Wiki Versus the 80-20 Rule

Discussion on the 80-20 rule and how tools like internal wikis can challenge traditional business philosophies.

by Ben Allums
January 25, 2008

I'm passionate about business philosophies and how they can be applied to business processes and systems. Recently, I realized that new tools, such as internal wikis, can call for rethinking our assumptions/common understandings of even well-established business philosophies, such as the 80-20 rule.

I was reading a popular book on how to build and stretch an organization. While I would recommend it for some of its practical ideas, it did have a section that I questioned, called: "Don't Treat Unequals Equally". The idea being that a common management mistake is to devote the same amount of management resources across the entire team, irregardless of any perceived or real value that they might provide.

"The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80–20 rule, stipulates that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. In other words, there are people in every workplace who are substantially more valuable to the organization than the others are. This brings up an important question: What are you doing to reward, equip, empower, and motivate your top 20 percent? Do you treat your top 20 percent the same as your bottom 20 percent? If so, what message does that send about your appreciation and support of excellence in your business? And what's it costing you to let your strengths atrophy as you misuse rewards, time, energy, and resources?"


Hmmm... my BS detector was surely firing now. So I did a little research and discovered that the 80-20 rule is really a simple concept that is applied to many situations and is more art than science. In any case, it is derived from the principle that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes (more).

Wiki Wins! Get Your 80% Involved!

Okay, for today's discussion, let's assume Pareto has some merit. All of us would like to think that we have only the 20% in our organization, but for purposes of discussion let's assume that we have the 80% as well. Then the question becomes whether a well-advised manager would simply accept that the 80% were going to be marginal contributors, or could he/she somehow go after the 80%?

I would suggest for your consideration that wiki's are a powerful tool for lowering the barriers of contribution. Speaking from Quadralay's experience, we have achieved significant employee contribution, including from those that are presumably within our “80%”, by using internal wikis for capturing information and promoting communication throughout the organization. Suffice to say, I believe we are executing as a company well beyond what Pareto would argue.

DITA and Wiki

Coincidently, at the January 2008 Central Texas DITA User Group meeting, there was an excellent panel presentation about DITA and Wiki. Speakers from IBM, Sun, OLPC, and presented supportive evidence of the use of Wikis to supplement structured information (DITA) development and management (more).


I've read Wikinomics and am a strong believer in wiki and how it can be used as part of a larger information management strategy. Please feel free to share your thoughts and differences on this topic. Stay tuned.


  1. Anderson, Up Your Business!: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded, John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
  2. Pareto Principle
  3. Wikinomics