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Less is more (post n.4)

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An intelligent and smart strategy towards the progress of humans and machines

Key assertions:

  • “Less is more” is not counter-intuitive—it’s a law empirically proven by the Pareto Principle and one pillar for the growth of humanity and AI.
  • The modern focus on 100% performance is OK, but very often a waste of resources and precious time.
  • Various authors have proven the Pareto Principle to be true and effective both in business and in daily life.
  • Anyone can find a “less is more” way of doing things. 
  • By freeing time from the logic of perfection (always give 100% of yourself to something), humans will be able to discover and share new knowledge.
  • Technology, machine learning and AI will be strategic in this change.
  • When AI can self-learn, it will be able to apply the same 80/20 principle. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is an example of that.
  • Humans can learn from PCA to simplify their lives and concentrate on efficient, uncorrelated tasks in their jobs.

“Less is more” is an old saying which can be applied to almost any area of human life, but let’s just focus for a minute (or two) on how that phrase relates to everyday life.

We always try to give 100%; in fact, advertising tells us all the time that the only possible approach to life and success is “all or nothing.”

However, Vilfredo Pareto (1848 – 1923) discovered a universal law which we often forget to apply.

Pareto developed a heuristic drawn from UI: the 80/20 principle.

This finding is a beautiful example of connecting dots. From his observations of things, Pareto stated a revolutionary empirical law that affects our lives, explaining that most phenomena propagate under the power law distribution.

In his book “The 80/20 Principle, The Secret to Achieving More with Less”, Richard Koch provides tons of examples of the Pareto Law applied in Business and Life.

As effectively summarized by the smart service Blinkist, “The 80/20 principle says that in almost any area, 20 percent of the input or effort produces 80 percent of the output or reward. This means that almost 80 percent of efforts are not spent efficiently, and if you refocus them on the 20 percent that is producing the most results, you’ll see a tremendous boost in efficiency. This simple concept can be applied to any sphere of life, ranging from your business to your friends and quality of life.”

Blinkist itself is an example of the Pareto Principle. If I had to read one book, considering the time I need to devote to work and family, I’d complete one standard nonfiction book every month (maybe). But by listening while I am driving and reading summaries, it takes 20/30 minutes to assimilate the key concepts of a book. Probably, in this case, the law is 95/5.

Of course, if the content is stimulating and inspirational, I buy the book and read it entirely.

Coming back to the natural inclination of humans to devote 100% effort to every single task, it is very critical to devote attention to the non-urgent but fundamentally important things like education, health and knowledge sharing that can make the world a better place instead of a site for cumulating stress.

Most of the time we struggle to reach that 100% and sacrifice these important things to reach that non-existent ideal that has been planted in our heads. The ever-growing, ever-moving carrot keeps us running like donkeys in the pursuit of a happiness that’s based on having more, always going for it at 100%.

Is that intelligent?

The question remains: What success and happiness are we running after so desperately that we devote 100% of our efforts to the pursuit? What is more, is it worth it?

Well, perhaps it is time for us to change the priorities in our lives and stop giving 100% of our time, energy and mental power to these ethereal ideas, and start focusing on putting a strong 30–40% into our important long-term investments:

  • Taking steps to further understand each other.
  • Finding ways to share our knowledge and develop open-source projects.
  • Constantly improving our children’s education.

It is important that we, as a civilization, understand that perfection and satisfaction are not synonyms, but that the first is depriving us of the second. We need more satisfaction and less perfection in our lives.

AI can assume a role in this reallocation of time for the benefit of humans.

If we concentrate on the creative efforts and let machines and robots do the repetitive and scalable tasks, we will free up precious time.

At the same time, machines will learn and develop mechanisms for their inner evolution. In the beginning, development will aim toward efficiency targets, then effectiveness targets.

Doing less basically means working less. In a business week, ordinary jobs take 40 hours, plus 10 of commuting. More extreme jobs can reach 80/100 working hours.

In a week the average person has circa 120 hours available for activities. By applying the 80/20 principle, a solid 24 hours (i.e., 4 to 5 hours a day) per week can provide 80% of the benefits to our employer or our own business.

Of course, this is easier said than done in modern culture. Let me dream a little bit about the 80/20 standard day:

6:30 wake up

7–8 stay with children/read or explore what you like

8–13 your job

13–14 lunch with family/gym/take a walk

14–15 sleep or relax

15–18 your job (smart working from home if possible) or your business thinking/doing

18–20 open-source projects/knowledge sharing/family

20–23 friends/family/job planning.

Modern technologies provide immense opportunities to work from home, decreasing logistical costs of travel, reducing time wasted in traffic jams and pollution, allowing people to live close to relatives and children’s schools.

Technology is a powerful accelerator of the concept “less is more”: by focusing on 20% of my priorities, I will reach 80% of the results.

Machine Learning algorithms will also probably evolve thanks to this principle. At the moment we are stretching CPUs and GPUs by providing them with billions of data from which to extract patterns, make analyses, take decisions.

When data reach incredibly high dimensions/features, machines apply their version of the Pareto Principle and simplify things. This technique is known as Principal Component Analysis (PCA), a statistical procedure that uses an orthogonal transformation to convert a set of observations of possibly correlated variables into a set of values of linearly uncorrelated variables called principal components (source: Wikipedia).

We should apply PCA to our daily jobs: reduce repetitive tasks, do uncorrelated things and get to the essential components of the work.

Less is more. By focusing on the essential, we achieve our goals with less effort and give ourselves the flexibility we need to lead a fulfilled life. Machines will help us make this revolution.

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About the author

Spiridione, my middle name, has strong Greek origins, and Greek philosophy is still current and pervasive, which is why I called the website spiridione.com.

During my adolescence my preferred books were those that covered philosophical questions. At 19, I moved to Milan and then graduated from Bocconi University with a degree in Business Administration at 24. – Read more

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