e at all, you know that I’m not about shortcuts. Too often, we are taught to cut corners. Look for the quick fix. Find the hack. Often, that leads to short term success. Too often, it leads to eventual frustration.
I have gone through the pain too many times of trying to game the system, only to wind up having to start all over with a bunch of time wasted. Some do this their entire lives. It’s how you wind up in bad situations over and over again. Have you met that person that is always down on their luck? Chances are, they learned to cut corners.
At the same time, there is a difference between looking for a quick fix and learning how to save time. One of the greatest things you can learn in life is how to save time. Up high on that list is how to protect the time you do have instead of squandering it.
The 80/20 rule helped me to understand the difference between cutting corners and saving time. Cutting corners was doing it with less quality. Saving time was knowing how and when to eliminate unnecessary parts of the journey. It can be a fine line sometimes because some of those ‘unnecessary’ steps have great lessons and stories attached to them.
Understanding the 80/20 rule- where 20 percent of your effort leads to 80 percent of your results- will allow you to take that journey and learn those lessons but do it much more effectively by giving you a clearer path on what you are focusing on. This ultimately results in a tremendous increase in productivity, value created and more time freedom in your life.
In my career as a sports photographer, one giant goal alluded me for more than two decades. I had shot just about all of the events that I dreamed of shooting- the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, Wrestlemania, and many more. But there was one event that I always wanted but I never got to shoot.
The winning of a Stanley Cup Championship. Since I began photography, I had dreamed of shooting that moment when the captain lifts the cup over his head in celebration after winning the most iconic trophy in sports. Ironically, when I bought my first real camera in 1994, I had a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals in New York when the New York Rangers could win the cup in game 5. It was my first ‘assignment’ as a photographer, even though I was a fan in the crowd. They lost that game. And twenty two years later, I hadn’t been close since.
When we moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, I was fortunate that the Pittsburgh Penguins had a cup worthy team. I began freelancing for different agencies, with the short term goal of getting some work and the long term goal of hopefully shooting them win the cup. The challenges were many. They had multiple photographers working for them so the chance of even shooting the cup, if they made it, was slim because they had seniority. On top of that, I would be required to shoot most, if not all of the games each season. And, they would need to make it all the way to the finals, and win it at home. This was my version of winning the lottery.
I danced this dance for five or six years. With all of the time and dedicated work, the Penguins didn’t make the finals any of those years. At the same time, our businesses were taking more of our time and I couldn’t commit to all of the regular season games that they needed me to shoot. The dream was dying. I could feel it.
More than a decade earlier, I had read a book about the 80/20 Rule. It went into detail about how twenty percent of our efforts lead to eighty percent of our results. When it came to sports photography- and my goal for the cup- I was doing the opposite. It’s why I was working too much, not making enough money and not achieving my goals. It was around that point when I noticed that different agencies would hire photographers only for the marquee games. They would do the ‘Winnipeg on Tuesday in February’ games. Only the ones that gained national- or international- attention. How can I be one of them? I did some research and realized that different magazines and news organizations from around the world hired photographers for games to cover their players- meaning players from their country- during games like the Stanley Cup. All of a sudden, the 80/20 Rule came into play. Can I connect with these agencies and work to get hired by them to shoot the Stanley Cup? An entire new world seemed to open up. There were players from Russia, Denmark and all of these European countries that can’t send a photographer but want exclusive images of their players. And they can get credentials for these games!
A friend of mine, Jared Wickerham, shot for one of those agencies. And that season, the Penguins made the finals. Wickerham was already hired by a different company, so when an agency in Sweden called him to shoot the championship, he gave them my name. And even though I hadn’t shot one hockey game that season, I had a credential to shoot the NHL Finals for the first time in my career.
I showed up for game 5 in Pittsburgh. My laptop and gear were one room over from where the Stanley Cup was being held. I was that close. But during dinner at catering, I was confronted by a local photographer who I had worked side by side with for years.
“Everyone is pissed at you,” this person said. “We’ve busted our butts all year long to hopefully shoot the cup, and here you go waltzing in without shooting all year, and you have a credential.”
I explained that I had been studying business for years. The ideas and practices. I had been trying to teach some of them but they didn’t have interest to learn. I just used what I learned in business and applied it here. Unfortunately, the Penguins lost that game and none of us got to shoot the cup celebration. The Penguins would travel to San Jose and win it there.
But the next year, they made the Finals again. And I had developed a relationship with this agency. And I also learned- 80/20 style- that they can get credentials for the games in both cities. As long I could travel, I was essentially guaranteed a shot at the cup. And in Nashville, I was in the arena, press pass around my neck, when the Penguins pulled off a dramatic 2-0 victory over the Predators.
And I fired away as the celebration raged on and captain Sidney Crosby lifted the Stanley Cup over his head, fulfilling his dream as well as mine that evening.
And I owe much of it to following the 80/20 rule. It showed me a different way. It showed me that I could have kept down the same path- whether it’s shooting sports or in any career- and use up so much of my time on the same methods that just about everyone does. Or I can think on the 80/20 rule and figure it out just a bit differently. There was another option out there. I just was too busy to see it. I was working too much, and too traditionally, to notice it. But when I stepped back to look, it became clear.
People got mad at me along the way. People will get mad at you too. But they are only mad because they are envious that you figured out a way to do it in a more effective way that they didn’t figure it out. My only hope- after you start doing this- is that you teach it to others like I am doing here. Because more people need to learn this, and there are too many people wallowing while not achieving the dreams that they hope to achieve.
80/20 for the win.