Monday, October 11, 2010

It's not a pyramid!

CK Prahalad’s book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid has firmly established our visual impression of how incomes are distributed as a pyramid. A strong, solid structure with the poorest at the bottom that slowly tapers, kind of holding up the apex.

In reality it looks NOTHING like a pyramid. Here’s a 3D visualization of what it looks like based on real income distributions.

Of course, if I had a lot of time on my hands I’d figure out how to plot it in 3D a lot better, maybe starting with a square shape rather than a circle so it compares better to a pyramid. But I don’t. You get the picture though. (To get more of a sense for what income distributions are like check out my earlier posts Who Cares about the Average Income and Income Distributions around the World).

Rather than put my take on the different impressions and associations you get from these pictures, I’m really curious to hear yours. What are the associations you get from this over the pyramid? I think that we need a different term to replace the ubiquitously used ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’.


  1. Hi Tara, Thank you for a really interesting talk at TEDx Chennai. Now, I've spent some time reading through your blog and one of the overwhelming thoughts is that you don't provide any quick fixes - which is a real relief. It is as if all that our really big problems need are great ideas. I think the truth is that you need to chip away at traditions for years and the overnight change that people talk about is more a myth and a media creation.

  2. Excellent Post!
    And indeed, the distribution of wealth is more like the Burj Dubai than a pyramid, and only getting worst with time.

  3. My thoughts on the shape of the distribution are that its like a free vortex where the velocity is inversely proportional to the distance from the center. This means that things move slower and slower the further you get from the center. In this case we are talking about velocity of information and therefore decisions and action. Its much faster and more fluid where we are - chained to a constant inflow of information through our laptops and phones - and therefore wealthier. Its more static, slower and sleepier as you move out to the villages - and poorer.

  4. Interesting, Thanks for sharing