One of the pleasures of writing material for this site is that I get to research subjects that are new to me. The mental models
section falls into this category. I have gained many new insights from
this research and the area that I have found most instructive can be
broadly categorized as chance, probability and statistics.
For a non-statistically trained lay person such as myself, this has introduced a whole new dimension to my understanding of life and has added more tools to my balanced toolkit.
In layman's terms - what exactly is the fat tail fractal factor?
We are all familiar with the 80/20 rule [also know as the Pareto Principal] which basically means that as a general observation 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. So the take away with this is to focus your time, energy and resources on that productive 20% to maximise your results.
What you may not know, and I certainly didn't, is that that the 80/20 rule can be applied to itself - that's what the fractal factor means.
So 20% of your 20% best efforts [i.e. 4%] will deliver 64% of your best results. This is illustrated in the second line of the graphic above.
And the 80/20 rule can be applied to this 4% so 20% of that 4% [i.e. 0.8%] will deliver 51.2% of your best results. This illustrated in the third line of the graphic above.
So in very simple terms this means that:
1% of your efforts and resources can deliver 50% of your results!
The challenge lies in finding that key subset of your productive 20%.
In this article I want to share some insights I gained from learning how to apply the fat tail fractal factor and find that elusive 1%. But first, an anecdote:
My first experience of the fat tail fractal factor
Early in my career as a salesman I worked for the marketing services division of the credit reporting agency Dun & Bradstreet. My sales target was £10,000 per month and over the first 6 months I consistently managed to achieve target.
average order value was about £1,000 and this involved a huge amount of
cold-calling and about 1,000 miles of driving every week to achieve the
10 orders to make my sales target.
I realised that there had to be a more efficient way of working as there was no way I could maintain that workload over the long term, so I decided to aim for one order worth £10,000 per month.
Although I had never heard of the 80/20 rule, that is exactly what I applied. I thought carefully about the type of client that had a big enough requirement to order in that quantity. I figured out that this had to be a client who had a requirement for added value services, so in addition to selling the raw data I decided to sell the additional services required to fulfill a direct mail or telesales campaign.
The following month I smashed my target with an order for £10,000 and then repeated that success the following month.
As I basked in the warm glow of this early success it occurred to me that the only difference between a £10,000 order and a £100,000 order was an extra zero. So all I had to do was figure out what type of client could place an order of that size.
Further analysis revealed that if I could create a bespoke lead generation service for one of the major financial services companies who employed thousands of salesmen trying to sell pension schemes to small business owners then I could achieve this. Whilst I was obviously unaware of it at the time I was then applying the fat tail fractal factor.
Fast forward another two months and I had approached the regional director of one of these financial services companies and secured an order for £100,000. This covered most of my annual sales target, and I then repeated this process on a smaller scale with a couple of other clients and I closed that financial year on sales of £250,000.
The effect of that first big sale was totally disproportionate to the effort I expended on winning it:
 The Power Law
A power law describes a relationship between two things in which a change in one thing can lead to a large change in the other, regardless of the initial quantities.
Statistically it also describes a range of variations from the mean that can be very large.
 The Fat Tail
The fat tail is the 80% of result that comes from the 20% of effort.
Statistically, there is a relatively high probability of extreme outcomes in the fat tail.
Clearly the fat tail is where all the serious action is, and the fat tail fractal factor describes the scenario where the effort applied to the critical 1% will yield a massive return that is totally disproportionate to effort invested.
As you focus on the top 20%, you know that somewhere in amongst that group is a subset - which may be just one or two individuals - who will deliver over 50% of your results.
Here are 5 practical tips that I have used, and continue to use, to find that critical 1%:
 Focus on Quality Not Quantity
 Attract Luck - Be The Best At What You Do
 Hunt with a rifle not a shotgun
 Accept the Failure Rate
 Play The Long Game
The fat tail fractal factor is not just about business and money. This is applies to relationships, hobbies, and areas of special interest to you.
If you can master the dynamics of making this happen you can take a quantum leap in your personal effectiveness, in any area of life that really matters to you, and make a big difference in the lives of others.
Further Reading: The Pareto Principle
Next Article: Dunbar's Number
Return from the "Fat Tail Fractal Factor"
to: Walking The Talk
Or to: Mental Models