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Malcolm Wants to Start a Revolution

So, how long do we have to wait for a fitness revolution? According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Blink” and “Tipping Point,” not long. Any revolution can happen almost overnight.

Gladwell was the keynote speaker yesterday at the IHRSA conference (sporting a tamed-down hairdo that made him look less like a mad scientist). He spoke about how people always think change takes time, but true revolutions often happen quickly. For example, when radios first came out, few people bought them. They saw no need for them as they were marketed as a way to hear the news—and at that time in the United States, most cities had five or more newspapers, so people were inundated with news.

However, a young executive at RCA, David Sarnoff, wanted to change that, and he thought that broadcasting a big sporting event would help do so. He got bars and other public places that already had radios to broadcast the boxing match, which he arranged through various contacts to get on the air. People gathered in these public places to hear in real time the biggest boxing match of the year. The next day, they lined up at stores to buy radios. Sarnoff envisioned a different purpose for the radio—bringing the world to people's homes—and that purpose struck a note with people that hadn't been struck before.

Gladwell said that the fitness revolution doesn't have to take 10 to 15 years. We just need to re-frame fitness so people see exercise as something they want to do rather than a necessary evil.

“The way you present an idea to the public determines the way they accept that idea,” Gladwell said.

He suggested reframing fitness as something that brings social dividends or that is fun.

But you don't just need a new frame for fitness; you also need people to bring that frame to life. Gladwell said that a revolution needs connectors—people with connections to various groups—who can put that revolution into play. You also need mavens—people who can take a complex issue and make it manageable. Fitness seems complex to many people, so the ability to simplify it for them is vital.

“If we are going to start a fitness revolution, you all need to be the maven and make sense of it all—and let them know that it will bring them pleasure,” Gladwell said.

Although he didn't hand the solution to the obesity epidemic to the group, he did say, “Frame the problem correctly and make the social connections, and you can bring about a fitness revolution.”

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