Ninety Percent is Less Than Halfway (Chinese Proverb)

Right after our open rehearsal with The Jerusalem Conservatory Chamber Orchestra and our guests from College for All, the children had some activity with our students and I held a lecture for the parents. In that lecture I tried to share my thoughts and my experience of over twenty five years working with gifted young people. At a certain point I arrived at the Pareto principle.
Much has been said about the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule. The principle that Pareto discovered in 1906 was very popular in the cooperate world in the 1980’s. It asserts that twenty percent effort yield eighty percent of the results. If twenty percent of the products of a company make eighty percent of the sales, then why don’t we invest some more in research and development of this line of products and raise the sales to eighty five or eighty seven percent? We will of course never get to one hundred percent, since we do not want to renounce the other products.

How does this principle apply to education, or for that matter, to art or to scientific research?

We all know that for an average child it only takes twenty percent of his ability to get a grade of 80 (or B). The school system tries through its methods of measurements to have more people get a grade of 80. The system is constantly gravitating towards the average by inventing more tests and measurements that only create more techniques to pass those exams. In other words, the system invests more research and development in the area of the 20 percent with the hope that the average will rise to 86 or 87. To me, this is all meaningless. To me, education, art and science are all about that “expensive area” of eighty percent effort for 20 percent result. It is that area that takes us from B to A, from 80 to 100 or close to it. This is where the real educational process might take place, this is where the great scientific inventions and the artistic breakthroughs could occur. Isn’t this what excellence is about? I asked my audience what they thought really happens in that twilight zone. The answers I got all had to do with brilliant ideas, spiritual high, bursts of imagination and incredible discoveries. I was so sorry to reveal the truth and to disappoint them, saying that what really is expecting those who are willing to climb this steep hill is a lot of hard work and labor. I looked at my audience and they seemed very disappointed. How do you make a child practice for hours when kids get famous overnight in reality shows? My answer was: “How do I force myself to practice or to prepare a lecture that I have given twenty times before?” I told the story of an absolutely brilliant student I had, who failed Math and English in tenth grade. “Why do I have to solve fifty problems of the same kind if I understand the point after the first two?” I tried to think about music and remembered the story I once read about Master Suzuki who asked an eleven year old girl in Japan to practice a place fifteen thousand times, and the girl took it literally and did it fifteen thousand times. “The only way to do it, I said, is to fall in love with the hard labor“. The reason to do it however, is that we will feel so secure in our way, that when something draws our attention we immediately notice it. A sideway tells us it might be interesting to travel, a revolving door calls us to enter. We are not afraid to leave the main road then. We are so confident that we know the way, that we happily respond to the unknown, hoping to find just a little idea or a small notion. One moment of danger, one magical moment.

Watch this “Open Rehearsal”.
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