The Six Innovations of CrossFit

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ou know you are on to something when people simultaneously hate and adore what you are doing. A prominent Boston Globe columnist once wrote about a band, “[They] are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful.”1

A year later the Beatles sold out Shae Stadium.

Apple has legions of fanboys, but plenty of people believe their computers are nothing but overpriced and stylized pieces of plastic. People get tattoos of their favorite football teams on their arm, but more and more refuse to allow their children to play. CrossFit fits this description. For those that don’t know, CrossFit is a new group fitness regime. Fast Company explained:

The heart of CrossFit is the Workout of the Day (WOD), a common workout begun at hourly intervals throughout the day by cohorts of gym members. All exercises are functional in nature, cherry picking movements from gymnastics, Olympic lifting, army obstacle courses, triathlon training, and calisthenics, designed to prepare athletes for whatever real-world obstacles they may encounter, from police pursuits to lifting newborn twins.

People who love CrossFit really can’t stop talking about the benefits, while the critics can’t stop talking about the risks. I’m guilty of the first. I’ve been doing CrossFit for about 16-months and I often find myself annoying friends with stories about my workouts. In that way, CrossFit is like fantasy football: No one wants to hear about it unless they are involved. But yet, there is an entire online industry both deriding and proselytizing the fitness regime. People go ‘undercover’ to investigate the phenomenon, while others enroll their kids in classes. It has been called dangerous. It has been called a cult. But I think that most apt description is innovative.

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How Growth Hacking Saved “Newsweek”

After a 14 month absence Newsweek returned to print with a splash. The 91 year old publication reported the identity of the creator of BitCoin, a new and somewhat controversial currency used by millions. The article sent shockwaves through the Internet, and propelled the alleged founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, and Newsweek to the forefront of the news cycle.

This is a far cry from seven months ago when Newsweek’s publisher left it for dead. “I wish I hadn’t bought Newsweek,” a disappointed Barry Diller told BusinessWeek, “it was a mistake.” Diller bought the publication in 2010 for $1 (He also assumed all existing liabilities) and promptly hired star editor Tina Brown to turn it around. The first thing she did was to drive the publication straight into a wall. In August 2013 Diller sold the company to IBT Media for a small sum.

In just seven months IBT Media tripled Newsweek’s online readership and felt confident enough to start the printing presses again. How did they do it?

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5 Life Philosophies from Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis, a writer, director and actor who shaped American culture more than perhaps any comedic figure died this week of an autoimmune disorder. Listing his credits is similar to listing the Beatles discography; nearly every modern variation of comedy can trace itself to one of Ramis’ creations. “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy,” Judd Apatow said, “…He literally made every single one of our favorite movies.”

Ramis was much more than the creative force behind Groundhog Day or Animal House, he was a guy trying to understand the world. ““When I was twelve, I read the line, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ ” He told a Buddhist Publication, “I took it seriously to heart. And literally. Like it was a requirement in life, akin to the Buddha’s suggestion that we maintain ‘sufficiently inquiring minds.’ ” Like many people I spent the last few days reading up on Ramis’ life. What struck me was not his accomplishments or sense of humor 1, but the level of wisdom he articulated. After reading a handful of features and interviews a number of themes became evident. I curated them below.

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Climate Change and Supply Chains

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i & Fung’s client list reads like a phonebook of discount stores in Omaha, Nebraska. The Hong Kong based enterprise helps Wal-Mart, Sears, Macy’s and Kohl’s bring $7.99 sweatshirts to Americans. 1 Since 1906 Li & Fung has acted as a middleman between cheap Asian labor and the developed world. The company began by bringing Chinese toys to the shores of America and now handles all aspects of supply chain management. The New York Times called them the, “most important company that most American shoppers have never heard of.” My guess is that they like it that way. Li & Fung revolutionized modern commerce by connecting over 15,000 suppliers in 60 countries and has 8,000 words less in their Wikipedia page than Gangnam Style 2

Li & Fung handles over 2 billion items and doesn’t own a single factory. Their network is the company’s sole value. They can find you a factory to make 10,000 custom socks in a week. They can make sure the crate gets on a boat without hassle. Hell, they can probably get you a toe by 3:00 this afternoon. With nail polish. In 2012 the company utilized their network to generate over $20 billion in revenue. To put that in perspective, if Li & Fung were an African country they’d be nestled right between Mozambique and Namibia in terms of GDP.

It also has a businesses model that climate change will turn obsolete.

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Charlie LeBuff, Detroit: An American Autopsy, and a New Business Model

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first found out about Charlie LeDuff when I saw him expose the decline of Detroit’s Meals on Wheels Program. Little did I know that he previously won a Pulitzer with the New York Times and followed it up with 2013’s Detroit: An American Autopsy.

Detroit is an incredibly well written and heart felt exploration into the decline of one of America’s greatest cities. It details the ongoing legacy of racial tension that sparked 2 major race riots, but lacks a macro view of the policy crisis that led to a major American city losing over a million people in under a generation. LeDuff makes up for it with a detailed take down of local corruption and a nuanced report on the people who still call the Motor City home.

One of the best parts of the book isn’t “ruin-porn” but comes from his description of the mortgage crisis (of which his brother was part of) 1. His brother sold, “bullshit mortgages, subprime, negative amortization,” and admits, “A lot of people got fucked.” By now it is clear that mortgage fraud decimated the lives of millions of Americans and upended the structure of society, what LeDuff’s brother argues is that the whole thing was one big ploy. He describes:

“You get the guy in a loan and then you call him 3 months later and tell him the loan he’s in–the loan you got him in–is a bad deal, and you sell him a different loan. It was a shell game. And the company pushed us to do it. We were making six points on every deal. Six! And nobody cared, ’cause everybody was getting what they wanted for free.”

This business model is strikingly similar to the model that most major blogs operate on. That is, error is built into the business plan.

Ryan Holiday, writing for The New York Observer explains

Why do blogs publish hoaxes and hit pieces so often? So they can post “corrections” after benefiting from the rush of traffic from the sensational first draft. The upside is traffic, the downside is … more traffic. Take the recent Shell Oil Hoax, which was orchestrated by Greenpeace, and which Gawker Media fell for. Gizmodo, Gawker’s sister site, broke the fake story: “Malfunctioning Cake Ruins Party and Spews Liquor All Over Oil Tycoons” for a quick 30,000 pageviews. Later in the day, Gawker got around to debunking the story their sister site had created the market for with a post called “Viral Video of Shell Oil Party Disaster Is Fake, Unfortunately” that earned three times as many viewers.

The cynic in me wants to say welcome to 2014, but the capitalist knows that firms that adopt this model will experience short term gains, only to fail spectacularly.

The Problem with Thought Leadership

With shrinking tenure rates the impact that higher education on the intellectual landscape of America is uncertain. What’s even more petrifying is it’s replacement. Ann Friedman’s “All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go” is one of my favorite articles of the year, precisely because what it questions and addresses one of the problems of one of the largest social networking sites on the internet.

What the hell use is it?

“If the poor, as John Steinbeck once observed, see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” she writes, ” it seems fair to assume that on LinkedIn, followers see themselves as temporarily embarrassed thought leaders.”

Generally speaking LinkedIn sucks, despite their promises most jobs are still filled by personal connections, but what struck me was how dead on Ann Friedman was with her attack on the current state of thought leadership. The problem with thought leadership today is a mixture of inverse incentives and lack of heft.

She writes

A post by “Technology Futurist, Innovation Expert, Business Strategist, Bestselling Business Author, Keynote Speaker” Daniel Burrus instructs would-be Steve Jobses to “take the time to think both short-term and long-range. Build your future by competing on things other than price, and by asking the right questions, especially when it comes to consumers.” Never mind that Burrus hasn’t built an Apple-like company; such perorations are like the incantation of a devotional prayer: they call down the mercies of a remote techno-deity in order to ritually cleanse the grubbier aspirations of the business-strategizing, keynote-speaking class. And in the same circular fashion, the point of encouraging users to connect and follow and exchange points of view on LinkedIn is to marshal those users behind the simple, world-conquering faith in networked connectivity. The thoughts that lead the LinkedIn experience, in other words, are usually subtle advertisements for the LinkedIn experience. Or not-so-subtle come-ons: one post promises to help people answer the question “What should I do with my life?” in three steps—by using LinkedIn.

In short, we have an army of “thought leaders” who haven’t had an original thought.

Source: Ann Friedman – All Linked in With Nowhere to Go

Mangini’s Mess – Or How Not to Manage

As a defensive assistant Eric Mangini won three Super Bowls with Bill Belichek’s New England Patriots. In 2006 he became the youngest Head Coach in the NFL. By 2013 he has a reputation for being an incredible asshole–and this article does nothing to dispell the notion. In fact, it reads a how to run a poor organization handbook. Micromanagement was ripe. Players became assets.

Nate Jackson played over half a decade in the NFL, and after 5 years with the Denver Broncos he signed with the Cleveland Browns and the recently hired Eric Mangini. He walked into an organization defined by mistrust and micromanagement. Over the course of 2 seasons Mangini complied a .313 winning percentage. He was prompty fired. “Being a head football coach is not about being a strategic genius,” Jackson wrote. “Every coach in the NFL knows football strategy. It’s about leading a group of grown men toward a tangible goal and treating them with the respect their sacrifice deserves.”

Jackson then details how and what went wrong.

Source: Nate Jackson – Cleveland Scene

Leadership Lessons from Robert Oppenheimer

In 1941 J. Robert Oppenheimer started work on the Manhattan Project. Less than a year later he was running a secret weapons program with the sole purpose of developing nuclear weapons. In August 1945 his team did the impossible, they conquered the atom and the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki found themselves elevated from footnotes to the front page of history.

Freeman Dyson’s illuminating profile of Oppenheimer not only unmasks the mystique of one of America’s greatest scientific tragedies (Oppenheimer was stripped of his Security Clearance due to the Red Scare) but outlines the leadership mistakes that led to his unfortunate demise. “He always wanted to be at the center” wrote Dyson, “He paid too much attention to famous people working on fashionable topics.” In Dyson’s opinion Oppenheimer had the potential to become the next Einstein or Bohr, but instead known as the destroyer of worlds. ”For forty years he put his heart and soul into thinking about deep scientific problems,” wrote Dyson, but co-authored just one seminal paper (and never talked about the importance of the discovery while alive).

This is ironic given that Oppenheimer talked a lot about science for science sake.

Today when we talk about innovation we often talk about the promise of computer software. Have trouble reading- buy this app! Have trouble sleeping- buy this sleep measurement device! Can’t loose weight- buy a calorie counter! The answer to everything is just $9.99. In reality, the real answer is work. Hard work.  For all his genius Oppenheimer can be viewed as an underachiever. ”He could never sit still long enough,” said his former protegee, “to do a difficult calculation.”

Snowden’s Place in History

You can argue that the Edward Snowden saga is the most important news story of the last 20 years. It is plausible that the events from 1980 to present will be summed up in the following way.

  1. The end of the Cold War
  2. The rise of the internet/individual
  3. The decline of state power/rise of third party actors (businesses)
  4. The decline of state legitimacy.

Edward Snowden finds himself hitting all four. In this telling portrait, Peter Maass tells the Snowden story through his hidden partner- Oscar nominated documentarian Laura Poitras. This profile is worthwhile not only because it gives a behind the scenes look at the largest intelligence leak in history , but because it showcases how the outsider can now compete with the entrenched status quo.

Every start up in the world is attempting to take on General Motors and Microsoft. Three people took on every single Western Government.

They are winning.

Source Peter Maas – New York Times Magazine