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The 10% Problem: Power Law Theory
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Chris Shugart
Director of Content

Join date: Oct 2002
Posts: 17341

The 10% Problem: Power Law Theory

The vast majority of people categorized as homeless are only without a place to live for one or two days. What we think of as "homeless" -- the image of the disheveled, alcoholic and/or mentally disturbed bum sleeping under newspapers in an alley -- makes up only 10% of the homeless population.


As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his excellent book, What the Dog Saw, for years we treated homelessness as a problem that had to be managed. That's a mistake. Social problems shouldn't be managed; they should be ended.

By focusing efforts and money on that chronically homeless 10%, as many cities like Denver are doing, the homeless problem is much closer to being solved. It's controversial, but it works. It goes against many of our principles, but it's effective.

It's called power law theory and it can be applied to many situations. For example, 5 to 10% of poorly maintained cars on the streets today cause the majority of auto pollution. Instead of focusing on all cars and drivers (which usually involves long lines, tests, and taxes in some states) spend money on targeting those 5 to 10% of problem cars, which can be done very easily and inexpensively with a radar gun-like device. Problem solved.

Need another example? Police brutality in LA seemed like a major problem with a bell curve-like distribution: most cops were "bad" it was assumed, just look at all those caught-on-tape beatings.

Turns out it wasn't a bell curve distribution; it was more of a power-law distribution with a hockey-stick shaped curve: only a few cops on the extreme end were bad, and those rare few accounted for the majority of the abuse.

The solution? Come down on that small percentage and the police brutality problem would be over. What that means in the real world for LA is firing 44 of the worst offenders. Only 44 bad cops out of around 10,000 officers were giving the LAPD a bad name.

Cut out that cancer and the problem no longer needs to be "managed" because it's pretty much been ended.

The 10% Problem and Physical Transformation

So, to solve or greatly improve the homeless problem, we have to stop spreading out our efforts and focus on the worst 10%. The "cure" to police brutality is firing 44 assholes, not making 10,000 officers take anger management classes when they should out patrolling the streets. Reducing car pollution means cracking down on 5 to 10% of drivers, not making 100% of drivers pay useless government fees.

Fascinating stuff, isn't it?

In our fields of interests -- training, nutrition, and supplementation -- the 10% rule and power law theory also come into play.

Whether you're struggling to lose body fat or struggling to gain muscle or strength, it's probably only about 10% of your actions that are causing the problems.

In my 12 years in this field, I've observed that most people's 10% problem falls into the diet category. The other 90% -- training, recovery, supplementation etc. -- is okay. In fact, when things aren't going according to plan, when fat loss stagnates or muscle/strength gains come to a stop, most folks are more likely to ramp up other areas. They'd rather train harder than tackle that 10% of their diet that's truly holding back their progress.


With the homeless issue, it's "easier" to buy some cots and fund a soup kitchen than it is to make the hard decisions and actually fix the problem. With fat loss, adding more and more cardio, or even more and more supplements, when the real problem is a small percentage of your dietary choices is managing your body fat problem, not ending it. To end it, you have to cut the crap once and for all from your diet and stop bullshitting yourself about "planned cheat meals" and the like.

That's just a small example. The 10% problem could be applied to every physique or athletic goal, and I hope you'll think about it in the context of your own goals.

Gladwell points out that power law theory is upsetting to many people. It's difficult to un-think what we've always done and re-think the issue with a focus on solving it, not managing it. You have to take your feelings and emotions, your wants and your preferences, out of the equation.

So, the choice is yours. Manage your problems... or end them. -- Chris


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u r bunk
Level 5

Join date: May 2008
Posts: 44

Great blog Chris!

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Weevo
Level 10

Join date: Sep 2008
Posts: 755

Saturday has always been the day that held me back. Before the V-Diet, it was my cheat day to "restart the metabolism." Yeah, bullshit. After the V-Diet it was my day to just eat more healthy food while still keeping total calories to just over maintenance levels, which is then followed by a pulse fast on Sunday. This works better. Abs remain on display, and I can take a little mental break.

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ds1973
Level 4

Join date: May 2009
Posts: 1024

Some real world diet related examples would be helpful...

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Chris Shugart
Director of Content

Join date: Oct 2002
Posts: 17341

ds1973 wrote:
Some real world diet related examples would be helpful...


Beer is a big one for many folks.

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ViziVix
Level 10

Join date: Nov 2009
Posts: 63

Come to think of it, I'd get great benefits from getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night. Time for a 21-day challenge!

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Chris Shugart
Director of Content

Join date: Oct 2002
Posts: 17341

ViziVix wrote:
Come to think of it, I'd get great benefits from getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night. Time for a 21-day challenge!



That could be a big one.

And most folks I know who say they do fine on 5-6 hours REALLY do fine on 7-9. People just don't realize how much better everything is with adequate sleep and the sleep debt paid off.

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JonDoh
Level

Join date: May 2011
Posts: 48

ds1973 wrote:
Some real world diet related examples would be helpful...



"Almonds are healthy I'll eat a ton a day"

"no almonds, well cashew isn't that bad, I'll eat a bag of that "

"I've been training hard today so It won't matter that much if I eat some junk"

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hwyheat
Level 2

Join date: Sep 2010
Posts: 49

Chris Shugart wrote:
ds1973 wrote:
Some real world diet related examples would be helpful...


Beer is a big one for many folks.


I agree alcohol is a big culprit. Before I started the V-Diet last month, I usually had one planned weekend day of "drink whatever" I want - and quantity didn't matter. Well, that rolled into bad food choices and sometimes a whole weekend of it. I wasn't managing it, so I solved it; no more free-for-all weekend binges. Oh, and I feel and look better too!

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'nuffsaid
Level 1

Join date: Jul 2006
Posts: 542

Nice post. Hit home.

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Airtruth
Level 1

Join date: Feb 2007
Posts: 4316

ViziVix wrote:
Come to think of it, I'd get great benefits from getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night. Time for a 21-day challenge!


I was just about to say I need to focus on my diet, but the truth is more than 6 hours is probably a bigger issue for me to tackle.

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Icarus
Level 5

Join date: Feb 2003
Posts: 547

I know this old (like 2+ years) but I just have to let it out:

Fuck it, I am done drinking. Thanks Chris

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