The 20 and the 80

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The 80/20 rule is an interesting and powerful concept. Known also as Pareto’s Law, it was a formula that was devised by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1897. What the law says in essence is that 20% of our efforts produce 80% of our results in life. Not being restricted in its application to the workplace, its working also present us with a fertile opportunity to learn how we can better leverage ourselves and our time to achieve what we want from life.

First coming across this concept in my mid-twenties, I initially found it difficult to accept the principle because it didn’t resonate with how I believed the world to be. Having adopted the belief that what we expend in effort produces results in comparable amounts, this conformed neatly with my understanding of equitable effects, where what one inputs will be commensurate to what they receive in outputs. Despite there being different things taking place in my environment which suggested that the scales were not as evenly poised as I believed them to be, my learning was slow in coming until I serendipitously had an experience which brought this wisdom home.

Having at the time just received back the marks for my law exams, they frustratingly did not reflect the effort that I had expended in preparing for the task. In assessing my knowledge as mediocre in its application, I suspected that something was not right with my approach. Seeking the counsel of one of my lecturers, he looked through my exam paper and promptly identified the shortcomings in my focus. Asking me what I had concentrated on with my preparations, my answer revealed that I had given too much of my attention to peripheral and less important concepts that the exam questions did not require me to address. Emphasizing to me the importance of a small group of essential legal principles that he had based the exam on, these were what I needed to study in detail to achieve the mark that I had felt I deserved.

As I was driving home from this meeting, I drew a connection that brought my mind back to Pareto’s law. Relating my lecturer’s feedback to the principle, it became clear why I had fallen short with my well-intentioned but misguided efforts. By not focusing on the essential minority of principles with my preparations, I had squandered a majority of the marks for the assessment. In taking a blanket approach to covering the material for the unit, I had spread myself too thinly, and my ability to articulate what needed to be addressed had suffered as a consequence.

Being an honest mistake, it was not one that was made by some of my more astute classmates. By taking a more calculated and thoughtful approach, they would direct their energies on what they had identified as being the most important content for the course. Neglecting the minutia that I had wrongfully given so much attention to, they had proved to be more efficient with their focus and time, while being more effective with the results they produced.

Wanting to become acquainted with this skill of leveraging that they appeared to have mastered, I learnt that the secret lay in giving your attention and effort to those vital tasks that ensure success with their accomplishment. In this, the key skill is being able to differentiate between what is a vital task and what is not. The fatal flaw with the paradigm which says that what is given in effort is returned with rewards, is that effort can be, and often is, expended on the wrong things. By our inability to decipher what needs to be done at the right time, our efforts not only fail to produce the results we desire, but they are often also counterproductive in that they leave us with more work to do, and less time in which to do it.

I also encountered this phenomenon when I started to work in the law. Wanting to clear my plate of all the minor tasks that I was charged with so that I could focus on the major ones with my full attention, I found myself continually chasing my tail rather than making inroads into the important work to be done. In endeavouring to make things easier on myself, I inadvertently made them more difficult by utilising this approach. While I understood the 80/20 principle at a theoretical level, it was evident that I was not applying it at a practical level. Old habits can sometimes be hard to break, especially when we haven’t really been exposed to the consistent benefits of doing things in a way that seem counterintuitive to the mind.

I also think that part of the problem in the work context is that we are prone to procrastinate when faced with tasks that challenge our core capacities. Giving in to the hedonistic inclination towards instant over delayed gratification, we find ourselves in the here and now occupied with that which is easy or comfortable, rather than that which tests the limits of our resourcefulness. Why this causes trouble is because it is often those things that stretch our abilities and make us feel uncomfortable that are the most essential tasks for us to perform.

If I were a salesman, it would be much easier for me to arrange products than it would be to make a cold call to a potential customer (and risk rejection), but the possible rewards which could flow from that action would be much lower. Similarly, if I were a doctor, I would not be best leveraging my abilities by answering emails or sitting in on another meeting. The 20% that I should be focusing my energy on would be taking place in the operating theatre, or in a learning situation where I can increase my knowledge to better serve the health needs of my clients. The question then becomes, what task can you perform now that will create the greatest value for those who rely on your efforts?

The most in demand companies and service professionals are proficient in answering the question that I have posed here. Succeeding in business requires that leverage be built, integrated and then further refined. This necessitates a sharp focus on how products and processes can be continually optimised and improved. By putting this as a chief operating objective, one’s client base will remain happy and loyal, and opportunities to expand the business will present themselves as the market gets wind of the great value proposition that is being offered.


Values are Overrated and Here’s Why (Part 5)

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At the deepest level of our being, we yearn to feel a sense of wholeness in our work, and derive the fulfilment of meaning from the contribution that we are making with others in the service of a higher purpose. In the context of our professional lives, this is the virtuous path of honouring our calling, where our involvement in the workplace means more than just paying the bills in order to survive (a job), or the longer term ego-driven pursuit of greater status and material accoutrements in the form of a career. It is in the process of living this calling in alignment with the virtuous purpose (or calling) of an organisation, that the real magic happens at both the individual and organizational levels. Numerous research studies have confirmed that a range of positive outcomes for both individuals and organisations alike, result when people honour their callings through work that fulfils the core purpose of the organisation that they serve.

The embodiment of virtue produces an inner integrity and authority that is characterised by wholeness. But how does one develop this character to guide them on their calling journey? Despite these virtues being innate to our core being, their embodiment and impact must be cultivated through deep work. So steeped in ego consciousness have we become that we cannot avoid the needed task of taking up our tools to clear the debris of this contaminated consciousness. I refer to this imperative as ‘the work before the work’.

Our challenge is not that we are unskilled or lacking in the useful application of knowledge, because human beings as a species have evolved to become highly adept in their ability to make the most of their mental and physical capacities. Where our potentiality is largely untapped is in the spiritual dimension, and how we orient ourselves to be guided by the fruits of virtue in our everyday lives. From personal experience, this ‘work before the work’ is perhaps the hardest work that we will undertake in our lives because it fundamentally impacts how we relate to all that life encompasses. It is extremely challenging and confronting to observe how our ways of being and relating are incongruent with this way of living, as we typically don’t want to dwell on our own unconsciousness and the suffering that it has inflicted upon ourselves and others. Far from fulfilling this mandate of our calling perfectly, I can only say that I am a work in progress, and aspiring to make the most of the gifts that I have been given, passing on the lessons that I have learned from this circular journey back to spirit that we are all on.

To live from the realm of spirit and manifest these virtues that I have touched upon in this piece, we need to honour the sage advice of the eminent philosopher Socrates to know oneself…but in greater depth than it appears to the intellectual eye. To know one’s true self is to be acquainted with more than just the dimensions of their personality and the values which stand around a person’s beliefs about who they are in the world. To know is to be connected with the source of knowing within oneself. This is the spirit of virtue in whose company we can walk in faith and trust that what we bring to life will bear witness to the truth, beauty and goodness that we fundamentally are.

What one ‘knows’ invariably supersedes what they ‘believe’. A belief lacks faith in its grounding in truth, and inherently doubts its validity, which makes for a precarious life for the believer. The path of knowing, by comparison, is the more solid and dependable path to the virtuous life. Requiring genuine humility and faithful surrender to the higher part of ourselves that is acquainted with wisdom and truth, we must ironically let go to know reality in its clearest form.

The spirit in you, who you essentially are, is loving, good, wise, courageous, humble, beautiful, harmonious, purposeful, even-handed, resilient, grateful, whole, honest, trustworthy, responsible, committed, confident, clear, empathetic, hopeful, reverent, diligent, joyful, creative, open and inspirational. You don’t need values to tell you this. You just need to look beyond the artificial constructions of ego that you believe yourself to be, and reconnect to the source of virtue within yourself that knows itself as the spirit of life.


Values are Overrated and Here’s Why (Part 4)

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This proclamation is aimed just as much towards our societal entities as it is towards the individuals who comprise them. The real fabric of any organisation is manifested in its culture, and it is the people within the organisation whose consciousness will shape the form that the culture of the organisation ultimately takes. For any organisation to thrive over the long term, it is imperative that people of high character are actively involved in working together to fulfil the core purpose/s of what the organization is set up to accomplish. Having this high character is dependent on more than just these individuals living in accord with a constructed set of values. Being a natural outcome of a life that is lived in alignment with the calling of our spirit, it is the virtues that are expressed through that integral movement being effected which have the most power to resonate with the virtuous purpose that the organization serves.

Above and beyond any values that may have been adopted to mould an organisational culture, stands a virtuous purpose that validates the presence of that entity in society. If you really think about it, what organisation would exist for more than a minute, if it did not intend to serve a purpose that was good and/or worthwhile, in terms of meeting particular significant needs that the members of that society may have? For these organisations to fulfil the highest vision of what they stand for, the innate virtues of their constituent human parts must be actualised and given the space to infuse the work that is sought to be done. Only then will these individual agents integrally align with, and give life to, the virtuous purpose of the broader organisational whole. As iron sharpens iron, so does individual virtue perpetuate the manifestation of collective virtue.

I have often said that inspiration writes organisational mission statements, but too often the consciousness of ego carries them out to an organisation’s detriment. This ego, which torpedos the highest aspirations of these organisations, is the same part of us that has birthed and clings to many of the artificial values that we identify with in our daily lives. With its existence being maintained by our insistence on asserting our values in the world to the neglect of these most fundamental virtues, we are unknowing culprits in fostering the disconnect that undermines the effectiveness of our organisational forms.

In observing the ineptitude and disengagement that are endemic in many of our organizations, a key factor that I see contributing to these suboptimal outcomes is the overreliance on values as a reference point to guide behaviour and produce high quality work. It should not be forgotten that just as organizations are artificial entities, so are the values that are adopted in that context. While the values selected as guiding principles may be reflective of what the founders of the organization want it to represent to the market, oftentimes they do not capture the essence of the consciousness that inspired the creation of the venture in the first place, which explains why so many organizational values are generic in nature and lifeless in their everyday application.

I see this quite frequently in my dealings with law firms, accounting practices and other professional service providers. Teamwork. Tick. Despite the ingrained operation of individual incentives for advancement. Transparency. Tick. Notwithstanding the withholding or hoarding of information engaged in for self-preservation and the reduction of legal exposure. And my favourite, integrity. Tick. Never mind the vague and scant expression of how that all important quality is to take form in the daily workings of the organisation. Does this sound familiar to you? It probably should because there is a good chance that the organisation you work for has these types of ‘values in operation’.

We as human beings have a highly underrated and underused intuitive capacity, and we can sense when there is a disconnect between what an organization is and what it professes to stand for. What we often say in these circumstances is that an organization is not operating in alignment with its values, but at a deeper level something that is more systematically destructive is going on. The consciousness that is manifested in the service of a higher purpose and the embodiment of virtue is not at work to guide the enterprise in its daily activity. Those very feelings which sense the lack of organizational integrity in the places we work, also feed the inclination towards disengagement and lack of care that withhold inspired effort and the experience of partaking in meaningful work.


Values are Overrated and Here’s Why (Part 3)

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The path towards integration with the spirit, and the expression of its virtues, will always involve an over-identification with the values which we ascribe to our personhood at different points in time. These sets of values are much like the layers of an onion which we refine and discard as we grow through our life journey, and come to connect with who we essentially are. At the center of that process (or the metaphorical peeling back of the onion) is our spirit, from where we come to see how the truest of our values which have stood the test of time, and survived the rigors of our maturation as human beings, are reflective of these spiritual virtues. Only when we are functioning at this core, disassociated from our ego, that we can observe those superficial layers for what they are (the dead skin of our past identities that we have shed to facilitate growth).

As we come to understand this evolutionary process, we can express empathy and compassion for others who are struggling to connect with their true selves, when we are confronted with the jarring effects of their movements. Having taken our own winding path that delivered some harsh lessons from what we identified with that wasn’t aligned with our spirit, we can grace others with the space that they need to make more integral decisions, and even help guide them in that challenging work. It is frightening to give up or reassess our values because being so tied to them as a means of identification, we struggle to see clearly who we are, or who we will become in the void that is left by their absence. One of the ego’s greatest fears is death of this kind, but such deaths are only temporary when they are accompanied by faith in the nature of the spirit to bring forth new life.

When we cling to values that are not reflective of our spiritual virtue, we sabotage our individual and collective evolution, and stifle the flow of goodness that the spirit intends to manifest in the world. We cannot be blessed and renewed with a closed being that is set on maintaining the status quo of our ego-oriented existence. There is no prosperity in preserving the status quo, particularly in its capacity to strengthen the ego’s worldly identifications. Undoubtedly, we were born to aspire to more than these limiting constructions of reality allow, and the values upon which those structures are built are only part of the story.

A number of the greatest philosophers in history, particularly in the Stoic tradition, put forth that thriving in life was the natural outcome of virtuous being. Some even believed that living as a good or virtuous being was the meaning of life. Whether you agree with this or not, I think that there is something to be said about the emphasis that these luminaries placed on virtue as a requirement for prosperous living.

Unfortunately, from a societal perspective, we have moved away from this discussion about the core human virtues that emanate from our being. In ruggedly asserting our individualism and the values that shape it, we have stopped searching for a deeper level to our existence, and in this process closed ourselves off to the eternal source of this collectively shared virtue. Just as the spirit is the tie that binds each of us together, so are the essential virtues which characterize it. This, I see evidence of every day in my dealings with others. Human beings possess an extraordinary capacity to be loving, generous, fair, wise, humble and kind. This should not surprise us if what is grasped is the essence of what I am communicating here.

It has been said that our values can be revealed by those things that we dedicate our time to. By comparison, our innate virtues are timeless. Being present to guide our progress since we first came into existence, they will continue to endure as our evolutionary north star. The basis of our hopes for the future, their manifestation is what we must invest in if the conditions of tomorrow are to be better than the order of today.




Values are Overrated and Here’s Why (Part 2)

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Virtue is the mirror of character, from which some values may reflect.

In the past couple of years, I have done some work teaching Catholic social teaching principles such as solidarity, the common good, stewardship and human dignity to small groups of university students. In teaching this material, the tension that I and the students often encounter comes from the claim by this denomination of religion to this set of principles that are essentially reflective of our core human virtues. While these principles are given life in a particular Catholic context to bolster the identity of the church and act as guiding values, in their purest and most natural form as virtues for humanity, they have a much broader application to life and the evolutionary journey that each of us are on.

One of the many things that I love about teaching these groups are the moments of profound recognition that members of the group come to when we touch upon these spiritual truths that bind and enlighten us in their universality. By discussing their applicability in the different organisational environments that the members come from, the common threads of understanding are reinforced in a way that not only renews religious faith, but a more fundamental commitment to giving expression to these spiritual virtues.

In the wise words of one of my PhD respondents, “your story is my story”. This phrase he uttered as he was recounting some of the lessons hard learnt from the untimely death of his brother, which I strongly resonated with after losing my father to cancer in my early teens. Having a deeper meaning that extended beyond any similarities in the tangible experiences of our lives, what he really sought to embody in this quote was the essential human journey back to a conscious life of virtue. By our earnest and inspired exploration, we had found an incontrovertible common ground that in the words of T.S. Eliot led us to arrive at the place where we started, and know that place for the very first time.

While it was clear from our discussion that I didn’t share some of this gentleman’s values that were influenced by factors such as race, cultural conditioning and our different lived experience, there was a live quality to our encounter that revolved around the virtuous themes of hope, truth, integrity, wisdom and courage. In the wake of our time together, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of respect and gratitude for the gifting of his presence. He was a kindred spirit, as we all are for each other, if the consciousness from which we live is open and receptive to the presence of spirit in the world.

As my quote from the start of this entry suggests, the values which we choose to identify with and express can be reflective of the virtues of spirit, but in and of themselves they are not these virtues. If we can hold the space to see the truth of this statement, there exists a means of disempowering the ego, whose proclivity is to cause division on the basis of values, among many other things. When we look out into the world through the lens of ego, not only do we remain ignorant to the presence of these universal virtues in others, but in that void we come to place too much emphasis on values from a subjective standpoint. This inevitably becomes a point of not only distinguishing one person from another in terms of identity, but also of judgment, which is why we are so strongly inclined to critique others as better or worse people, depending on the values that they hold or practice.

But when this is thought about consciously, it becomes evident that it is superficial and deceptive to judge others on the basis of the values that they hold at a particular point in time, because these values can and do change as we grow and evolve. What we valued in our 20’s is not what we value in our 30’s or 40’s, particularly when there are children and other responsibilities in the picture. These values then have a limited capacity to shed light on who we fundamentally are, beyond the various iterations of personhood that we manifest across the timeline of our lives. Part of respecting the human dignity of other people is to remember that where they are now is a necessary stage of their unfolding into the image of God. As ridiculous as that might sound when we are confronted with the type of egocentric and unevolved behaviour that dominates our collective attention, the proof of its reality is found in the fact that if these individuals knew better than to act in a way which expresses dysfunctional values that produce suffering for them and the world, then they would have done better and chose to act in ways that were positive and life-enhancing.


Values are Overrated and Here’s Why (Part 1)

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If you read any of the leadership, organizational behaviour or human resource management literature, you will see that a great emphasis is placed on personal values: clarifying them, living them, and aligning them with the values of an employer, or other organizations that one is affiliated with. In the theoretical frameworks within these books, the authors often place these personal values at the centre of their models. The standard advice given to readers is that values are the core of who you are, and thus they should orient not only what you do, but how you should do it. On the surface of things, this advice sounds legitimate, and it is at that level, but what it doesn’t fully acknowledge or integrate is the deeper spiritual basis of our collective human existence, and the virtues which emanate from that source of being.

When it comes down to it, values are subjective expressions of our personhood, and in their conception and manifestation, they are not the same between any two people. Whoever it is that you believe or understand yourself to be, that worldly identity will have qualities or objects that it identifies as being important to it, and thus ‘values’. These qualities or objects that are held dear will be influenced by your unique personality, and external forces such as your familial upbringing, the culture in which you live, and the peer group that you have chosen to associate with. So while we might like to think that our values are a reflection of the deeper aspects of our being, often they don’t meet that standard, and if we are aware enough to discern their origins, we will find that these values have their root in different forms of societal conditioning. The values of nationalism provide a good example of this.

As someone who has grown up in Australia and identifies as ‘Australian’, I might be predisposed to think that fairness is a quality that attaches to me by way of my cultural identity (we have long defined our country as the land of the fair go), but it would be overreaching and arrogant to claim that fairness is a value that is uniquely Australian. After all, I have met numerous people from other parts of the world who demonstrate this core human quality just as well, if not better, than some Australians do. So while an individual or collective group might like to claim a trait such as fairness for themselves in order to enhance their individual or collective identity, that distorted way of thinking stands between them and a recognition of the spiritual virtues that are manifested from the deepest level of our individual and collective being.

Virtues are innate qualities of our divine nature. Qualities such as love, honesty, wisdom, service, integrity, courage and even-handedness, to name a few, would all fit into this category. Being unalienable dimensions of our humanness, their expression cannot be forsaken unless we choose to live in ignorance of our calling to spirit by functioning from our ego. When we can live in alignment with our spirit (in a state of inspiration), we will come to see the interconnected way in which these virtues are practiced on the physical plane, and become resonant to the agents of inspiration who practice them.

If we look at the virtue of determination for example, the way that quality is demonstrated by two people might look quite different (the boxer Tyson Fury getting up off the canvas after being hit with a crushing blow in the 12th round of a heavyweight title fight, or Turia Pitt’s dogged pursuit to reclaim the life that she had before suffering horrific burns in a fire), but regardless of these differences in form, the source that is driving the demonstration of that virtue is the universal human spirit within those individuals. If a person was to therefore describe determination as a value that they possessed, it would indicate a fundamental misunderstanding that they have of their true identity because the implication is that others are bereft of this quality. The ego, which influences us to narrowly construct our identity in isolation from the spirit and its universal truths, is the instigator of misrepresentations such as this one. That which was originally given, cannot be monopolised and need not be possessed. Determination, like love, honesty, service, integrity, courage and even-handedness are not values that you or I may hold. They are the virtues of our core spiritual identity, calling us back into a shared realm of prosperity and holistic understanding.


The Curse of Envy (Part 3)

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Not aligning themselves with the ego self, these transcendent figures saw beyond the apparent duality that separated them from others in the physical world. At home in the oneness of spirit that united them with their brothers and sisters, they were not threatened by the blessings of others because ultimately they knew without a shadow of doubt that the blessings of others were their own blessings to enjoy. Being thus content with what they had been given, they sought not to make what was not theirs their own, for they saw that course as the unfruitful and vain pursuit that it is. Finding liberation in this spiritual realisation, they cared not what others thought of what they did or didn’t have, and they didn’t let trite considerations rob them of the peace and happiness that is our shared birthright. Attuned to their inner source of abundance, these wise individuals had found the only right place to achieve authentic security, wholeness and prosperity.

As I see it, each of us has the same potentiality to overcome envy in the same way that these enlightened masters did, and like all great transformations, it is an inside-out process. Having all that you need for fulfilment within yourself, you need nothing else to make you complete, so suffer not under the thumb of the ego that unconsciously spurs you on to want what others have. Being jealous of spirit, the ego is jealous of others, because in them it encounters the DNA of God that is all powerful in its potentiality. Wanting us to not honour their gifts, the ego provokes us to despise them instead, and by this ignorant act of opposing those who share in our blessings, we deny the coming forth of our very own gifts. Hiding behind the illusion of scarcity that our jealously has perpetuated, this is one of the many ways that we take the form of our own worst enemy. It cannot be emphasized enough that as we deny the wellspring of abundance in the world, we diminish the power that our spirit carries to produce it in our lives.

Ultimately, the ego does not really care about you, but only about itself, for in you it sees a means to an end that is not worth honouring as an end unto itself. Fixated on effecting your slavish adherence to its dictates, it is not concerned about the inner life of your authentic spiritual self, in which it does not find life but a certain death. But before the occurrence of this unavoidable outcome, the ego encounters another significant problem. As it leads us down the path of misery and discontent, it unknowingly makes the case for its own falsehood, as we inevitably come to realise that it can never fulfil its promise that ‘happiness’ is to be found in what it has to deliver. Being exposed as a fraud when the time comes for genuine happiness to rule in each of our lives, this is the gift that we graciously receive when we have suffered for long enough.

When you find yourself being tempted to participate in these superficial games of ego-aggrandizement, honour the space of presence within yourself, and the realization which emerges to teach that you are worthy of so much more. One of my favourite quotes and affirmations comes from American comedian and actor Marlon Wayans when he said, “I don’t want what anyone else has, I just want what God gives me.” Speaking to the essence of what I am articulating here, his advice aligns with mine, and that is to eschew an unconscious existence with the envious ego for a prosperous and life-giving relationship with your spirit. That which has been freely and abundantly given need not be coveted by those who see themselves and their relationship to life clearly. May you be one of those wise souls who allows the treasures within to acknowledge the blessings of the world that are eternally present and beyond the grasp of the ego’s envious hands.