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21st Century is an era of fear and hope

Have you ever heard of the 20/80 Rule or 80/20 Rule? In the year 1896, an Italian economist by the name of Vilfredo Pareto found something very interesting. He found out that 20% of the pea pods in his garden are responsible for 80% of the total peas produced, and 20% of the people own 80% of the properties in Italy.

The same manner of statistics is found in the present that 20% of salespeople are the ones responsible to 80% of the whole company, 20% of major customers are the ones buying 80% of the annual net orders, 20% of the contacts in our phone are those we talk to 80% of the time, and many more. These phenomena were the origin of the 20/80 Rule or 80/20 Rule; sometimes called Pareto Principle to honor the person who made the first observation.

However, Pareto observed the 20/80 Rule two centuries ago, today we are moving towards a 1/99 Rule. The industrial age relied on 20% to deliver 80% output. But now in the digital era, 1% can be responsible for 99% of the results!

1% of the world’s population has 42.4 percent of all financial wealth, more than the bottom 97 percent combined. It took WALMART 50 years to reach 10,000 stores; in 2017 Alibaba sold 25.3B USD in 1 Single’s Day. In 2016, Russia’s Sberbank was replacing 3,000 employees at the bank’s legal department with a robot capable of writing claims. Per the CEO, In five years AI systems will be responsible for 80% of the decisions at the bank. The 2016 Forbes Billionaires List contained as many as 66 tycoons that were not even in their forties; a 7-times growth from 2010 and a new record. These show how fast things change in the 21st Century!

In fact, the 1/99 phenomenon has been observed in online marketing for quite a while. Only a few people put out useful contents online while the remaining mass are social media users who simply consume the actions. 0.003% or 68k people contribute Wikipedia content for the 99.997% or 32 million unique visitors to the site. The 1% contributors are called content leaders, while the 99% are called lurkers.

Empirically, grab drivers are only 1% of the people while the remaining 99% are the customers looking for a ride. The accommodation available on Airbnb are a meager 1% of people’s owned rooms while the remaining 99% are the travelers looking for inexpensive lodgings themselves. People with income in the 1% of a nation are the ones paying the majority of said nation’s taxes (at least in theory).

Disparity, inequality, the growing gap between that 1% and 99%, is the theme, and the reality, of the 21st Century.

A book titled Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth And Work in The Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan points to the top 1% of billionaires in the US possessing assets which amount to approximately 20,000,000,000,000 (that is twenty million millions!) US dollars. A basic interest rate of 10% would pay for salaries of 66% of the American population. This means two-third of people in the whole nation would work for just that 1%.

The era of 20/80 is passing, and the era of 1/99 is replacing it.

A lot of people around the world are worried about widespread job losses to automation and AI in the coming years. What will happen to them? How should they change? How should they prepare? The fears are genuine. Yet, the 21st Century has made ordinary people more empowered than ever before. Technology gives us instant connectivity, which saves time, and allows anyone to bring anything to the world, literally. Right now, we have more time, more knowledge, more friends, and more opportunities for self-employment (think Uber, Airbnb, and freelancing portals like upwork.com) than at any point in history.

The question is – which side of the 1/99 Rule are you going to become?

Leadership Insights:

1. Be A Leader The days of followership are numbered. This is precisely why one must not only strive for expertise in a field but also work on their leadership. In the VUCA world, leadership is what makes the difference. 65% of jobs we see at present will be substituted by robots and computers. Even jobs that are (once) stable like physician, engineer or lawyer will soon fall behind in the face of artificial intelligence’s unlimited processing power. Honestly, which makes sense for a company to employ when it comes to humans and robots? The former needs to be told what to do time and time again; whose work needs to be corrected for the same mistakes; who always ask for a pay raise while offering no increase in their own efficiency. The latter only need to be calibrated once a month – with accuracy that can be trusted to decimal points; do not make faces when given a task; and get cheaper and cheaper to hire per Moore’s Law. Put in this perspective the question is almost rhetorical.

2. Grab Your Opportunity to Lead. Being a silent observer on social networks may be a good thing because you do not waste time engaging, but being a lurker in your workplace is a habit that needs to be rid of. “I’ll be honest Dr Thun, there are no more than 30 people here who actually display leadership”, the Head of HR of an organization with more than 3,000 members told me. The rest were the 99% lurkers who came to work but do not involve themselves with actions that benefit the greater good. Recently we had to unexpectedly cancel a leadership programme in Bali. I saw what was needed and lent my hand with communications to stakeholders – including letters to clients, which was not my job per se. Afterward, our CEO sent us an e-mail saying “Great show of leadership and teamwork in a crisis situation. Well done!” Always be looking out for ways to develop your leadership and grasp the opportunities that show up.

3. What’s Different Is Technology. The game-changer is connectivity. Lurkers in the past had almost no chance to step up to be leaders. You were either a newspaper reader or you were the editor. If you were an ordinary factory worker, there would never be the day you get to meet the company owner. Similarly, if you own a vacant room in a condominium, you would never be able to attract a customer from Scandinavia. Without technology, the 99% could never become the 1%. But in the 21st Century, the combination of a smart phone, a WIFI signal, and applications like Airbnb, Facebook, Linkedin and Grab, empowers anyone with limitless possibilities. No matter where we are, we can become the 1% that can reach 99% of the population at any time. That is the thrill of living in the Open Source era.

What are you doing to become the next 1%?