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The Pareto principle and progress: playing the percentages in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

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In 1906 an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto identified that 80% of all of the land in Italy was owned by a mere 20% of the people. Pareto’s work may have had little impact outside of the field of economics had it not been for Joseph M. Juran, a prolific management theorist who rediscovered Pareto’s ideas in the 1930’s and applied them to quality management under the memorable phrase, “the vital few and the trivial many.”

Juran’s work, in turn, has been appropriated by a host of self-help gurus seeking to help people better deal with time management in an increasingly complex world. A notable interpretation of Juran’s ideas can be seen in the New York Times best-seller The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (as an aside, here’s Ferriss being thrown on his head by everyone’s favourite Jiu Jitsu and MMA trainer Dave Camirillo).

As a skeptical person, I find myself often chafing against anything marketed as a “principle” or a “rule” that will make our lives easier and better. And this idea seems too simple and intuitive at first glance to warrant deep investigation. But despite its popularity with self-help readers and Oprah viewers (not too much separation on the Venn diagram there), is “the 80/20 rule,” also known as the Pareto principle, something that can help us with our everyday life? More importantly, is it something that can help us get better at Jiu Jitsu faster?

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If Marcelo Garcia does it, it’s high-percentage.

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