• Timothy Iseler

Ikea Instructions: Mastery Not Required

We recently assembled a new bed and armoire from Ikea. They were part of the holiday gift for our fourteen-year-old, but were out of stock until late February due to pandemic logistics issues. Go figure.

Ikea instructions are famously text-free, and often a source of frustration. I will confess to a stressful – and expletive-filled – time out when we discovered that the new bed did not come with the required mattress slats, though some careful measuring confirmed that slats from the old bed could be repurposed. Whew!


Read "Jodorowsky & Yoda: There Is No Try"

Despite the common opinion that Ikea furniture assembly is a headache, I actually find it refreshingly simple when compared to the difficultly of it building furniture from scratch. There is a reason that expertly made furniture is expensive – it takes a lot of uncommon tools, careful measurement, precise cutting and drilling, and plenty of space. Ikea pre-fab furniture, on the other hand, can be assembled by a total novice with a few cheap tools, pictogram instructions, and occasionally some wood glue.

I read some fascinating statistics recently in a blog post about language learning. The article emphasized learning a small amount of common and essential words as a fast-track to comprehension, rather than a traditional classroom approach starting with basic letters and numbers. It connected language learning to the Pareto Principle – the idea that a small amount of actions lead to a majority of desired results.

Consider: the top 25 most commonly written words in the English language comprise about one-third of all printed English language materials. A person who can understand just those few dozen words could grasp about a third of every newspaper! The 100 most commonly written words make up about one half of all printed material, while the top 300 words bring that ratio up to about 65%.

For context, it is estimated that children have an expressive vocabulary of about 2,200 words by age five. A person capable of reading and understanding 300 words – about 14% of the words that a five year old knows – could comprehend almost two-thirds of all printed English language material. That might not be enough for a compelling Ted Talk, but is certainly adequate for navigating a menu or locating a museum while on vacation.

Recognizing how Pareto's Principle – also called the 80-20 Principle – applies to different aspects of life is straight forward. We can see how a handful of relationships create a huge amount of meaning in our lives. Or note that four of last season's top five NBA teams (by season record) spent the majority of their salary budget on just two players. Even the holiday consumer spending binge of Black Friday is so named because retailers' ledgers can go from red (deficit) to black (profit) in a single weekend.

Understanding the 80-20 principle is intuitive. Implementing the principle, though, is another thing. We find reasons to stare at our phones while we should be working, then find reasons to work when we should be relaxing. We wait to start an important "20%" project until everything else is in order, allocating time and energy to the 80% that does not contribute to our goals. We deliberate over details when broad strategies will do.

I do not know a lot about furniture building. The few items that I have designed and built from scratch were unsophisticated, of middling quality, and too heavy. Luckily, this modern life requires only that I have a basic tool box, a reasonable understanding of how to use those tools, and a book of pictogram instructions to assemble household furniture.

A small amount of knowledge is enough for satisfactory results most of the time for a large number of topics, just like with language learning. One or two fundamental cooking classes will provide results better results than a whole shelf full of rarely-opened cookbooks. A cursory understanding of family health issues can lead to timely preventative testing and care. Likewise, a small amount of effort is enough to start even very ambitious goals.

Those "20%" ideas and plans only lead to results when they are put into action. A solid "B-" strategy started today beats an "A+" plan that is never implemented. Waiting for the perfect conditions or certainty of success before starting anything – especially the important things – will result in waiting forever.

And, to paraphrase Prince, forever is a mighty long time. Don't wait until forever to prioritize the life you want.

I'd love to hear about your "B-" ideas that lead to great results! Drop me an email with a story about a simple approach that lead to solid results.


Timothy Iseler

Iseler Financial, LLC | Registered Investment Advisor | Durham NC

(919) 666-7604

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