A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

The 90-10 Rule

Marshall McLuhan (October 3, 1964, age 53).   10 beats 90

Peter Drucker puts it correctly in Managing for Results that 10 per cent of the events cause 90 per cent of the events.  To understand what’s happening then one only needs to attend to 10 percent of what’s happening.  But what is it that we have our eyes on?  That’s right, the 90 per cent.  The 90 per cent are the problems, the dead events.  They don’t influence anything.  They’re the results of what’s making the world spin.  What we need to do is attend to the critical 10 per cent.

Me (March 2010, age 57).  Attending to the critical 10 per cent

McLuhan goes on to say that sensible people deal with problems.  That is why they attend to the 90 per cent of the events that are the problems rather than the critical 10 per cent which are the opportunities or solutions.  The solution to this dilemma would seem to be evident:  be non-sensible.  If McLuhan is right the opportunities in any situation are the things you are not looking at.

For example, consider the problem of garbage in the streets, which seems to be a problem in large cities.  If we pay attention to the problem our eyes are drawn to the actions of people who don’t appear to care and throw stuff on the side walk.  Perhaps we should pay attention instead to the opportunities, the people who care, the people who design and support recycling programs that result inevitably in a small but significant amount of trash winding up on the streets?

What can you do to shake yourself out of the approaches and routines of sensible people? Ask yourself what isn’t a problem in your life.  If McLuhan is right that’s where you need to look to find your opportunities.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 311.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, March 30th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Culture, Management, Vol. 1 No Comments

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