Sometime in the late 1800s—nobody is quite sure exactly when—a man named Vilfredo Pareto was fussing about in his garden when he made a small but interesting discovery.
Pareto noticed that a tiny number of pea pods in his garden produced the majority of the peas.
Now, Pareto was a very mathematical fellow. He worked as an economist and one of his lasting legacies was turning economics into a science rooted in hard numbers and facts. Unlike many economists of the time, Pareto’s papers and books were filled with equations. And the peas in his garden had set his mathematical brain in motion.
What if this unequal distribution was present in other areas of life as well?
The Pareto Principle
At the time, Pareto was studying wealth in various nations. As he was Italian, he began by analyzing the distribution of wealth in Italy. To his surprise, he discovered that approximately 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by just 20 percent of the people. Similar to the pea pods in his garden, most of the resources were controlled by a minority of the players.
Pareto continued his analysis in other nations and a pattern began to emerge. For instance, after poring through the British income tax records, he noticed that approximately 30 percent of the population in Great Britain earned about 70 percent of the total income.
As he continued researching, Pareto found that the numbers were never quite the same, but the trend was remarkably consistent. The majority of rewards always seemed to accrue to a small percentage of people. This idea that a small number of things account for the majority of the results became known as the Pareto Principle or, more commonly, the 80/20 Rule.
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