Pareto barriers

Only 20% has the mental capacity (perhaps due to lack of successful schooling) to envision a life different from what the society provides via laws, culture, and expectations. One may argue whether the number is exactly 20% but suffice to say, I can just change the definition of “different” so that the statement is true for 20%.

Similarly, only 20% has the leadership capacity (perhaps due to the lack of successful schooling or perhaps due to being raised for leadership) to act on an idea rather than sitting around waiting for instructions waiting to follow a leader. Perhaps there are two steps here: The ability to translate an idea into practical execution and the ability to actually execute consistently. Again, let’s just stick with the 20%.

Now, these two abilities are likely not entirely uncorrelated but presuming that they are, no more that 4% (0.2 x 0.2) are apparently capable of envisioning an idea and actually following through on it. Even if they are fully correlated, the number is still only 20%, so only a very small minority of people act as effective agents of change.

Obviously this inertia or tendency to either not see the potential for change or drag one’s feet even when seeing it is not always optimal, so why is the tendency so wide spread?

The best explanation I can think off is that humankind has essentially evolved to live sustainably in a climax stage, that is, an unchanging environment which is constant on the evolutionary time scale of modern humans (about 50000 years).

Genetically speaking then, it would be advantageous if firstly that most people aren’t too visionary lest they mess up their environment or destroy their social structure and secondly, if some visionary were to appear, the rest of the tribe should change only slowly if at all.

In other words, most people are like supertankers …

Naturally, if change happens only very slowly due to innate limitations or constrictions, it is very important to have the right course from the outset.

Consider the current framework. Now, regardless of whether you think that the biggest problems facing humanity are environmental, political, or economical, it is clear that only a small group (20%) are actually concerned about them, and out of those 20% only 4% are actively doing something about it. The rest are mainly concerned about the day to day operations of their lives e.g. which kind of clothes to wear, what kind of TV shows to watch, etc.

Another way to succinctly summarize this is that 4% lead, 16% follow, and 80% are just out of the way.

In a capitalistic society, this means that 4% get very rich, 16% (the professional class or the right-hands of the upper class) will be very well off and the hoi-polloi, that is the remaining 80% will provide most of the effort.

In a political society, 4% will hold the power, 16% will administrate the power, and 80% will be subjected to the power.

And so on.

Naturally, if genetics dominate our behavior, and there is nothing we can do about it, any exponentially increasing change is eventually going to cause a system failure (in whatever your area of concern is) as it outruns our ability to adapt, because we (at least 80% of us) essentially lack the ability to adapt.

However, human behavior is not all genetic. Culture plays a role as well.

Hence, however comfortable our genetic predisposition to waiting around for someone to follow is we (that is you, the individual) must leave this genetic and culture comfort (ref) behind and become adaptable.

The ability to adapt is what makes us different from animals. We are not the strongest, the fastest, the tallest, or the biggest, but we are all around the best, because we can adapt solutions to all these problems. Adaptability is the greatest human asset (no it’s not your net worth like you’re some kind of squirrel hoarding nuts in a tree).

Consider what you can do in five years. You could get married (and divorced again). You could go from couch-potato to winning local marathons. You could become financially independent and retire. You could launch an entirely new career. You could move to another country and learn to speak the language fluently.

However, none of this is going to happen if you are just going to ignore this potential. It is not going to happen if you are just going to think or talk about it either. But maybe that’s alright because you are already in your genetic comfort zone.

I’m guessing that if you are (still) reading this, you are probably one of the 4% (one out of 25) or at least 20% (one out of 4). What do you think?

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Originally posted 2009-04-01 10:28:39.