards, emails and notes exchanged by the couple over their twelve years of dating and marriage. This gift took a tremendous amount of time, thought and energy to compile and craft in a way that would match her feelings of the past 12 years with the love of her life. Her husband ironically created something similar. A book that he crafted that had photocopied images that he printed from the internet that were a reminder of fond memories.
My sister has dominant “Love Languages” http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ of Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. As I understand it, we often give what it is we want and can only give that which we have. I believe my sisters gift was a representation of time; time spent thinking about and creating her gift. Inherently her gift was filled with 12 years of words that affirmed their love. My brother-in-law has dominant “Love Languages” of Acts of Service and Physical Touch. He gives the gift of doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn and enjoys the gift of physical touch, love languages he knows and understands. I don’t profess to be an expert on the 5 Love Languages but I am an expert on judgement. And before you judge me and write in to tell me how horrible I am for my judgement realize that this is a neurological phenomenon that happens with all of us and our brain doesn’t ask our permission to do it as it is an impulse that has kept us alive as a species. You judge the speed at which you can take the bend in the road, you judge if the person in the dark alley is a threat to your well being and we judge one another constantly. Some of us are just better at it than others.
In that moment of my sister sharing I made a judgement that the gift she had received from her husband was not as valuable to her by comparison to the gift she had received… “ouch!”. I would share the sentiment, one gift took significantly more time to create than the other. Before I go on it is note worthy that neither of their dominant “Love Languages” is Receiving Gifts. In these situations I value the opportunity to provide third-party perspective; perspective, not advice through questions.
I speculate that the gift my sister gave her husband was well received and that he was aware and appreciative of the time that it must have taken to compile the content and aggregate it into such a beautiful book of memories. So I asked her if he flipped through the pages or if he ever spent the time to read each and every page. Obvious answer, why would anyone read all the pages of content that they have previously received and/or created? I speculate that my brother-in-law didn’t think for a minute that the gift he presented was equal to that of the one he just received. What does this mean? Does he love her less? Does he not value her “Love Languages” or their 12 year relationship? Did he fail to allocate sufficient time to create a gift that represented his love and devotion? Did he not receive the memo that each anniversary is to be celebrated incrementally more than the year previously? With his dominant “Love Language” of Acts of Service could he have believed his gift was providing the opportunities that came with the anniversary celebration, dinner, hotel, etc.? Here is where I can tell you definitively that my judgement, speculation and feelings mean absolutely NOTHING. Even if we had answers to all the unanswered questions, does it help? Do we have greater understanding and empathy? Does it help to stop focussing on the negative and create a positive scenario of the situation? What does it mean and more importantly who created what it means?
So as we sat there on her bed I started asking questions with the intent of creating a shift.
Is the love of your husband in question?
Is the gift he gave you representative to his love?
What is it that you want?
Answer, I want Quality Time and Words of Affirmation
It was at this point that we started to discuss the 80/20 rule. I believe the theory goes something like this… If every time you had sex in the first 2 years of a relationship you placed a marble into a container you would never be able to remove all of the marbles for every time you had sex in your relationship after the first 2 years. So I asked my sister is 80% of the contents of your gift, the love letters, notes and emails from the first 2 years of your relationship and she confirmed that it was.
So is the 80/20 rule a product of laziness, complacency and taking advantage of monotony, do we just get lazy in our relationships, better yet do we get lazy in our lives? Take a moment to ponder the following scenario. You or your partner returns home at the end of a long day and the socially appropriate thing to do is check in, “How was your day dear?”. If any of you are like me the answer comes out of the auto responder portion of my brain and replies, “fine, and yours?”. I can’t even quantify how many times this response is a lie. The question however is LAZY and the question reflects the response.
I wonder who it was that created the category, irreconcilable differences? It had to have been someone who decided long ago that listening and trying to document the story and reasons for divorce was a ridiculous and preposterous task. I wonder if it would be appropriate to once again amend irreconcilable differences to LAZY? Many couples confess to having fallen out of love. I believe that Steven Covey said it best in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
“My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can i do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. the feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend , love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
One of the many reasons for falling out of love is poor communication, “we just don’t have anything to say to one another, he doesn’t let me in, all she wants to do is talk.” Is 80% of our communication LAZY? Having been divorced, one of my observations is that when you meet a new person there is never of shortage of things to talk about at first, the questions flow freely and attention is paid to each word of the answer. The communication often flows as freely as the marbles into the jar.
Isn’t the 20% great? Or is the 20% just a theory similar to the saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side”? I enjoy and find comfort in a response that says, “the grass is green where you water it”. Like any good statistic isn’t the 20% relative to perspective or to the meaning that we give it. Because 20% is a smaller amount quantitatively to 80% we can associate negative meaning to it whenever it is convenient to support our emotion.
Let’s take a second look at the definition of the 80/20 rule; roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Is it the 80/20 rule or cause and effect…
It’s confusing, is taking out the garbage part of the 80% or 20%? Who determines which side of the scale the actions fall upon? Until recently I have not been goal oriented or driven by cause and effect. I have had many sales jobs over the years and they always ask for or provide goals with which to measure success. There is consistently discussion about the 80/20 rule in any sales job. In my sales jobs I spent 80% of my time doing it the way I wanted, not necessarily in the way that history predicted my success. At the end of a year when it came time to conduct an annual review I despised the fact that they judged me based upon my succes of producing the desired result and seemed to discredit all the work that I had done. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the value of creating a desired result (goal) and then taking actions to produce the result. The difference now is that if I don’t produce the desired result by effort of my actions I evaluate the actions and attempt new actions because more often than not I still want the desired result.
So with that in mind my sister began to take responsibility of her results and she thought of new actions that she could take to reach the desired result of Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. One action considered was to start a new book of memories, a blank notebook to be left out and filled with cards and love letters.
So the next time your partner comes home from a long day at work, try for effect asking a new question, or maybe the same question in a new way.
What if, for the next anniversary you ask for what it is that you really want? Quality time (weekend vacation without the kids) and Words of Affirmation (a love letter that expresses how much sharing another year together has meant).