Magazine article Management Today

Books: Blind Spots in 80/20 Vision

Magazine article Management Today

Books: Blind Spots in 80/20 Vision

Article excerpt

The author rightly urges managers to prioritise tasks that yield results but, sadly, his latest book falls victim to his own principle, reports Julian Birkinshaw.

The 80/20 Manager: Ten ways to become a great leader
Richard Koch
Piatkus, pounds 13.99

As someone who also writes and researches in the field of management, I was immediately attracted to the book. Like Koch, my starting point is a nagging worry that organisations are full of bad management practices, and that many people are wasting a lot of their working lives doing unnecessary things. If the author has identified the secrets that 'simplify your work and your life', I want to know more.

So what are they? The 80/20 principle - also called the Pareto Principle after the Italian economist who first observed it - is the closest thing we have to a universal law in social science. Eighty per cent of your sales come from 20% of your customers, 80% of the value created in your company comes from 20% of the employees, 80% of the population of the UK are housed in 20% of the cities, and so on.

The 80/20 principle helps us understand how the world works. But it can also help us change the way we work as individuals.

Some managers, Koch suggests, live by the principle: they put in fewer hours, they keep their work simple, they do things their own way - and they get results. Assuming we like the sound of this sort of working life - and who wouldn't? - the book then explains how we can get there, through the 'Ten Ways to be an 80/20 Manager'. You don't have to do all of them - you can pick and choose from the list according to your own preferences. Some are more analytical in nature, some are more practical, but they all apply the 80/20 principle to your work as a manager.

Does the book deliver on its promise? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no silver bullet to the problem of being an overworked manager Koch has some neat ideas - I really liked his insights on what makes a firm profitable (ways 1 and 10) and his practical suggestions for achieving more with less effort (ways 8 and 9). And there are some terrific anecdotes, such as how he and his fellow investors successfully rejuvenated Filofax and about the working styles of former colleagues such as Bruce Henderson, founder of BCG, and Jacques, 'the laziest man alive'.

But the list of ways was just too long for me. It felt as if Koch was shoehorning all his accumulated thoughts about the world of business into a standard template, with some - the liberating manager, the manager seeking meaning, the leveraged manager - not really fitting that well. …

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