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Forget 80/20; Use the 20/80 Rule Instead

Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.” (Albert Camus)
We long to be immortal – to live on in song or deed or college endowment. The landscape is splattered with the urge for legacy from the Great Pyramid at Giza to the shapely Taj Mahal to the seriously ugly conceptual art ubiquitous in modern hall and home. But no one lives forever and the same is true for corporation and empire alike. Adding to the words of that existential groove-meister Doctor Seuss – “We are here, we are here, we are here…” but not forever.  Ironically, it is in troubled times or periods of irrational exuberance that our greatness spills out and we find our range beyond expectation and horizon.  Saint Thomas Aquinas saw crisis as a fortuitous circumstance. “Felix culpa”, the fortunate fall, was the mantra of the good Doctor Angelicus who saw our “blessed faults” and struggles as a prerequisite to the greater good and even redemption. We don’t change when we make a stretch goal or read an inspirational book but rather when we are part of a situation that requires it. Whether the careless undoing of the American banking industry or the sudden loss of gainful employment, we either adapt to the new or maintain the old order while wandering the public places with aluminum foil on our head mumbling about how the anarchists are trying to scramble our brains.
It is easier to change twenty percent of an organization eighty percent than to change eighty percent of organization twenty percent. The trick is to find the top and bottom ten percent and start there. The bell curve has wild and rebellious tails, both negative and positive exceptions, where conventional practices have failed. Any auto maven or gadget head will report that the more radical the invention, the more likely first-time quality will be diminished. That’s the price of moving first. Growth requires we turn our backs on the middle-way and shun efficiency and lean in favor of the unconventional. The middle is dangerous. The middle is where we get lost. The middle is where we settle. Nothing changes in the middle and no amount of serpentine process can penetrate to the essential equilibrium that keeps the rhythm of its perpetual sameness. This is why there is such schadenfreude, pleasure in someone else’s defeat, in the “workforce” when the twelve step continuous improvement program and its endless offspring are finally defeated by the power of sustained passive aggressive behavior.
At the bottom and top, where performance reaches beyond standard variance, we find the impulse to and implements to try new things precisely because the present condition is intolerable or the opportunity immeasurable.  It is only when the firm is compromised that it truly engages its people and enlists them in their own economic survival. They have skin in the game. The same holds true for us. We provide brilliant play by play analysis and commentary on our deadbeat relatives or miscreant coworkers but find our tongue tethered when the joke winds round back to us. Yet upon reflection we realize that it was when we stopped avoiding the conditions of change and started harnessing their transformative energies that we found our new path and secret passage.
We are hypocrites all for we seek to see new behaviors in the unidentified others that we will not exact from ourselves. Our disengagement leaves us in a reactive position to snipe at politician and executive and athlete without the responsibility of real solution or remedy. It is far easier to focus on the endless checklist of tasks that devours our capacity to act in new ways so there is no time left for us to do the personal and regenerative work the organization can’t. While it is true that we did not invent this world nor do we control it, we can seek out the places where the growing is good. As they say in the markets, “buy low and sell high.” We must find those places where things have gone wrong or very right beyond convention to mount the charge to the truly untried.

  • Grow where the growing is good
Jeff DeGraff
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