It happened back in 2011. They had deployed 300 000 units in two French cities. I had come back from a sabbatical and had to start working as a computer science engineer again.
The gods assigned me on a huge project. No one really wanted to go there and I was doomed.
So I was assigned a new office in the smart meter department.
You don’t know what a smart meter is? Don’t worry, you won’t need to know and besides no one really knows what these little robots are.
The project at that time was composed of about 50 people in our company and probably 50 in the company that had been hired to design and deploy these smart meters.
It was a very complex project. At first I didn’t think I would stay for long. I was always thinking of getting back to painting.
But life being what it is, a bottle of pure unpredictability, I ended staying 5 years.
5 years of my life where I learnt a lot and not only about smart meters.
Actually I really didn’t care about technology and I still don’t.
What I really learned about is Pareto’s law.
I did it again : You don’t know what Pareto’s law is?
Don’t worry! I will explain and there won’t be any equations.
For now, you can look at the featured image of a beautiful fractal. Pareto’s law is a fractal in nature.
Back to my work as an “IT Architect” (pompous isn’t it?)
Well, one day, one of my colleagues said something very interesting. And I didn’t realize how important that was until 2017.
Our company was about to get rid of the people it had hired. They claimed the smart meters weren’t performing good enough.
The truth was that they were performing at 80% of what was expected of them.
My colleague said that it was a shame because this small team had designed all the system.
And it was true.
The whole damn system had been designed by a handful of young engineer coming from fifth or sixth category schools.
They were approximately 10. Even less.
What were the other people for then, will you ask, including our company staff?
Well, in order of appearance and importance, there were bosses, smaller bosses, even smaller bosses, top notch engineers, regular engineer, secretaries, coffee hounds, consultants, experts, and finally me.
I put myself at the end just to be polite as politeness is the fluid that makes the world go round. But I would probably be in the coffee hound category.
Most of them were, judging by their diplomas, very intelligent people coming from the best engineering schools of France and Navarre (me included, I don’t want to be too hard on myself).
It turns out that all these people were useless.
Yes we were!
“Diploma, Schmiploma”, Nassim Taleb would say.
I didn’t really understand how things worked back then.
Now, you should notice one thing.
10 is the square root of a 100.
Let’s think about that. 10 people doing all the work. 90 doing paperwork but acting as if they were important. Some of them with 5 digit salaries.
You don’t think that it is really the case, that all these people were also helping build the project…
Yeah, yeah, whatever or as the French would say : “et la marmotte elle met le chocolat dans le papier alu”.
And it isn’t their fault.
Because this distribution, the square root doing all the work, belongs in principle to very well-known set of properties that seem to describe what happens in a lot of human domains.
And Art is one of the most important!
“No Art is different”, did you say?
“But yes of course my friend!” Hercule Poirot replies. And don’t reply back to Hercule, he might get angry.
“Why should I listen to you?” That’s basically what an artist implied the only time I tried explaining that.
But it’s true : don’t listen to me. You shouldn’t. I’m just another chimp…
But listen to Nassim. Here’s an extract of the book “The Black Swan” that will help you understand more clearly.
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It is the common signature of a power law –actually it is how it all started, when Vilfredo Pareto made the observation that eighty percent of the land in Italy was owned by twenty percent of the people. Some use it to imply that eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people. Or eighty percent worth of effort contributes to only twenty percent of results, and vice versa.
As far as slogans go, this one wasn’t phrased to impress you the most. It can easily be called the 50/01 rule, that is, fifty percent of the work comesfrom one percent of the workers. This formulation makes the world look even more unfair –yet the two formulae are exactly the same. How? Well, if there is inequality, then those who constitute the 20 percent in the 80/20 rule also contribute unequally: only a few of them deliver the lion’s share of the results. This trickles down to about 1 in a 100 contributing a little more than half the total.
The 80/20 rule is only metaphorical –it is not a rule, even less a rigid law. In the Unites States book business, the proportions are more like 97/20 (i.e. 97 percent of book sales are made by 20 pct of the authors), or, even worse if you focus on literary nonfiction (20 books in close to 8,000 represent half the sales).
Note here that it is not all uncertainty. In some situations you may have concentration, of the 80/20 type, with very predictable and tractable properties, which enables clear decision-making –because you can identify beforehand where the meaningful 20 percent are. These situations are very easy to control. For instance, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in an article in the New Yorker that most of the abuse of prisoners is attributable to a very small number of vicious guards. Filter those out and your rate of prisoner abuse drops dramatically. (In publishing, on the other hand, you do not know beforehand which book will bring the bacon.)
I think you probably know by now where I’m getting at.
There are lot of things you can do in painting. But only a handful will get you there as an excellent draftsman and painter.
How many artists are there out there with no skill or approximate skills?
That’s most of us, me included.
I live in France. There has been a great painting tradition in this country : Delacroix, David, Ingres, Bouguereau, De la Tour, Gérôme, etc..
I could go on and on. There are hundreds of them.
But only one name is important here : Bargue (Hello Pareto)
Thanks to a few Americans that brought it back to life (Pareto how do you do?).
Draw Bargue plates until they are perfect. That’s the square root that will get you at least 80% of the way there if you are a figure painter.
There are a few other resources that are like that. I will be dealing with them shortly in other posts.
Don’t draw randomly. Don’t take just any piece and start drawing as if it were a piece of work.
You will be mostly wasting your time.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
(Well maybe I’m a little harsh, maybe you should draw randomly once in a while to relax, but not too often).
You don’t need to draw a lot of them before improving a lot (Pareto, “Everytime I look at you, I see beauty in your eyes…”)
I have published a new video on Bargue plate 12.
I’ve improved the quality. It shows how to finish the drawing because this is usually a difficult stage.
You can watch it here : Link to my new video
And I have produced a new pdf that explains things a little bit further. You can get it by subscribing to my website.
And if you have questions, you can always contact me by mail and I will try my best to answer.
Remember, Bargue knew what he was doing and the artwork is beautiful. It’s the result of centuries of tradition condensed in a drawing course.
It helps build your skills in a very predictable manner (see Taleb extract). That’s the trick!
And it doesn’t get any better than that.
Finally, I think I will be also shortly publishing a video about the making of the following painting and to make it useful I will show how you can apply in a real situation what has been learned in Bargue and other useful training.
Let me know if you are interested.