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Price's Law: Square root of people and productivity

May 6, 2024

10 people can outdo 90 people. It could sound ridiculous and a bit funny, right? How can a few outperform the majority? For the record, let's base everything on equal terms.

Productivity and output are not linearly tied to the number of people involved in any task. Just because more people are working on something does not mean it will produce more results. In fact, we all have heard many times, "Too many cooks spoil the food".

Let's read about an interesting law named "Price's Law" that tries to explain this predictive analogy.

What is Price's Law?

Price's Law says that "the square root of the number of people in a domain do 50% of the work". This often explains the skewed distribution of productivity or success, where a small number of individuals or teams are responsible for a significant portion of the overall result. Having said all, it's also very important to understand that Price's Law is based on experiments and statistical analysis; it's a predictive analogy and not a fact. It can really differ from the reality.

If 10 people are working, then roughly 3 of them will produce half of the total output and the remaining 7 will produce the other half. Now with 100 people working, it would be 10 people that does half of the work and other 90 people doing the other half. Raise it to 10,000 people and you have 9,900 people doing only half of the work.

The best 100 people in the cohort of 10,000 who end up doing half of the work often possess certain qualities and skills that set them apart from the other 9900. So as the team grows, competence grows linearly but incompetence grows exponentially.[1]

Price's Law: Square root law

Imagine you're in a bustling city filled with 100 passionate people, each dedicated to their own craft or profession; authors, designers, producers, athletes, or software developers, there's a whole spectrum of talent around you. Despite the crowd, it's not evenly spread when it comes to productivity. In fact, you'd find that roughly 10 of these individuals are hyperproductive. The most copies of books sold, the most number of record labels produced, the most number of compositions written, and the most number of goals scored and on and on.

It's like a secret formula hidden in plain sight. The pattern of Price's Law: a small fraction of the people tend to make a disproportionately large impact regularly.

We could ponder all day on this weird law and how this even happens. A more formidable answer could be a blend of talent, dedication, and opportunity. Some of us could argue that some are just built differently or have that spark, that innate ability to push boundaries and break new ground. They're the ones burning the midnight oil, tinkering away at their craft while the rest of us catch up on the sofa with our games and binge-watch.

It's not just always about individual brilliance though, most of the time our actions also depend on the ecosystem we inhabit or the circle of friends we surround ourselves with. The kind of environment that we nurture and amplify our talent provides us with the support and resources that we need to thrive ahead.

So, the next time you're grinding at your beloved piece of craft however menial that could seem to the world outside, always keep it groundbreaking to your heart. And never forget your peers. Behind every great achievement, there's always a small group of individuals quietly reshaping a team, a city, a society and the world and that's what makes our journey through these realms of creativity and innovation so fascinating. Fascination keeps these square root people attached to an obsession of doing half of the work. Half of the work is just work for them. Because they are fascinated to do things when others are merely obsessed.

Our hunger to always do something is a reminder of the power of the human spirit, to defy the odds, to churn out big, and to leave an indelible mark. And who knows? Among those 100 people from the beginning, you are on the path to becoming the future trailblazer in the making, ready to take the world by storm with your discipline and perseverance. Create, explore, expand and outdo everyone. Stop distinguishing between day and night. And good night because sleep is also important and writing is just fun.

[1] Jordan Peterson on Price's Law


Software Engineer