By Dan Fine, Management Consultant at Hive Business
I enjoy the work of controversial psychologist Jordan B Peterson, and something he likes to mention is that if you work 10% longer you make 40% more money. He’s taken this from another author, Warren Farrell, who cites the US Bureau of Labor Statistics when he writes “the average person working 45 hours per week earns 44% more pay—that is, 44% more pay for 13% more work. Put another way, she or he gets more than triple pay during those extra hours”.
This can be interpreted in different ways. I wouldn’t expect anyone to earn 40% more if they simply did the same thing for 10% longer. We all know people who are incredibly ineffective but work long hours and I don’t think we’re talking about those people here. My feeling is that any extra value you see in that extra time comes from the extra opportunities you enjoy for creating previously unseen value.
Peterson mentions the Matthew principle quite often, which first appeared in the Bible and is summarised by the adage “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. He also often mentions the Pareto principle, essentially an empirical version of the Matthew principle, named after an Italian economist who found that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
The 80/20 rule can be used to describe the distribution of power across human activities and natural phenomena. Peterson finds it in the success rates of fighting and mating lobsters in his book 12 Rules For Life, for instance, but it’s also true that 20% of US taxpayers paid 87% of federal income tax in 2018. I can’t find similar figures for the UK, only that 1% of taxpayers paid 28% of income tax in 2017/18.
All this boils down to being in the right place. The more you are in the right place, the more right it becomes. When you’re in the land of opportunity, your opportunity for opportunity compounds exponentially. Let’s say the Pareto principle holds true in UK dentistry and you’re in the 80% of practices that only eat 20% of the pie, how do you move into the 20% of practices that eat 80%? I don’t think the answer is to blindly work longer hours. I think it’s to build discipline around reflecting honestly on what you’re doing and trying to figure out where you’re going wrong.
We all know people who say they’re too busy to take on more tasks. These people might often be late for meetings, miss deadlines and lack organisation, and it’s not that they’re not busy – they are — but they’re ineffective. They use their time badly. Every time you hear yourself saying, “Sorry, I’m too busy,” let it be a red flag. The most important stuff is the easiest to drop. If you’re not doing the complex things that allow you to be proactive, you’re just reacting to the fee earning tasks that shout the loudest. These will always be there.
If you genuinely are too busy to do the things that count then you’re better off being an associate because you’ll be happier and less stressed. But don’t think it comes easily to anyone else: we’re all the same, designed to act rather than think. We’ve evolved to deal a great deal better at execution than at strategy because the strategy always used to be obvious: find food, shelter, protection and a mate. It’s understandable, from an evolutionary perspective, that we prefer working through obstacles to our goals, rather than pausing to understand what these goals should rightly be.
In our personal and business lives today, perhaps more than in any other era, strategic questions are necessary and costly to avoid. There’s plenty of data saying that the UK is poor at productivity, and one facile response has been to say that we should work four days instead of five. A widely hailed trial in New Zealand last year claimed to show productivity doesn’t drop when you do this, but the report was vague on the numbers, preferring to measure things like staff happiness rather than output.
My own feeling is that if you want to get ahead you need to work more than conventional hours, and I don’t know anyone who is successful in business who hasn’t understood this, at least in the period when they were building their company. What they are doing during that period is never one thing, it’s complex: opening themselves up to opportunities, sharpening the axe and learning to join the 20%. If that’s you, happy hunting. We’re here to help if you need us.