Why We Should Still Practice the “70-20-10” Rule


We all need a viable strategy to stretch ourselves and hopefully, reach our potential. However, it’s unlikely that we’ve committed to a firm strategy to do so. Implementing a guiding philosophy to remain on the “cutting edge” could help, allowing us to see the innovative paths that may exist in our own work lives.

Personally, I find it difficult to spark change (and follow through) in my work life. (Old habits die hard, don’t they?) I make promises to spend more time exploring new work life territory — but it seems that without fail, I miss that mark.

I also needed a concrete plan to sustain momentum toward that goal. I hoped that with measured practice, changing things up would become second nature.

But why reinvent the wheel?

To that end, I am all for borrowing established (and successful) strategies that can provide structure — “tried and true” methods that can be adapted to our own careers. That’s exactly why I chose the 70-20-10 rule, made popular by Google.  The 70-20-10 rule is simple, yet remarkably powerful. It prescribes that you spend 70% of your time in the core areas of your work, 20% of your time on tasks related to your core and 10% devoted to tasks that are completely “off-road”. (The “secret sauce”.)

The rule can be readily applied to many, many types of roles and functions, including those that focus on sales and process improvement. Try it on for size and see what it does for your work.

A couple of ways to apply it:

  • Staffing a team. The larger part of the team (70%) should include those directly related to the work at hand at hand. However, 20% could be in areas or functions related to the issue or project at hand, and 10% of team members could be composed of those in unrelated functions — those that could offer an entirely fresh perspective.
  • Sales efforts. If you sell for a living, take another look at your potential customers. Of course, your core target group would include potential clients with a profile very similar to your current clients. However, go the extra mile and identify 20% that are somewhat different, but still may find a fit or use for your products. The other 10%? These are customers that may require you to develop an innovative product application or service packages to win their business. Explore this path, as there is no telling what will be discovered.
  • Networking. We all have a tendency to gravitate towards the familiar — however this can limit us. Make a concerted effort to build relationships with people in new functional areas, that are still tangentially related to your core. (For example, if I exclusively networked with other psychologists, I wouldn’t learn nearly as much about HR tech.) You may not have the language mastered in these “off-road” functions, but you can certainly develop a working vocabulary. You may also happen upon a very worthwhile collaboration.

Here are a just a few reasons to try the method:

  • Ideas don’t develop themselves. If we don’t designate time to explore new paths, our thoughts cannot “cross-pollinate” — an innovation basic. Many interesting developments seem to develop through “serendipity”. Serendipity doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
  • Our brains need a change of pace. Have you read The Eureka Phenomena? Asimov’s classic article, helps us understand that the brain works on more than one level. Changing gears for a period of time, can actually help your mind “settle” and solve problems.
  • We all need real challenge. The 70-20-10 can help “gamify” work, and make it novel.  I place the “off road” 10% in that category. That somehow works for me.

Have you applied the 70-20-10 in your line of work? Tell us how.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

What you can learn from another industry

Have you ever heard someone say, “That simply won’t work for us, they are in an entirely different industry.” That always struck me as quite short-sighted.

We can certainly borrow bits and pieces, from the successful strategies of any business and apply to our own organizations with great success. You just have to step back and see the forest for the trees.

Whether it is an unbelievably effective idea to engage a customer or a novel way to look at a problem – good is just – good.

Today at LinkedIn, I explore what we can learn from the gaming industry. We could all take a page (or screen shot) from their arsenal. Here’s the link: What a Gamer Taught Me About Organizational Success