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Social Physics, Learning, and Malcolm Gladwell

Updated on July 10, 2015

Social physics, learning, and Malcolm Gladwell

My friend told me a couple of years ago about this Malcolm Gladwell guy, saying I'd really appreciate his writing. I was like, "what kind of books does he write?" and he was kind of like, "doesn't matter." Okay, I was intrigued, so the name stuck in the back of my head.

Fast forward a couple of years and I had become very interested in what is now being called "social physics", that is to say, the study of how social systems become what they are, and if there are any methods by which we can affect the outcomes. Along comes "The Tipping Point" about just such a subject. Herein, Gladwell breaks down his concept of mavens (those who talk about a product, service, or idea to as many people as they can, as passionately as imaginable, and as long as you will listen); connectors (those who have groups of friends across multiple social classes and circles); and salesemen (those who can convince others of a particular point of view).

Throughout the novel, Gladwell uses real life examples (like how Hush Puppies suddenly became hipster haute couture, or how crime dropped in New York City significantly over the decade of the 1990s). I can now see how these same patterns are present in my life- and, best of all, how I might be able to make a difference, or even one day start a movement of my own (or, at the very least, participate in one). If social physics interests you anywhere near as much as me, you'll enjoy "Tipping Point."

Malcolm Gladwell


About Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist who was born in England. He has written for "The New Yorker" for nearly 20 years. He has a sweet afro, and he is up to five books on his list now. Every single book he has written has made it to the New York Times Bestseller List, which is an impressive feat, to say the least.

Interestingly, his mother is a psychotherapist and his father is a mathematics professor. This unique and interesting blend of early influences often comes out in Gladwell's writing, as he pokes and prods at social issues from a scientific, almost mathematical standpoint I'd describe as "detached" or "clinical." However, Gladwell isn't afraid to buck tradition, nor does he avoid the "big picture" of complicated social issues.

Among Gladwell's other "big idea" moments is the "10,000 hour rule" - the concept that expertise in a field is not gained via some innate talent, but simply through 10,000 hours of intense practice. I'm a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, and it took me over 10 years to achieve that particular milestone, or about 10,000 hours of practice, so I can vouch. This gives me a great deal of hope, because I see a lot of very young, sharp, physically gifted folks come through the gym, but I know full well that if I practice for longer and more intensely or correctly than they do, I'll likely master the art at a much deeper level.

My 10,000 hour journey: BJJ


My 10,000 hour journey: BJJ

A lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners have taken Gladwell's "10,000 hours to expertise" concept to heart. While I can't say for certain that I have measured exactly the amount of time I've spent on the mat in BJJ, I could estimate that over the last 17+ years, I've spent just south of the 10,000 hour estimate, which may surprise some, but many of people who train BJJ will tend to overestimate how much time they're actually training.

If you figure that I averaged training three times a week for the first five years I was training BJJ (probably not unfair), that comes to 3 (times per week) x 1.5 (hours per time training, although at fist it was likely more than 2 hours total) x 52 (weeks in a year) = 234 hours per year. That comes to 1,170 hours for the first five years I was training BJJ! Around 2002 or 2003, I bumped my training up a bit, averaging at least six training sessions per week through 2008 or so. 6 x 1.5 x 52 = 468 hours per year, times 6 years = 2,808. Since 2008 I've averaged training 9 times per week at 1.5 hours per session, including teaching time (although nowadays most of this time is me training). That comes to 702 hours per year, times 7 years = 4,914. That's only 8,892 total hours through 2014!

Only if you add in my high school wresting experience (four years total, although my freshman year was very late in the game and I didn't work out with the team, only did freestyle). We did, however, meet every single day after school during wrestling season, or about half the year, and it was 5 days a week, 2 hours a day, no breaks. 10 hours a week at 25 or so weeks per year, multiplied by 3 is only 750 total hours, bringing my grand grappling total to 9,642.

Of course, I've probably spent nearly as much time as that watching jiu jitsu videos, reading books, or studying techniques on my own. I've also immersed myself completely in the art I love, surrounding myself with nothing but jiu jitsu and judo friends for the last decade and a half. I think that factors in as well. Not to mention, of course, I own part of a BJJ tournament circuit and half of my own BJJ gym.


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