Price’s Law: Why Is It So Important For You?

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• Fact Checked By: Spela Bednjanic, B.A. In Psychology

Imagine you start employing people or outsourcing some of your work to various experts. All of a sudden you realize that a few individuals produce more and better results than the majority of people you hired. This is quite normal and it’s called Price’s law. But why should you care about it?

price's law

What Is Price’s Law?

Derek Price, a British physicist, and scientist discovered that there are always a handful of people in academia that produce the most publications for a particular subject.

After his discovery, he formed the Price’s Law (also called Price’s Square Root Law).

Price’s Law states: “50% of the work is done by the square root of the total number of people who work on a particular task.”

Saying it differently, half of the publications come from the square root of all contributors. This means that if 25 authors write 100 papers, only 5 of them will contribute 50 papers.

So, is this just a theory or does it have some real-life implications?

Theory Vs. Real Life

I was thinking about my past experiences of working with people. One of them caught me thinking.

I was once managing a project for students across the world. We organized a pretty big event and had approximately 50 team members working on the project at that time.

On the paper, all students were equally motivated to work on a project, gain new experience and enrich their CVs. Since the work was easy, I expected to see great results from most students.

But the reality was quite different. Instead, only a few people did the majority of the work. When I checked my old notes, it was about 7 people that took care of the complete organization of the event.

7 people did approximately 70% of all the jobs, which is close enough to the Price’s Law theory.

What’s struck me was the fact that most people showed up for all the meetings and they were willing to help. We assigned them simple tasks, so they knew what they had to work on. Even more, they weekly reported on their progress.

So it wasn’t that we gave them the work and left them alone – I managed their work and helped them during the process.

But in the end, the minority of people made half of the work. These were the top performers.

I understand this is just one example of Price’s Law in real life, but it’s not the only one.

Jordan Peterson’s Opinion

Jordan Peterson once addressed Price’s Law with a very interesting example: the book writers.

He said that only a handful of people have been dominating the top charts for decades. He mentioned Stephen King, who sold over 350 million books, and J.K. Rowling, who sold over 400 million books.

The logic is the same – only a handful of people (about 10%) bring about 50% of all book sales.

I couldn’t find any examples for sales teams or start-ups, but it would be interesting to compare the data.

Jordan also mentioned this in his book 12 Rules For Life:

"As your company grows, incompetence grows exponentially and competence grows linearly."

After reading it, I thought about my experience with the first start-up that I co-founded. The more people we hired, the more competency issues we experienced. To find a few top performers, we had to hire tens of people. While the top performers were achieving amazing results, others were causing lots of issues.

In the end, we learned that the number of people we employ is irrelevant. A company grows only if you hire A-players. They are usually the most organized, focused, creative, and productive people.

Now, how can Price’s Law help you master your life?

How To Use Price’s Law For Personal Growth

Well, I am convinced there are a few powerful ways to use Price’s Law for your personal growth.

The first and the most important one is that you should only work on things you can really thrive on.

If you are a talented writer and you are willing to work hard to be the best writer in the world, go for it. If you are not that talented, but you are still willing to work hard, you can try it out. However, it may be a hard game to win.

The same goes for other professions.

What you need to ask yourself is: Can I really be among the 10% of people who will bring the 50% of results? Can I provide substantial value?

If the answer is yes, you are on the right path. If the answer is no, you don’t have to stop but think of pivoting into an area where you can actually provide the value.

The second way to use this law for your growth is that you need to carefully check the work that your employees or business partners do.

Many people want to build enormous companies with hundreds of employees. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. However, a smaller and leaner start-up with top-notch employees could potentially outperform his bigger brother with 2-5x more people.

So it’s really important to focus on quality over quantity. Search for A-players, not for many average players.

Should You Do What You Love?

Many wonder if you should actually do what you love doing or is this a wrong life strategy?

Well, it depends. If you are lazy and love watching Netflix 10 hours per day, then well, you shouldn’t really do what you love.

However, if you love watching Netflix because you want to be the best movie producer in the world, then, by all means, watch it as much as you need. But after you finish watching it, don’t forget to act and do the work you need to do.

Now, I had cofounded a few start-ups in the past 7 years. Some failed, some are successful businesses today.

There were many reasons for the failures. The biggest one, however, was that my team and I eventually ended up working on something we were not passionate about.

Obviously, when you work on a project, not all the work you will do is fun. But if you love what you are doing and if you are passionate about your work, you are on the right path.

Because I cannot imagine that you work on something you don’t actually love. If that isn’t the worst way to spend your precious time in the world, I don’t know what is.

So yes, do what you love as long as you contribute to your self-growth and to humanity. And don’t forget the power of Price’s Law.

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Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !