By John Lanphere, manager, Business Transformation, Xerox

John Lanphere is one of five Xerox employees granted a fully-paid leave of absence this year through the Xerox Social Service Leave program. He is currently in his fifth month of the program, working with Save The Children in Westport, CT, and will continue through December 2013.

Pi is famously calculated to trillions of digits—but how many of them do we really, really need? Apparently, just 39 will do.

I was watching a recent video which suggested that taking Pi to 39 digits allows you to measure the circumference of the observable universe to within the width of a single hydrogen atom. Sure, you could use more digits, but it’s not really worth the effort. And that means that on a day-to-day basis, you can ignore most of those pesky digits. Social Service Leave: A Slice Of Pi

And going one step further, using 3.1 digits gets you to a 95 percent confidence interval.

But what exactly does this have to do with my social service leave experience? Great question.

I was talking to a colleague at Xerox recently and sharing my reflection that even when we think we have a streamlined approach, it still needs to be trimmed way down when applied here at Save The Children. A smaller organization can’t tolerate waste when trying to remove waste. There’s no spare capacity. The phones still ring. Someone has to answer them. When coming to a (much) smaller organization, it is obvious there needs to be a lighter weight approach. I’ve learned that often 20 percent of the approach is capable of getting 80 percent of the results. More lean. Less precision. Same great taste. Less filling.

And once you realize that, the next obvious question is, “Why isn’t that approach good enough all of the time?” Well, sometimes ‘close’ is good enough. Sometimes, of course, it isn’t. The trick is to be aware of the opportunity to streamline and decide what you need.

I find myself wondering how often I’ve fallen into the trap of, “That’s just the way it’s done,” and not stopping to ask myself, “How much do I really need?” At least for now, I know I’ll be asking myself this question a lot more often.

Here at Save The Children I have the ability to take some of the things I’ve learned during my career at Xerox and really make a difference in the community. It’s an extremely rewarding experience and I look forward to seeing how else I can contribute.


Follow the rest of John’s Social Service Leave experience on his personal blog: