Pareto's pea pods have more to teach us

Monday, May 24, 2021 by Louie Bacaj

The Pareto law says that 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population, also known as the 80-20 rule. Vilfredo Pareto came about this principle by noticing in his garden that 20% of the pea pods produced 80% of the peas. He then decided to see where else this may apply and noticed a common pattern in Italy's wealth distribution and a similar pattern held for every other place in the world.

Since then, those distributions, although not always 80-20, sometimes 90-10, 75-25, etc., have become known as power laws, and they apply to all sorts of naturally occurring phenomena in our world. From the words we most widely use in the English language, known as Zipf's law, to the amount of taxes paid in the United States, to the fact that 20% of the products account for 80% of the sales in eCommerce.

Pareto is credited with discovering the 80-20 rule because of what he observed with his pea pods.

How did those few pea pods get to producing 80% of the peas?

I want to find out how those pea pods in the top 20% got on to producing 80% of the peas; we might think we are different from those pea pods, but Pareto correctly pointed out that we are not that different. I may have found a clue as to how the pea pods do it. You may not like the answer because it involves a lot of work, but the answer can be summed up in one word, and that word is prolific.

The word prolific, as defined in the dictionary:

My favorite rapper of the modern era, Nipsey Hussle, had the word Prolific tattooed on his face. That tattoo is an inescapable reminder every time he looks in the mirror, on a picture, or sees himself on TV of what he's got to do. Create, and then create some more. His message was a blueprint for the next generation on how to get out of poverty. It involves starting a business, creating, and leaning into capitalism. Perhaps most importantly, Nipsey was a motivator and the word prolific, on his face, is a reminder to us all when we see it to create more.

It is pretty unfair to the rest of the pea pods that 20% of them would produce 80% of the peas. They might make the other 80% of the pea pods look bad. But nature doesn't give a shit about our worldview or our ideals of fairness. Neither do power laws, by the way, they show that one human may have a billion, or a trillion, times more wealth than the next. In the book, The Black Swan, Nicholas Taleb hypothetically lines up 1,000 people in a stadium, and among them, he places Bill Gates.

"Assume his net worth to be close to $80 billion—with the total capital of the others around a few million. How much of the total wealth would he represent? 99.9 percent? Indeed, all the others would represent no more than a rounding error for his net worth, the variation of his personal portfolio over the past second."

Taleb repeats the example again, but this time with Book sales:

"Line up a thousand authors (or people begging to get published, but calling themselves authors instead of waiters), and check their book sales. Then add the living writer who (currently) has the most readers. J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, with several hundred million books sold, will dwarf the remaining thousand authors with, say, collectively, a few hundred thousand readers at most."

Taleb goes on with the examples showing the same holds true with academics that have had works published. Still, I won't bore you; I merely want to highlight that this phenomenon exists everywhere there is a creation of any sort. As of late, I am convinced that the building blocks of proliferation are dead simple. The building blocks are simple reps, like the ones we do in the gym, done day in and day out. For a long time, a slow grind that compounds and leads to extreme proliferation and eventually extreme quality too.

Have I convinced you yet that being prolific will lead to the most peas and the highest quality peas too? Just in case I haven't, i'll give you one more example. In the book Art & Fear, we learn about a ceramic professor who divided his class into two groups.

"All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an "A".

Then the shocking discovery:

"Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity."

The group graded on quantity and focused on getting out as many pots as possible got better grades, but here is the crucial part they also made subjectively higher quality pots and did so quickly. We might ask Why? Because they practiced and because they failed. They ultimately improved their technique by iterating and got to become fantastic pottery makers through trial and error. The other group that was focused on quality didn't get to practice nearly as much. That group became hung up on perfection and focused on not messing up rather than taking risks and keeping it moving.

From her blog post on writing more, Ava tells us:

"The only thing I know about how to be more prolific? Write about the thing that means the most to you, then write about the thing that means more."

But I think this very same idea of being prolific applies to more than just writing; it applies to anything we might create.

Ava also elaborates further on why this seems to work so well.

"I'm sure, that The Little Prince line about how what is essential is invisible to the eye. To me that means that I could tell you one thing that contains everything, and I could tell you everything and it could still mean nothing. You can spend so much time not getting it right, but you only need to get it right once."

That sums it up perfectly in that you only need to get it right once is the exact reason this works so well. You could write 1,000 blog posts, but it only takes one to open new doors, meet new people you didn't expect, and open new opportunities. I have a friend, who's a serial entrepreneur, he's started over four business so far, and he used to tell me—it doesn't matter, Louie, I may have mediocre exits nine times in my life, but I only need to knock one out of the park to change the whole trajectory of my life.

You may try to build some software people want to use 10 or 100 times, but it only takes one to succeed for you to become a millionaire and change people's lives. But please don't forget the main takeaway: you had to build 100 things first to get that one success.

To Summarize

What is the connection between Pareto, Bill Gates, Nipsey Hussle, Nicholas Taleb, J.K.Rowling, Ava and pea pods? They are all incredibly prolific. Being prolific comes down to a single thing, how much shit are you making and putting out into the world. The more, the better, even if it sucks at first.

As we have seen by being prolific we have a far higher chance of something becoming successful. More reps are more practice that will compound together to make the later stuff we create the highest quality in existence.

Now I recognize that I may be telling you something you already know, but you should also recognize that knowing and doing are two very different things. And only one of them counts. I'll let the pea pods tell you which one counts. Also keep in mind that I am telling you this as much as I am telling myself too, so don't feel bad if you are just getting started, at least now we know what we've got to do.

Nature doesn't lie; it's clearly showing us that its most successful offspring are successful because they can create a lot. One way to become successful in this world is to copy nature. Creating a lot for humans is a simple thing; you work on creating something one day, then the next, then again, and again, and you never stop, and eventually you wake up to what they call compounding, and everything's changed about you, your life, and the world.