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Acentury ago the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto compared data on wealth from different times and places and graphed the results on paper. Expecting to see wealth distributed on some sort of bell curve, he was astonished see a very lopsided pattern that was thin at the top and fat at the bottom. He found, for example, that some 80 percent of the property in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people. More remarkably, he found that 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden contained some 80 percent of the peas. Thus was born the Pareto Principle, sometimes known as the 80-20 rule.
Many are the patterns that conform to this principle. For example, in the financial advisory industry, it is commonly found that 80 percent of an advisor’s assets are controlled by 20 percent of his or her clientele, leading many advisors to concentrate their attention on that fabulous fifth. While this principle may have empirical validity, it is only a statistic, which by definition characterizes an abstract population. When someone becomes a “statistic,” he becomes nameless. But how do you make a name for yourself and get into that 20 percent?
This month’s cover story (“Weapons of Mass Instruction”) may shine a light on that. The article features an intensive training program that broker-dealer Raymond James has made available to advisors like Frank Pickett of Upland, Calif. When he started with Raymond James 5 ½ years ago, he was managing $18 million. After three years of coaching, that number is up to $75 million. Or, take John Vance of Valencia, Calif., who managed $10 million in assets when he joined the firm in 2003. Intensive coaching has helped him increase that figure more than tenfold to $105 million. Zack Hayes of San Jose close to doubled his production in just two years and Ross Marino, whose goal it was to reduce his hours on the job, cut the time managing his book by over 50 percent without impacting revenue.
All four of these advisors through their efforts and commitment escaped the probabilistic path that says that wherever you go in life you will not change your relative position. You can change your “assigned” seat in life. Learn well and move up to the front of the class. That this should be the case makes sense. We all get stuck in habitual ways of doing and imagining the world. True learning helps you to see the world in a new and fresh way, making new connections, seeing new possibilities.
It once happened that a doctor from Lawrence, N.Y., was giving a lecture in Hawaii. He left the lecture hall just as the sun was setting and was struck by the sublime beauty of the South Pacific sunset. Looking for someone with whom to share the experience, he turned to a hotel employee and said, “Isn’t this amazing?” The employee said, “Yeah, I guess. To be honest, I come here each week on Monday morning and leave on Friday afternoon. It really doesn’t look so special to me.” Like that Hawaiian sunset, learning offers an expanded horizon, a fresh view from which you can see yourself critically, change and grow. Statistics suggest that not more than a fifth can accomplish this, but anyone can decide to be part of the few who do so.