The Almighty Power of the Few

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  • We're bad at prioritization because we spread efforts uniformly rather than embracing non-uniformity. This leads to wasted time and missed opportunities.

  • Using the 80/20 principle helps optimize productivity by quantifying contribution skews. Measuring to find your vital 20% inputs generating 80% outcomes guides strategic resource allocation.

  • Ruthlessly focusing time and money on high-impact 20% activities accelerates business growth and life fulfillment. Say no to equality obsession. Embrace natural patterns guiding efficiency to transform your future.

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The Almighty Power of the Few

This idea stemmed from a trip to a friends house on a cold January morning back when I was still living in Toronto. I came across a passage by Steve Jobs that got my mind buzzing:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

I sat staring at those words in really digesting them, when my friends 6-year-old son came running into the room...

“Scott, Scott! Wanna see me count to 100?”

My initial gut reaction was irritation at having my deep contemplation interrupted and fear that I wouldn’t get another quiet moment all morning.

But suddenly it hit me—I should focus on what really matters.

I eagerly smiled, “I’d LOVE to see you count! Show me!” I could tell my enthusiasm made his day. He counted proudly all the way to 100. It was pure magic and reminded me that some of life’s most glorious moments require little effort.

The seeds for today’s article were planted in that moment. I couldn’t shake the lingering question:

How do you determine what to focus on and what to say no to?

It’s funny how you can read as much as you want, but when you experience the insight first hand, in your own life - it imprints on your mind in a fascinating way.

I went home later that afternoon with a burning drive to study the world’s greatest creative geniuses to uncover their secrets.

What hidden laws of the universe did they tap into to achieve such monumental success?

HOW do they know what really requires your focus vs. what is wasting your time (and your life).

Over the following months, I discovered a fascinating pattern that traces back over 100 years. This pattern is a powerful tool you can apply to optimize EVERY area of life and work.

The Almighty Power of the Few

In the early 1900s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto stumbled upon a peculiar trend...

He noticed that 80% of Italy’s land belonged to just 20% of the population. He found similar skewed patterns with wealth distribution—a wealthy few always rise to top.

This trend was quickly observed in other domains:

  • 80% of pea plants came from 20% of pea pods

  • 80% of sales came from 20% of clients

  • 80% of errors came from 20% of bugs in software programs

  • 80% of decisions are made in 20% of meeting times

Vilfredo Pareto biography and quotes - Toolshero

Vilfredo Pareto

The implications were clear...

Results don’t come evenly spread—they come in chunks—massive chunks. The majority of the effects come from a tiny slice of the causes.

Pareto’s Principle: The 80/20 Rule

The pattern Pareto spotted became known as the Pareto Principle, or more commonly, the 80/20 Rule:

80% of results come from 20% of causes.

Of course, the ratio doesn’t have to be strict 80/20 across every case—it can be 70/30 or even 90/10—the core relationship remains the same...

The majority of outcomes are produced by the vital few inputs.

Let’s look at a classic example...

If you make a ranked list of all your Instagram friends based on the number of likes and comments when you post, you’ll find a very skewed pattern.

Your top 10 or 20 closest friends will generate 80%+ of all engagement on your posts, while the other few hundred hardly engage at all.

A few hyper-engaged friends drive the majority of results.

These types of insanely skewed, “long-tailed” distributions with power law properties are EVERYWHERE.

The implications of this are profound...

Effort is Grossly Unequal to Results

If results stem from very few vital causes, two critical insights emerge:

  1. You should devote the bulk of your time/resources to the vital few high-impact items. Go where the “results rich” hang out.

  2. It takes tremendous patience and persistence because it can be a long journey to find that pocket of high-impact causes.

Many novice content creators / bloggers / writers / podcasters / influencers get demotivated when they spend hundreds of hours producing content, but get little traction for months.

Then suddenly, one post goes viral and brings in more traffic than all previous posts combined!

Rather than see this as luck or randomness, it reflects the Pareto principle’s “long-tail” effect—results come in concentrated chunks.

This pattern appears in all creative domains:

  • 20% of customers drive 80%+ of Apple’s iPhone sales

  • 20% of bugs cause 80%+ of software crashes

  • 20% of marketing campaigns drive 80%+ of leads

The choice is evident—go where the results rich hang out. But this isn’t always intuitive...

For example, I recently helped my friend strategize how to grow his YouTube channel.

He was creating 2 detailed videos per week and struggling to gain any traction after months of effort.

I studied his data and noticed one shorter, simpler video was massively outperforming the others, generating 80% of his total channel views.

We determined he should shift his focus to creating more of that specific, high-performing content. By doubling down on what worked, his views skyrocketed 10X in three months!

This story isn’t unique. The most successful YouTubers, bloggers, entrepreneurs all heavily leverage the Pareto principle...

They aren’t continuously trying new things. They double, triple, quadruple down on their few vital areas generating the best results.

Impact Blockers

And it would make sense to wonder why we don’t naturally optimize for these high output tasks.

Well we’re only human and we fall into traps.

Two tendency traps in particular, that hamper 80/20 progress - stubbornness and fear.

Stubbornness convinces ourselves that even after trying something 1000 times with little results, maybe attempt #1001 will prove the breakthrough.

So we persist wasting energy banging our heads against the same approach because it feels safe and familiar.

Fear also sabotages doing the vital work accounting for 80% of our goals.

We clearly see different strategies would create exponentially bigger results.

But those superior paths intimidate feeling outside our comfort zones.

So we settle for incremental gains from easier tactics, afraid to level up.

Both stubbornness and fear blind us from honestly assessing what 20% of work truly moves the needles that matter most.

We avoid staring down the fact that much of our busyness is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, not fundamentally shifting outcomes.

When Inputs Don’t Match Outputs

Now you may be thinking...

Does this mean all the effort I put in is pointless if it doesn’t produce a visible, immediate result?

Not at all! This principle doesn’t imply wasted effort—it demonstrates that input effort doesn’t linearly map to output results.

There are many invisible benefits gained from sustained effort that don’t immediately generate measurable gains like money or recognition. Here are a few examples:

Knowledge and Skill Development

  • Learning complex material heavily taxes your mental abilities at first even though you don’t have visible skills to show for it.

  • Like muscle memory, knowledge and skill grow slowly through sustained practice.

Increasing Luck Surface Area

  • Effort over many months lowers activation energy needed to catalyze a breakthrough.

  • You can’t get lucky if you don’t sustain effort to place yourself in opportunity’s way.

Stoking Motivation and Momentum

  • Small daily progress triggers vital neurochemicals to sustain motivation.

  • Progress momentum snowballs overtime until you cross an impact threshold.

In short, it takes tremendous patience and grit to find and penetrate that 20% “impact zone”. Sustained effort doesn’t ensure an immediate breakthrough, but it prepares the soil for the seeds of opportunity.

This brings us to an important question...

When Do I Pivot vs Persevere?

Let’s say you identified writing as a creative strength and have been writing consistently with no monetary results for a year.

At what point do you determine writing isn't a high-impact activity for you and pivot to something else?

Or perhaps the type of content you’re writing on isn’t a niche that’s really growing quickly.

When do you throw in the towel?

This is tricky. Premature pivoting can rob you of potential hidden long-term gains whereas persevering down an unfruitful path breeds frustration (and will at times, lead to a Sunk Cost Fallacy).

Here is a litmus test I use with entrepreneurs I’m advising to assess if an area has high-impact potential for them:

Am I energized by the ACTIVITY itself or just the expected RESULT it will bring?

Writing brings me great joy regardless of external measures of success. The process energizes me. If monetary rewards never come, I’d still benefit from the challenge, flow and sense of progress it provides.

However, I despise manually inputting spreadsheet data. Even if it brought great rewards, I'd dread that activity.

So, assess if your effort stems from intrinsic enjoyment or purely extrinsic motivations.

Sustained effort requires deep engagement in the process.

Sustained effort + feedback loops + executing on learnings are required to uncover these high impact opportunities.

Additionally, you should constantly be running small experiments to validate your direction.

See if you can monetize your writing in simple ways like freelancing, paid guest posts or affiliate commissions. Micro-wins sustain motivation even if you haven't had the big breakthrough yet.

So in summary:

  1. Deeply examine if the ACTIVITY brings intrinsic rewards regardless of the external RESULT it produces.

  2. Run small experiments to get empirical validation that confirms you’re on a promising track.

  3. You’re going to need to stick it out to get to those big breaks. They rarely come early.

Micro-wins stoke motivation while also gathering data to support perseverance.

Now that we covered WHEN to persevere, let’s examine WHERE to devote focus...

80/20 Prioritization

The Pareto principle isn’t just a descriptive model explaining cause and effect skews—it’s also a prescriptive tool to optimize how we spend time and resources.

Track quantitative data to benchmark performance. Identify your 20% power inputs across categories:

- Customers: What % of sales come from top 20% customers?

- Products: What's the split of revenue per product?

- Web Pages: Which pages or posts generate most traffic?

- Features: Which app features drive engagement?

- Emails/Calls: Who are your top 20% email contacts or callers?

Get granular with metrics to surface concentration patterns. The 20% will vary per business - data reveals where yours hide.

Here’s an example of how to apply a simple 3-step process to achieve 80/20 prioritization:

The example will be re. website traffic sources, but also understand this framework and exercise can be applied to anything in your personal or professional life.

Website Traffic Sources

The 80/20 principle states 80% of traffic comes from 20% of sources.

Let's optimize productivity for one site's traffic:

Step 1: Measure To Find Vital 20%

Breakdown traffic sources and tally % of total visits per source:

Google and Email drive 70% of total traffic - the vital 20% sources.

Step 2: Rank Sources By Traffic

Prioritize sources by traffic %, highest at top:

  1. Google Search - 40%

  2. Email - 30%

  3. Social Media - 20%

  4. Direct - 10%

Step 3: Proportion Traffic Building Effort

Spend time improving sources aligned to traffic ranking:

  • 40% on SEO to boost Google rankings

  • 30% on optimizing Email captures

  • 20% on Social strategy

  • 10% on Direct channels

This example optimizes website productivity. But the framework can guide other business functions - substitute "Sales Revenue", "App Engagement" etc to focus your vital 20% inputs.

Obsess over site visitors, customers and activities generating the most impact. Say no to 'equal attention fallacy'.

80/20 prioritization allows you to maximize outcome impact from your limited input effort. Make the vital few your obsessive focus.

Apply 80/20 Analysis To Business & Life

Now you've seen how 80/20 prioritization works - go run this analysis on your business and also your life.

In business, dig into data and metrics to find:

  • Your 20% power customers

  • Your 20% high-sales products

  • Your 20% most engaged users

  • Your 20% traffic-driving marketing channels

In life, tally and rank to uncover:

  • Your 20% activities generating 80% of joy

  • Your 20% friends/family providing 80% of support

  • Your 20% habits driving 80% of health outcomes

Find your vital 20% across ALL categories. Those are your priorities for ruthless focus.

Whether growing a business or living a rewarding life, 80/20 analysis spots high-impact areas for optimization.

Stop spreading yourself thin trying to make everything uniform. Embrace non-uniformity like nature does. Create your vital few gamechangers in business and life realms.

When you match effort to impact, the magic happens. Work with natural efficiency patterns rather than against them.

So go analyze now. Discover and create your vital 20% and transform your future. The leverage and fulfillment awaiting you is endless

If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.

Email me at or tweet at me @ScottDClary and I’ll do my best to get back to everyone!

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