Taking The 20/80 Fallacy To Task
“Mama, they ALL think that…”
“Who is ‘they’”
“Well…mmm…him…and…well, all of them!”
“So, this ‘him’…what did he say?”
“And, that makes you think he thinks that? And that ALL of them do, too?”
“Well, he SAID…”
“I know him and I’m guessing he was just saying…and, I sure don’t hear an “all of them” that thinks this…just one ‘him’. Is there anyone else that has told you this?”.
I never do get a straight answer. Just one “him”. Apparently a random comment from “him” has become “ALL” of “THEM”. Oh, but the agony the thought of what “he” thinks has caused. The agony is real. I have to remember that as I gently challenge it.
If you have been active in church throughout your life then you have probably heard the old saying that goes something like “20% of the people in the church do 80% of the work.” This idea has been borrowed from organizational theory. You can listen to more about this idea in this TED talk here. It is a pretty well known idea. Most people could look around at the various groups to which they belong such as church, nonprofit organizations, etc. and see the truth to it.
I want to propose another kind of 20/80 idea.
It is very, very, very important to your level of contentment and success in this next year.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
Every day, whether it is through social media or in person or through word of mouth, you hear a select group of people speaking up to you about their opinions. These opinions are about politics, religion…and they are about YOU. They are about your work, your value…your EXISTENCE.
This group represents about 20% of your actual community. They are the ones who speak up. They are the ones who are making their voices known.
Here’s the important truth.
Unfortunately, you…and I…often absorb the voices of this 20% as the consensus of 80% of our community.
Pastors…and other leaders…will hear the complaints of a few parishioners on one topic, start thinking that “everyone” is upset, and then make a rash decision in response… thinking that he or she is appeasing the entire community…but the leader is really only appeasing 20% of the community…or less. In the process, the pastor, or other leader, could make decisions or changes in response to these few individuals that put other relationships at risk.
All because the pastor, or other leader, believed that 20% of the voices were representing 80% of the community.
I have been a victim of the 20/80 fallacy both in positions of leadership and in my personal life. I have heard THAT from a “HIM” (see dialogue above) and start thinking that “THEY” think “THAT”.
I get anxious, insecure…and then make decisions, responses…I REACT…to make the 20% be happy…not realizing that there is this larger group of the community that either think entirely differently on the subject…or don’t care.
This fallacy gets personal very quickly. We see posts on social media that makes us think that EVERYONE is doing THIS…or EVERYONE thinks THAT.
We start comparing ourselves with others…second guessing our lifestyles, our work…or our convictions…and we do something worse than making a leadership error.
We start compromising who we are.
We get anxious, insecure…we start to doubt our gifts, our talents…we even start to doubt the small, still Voice.
We might even post something really stupid on social media or send a really awkward email or start ignoring people we care about.
All because we believed that 20% of the voices were representing 80% of the community.
This new year I challenge you to take the 20% to task. No, not on social media. Doing so is rarely productive. Not in an email. Maybe not in person either.
No, I challenge you to take the 20% to task where it counts…in your mind.
Sometimes taking it to task means sitting with your anxiety and insecurity for a few minutes and reminding yourself of the 20/80 fallacy.
Sometimes it means you need to check in with those people you know that love you well.
Sometimes doing so means that you need to make sure you hang out with people outside your typical circle.
This 20% in your mind can be one of the strongest currents of your life and it is ready to sweep YOU away. It is one of the deadliest weapons against your sense of wellbeing, your leadership abilities, and your relationships.
The 20% can be a BULLY.
Oh, but the agony of what the 20% has caused. The agony is real.
Still…in spite of the agony…BECAUSE of the agony that this bully of the 20% in our mind causes…we MUST challenge it.
A lot is at risk here. It is also no easy task. That 20% can seem like the TRUTH in the darkness of your mind. That is why you MUST expose it to light. Talk to someone. Let someone know what you think “THEY” are thinking…just like my child shared with me some night not too long ago. Be open to what they say…to their questions…to their reality check.
I am doing my best to help my children not live by the 20% made up in their mind.
The truth is that it is a battle I still am fighting for myself.
Will you please fight with me?
Let’s stand against the 20/80 fallacy this year.
When a friend opens up to you about “THEM”…help your friend stop the drama of the 20%. Don’t add to it.
“They” and “them” talk…that’s from middle school.
Most of us have grown up since then…I hope.
Let’s help each other remember that there really never is a “they”, a “them”…and often we misunderstood “him” in the first place.
Happy New Year, Emily! Thanks for this post – I forwarded it on to our executive team at church. I love the implications that this raises for both prioritizing sensitivity to the Spirit and the quieter voices of the marginalized in our midst. Love and prayers.
Heather, it is great to hear from you! I am blessed to know it is being used and I hope it is helpful in some way. I like how you put it…”prioritizing sensitivity to the Spirit and the quieter voices of the marginalized in our midst.” Beautiful Happy New Year!
Thanks for the timely reminder that the vocal 20% don’t necessarily represent the silent 80%. I can use that reminder in 2014 – and all subsequent years.
Keep up the good work!
Loran, thank you so much for this encouraging comment! I’m so glad you found it helpful.
Emily, Thank you for the reminder. I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Joshua and Caleb when they were a part of the “spy team.” Even though we’ve been taught the “majority rule,” one must ask “who are the majority,” “where do they get their info,” and “is it true”? By the way, I teach middle school and think I’ll share this principle with them! 😉
Lisa, I love thinking about Joshua and Caleb this way. Very helpful biblical illustration. Thank you! And…God bless you for the work you do as a middle school teacher!