Living the 80/20 way, by Richard Koch

The benefits of 80/20 vision
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The Independent Culture

Richard Koch looks like a man who has it all. A self-proclaimed "lazy entrepreneur", he has been involved in a range of businesses, including the LEK consulting firm, the Belgo restaurants and Plymouth Gin. But since producing the best-selling books The 80/20 Principle and its sequel for managers and entrepreneurs, The 80/20 Individual, he has set about only doing what he really wants to in the way of work - and splitting his time between his homes in London, Cape Town and the south of Spain.

Richard Koch looks like a man who has it all. A self-proclaimed "lazy entrepreneur", he has been involved in a range of businesses, including the LEK consulting firm, the Belgo restaurants and Plymouth Gin. But since producing the best-selling books The 80/20 Principle and its sequel for managers and entrepreneurs, The 80/20 Individual, he has set about only doing what he really wants to in the way of work - and splitting his time between his homes in London, Cape Town and the south of Spain.

This has the appearance of being the sort of lifestyle option only available to those who have already got their house paid off and their pension tucked away and are just looking for a little something to keep them occupied when the golf is not going so well. But, with the zeal of the management consultant he once was, Koch argues that such a situation is more easily achieved than might be thought. Moreover, far from being an approach suitable only for those needing an "interest" in semi-retirement, he claims that it is a more effective way of achieving success than the traditional "hard graft" route.

At the heart of his argument is the idea that "the 80/20 Way enables anyone to get extraordinary results without extraordinary effort". This is bound to upset the "no pain, no gain" and "anything worth achieving requires hard work" brigade. But Koch illustrates his point by two simple statements: "a small amount of energy leads to most great things in our lives" and "a small portion of our time leads to most of our happiness and fulfilment".

Anybody who spends most of the week longing for the weekend and the opportunity to indulge in their chosen leisure pursuit will understand the second statement, in particular. And it is the realisation that this is the pattern into which their lives fall that leads to many people giving up the "rat race" to pursue art, cooking, fishing or whatever turns them on.

Koch acknowledges that following the 80/20 Way involves "a real change" in how we see and do things. But it does suggest that it is possible to have the best of both worlds. In other words, doing what you like does not necessarily mean risking penury. This is an idea that will no doubt intrigue many business owner-managers, who usually reluctantly accept the long hours and worries of running their own businesses in return for the freedom and the satisfaction of doing their own thing.

As Koch is at pains to point out, the original idea is not his. "I can sing the praises of the 80/20 Way and say without hesitation how miraculous it is, because I did not invent it," he says, before explaining how it is derived from the well-known scientific law known as the 80/20 principle.

Proven over the years to work in business and economics, this effectively says that 80 per cent of results stem from just 20 per cent of causes or effort. Many readers will, for instance, be familiar with the notion that in many businesses only 20 per cent of customers are responsible for 80 per cent of profits.

Indeed, using the rule to increase company profits was the central theme of Koch's earlier book, The 80/20 Principle. However, there was also a short section explaining how the principle could be used in people's personal lives in order to increase success and happiness.

And it is the success of this section - apparently, readers who tried it said it had changed their lives - that has led to, first, The 80/20 Individual and, then, to the current book.

It has also changed Koch himself. In 1990, he writes: "I ditched a conventional career. I quit being a management consultant and started living fully again." This change affects the way he writes, too. Though there are still signs of his former career in the graphs and diagrams scattered throughout this slim volume (there is even a classic matrix diagram measuring the effort and reward involved in a teenager seeking a date), they are more likely to be accompanied by the "soft" language of the personal guru than "hard" business terms and figures that characterise "consultant speak".

And yet, he claims, the effect of taking these sorts of message to heart can be far greater than understanding the often complex business concepts in his earlier books. The reason, he believes, is that not only is working less hard appealing, it also makes economic sense. Though it may be counter-intuitive to us, the law of progress says that we can always obtain or accomplish more of what we want with less energy, sweat and worry than before.

The trick is to apply "less is more" and "more with less" to ourselves, our work and our relationships. Unlike most business books, this volume does not urge the reader to do more - measuring, managing, talking or whatever - but to do less in total by doing things differently.

Fortunately for those keen to try to bring some order to their lives, the book is not too long. It is also highly practical and full of examples that sound as if they are drawn from the author's own circle of friends and acquaintances.

Even so, Koch recognises that it is hard to get started on this new path. Not least because it is difficult challenging the conventional wisdom that - at its simplest - encourages and makes a virtue out of working hard. But he suggests that once you make the breakthrough, doing more with less "is much easier than more with more".

Time will tell if he is in the vanguard of a movement or whether he will continue to be seen as one person who got lucky.

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