A little over 3 months ago, I decided to give CrossFit a try. My friend John had been encouraging me for some time to join his home-based CrossFit group and finally after a few adult beverages at a cocktail party I relented and agreed to show up at 6am Monday morning. I’ve been a regular ever since.
But, I’m not going to talk about the fitness program (which is fantastic). What I want to share with you is the business philosophy of CrossFit founder Greg Glassman. A few weeks ago I stumbled across this 12 minute video which has some truly profound business insights. The cool thing is that this guy didn’t set out to build a billion dollar business, or graduate from business school. If he had, he most likely would have failed in his real mission.
According to Glassman his goal when starting out was to build the “best training program on earth”. He was so “successful” that he was fired by every gym in Santa Cruz due to taking the other trainer’s clients. After being let go by the last gym one of his clients, who ran a Jiu-Jitsu studio, offered him 150 square feet to start his own gym, telling him, “they hate you because you’re the best”. That was in 2000.
He soon outgrew the space and decided to rent a 1250 square foot building. Within 4-5 months he had an over-crowding issue and was faced with having to make real business decisions. With that early success, he began to focus on money and not on making the program better.
At this pivotal moment, Glassman realized that what fed the success of CrossFit was the pursuit of excellence. As he puts it,
Excellence is obvious to everyone. It’s just that easy.
Today CrossFit is a worldwide phenomenon with over 7000 affiliate gyms around the globe.
As a small business owner it’s easy to be more concerned with making money than creating value. At around the 4-minute mark in the video, Glassman goes to the white board to beautifully illustrate his point about pursuing excellence first.
He closes the talk with these thoughts:
Money is the result of doing things right. Money is essential to run a business, but it’s not why you run a business or what makes it grow. Businesses grow on dreams. Trying to make money is no way to grow a business.”
Watch the video, it’s well worth 12 minutes of your time. Let us know what you think. Agree or disagree?
The most amazing thing about the internet is the access it gives us to people and information. From my office in Washougal, Washington, I can listen to some of the smartest people on the planet share their stories. I can engage with people I’ve never met and access an almost unlimited amount of information.
Of the endless possibilities, one of my favorite resources is the Stanford University Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series. Since 2005, I’ve listened to their weekly podcast (while school is in session) and am consistently impressed by the diversity and quality of speakers they are able to attract. One week it could be the CEO of an up and coming tech company, and then be followed by the leader of a non-profit fund. Past speakers include people like Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 (back when it was still called ‘The Facebook’ and they had just launched their photo sharing feature), Steve Young (the former San Francisco 49’s quarterback), Evan Williams (the co-founder of Twitter…before he co-founded Twitter), and William McDonough (Architect, author, and one of Time Magazine’s ‘Hero for the Planet’), among many others.
Over the years, I’ve listened to countless hours of brilliant insight because of this series; I’ve listened to talks while running, on the way to work, road trips, and in lieu of television or radio.
Interestingly, the podcasts I’ve enjoyed the least (you can still learn something) have been from venture capitalists, politicians, and really ‘successful’ CEO’s. There’s something off-putting (to me) about a canned speech or those lacking authenticity. My favorite talks were by the speakers who revealed their shortcomings and how they learned from adversity; the ones that offered experience and thought process over instruction.
At the risk of excluding many worthy talks, in no particular order I offer nine of my favorite talks for your consideration. Give them a listen and let me know what you think.
I’m looking forward to upcoming talk by Sal Khan and learning more about what he’s doing at the Khan Academy, where their mission is to provide a world-class education for anyone anywhere.
Where do you like to go for information?
How to choose?
I collect quotes, so I anticipated selecting a single favorite might be more difficult than it turned out to be. In order to narrow the range of initial possibilities from my spreadsheet, I wanted to select a quote that applied to a broad range of circumstances. As soon as I set that one criteria in my mind…I knew immediately what my quote was.
Ignorance is voluntary misfortune.
Short and sweet.
Misfortune is defined as simply being bad luck, and why should we suffer unnecessary misfortune as a result of self imposed ignorance? This quote reminds us that through our own efforts to become more informed, we can avoid, or at least mitigate bad things from happening.
The implication is that we have a choice. Ignorance or understanding. Through education (not to be confused with schooling, but that’s another post) we can turn what may have been voluntary misfortune into opportunity. Or, as Seneca the Younger put it:
The important distinction is that we have a choice. Ignorance or understanding. Through education (not to be confused with schooling, but that’s another post) we can turn what may have been voluntary misfortune into opportunity. Or, as Seneca the Younger put it:
Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.
This is my favorite quote because it reminds me of how important being informed is. Ignorance may be bliss for a while, but it can also end in misfortune.
What is your favorite quote? Please share it in the comments.
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
-Once in a lifetime, Talking Heads
I had been in the homebuilding and remodeling business for nearly 20 years prior to taking over Workshed. I had the wonderful opportunity to grow from a kid working as a laborer to the CEO (I use that term reluctantly) of a four million dollar a year business employing designers, project managers, carpenters and office staff. We were pretty successful- winning awards while building a portfolio full of really cool projects. We had a great reputation and a long list of happy clients.
One of the cool homes I built
Through this experience, I found that what I really loved was creating the processes that allowed my talented team to do what they do- design and build at a high level. Putting a solid structure in place helped them work together seamlessly which resulted in happier employees, happier clients and smoother projects.
Then, as we all know, the market cratered. There weren’t enough projects to keep my team busy so we had to let them go. It sucked. It really sucked. All that hard work seemed to be for nothing.
I began to think about pursuing something new where I could apply my passion for process and working with creative folks.
Which brings us to Workshed.
Joe and I had wanted to work together for several years and were looking for the right fit. When we heard that Workshed was available we were immediately intrigued. Both of us believe passionately in building a strong local economy (which requires healthy local businesses) and love solving problems. We felt that we understood the needs of the small businesses that Workshed serves and that we could have a positive impact- so we took the plunge.
Some people may wonder what a “construction guy” is doing with a website company. Well, I’m not really a construction guy and Workshed isn’t just a website company. My true passion is improving businesses and that is the mission of Workshed v2.0. We aim to build a great company that helps other folks build great companies. Building websites is one component of what we do to help businesses, but it’s an outcome of the process of solving a problem, not an end in itself.
My goal is to apply my hard-earned knowledge and skills to help my clients solve problems. It’s what drives me to work at expanding my capabilities into new territories (like how to build an effective website that generates a positive ROI). By working with the brave entrepreneurs who accept the risk of starting a business, I’ve found the perfect avenue for having a positive impact on my community and I’m helping to make the world a better place.
That’s why I got into this business.
A Changed Man
There are many ways we are influenced in life and in business. It has been my experience that the most profound changes have been inspired by people I have known only through published work (books, interviews, etc). Individuals who caused me to question my assumptions and reevaluate my beliefs thereby allowing me to arrive at new understandings, be aware of my biases, and continue the process of refinement. The list is long, but in this post I’d like to focus on someone who was (and still is) key in shaping my thinking. He is Nassim Taleb, the author of 5 books, a philosopher, professor, a statistician, a former options trader, adviser to the International Monetary Fund, and an outspoken critic of the financial industry.
Like many people, I was first introduced to Taleb through his book, “The Black Swan” in 2007 (although unlike some of his critics, I actually read the book). There was one phrase in particular that created a paradigm shift in my thinking: “absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence.” In other words, just because you can’t see something (or quantify it), that does not mean it doesn’t exist. It’s been over 6 years since first reading those words, and I still feel the weight of their implication.
Blissfully Ignorant No More
His books (The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness) opened my mind to the asymmetry of the risk return relationship in my business (investing) and life. Phrases within the financial industry became absurdities, and I soon developed a skepticism of commonly espoused strategies and instruction. It was this skepticism that led me into other bodies of knowledge and research that touched my life. Economics, politics, asset allocation, agriculture, the environment, parenting, the principles were consistently applicable, resulting in errors due to a lack of intellectual honesty. If you can’t accept or even consider that you might be wrong, you won’t look for alternatives.
His latest book, “Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder” is among the most insightful and directly applicable books I’ve read. The opposite of fragile is not robust…to survive is not enough. The opposite of fragile is antifragile. To benefit from adversity, volatility, and the like. As a parent, I can use an antifragile philosophy to prepare my children for adulthood, in business I can use it to turn a previous weakness into strength and benefit from tribulations.
NNT talks to the Stanford ETL Class
Nassim Taleb is someone I admire for his insight, commitment to excellence, and his ability to remain true to himself and his beliefs in spite of enormous financial success. Lately, he has also assumed the mantle of exposing charlatans and calling a spade a spade. It’s one thing to point out fallacies…quite another to name names. He sums it up nicely with his first ethical rule:
If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.
He follows it up with a promise:
If I call someone a dangerous ethically challenged fragilista in private after the third glass of Lebanese wine (white), I will be obligated to do so here.
Taleb is an interesting combination of a brilliant mind with a well read education and a practitioner who is acting on his philosophy. I’m thankful for his insights and inspiration.
How About You?
Who do you admire?
What books have inspired you?