Monday, November 6, 2017

A New Kind of 80/20 Rule

Most people are familiar with the 80/20 rule. If not, Google it, which, oddly in my browser, consistently provides the definition from Wikipedia in a box at the very top of the search results. Maybe I should cut out the middle man and just start searching for things on Wikipedia? But I digress. Here's the definition given: "The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes."

In the association world, I've heard this principle cited for many phenomena, appropriately or otherwise. 80% of the volunteer positions are filled by 20% of the members. 80% of the revenue generated by the association is based on the activities of 20% of the members. You probably have your own examples. Well, I'd like to propose a very specific 80/20 rule in the realm of association education activities.

Spend 20% of the time delivering information from the podium, and let the participants spend 80% of the time discussing and contextualizing the information to their individual situations.

I've recently returned from another association education conference where I wish the organizers would have adhered to this rule. By my count, I spent 315 minutes listening to people speak from the podium, and 45 minutes in structured discussion sessions with my fellow participants. That's the opposite of my new 80/20 rule. 88% of my time spent listening ad 12% of my time spent discussing.

I feel strongly about this. Why? Because, as my most recent experience showed once again, the hard, tangible value that I received from the conference came not from the 315 minutes I spent listening to other people talk, but from the 45 minutes I spent trying to applying new information to my real situations and the real situations of my peers. Now, almost a week later, I remember very little of the information presented to me from the podium. I do remember, however, what we talked about in our 45-minute discussion session, and I have a concrete takeaway from that discussion that I plan to use in my work.

So, please, if you're in charge of planning an association education conference, give my new 80/20 rule a try. There is a place for podium presentations -- especially for the new ideas or new perspectives that they can effectively introduce to us. But if you expect me to do something with that information, if you expect me to actually change my behavior, then you'd better give me time to hash out the details with my peers. They, more than any outside speaker you can find, can help me problem solve around the issues that are really holding that change in behavior back.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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