The 20-60-20 Rule of Human Behavior

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When I was a kid, I remember reading somewhere an article about the ‘Talented Tenth.’  This was a theory that said basically ten percent of the population was responsible for most of society’s progress while the remaining 90% was sort of ‘along for the ride.’  I have to admit that my observations as I matured didn’t do much to contradict that belief; that is, until I started looking more closely at how people behave.

After five decades of watching people in societies around the globe, under all kinds of circumstances from almost idyllic peaceful circumstances to the stench and bloodshed of war, I have come to the conclusion that the ‘Talented Tenth’ theory missed it by a bit.  My observations, admittedly anecdotal rather than scientific, have led me to believe that people in groups tend to fall into a Gaussian distribution (so called for German mathematician and physicist Karl Gauss, who popularized its use to analyze astronomical data), otherwise known as a Bell Curve or normal distribution because of its graphic shape.  Basically, in a normal distribution, the highest point in the curve, or the top of the bell, represents the most probable event or situation, with all possible occurrences equally distributed around it, creating a downward-sloping line on each side of the peak.

So, how have I observed people to sort themselves out in the normal distribution?  Like I said, it’s not empirical data, but it seems to work out to a ratio of 20-60-20.  That is, 20% on what I call the ‘good’ or ‘productive’ side, 20% on the ‘bad’ or ‘dysfunctional’ side, and the remaining 60% evenly distributed in the main or central part of the bell.  I guess you could say we 60% are the ballast that keeps society on a somewhat even keel.

Now, on the ‘good’ side, we have the Einsteins, the Michelangelos, the Mother Theresas, and others who come up with the new, bold ideas; who go where no one has gone before.  These are the people who make things happen for the betterment of the whole society.  On the ‘bad’ side, we have the Hitlers, the Jeffrey Daumers, and the idiots who change lanes on the beltway without signaling, cutting in front of cars so close they cause them to stamp on their brakes, creating massive traffic snarls and sometimes causing fatal accidents.  These are the people who take guns to school and use classmates and teachers for target practice before turning the guns on themselves.

While the ‘good’ side of the bell is busy trying to help society progress, the ‘bad’ side is constantly trying to pull it down.  You might think that leaves those of us in the middle 60% at the mercy of geniuses and madmen; but, you’d be wrong.  Like the ballast in a ship, we serve to keep things from going too far in one direction or another.  The geniuses are often so deep in their vision of the future, they fail to solidly ground themselves in the present.  We dullards of the so-so 60% keep them grounded in reality.  At the same time, our outrage when the ‘bad-siders’ go too far helps to keep society from descending into total chaos.

As far as I know, no one has seriously studied this phenomenon.  If they have, I’d be interested in seeing the results, just to see how far I am off the mark.  But, I think that if one day this is ever studied, my theory will be somewhere in the neighborhood of the reality.  After all, under the rules of normal distribution, it should be somewhere near the middle of the bell.

11 thoughts on “The 20-60-20 Rule of Human Behavior

    charlieray45 responded:
    October 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Reblogged this on This Morning.


    viagra said:
    October 27, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Very nice blog! Keep up the good work!


    Jacqui Murray said:
    December 11, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    That would be interesting to study. At a certain point, the ‘ballast’ might be forced to pick sides–help the producers or ignore the damage of the detractors.


    Catastrophe Jones said:
    March 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    On the ‘bad’ side, we have the Hitlers, the Jeffrey Daumers, and the idiots who change lanes on the beltway without signaling

    …cannot. Stop. Giggling.


    Marion Stcroix said:
    November 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    I will right away snatch your rss as I can’t in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlink
    or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me recognize in order that I may subscribe.


      Charles Ray responded:
      November 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      In the right sidebar, just below the AIA seal is a blue banner. Click on this to ‘follow’ my blog and you’ll get email notification of new postings.


    Pal said:
    April 4, 2017 at 12:22 am

    Charles.. What a coincidence.I did not know about your article . About 2 months ago I was thinking why some of the people while telemarketing give nice answer and some do not hesitate even to use F** word. So first I thought only 10% are Nice or Rude but then I incresed to 15% and then finally to be on safe side I made the Final judgement of 20-60-20 as a Realistic figure.
    Then just curious I thought there may be somebody else in the World who is thinking like me somewhere and I was surprised with your same thought at same Frequency Level.
    Over 20 years ago I was sitting in my religious place in Toronto and just I observed lots of people do not dress up in Matching way, do not walk properly ,do not sit properly,do not talk properly . I counted 9 out of 10 but to be safe then I concluded only 20% people know how to walk ,talk or dress up properly.
    On the weekend I met my Accountant and was chatting that I observed that approximately 20% people know how to Live. He laughed loud and said you do not know in economics what is 80-20 RULE.??
    Then I checked in Google and was surprised about my observation.
    Now same ratio I found that instead of only two % let’s us have 3 dimensions , one on left and one on right.
    Thanks for your article and I am very happy that what I thought today you realized it 4 years ago.
    Apply this rule in everyday life style and you will find it is working in our daily routine in home , office and family life.


      Charles Ray responded:
      April 4, 2017 at 12:44 am

      Glad you found it interesting. You might be interested to know that shortly after I wrote this, I received an email from two Polish researchers who had done a mathematical model that scientifically proved my observations- totally independent of my unscientific musings, by the way, but what validation!

      Liked by 1 person

    Annette Rey said:
    August 26, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    Whether you are wrong or right, this is VERY WELL SAID and well thought out. Kudos!


      Charles Ray responded:
      August 26, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      Thank you. As a matter of fact, even though I wrote this tongue in cheek, I believe it to be basically true. In addition, I was contacted by two Polish mathematicians who’d done research showing much the same statistical breakdown. So, I guess what was intended as something of a joke, might just be true after all.


    Armen Pogharian said:
    October 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    I think most of us who make past a certain age come to similar, if less well articulated, conclusions about our fellow man. My numbers would differ (5/85/10) from yours, but that may just be my cock-eyed optimism showing or I suppose you could see it as pessimism, i.e., more ballast and only 5% of us causing so much woe. Regardless, an enjoyable read.


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