Pareto in a pandemic

The theme of last month’s newsletter was Dormant Ties. As the professor and author Herminia Ibarra puts it, dormant ties are those connections that were once strong but have gone dormant for 3 years or more.

The dormant ties can easily be fossilized, disappearing forever. Resurfacing them gets especially tough when 3, 5, or 10 years have passed.

But there are those other ties, the ones that typically won’t go dormant, but in accelerated pandemic times go from active to passive in a blink of an eye.

Last week I resurfaced one of those still active yet potentially passive ties. This friend and I hadn’t spent time together since a workshop we co-facilitated in the halcyon days of February: pre-pandemic, on the road, sun shining in the Southern states.

I was excited to catch up. Working with him never really felt like work, and so it wasn’t surprising our 30-minute calendar slot spilled into a freestyle 90. It was Friday afternoon, after all.

Of the many things we talked about, one in particular grabbed my attention.

It’s a concept you’re probably familiar with – the Pareto principle, or more colloquially, the 80/20 rule.

He mentioned he’d found his new enforced working conditions to be a good reset: although some curriculum design work had inevitably disappeared, his web development projects were on the up.

It had also reminded him of his preferred balance: 80/20. 80% on the heads-down work; and 20% connecting, teaching and facilitating.

On reflection, he saw he was probably operating at 60/40 before the pandemic. Something hadn’t felt quite right. The March reset provided a welcome chance to rebalance.

Now, he was ticking back up the other way; 90/10 on the heads-down, and so the desire to connect felt stronger. 

The balance wasn’t there right now, but no matter. 

What mattered was noticing it.

Part of our practice is checking in with ourselves on our 80/20, whatever it may be. 

If there’s a feeling of discomfort, chances are our 80 and our 20 have fallen out of whack.

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