“I want everyone to give 110%.”
Even as a sixteen year-old, I remember losing respect for my soccer coach as I heard those words come out of his mouth. Yes, I realize it’s a platitude that has so deeply engrained itself into the sports world that I shouldn’t have cared too much, but that’s the way I am. The common complaint against this saying is that you can’t give more than 100%, which is true… except when you can.
The word percent breaks neatly into parts that explain its meaning. “Per” means “out of” as in miles per gallon, dollars per pound, or servings per container. “Cent” means “one hundred” the same way that there are one hundred cents in a dollar, one hundred years in a century and one hundred soldiers under the control of a Roman centurion.
So if percent means out of one hundred, that means that one hundred percent is equal to a whole. So, if you give your whole effort, you cannot give more than one hundred percent. But seeing how this phrase could make sense will allow you to deal with percentage change problems on your test.
When we’re only talking about one item, one hundred percent is the whole. End of story. However, when we bring in some sort of a comparison, figures greater than one hundred percent are not only possible, but likely. Let’s use my soccer example again.
Let’s say that in the previous game I had been dealing with a bit of an ankle injury, and so was only able to play up to 90% of my potential. If we now take the coach’s comment with this perspective, everything makes sense. The comment then comes to mean “I need you to play at 110% of the level that you gave last game.” The key thing to remember in these situations is to find the base. What is the standard against which we are measuring?
In this case, we want a performance that is 110% of the previous performance, so the previous performance is the base. The base is always scaled to 100%. So, if 90 is our base, what is 110% of 90? That would be 99. From that perspective, my giving 110% of the previous performance is not only reasonable, but possible because it constitutes 99% of my ability.
When you’re only dealing with one thing, 100% is the maximum and exceeding it doesn’t make sense. But, when a comparison comes in to play, find your base, equate it to 100% and then perform your calculations. Do those things and you’re well on your way to some correct answers!