There’s a principle that 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts.
In school, we tend to spend closer to 100 percent of our time learning. It’s a great investment of our time. Until it isn’t so much. At some point, we decide we need to get to work.
And so we plunge into doing what we’ve trained to do. Maybe 20 percent of our knowledge results in 80 percent of what we produce. Another day, another pancake. Our boss likes our pancakes and wants more. We get promoted to being Chief Maker of Pancakes. It feels great to excel again. We aim to become Senior Chief Maker of Pancakes.
The mass of men (and women) lead lives of quiet professional stability, because it’s comfy. We never risk being called a “dilettante” or “too ambitious” or “unfocused” by anyone—which hurts. And so we’ve built companies, corporations, and cultures this way.
But when you spend 100 percent of your time producing, you lose sight of a lot. Tools that can make you more efficient, trends that shouldn’t be ignored, and other impacts your work could be making (positive and negative). And it’s hard to look around when you’re focused only on leading.
I once heard of a musician who claimed never to practice anymore—his performances, apparently, are his only practice. But I wonder if he feels free to tinker, to riff, to fall flat on his fingers in front of a paying audience. In the past, we had tomatoes; today, we have social media accounts ready to rip reputations. Audiences (clients) do not provide unconditional support.
We need a space where we can fail freely, in order to grow. It’s that moment of uncertain exploration where deeper learning happens. When you’re humble enough to admit you’re not sure what to do next, you’re open to gaining a new insight. It looks a lot like being a vulnerable student again.
For creatives, polishing up your tactics is a great way to destabilize yourself enough to strengthen yourself. How you choose to use your resources—your tech, your time, your wifi—determines whether you become a pancake innovator or stay a pancake producer. High-speed internet is an opportunity for high-speed learning.
Being a snob about this (“but it’s not accredited,” “but it’s just YouTube,” “but I already graduated/wrote a book/won the industry Medal of Honors, so I’m all set with my skills”), or being a pigeon-holed thinker (“but it’s not relevant to my job title,” “but it’s something I can do well enough already”) limits your own potential. At the other extreme, being a procrastilearner, a role in which you learn voraciously but never produce or share your work, is like reading about exercising. It provides no utility to anyone.
What if 20 percent of your work is fresh learning and stretching the boundaries of your skill, while 80 percent is output and application?
It’s possible that 20 percent would supercharge 80 percent of your results.