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The Law of the Few

Most plans for improving health and revising healthcare – in West Virginia and everywhere else – are pretty complicated.

Consumers are not the only ones confused. Many doctors, nurses, and others are equally baffled about what to do to live long and well; how to plan for the future of a changing world of hospitals, clinics and doctors; and how to respond to the challenge of too few government dollars to support the expenses of the ill and aged.

Many policymakers turn to data-centric companies like IBM to define what elements are most important to success.

Big data will not solve this issue. More often than not, more data = more noise. Instead, we need the right data.

We can’t see what we are not looking for. Watch this video and see if you agree:

What we need is to follow the Law of the Few.

The Law of the Few was introduced by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2002 book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Gladwell noted that to make something go viral or induce a social epidemic, you need to involve connectors (people who know many others); mavens (people who know the best things, places to go, deals); and salespeople (people who try things first and excite others to join). You don’t need to involve everyone, just the right ones.

This law of the few extends to all systems in nature – that only a few elements out of many are most important.

This observation was also introduced by Vilfredo Pareto, an engineer, philosopher and innovator who created Pareto’s Law by noting that 80 percent of things in nature are caused by a small number (20 percent) of agents – the 20/80 rule.

Thus, nature functions on interactions between a few simple elements that in combination produce emergent and unpredictable outcomes that we see as complexity. Understanding this principle may allow us to figure out the most important few elements that drive health.

To find these elements, we need to create a set of lenses to focus. Transitioning our approach in healthcare from one of rescue from failure to one that prevents failure is the focus of our plans for the future.

Which few elements are important in this pursuit?

That is the focus of the next installment and one of the central opportunities for living the commitment of "Mountaineers Go First."