Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pareto Gives His Thanks

Maybe you have heard of 'the Bell Curve' or Normal Distribution? I don't know, but you would certainly have heard and understand a word like 'average'.

You may or may not have heard the Pareto Principle, and less likely Power-law Distribution. Chances are you would have heard reference to the '80/20 rule' which is in fact not a rule but the Pareto Principle.

Anyway, you can never have too much insight, and having an alternative way to consider things than Normal Distribution I find immensely valuable. (I mean there's heaps of alternative ways to consider things, but for pattern seeking in data sets... that's what I mean.)

So! Recently I did this thing called the thanxhibition, at my last exhibition I stuck up 120 pieces of card with an illustration each on them and gave them away for free to thank my supporters just for supporting me.

Along with the picture I added some text, some encouraging and positive words. But the pieces weren't directed at anybody, the pieces were for people to pick and choose from. So what to write? Well I echoed back what people write to me, because I get heaps of support.

The least visible part of my exhibiting process is the mountain of correspondence it generates, and the thanxhibition was a way to test the theory that what we are drawn to and like about other people are the qualities we like in ourselves.

Thus a simple and powerful exercise is to compliment somebody 'Jane has a great laugh.' and then restate that compliment about yourself and see if it still holds true 'I have a great laugh.' etc.

So I incorporated this but in reverse, could the nice stuff people say about me apply to my supporters? I think yes.

So it was a great exercise for me to do, and I hope great for everybody else.

But post exhibitions I always go crunch the numbers. And here's the thing, I have numerous supporters, but 'support' is not distributed evenly amongst them. What is support? How do you quantify it?

One way, and it's a really great metric, is a headcount, how many people turn out for me? But even in that question, you will notice quickly that some people don't turn out for me per se, they are brought along by a friend who did turn out for me.

There, I have uneven distribution of support amongst two people. My friend who supports me heaps, by bringing their friend who supports me a little. And after multiple shows, sometimes the people dragged along become my friend and evangelical supporters. It's all to the good.

But the thanxhibition in the prep phase made me notice that although there were 120 cards, the quotes didn't come from 120 people. In the same way that sending out 300 invites may result in a (phenomenal) turnout of 150 people (50%) the invites I write generate a smaller fraction of responses, which in turn vary in content.

And this is the thing about support. Business has recognised a Pareto Principle applied to '80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers' and other examples, wikipedia has more. So really it isn't surprising that '80% of my support comes from 20% of my supporters' would also apply. The other thing I'm told by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is that the Pareto Principle has the equivalent expression of a '50/1 rule' which is to say 'half your support comes from 1% of your supporters.'

The thanxhibition brought this into stark reality, because I needed written, tangible compliments and expressions of goodwill, support and love to draw on. Maybe 5-6 people contributed about 10 phrases each, then a dozen 3-4, then the rest was just one thing each.

Two things.

1. Those people that are willing to take the time to write messages of support, are fucking heroes, they make the world turn as far as I care. More so because their words are backed up by action. Their behavior is consistent with their stated position. Which brings me to...

2. There are obviously more than one way to support somebody, and indeed deeds, or actions speak louder than words. But 'actions' are behaviours, and behaviours consist of - things we do, words we say and how we say them. Taking the time to write is a deed, and while I don't underestimate the generosity of simply showing up to one of my shows, never underestimate what it means to somebody to hear or read a kind word. (Particularly when they are cooped up all day drawing).

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