The Value of the Last 20%

Generations of Mount Tamalpais School students and parents cite the Winter Play as one of the most formative MTS experiences. Reflecting on the production, our alums and alum parents connect the Winter Play and the performing arts department to the poise and confidence of the MTS graduate. While acting, singing, and dancing undoubtedly inspires greater confidence, this hallmark performance – and others at MTS – also teaches the value of the last twenty percent.

The 80-20 rule – the Pareto Principle in economics – posits that the first 80% of a project takes 20% of the effort. Moving from 80% (a low B-) to 100% in turn takes 80% of the effort. In the Winter Play, 4th and 5th grade students learn to move from 80% to 100%. Through time spent honing the performance, our students learn the hard work it takes to move something from good to great to outstanding.

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It is relatively easy – though don’t ask me to do it – to get the right kids on the stage with the right scripts in their hands. That is the first 20%. It gets harder, though, when each student has to be in the right place and the words have to be memorized. Even harder is to have those students in the right place, staying in character, and not blocking site lines, and for those memorized words to be delivered with the right emphasis towards the audience. Even harder? Enunciate the words of each song so the people in the back row can clearly understand. And it gets even harder: add microphones that need to be changed between roles, props that have to be in the right place to make that comic moment comic, and dance moves that have to be done in synch. All of this is the last 20%, and it takes 80% of the time.

The newly discovered thespians of the class undoubtedly love this process of honing to excellence. For others, moving from good to outstanding, is challenging. Those dance moves elicit a “two left feet” response. The lines just never come out at the right time. The costume is uncomfortable. Challenging can be frustrating as we have to try that scene again. Challenging can be boring as we wait for our turn to be on stage. Ultimately, though, challenging is rewarding.

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Though the actors watching the show unfold on a screen backstage never “see” the final product, they are keenly aware of their success. When they have the right microphone, step into the right spot on the stage, deliver the right words with clear enunciation and follow that up with well-choreographed dance moves, our young actors beam with pride. The source of that pride is the hard work, the 80%, that they put in to make each moment on the stage outstanding.  While taught on stage in 4th and 5th grades, the lesson is enduring – an excellent social studies research paper or science fair project requires doing that last 80%.

The MTS graduate is known for confidence and poise. They are also known for having a good work ethic. Both of these characteristics are products of the Winter Play. I look forward to watching another cohort of students learn these lessons and show us their excellence – their last 20% – next week in Annie. I hope you will join me there.