Stringency vs. Pareto


Analysis. Latin analysis, Greek análysis: to pull apart, dissolve into parts; to study something by taking it apart and considering its individual components; investigation into the particulars of a whole.

Analytical thinking is in those professions critical where a system is understood via its parts. A psychoanalyst pulls apart the patient’s past experiences. The financial analyst considers the entire spectrum of transactions in order to get into the details of specific market movements. Police investigative work, all approaches in medicine, every type of research and development must employ sophisticated methods of analysis.

Stringent. Latin stringens: strict; convincing based on logical arguments; logical, clear, without internal contradiction.

Stringent analytical methods are particularly important in the academic fields, whether the natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics or the humanities. Master’s or Ph.D. theses in Germany are not accepted without meeting high standards of analytical stringency. All professions based on deep analysis depend on stringent methods.

Penetranz. Penetration: Latin penetrare: to place into; to enter into, get into, to move in a certain direction.

To be penetrating has a negative connotation in Germany: overly direct, bearing in on a point, intense. A certain perfume can be too penetrant. A person who dominates a conversation, making long speeches and moralizing is penetrant.

In the positive sense penetrant means dogged, focused, determined, working to understand something at as deep a level as possible. Like an archeologist who digs deeper, forever searching for evidence, for insight into the lives of our human ancestors. The same goes for analysts of any kind, for the medical profession, for linguists, historians and research in all of its forms.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) comes to mind, the German archeologist who discovered the ancient cities of Troja and Mykenes. Many years of painstaking research led to archeological and historical proof that these two cities had in fact existed.


The Pareto principle: Also known as the 80-20 rule, stating that in many situations approximately 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, documented in the early 1900s that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Pareto went on to observe that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. It has become a common rule of thumb in business that 80% of sales come from 20% of clients.

The 80-20 rule could be a metaphor about the American approach to many things, or at least about an element or aspect of the Americans approach. Americans tend not to be perfectionists. Not because they do not recognize and honor striving for the best. But because in many cases attaining, reaching, accomplishing that extra 5% is in many cases “simply not worth it”.

Worth. Value. Does the customer want that extra degree of engineering excellence? Is it necessary to calculate that many digits behind the decimal point? Is that depth of analysis necessary in order to make a decision?

80% is often enough. For Americans, depending on the situation, 60% is enough. Depending on the risk-benefit relationship, even less is enough.

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