Price’s Law

Ijeweme Odiawa Written by Ijeweme Odiawa · 2 min read >

Price’s Law states that in any productive community, 50% of the results is being achieved by the square root of the total number of people in the group.

I know you just read that line but pause. Read it again, slowly, and let it sink in.

My MBA Group

At the beginning of the MBA , LBS shared us into groups based on our personality traits. The school deduced our personalities from our answers on the MBTI personality test, and attempted to create groups that contained a mixed bag of personalities. After about 6 weeks together, the journey has been, well, eventful. We still have over 1 year to go though, so i am sure there are more exciting experiences ahead.

Since we came together however, the work has intensified very quickly. We hope that all hands will be on deck at all times. When we need each other to come through, we hope everyone will pull his weight to make the group succeed. Right?

Well, in all of this, I cant help but remember the concept of Price’s Law I read a few years ago. No, it has no bearing on the price of goods. It simply says what it says as written in italics above. In any group, half of the work is actually done by the most hardworking people in that group, and those people are usually measured by the square root of the total number of people in the group.

My Previous Group Experience.

In my fifth year of undergraduate studies, the lecturers shared us into groups of 6 in a course called community health. They tasked us to gather data from the community, interprete it, and present it at some point. I hated community health at the time (and still do), and I couldnt wait for it to be over. As such, I was not interested in any of the activities. On the other hand, my group-mates, Pius and Jennifer were very zealous towards work. Another lady named Pamela was not as excited about community health, but she still had the presence of mind to study and be so involved in the group work. She also became a very valued member.

The rest of us were the most laid-back young men you could ever dream of. We took no initiative of our own and a lot of our assigned tasks had to be improved by Pius or Jennifer. Remember, there were 6 of us in that group. Now, the square root of 6 is approximately 2.5 – Pius, Jennifer and Pamela to an extent. Price Law at work.

At some point, I was even made the leader. But even leadership position did not markedly improve my productivity. As long as the most productive people continued being in top form, I had no drive to go join them in their productivity. Indeed, their high productivity made me relax into complacency.

Price Law at work

Thus I have seen price law play out time and again in many groups where I have been. Look out for it! It starts fairly quickly, and before you know it, you are either lapsing into complacency because “those serious students will do it”, or – if you are a productive leader – you may fall into the trap of failing to delegate anything. You end up doing everything and deny others the opportunity to participate and grow.

Solution to Price Law Effects?

Can any group truly escape the negative effects of Price law? One solution could be rotatory leadership. When you have to call the shots, you are forced to become more productive if you want to lead by example (unless you have coconut head like me during my comm. health rotation). The MBA program already does this, and eventually everyone will get a taste of leadership.

Another solution could be to reduce the size of the group. Price law is a measure of inefficiency, i.e the bigger the group, the more likely most of its members are not being fully maximised. Mathematically, a group of 4 is supposed to be the ‘perfect group. If Price law holds true, the 2 more productive ones (square root of 4) will account for 50% of the work, and the other 2 will account for the rest. Easy solution right? But in reality, this is not usually the case. People are complex creatures and we will always find a way to avoid tasks we hate.

Leaders must therefore delegate duties relentlessly. This ensures that no one is doing any other person’s work and everyone contributes effectively to the conversation/solution.

Another approach we should take, is to stop trying to avoid Price’s law. Instead we could understand it and make it work to our advantage by building smaller teams, and trying to be the standout performers in every group we find ourselves in.

Price’s law is like the law of gravity. We can only defy it when we have come to understand it.

Written by Ijeweme Odiawa
I am Ijay Odiawa. The Last Afang Bender. Profile

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