The 80/20 Rule - An Unusual Example

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One of my favorite interests is to apply the 80/20 rule to everyday life.

In consulting work, we’re constantly trying to do the most critical 20% of the possible work to yield 80% of the results or insights.

I’ve found it quite surprising that MBB consultants who are great at applying the 80/20 rule at the office are often terrible at applying it in their personal lives. I include myself amongst these consultants — at least historically speaking.

I came across a really interesting example of using the 80/20 rule to learn a new hobby of mine — song writing.

As a child, I grew up hating music mostly because I was forced to do it at a time in my life when I had no interest nor any aptitude. As an adult, I’ve found music to be a much welcome reprieve from using my analytical brain at work all day.

In my mind, music is all about feeling, emotions, and creativity — and gives the logical and analytical part of me a time to shut down.

I’ve recently decided to look into song writing. Like most of my hobbies, I did so initially on a whim and I’m really only a few hours into the process.

But, one of the 80/20 gems I discovered was THE short-cut process for learning how to write commercially successful and popular songs.

It took me about 30 minutes to find this gem (thanks to my 80/20 approach to learning new things… which is a story for another day).

Here’s the 80/20 approach to learning song writing:

There are 4 or 5 components of song writing. I forget the specifics, but they are rhyme, rhythm, and a few other things that slip my mind. For a song to work, all 5 pieces must be right.

There are best practice approaches in each of the 5 areas.

A challenge for new song writers is that it's hard to learn all 5 areas simultaneously. It's somewhat like learning to ride a bicycle without holding on to the handle bars with your hands, and playing a violin well when peddling. This is obviously not very easy, especially if you’ve never learned how to ride a bike before and don’t know how to play the violin.

The ghost song writing technique is as follows.

Take a super successful song of someone else’s. Use that song’s structure as a template. Then rewrite just one of the five components of the song.

For example, take a song like Adele’s "Rolling in the Deep." Take that song, keep the music and write brand new words of lyrics for the song.

This allows you to focus on learning how to write the words of a song and develop that skill, without having to worry about the instrumentals, melody and other non verbal aspects of the song.

In addition, because the song is already a hit, those other elements are already at the best practice level.

Once you’ve take this proven song and re-written the lyrics, then you take another component of the song and replace it.

Breaking the pieces down, learning and then mastering each component (without having to simultaneously worry about other aspects of the song) apparently is THE fastest way to learn song writing.

I love discovering little short-cuts to life like this. It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings:

Experience = learning from your mistakes
Wisdom = learning from OTHER people’s mistakes

As I’ve gotten older, I feel my raw intellectual abilities have declined a bit since my 20s. But, I think I’ve gotten wise with age by relying more on learning from others than trying to figure it all out on my own.

In any case, I encourage you to learn from others when such options exist. It’s often the fastest path to getting what you want in life.

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