80/20 Has Many Implications

One should not underestimate the importance of the Pareto theorem, commonly known as the “80/20 rule,” where 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of instances.  

One example are financial returns from the Standard and Poors 500 index, over the period 1989 to 2015, when just 20 percent of stocks accounted for 100 percent of index gains.

Put another way, 80 percent of stocks in the index actually had a collective return of zero percent.


In communication or other markets, the Pareto theorem matters because it tends to describe the broad structure of markets, as well as the generation of revenue and profits within each market.

In the Indian mobile services business, just 17 percent of customers generate 60 percent of revenues, for example.

The fundamental principle is that effort and outcomes are non-linear. A small number of inputs or instances drive most of the outputs or results.

The practical implication for communications or app providers is that a relatively small number of decisions and priorities actually matter, where it comes to making a transition from legacy to next generation business models.

The corollary is that there are a many “good” or “useful” or “helpful” things any service or app provider can do, but which should not be done, to concentrate on the few areas where breakthroughs are possible.


The Pareto rule can guide resource allocation, the principle being that there is some allocation or resources that makes a person or an organization better off, while not harming existing persons or the organization itself.

In other words, at some point, additional effort will produce diminishing returns.

The Gini coefficient essentially follows Pareto distribution patterns as well, and describes national income inequality patterns as well.

In the United States, the number of homes without a broadband connection follows a Pareto distribution.


It illustrates the law of diminishing returns. The cost of building access loops generally follow Pareto rules, for example. The inverse of the Pareto distribution is that a small number of instances produce most of the “per-line” access cost.

In other words, a small number of remote locations represent a disproportionate share of network cost, based on cost per mile.



In practical sense, the Pareto theorem suggests that a small number of actions actually drive most of the actual organization results. 

In other words, the temptation to “do” any number of helpful things actually can be detrimental to strategic success, which requires intense concentration on a relative handful of decisions, investments and effort.

There are always lots of useful or helpful things a company might do, to support its business. Many of those things actually will deliver a measurable result. But most will fail to help a company make a strategic breakthrough.

So saying “no” to most of those helpful things can be a prerequisite for focusing effort on a few matters that can decisively change a company’s future.

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