Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spouting Nonsense: Brian Tracy on the “history” of the Pareto Principle

On May 10th Brian Tracy posted a six-minute YouTube video titled 80/20 Rule for Goal Setting. It begins as follows:

“Hello, I’m Brian Tracy, and today I’m going to talk to you about one of the most helpful concepts of time and life management. It’s called the 80/20 Rule. Now the 80/20 Rule is also called the Pareto Principle, named after its founder the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1895. He noticed that people in societies seemed to divide naturally into what he called the “vital few” or the top 20 percent in terms of money, property, and influence and the “trivial many” or the bottom 80 percent.

Later he discovered that virtually all economic activity was subject to this same principle  in that 80 percent of the wealth of Italy during that time was controlled by 20 percent of the population. We can take Pareto’s 80/20 rule and apply it to almost any situation. In particular, we can apply it to goal setting and productivity. According to this principle, 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results. That means that if you have a list of ten items to accomplish, two of those items will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items put together.”

The heading for his first graphic calls it the “80/20 Rule or ‘Pareto Principal’ “ That is an amusing gaffe from someone who has posted another YouTube video preaching Everything Counts! How to make a good first impression.

How much of what Brian said in his first paragraph is right? None of it! The Pareto Principle was not stated by Pareto in 1895, and he never referred either to the “vital few” or the “trivial many.” Quality guru Joseph M. Juran stated the Principle about a half-century later. He discussed misnaming it in a 1994 article titled The Non-Pareto Principle; Mea Culpa. Also, Juran eventually shifted from saying “trivial many” to “useful many.” That latter phrase is mentioned in his 2008 obituary in the Los Angeles Times that is titled Management guru coined 80-20 rule.

In his books Brian Tracy repeated discussed the 80/20 rule as coming from Pareto in 1895. For example, a Google Books search shows it on page 13 in the 2008 2nd edition of Eat That Frog, and page 97 of his 2009 book, Reinvention: How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.

So, Brian Tracy is awarded a second Spoutly for spouting nonsense. I gave him my very first one in October 2013 for a mythical statistic on fear of public speaking.  

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