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Posted: November 02, 2012

Rundles wrap up: Infinitesimal

Jeff Rundles

I just discovered that I am part of the 1 percent. No, I am not rich – far from it – but I have discovered there are other ways of being among the 1 percent.

Of course, famously this year are The 1 percent – either those people who earn more money on a regular basis than the "other 99 percent," or those people whose wealth is in the top 1 percent of the population, said to be a firming minority with more and more concentration of greenbacks. Heck, I’d take the top 2 percent or 10 percent, but I guess politically it is more expedient to lump the "poor" 99 percent together. Frankly, I see the other 1 percent – those at the very bottom – every day near my downtown office and I feel as far from them as I do from The 1 percent, but then nothing in political definitions seems to make any sense these days.

I, or rather my company, recently discovered we were part of "the 1 percent" after a lengthy billing dispute with a telecommunications company somehow linked to a century. A little more than a year ago we ordered several very expensive telecommunications hook-ups that the company was all too happy to book as business and relatively reluctant to actually install. They were, however, very keen on billing for said hook-ups, and let us just say that getting their billing to somehow match up with their service was a little like getting the left and right side of the aisle in Congress to compromise. After threats of service interruptions or even collections, the matter was finally resolved with an apology and an observation that "this only happens to 1 percent of our customers." Well, thank you very much; I have always wanted to be among the 1 percent.

I guess that’s it then: Businesses of all stripes tend to brag about their 99 percent-right-on-the-money performance, meaning, I guess, they aim to screw up 1 percent of the time. I don’t know about you, but it seems as though I end up in this 1 percent more often that the statistical probability would predict. I guess I am special.

Other than the being fabulously wealthy thing, there appears to be some fascination with this idea of 1 percent, some magic in the number. I did some research into it and found some interesting concepts.

For instance, there is the so-called 1 percent Rule in Internet culture, also called "participation inequality," that states that 1 percent of the people create content, 9 percent edit or modify it, and the other 90 percent view the content without taking part. So, since I blog, therefore I am 1 percent, I guess.

I apparently have a credit card that features 1 percent cash back, which, if my statements are any guide, proves the point about how infinitesimal the true 1 percent really is. I’m in it, though.

I have 1 percent milk with my cereal. I don’t particularly care for it, but still, I’m in the 1 percent.

There’s a concept, or so it seems, in product management that the top 10 percent of managers do well in at least some of the basic skills on a list: thinking big, communication, simplification, prioritization, forecast and measurement, execution, understanding of technical trade-offs, understanding good design, and writing effective copy. Only the 1 percent excel at all of them. Funny, in my experience 100 percent of them think they are in the 1 percent, and that in and of itself eliminates all of them.

And then there’s the goal, started at Motorola and made famous by General Electric CEO Jack Welch, of Six Sigma, which seeks to make 99.99966 percent of manufactured goods statistically free of defects. I realize that means that those with defects should amount to less than 1 percent, but hey, close enough, statistically.

Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who observed that "you can fool 1 percent of the people all of the time"? Or was it "all of the people 1 percent of the time"?

These days I think it’s 99 percent of the people 99 percent of the time. I’m 1 percent certain of it.

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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