Fittest Entrepreneur

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fittest [entrepreneur] of them all . . . ? I am! At least according to the Houston Fittest Entrepreneur Challenge, which was organized by Fit Company, a nonprofit seeking to promote health among business professionals. There were several competitor categories: entrepreneurs, execs, doctors, lawyers, and company teams. All competitors descended on the Houston Dynamo practice facility Sunday, February 23, to compete for our respective category titles.

The competition consisted of three courses, with about 10 minutes of recovery time between each. The first course comprised individual strength exercises, the second course offered several obstacles to overcome, and the third course was a 5k run on the premises. The objective was to finish each event in each course as quickly as possible. Each competitor would then be given a ranking for each event and the best average ranking across all three courses would win the category.

I arrived in Houston Saturday after a business trip to Guatemala (more on that in a subsequent post), but I took things easy Saturday evening and was well rested for the contest Sunday morning. In a touching show of support, I was joined by an entourage of two of my former Rice entrepreneurship students and one of my best friends (who was a real trooper battling a significant hangover!). As I am much more of a team sport guy than an individual sport guy, I found these "teammates" to add a great deal to my motivation.

My students brought a sign to cheer me on. They didn't know whether to put #23 (my high school football number) or #42 (my Rice football number) on it, so they brought stick-on numbers for 4, 2, and 3 to cover both possibilities. When I picked up my race bib, I was astounded to see that I was competitor #423! As if I needed any more motivation, this was surely a harbinger of good things to come.

I ran in the last heat of the day, which started at 11:00 AM. This gave me the advantage of a little extra warmup time and more of a chance to plan for the courses now that I knew what they contained. When we finally got started, though, most of my planning went right out the window!

The first event was 30 bodyweight inverted rows on a suspension trainer. I finished in 28 seconds, #4 among men in that event. Some people finished closer to 20 seconds, which I don't understand unless they weren't fully extending their arms. The second event was 40 plyo box step-ups while carrying a 25-lb sandbell. I wasn't familiar with sandbells before this event, but they're pretty cool: vary malleable, much harder to deal with than a dumbbell of the same weight, but softer and less bouncy than a medicine ball. I tried to keep an even pace with the step-ups and finished in 1:14, #9 in that event.

The third event was 40 chest-to-the-ground push-ups, which I finished in 29 seconds, a tie for #4. The fourth event was 40 35-lb kettlebell swings, which I finished in 52 seconds, #6. The fifth event was 40 arms-behind-your-head to fingers-past-your-toes sit-ups. I slowed down a bit on this event, finishing in 1:18, #12. Individually none of the events were too taxing but stringing them all together with only 30 seconds of rest between each was taking its toll.

The sixth event was 20 burpees, which I finished in 45 seconds, #4. The seventh and final event of this course was a two-minute plank hold. I didn't even make it a full minute, tapping out at 52 seconds. I normally hold a plank easily but my hip flexors were so smoked from the sit-ups and burpees that I just couldn't keep it together. I thought at the time that I might have lost the contest right there but it turns out that other people struggled too and I finished #8 in that event.

Despite bombing the final event, I still finished the first course #8 overall and #1 among entrepreneurs. I wish I had known that then because I was seriously contemplating not finishing the competition. Although the temperature was only in the mid-70s F, the humidity was 90+% and it was becoming abundantly clear that I was no longer in Houston shape! Suddenly competing in the last heat of the day didn't seem like such a good idea . . . Fortunately my team got me water and helped me recover in time to begin the second course.

The first event of the second course was a sequence of agility drills: cones, ropes, ladders, hurdles, etc. Light-headed as I was, I took these pretty conservatively but still finished in 1:23, #4. The second event required me to toss a 15-lb sandbell back and forth over a high barrier 10 times before running suicide sprints. I finished in 60 seconds, #9.

The third event began with slamming a 15-lb sandbell into the ground 20 times before a long out-and-back bear crawl. Bear crawl always slows me down so I finished this event in 1:16, #12. The fourth event required me to start in a push-up position and then pull a 10-ft sandrope all the way under my body with one arm. And then pull it back again with the other arm. 10 times. Then drag the 30-lb rope a distance, pick up a 25-lb sandbell, and reverse toss it out the rest of the distance and back before finally dragging the sandrope back to the start. This was murder! Apparently it only took me 1:12 but it felt like much longer. #7.

The fifth and final event of the second course was a simple out-and-back sprint with a 50-lb sandbell over the shoulder. I finished in 17 seconds, #4. In the end I finished the second course #8 overall and #2 among entrepreneurs. Interestingly, I was starting to regain my energy, though, so I was feeling good heading into the final 5k.

Knowing that I was glycogen-depleted already, I decided to start off easy in the 5k and then speed up if it felt OK. One of my students actually hopped in and ran with me, which helped. My first km was 4:39 and, despite the high-in-the-sky sun, my heart rate was only 166, which is very safely manageable for me. My pacer and I were passing people and not being passed so it didn't seem like it would be necessary to press too much. That pace felt good and so I finished the second and third km at 4:42 and 4:39 respectively at the same steady heart rate.

As I was feeling good, I picked it up just a little bit in the fourth km, finishing in 4:36 at 171 heart rate - just on the other side of anaerobic. I still had plenty of gas in the tank for the final km, which I completed at a 4:28 pace before the final sprint. My final time was 21:54 - which would be very slow for me on a normal 5k but isn't so bad considering how exhausted I was - the #3 time of the day and first among entrepreneurs.

Combining my three course rankings (8, 8, and 3), I finished second overall and first among entrepreneurs. Huzzah! I was pleased with my balanced performance too. Looking at the results, it seems that most competitors were "specialists." Those who did really well on the first course did really poorly on the last course and vice versa. So, all in all, not bad for an old fart who's about to turn a year older in just a couple of days!

I'm really glad to have participated in this event. FitCompany's mission is a worthy one, as too many people sacrifice health for their professional lives. The two are not mutually exclusive and do not require tradeoffs. In fact, I find that the healthier I am, the higher performance I have in my professional life.

I'm also glad I participated in this event because this, combined with the Pump n' Run event earlier in February (I took second place at a 5k in which they subtracted 30 seconds for each rep of bench press bodyweight - it's probably the only chance I'll ever have at running a negative time!), has me hooked on multidisciplinary competitive events. I'm never going to run the world's fastest 5k, nor am I going to set a world record in weight lifting, but putting those types of competitions together tests a much more balanced type of fitness. I'm a fan.


On the Importance of Critical Thinking

This morning I saw a post claiming that, "Over half of all mobile searches lead to a purchase." I found this claim to be bold beyond the point of believability. Taking myself as a single data point, I do many searches on my mobile phone each day and rarely - almost never - do they lead to a purchase of anything. Perhaps I am a crazy outlier, but I called BS on the poster and asked him for a source to back up such an audacious claim.

The poster sent me a link to this page, which turned out to be just a blogger's summary of some research published by Google in 2010. Leaving aside the use of four-year-old data being used as "facts" today - which would be quite a big leap in and of its own right - I quickly found the reference being promoted by the original poster. According to this blogger, "Google says that 9 out of 10 mobile search users have 'taken action as a result of a mobile search, with over half leading to a purchase.'”

By this point my spider senses were really tingling. Did Google actually say that? And, if so, did they actually mean it the way the blogger - and ultimately the re-poster - communicated it? Unsurprisingly, a Google search for this particular research report returned the correct document as the top search result. A brief scan of that document revealed that the blogger was referencing quotes from pages 17 and 18.

On page 17 of the report, Google claims that, "9 out of 10 searchers have taken action as a result of a smartphone search." This result was obtained from 5,000 survey takers in response to the question: "Which, if any, of the following actions have you taken as a result of conducting a search on your smartphone?" Apparently 9 out of 10 respondents said they had ever taken some action as the result of a smartphone search.

On page 18, the slide title is, "More than half of Smartphone Searchers Purchase." This conclusion was drawn from responses to the same question. Apparently 5.3 out of 10 respondents said they had ever purchased something as the result of a smartphone search.

The author combined these two quotes - and misquoted them - to write, "Google says that 9 out of 10 mobile search users have 'taken action as a result of a mobile search, with over half leading to a purchase.'” In so doing, he implied that more than half of all mobile searches lead to a purchase, instead of the true meaning, that more than half of people who use mobile search have ever purchased something as a result of mobile search.

At best this is sloppy journalism and, at worst, it is willful twisting of meanings to further the blogger's own agenda. Either way, it was blindly picked up by the re-poster and posted without any source checking or diligence.

This is a long anecdote about something pretty trivial but it reminds me of the changing nature of "information" today. It used to be that we had to search high and low for most information and there were only a few, trusted sources of well vetted information, like encyclopedias. Now, an instantaneous search will yield millions of pages of information about any topic we seek, many ostensibly from "authoritative" sources. So finding information is no longer a critical skill; finding good information is much more important.

Critical thinking is the key to filtering such information overload to find the good nuggets. Critical thinking is further complicated by our very human tendencies toward confirmation bias. We tend to be much less critical and much more trusting of claims that reinforce our existing beliefs. Likewise we tend to be much more critical of those sources of information that cause cognitive dissonance for us, often resorting to ad hominem attempts to discredit the source or other fallacies.

I wonder how much of the art of critical thinking is being intentionally developed in our young students these days. I know of one teacher who specifically teaches a high school course on critical thinking, but I wonder how exceptional she is. If we spend all of our efforts teaching students legacy skills like information regurgitation for standardized tests, then I fear for our next generation. If that's the case, then I'm buying Google stock, because there will be a lot of people blindly spending way too much on mobile search advertising soon . . .


Weekend in Minnesota

Last weekend Katie and I took off for a quick jaunt to the Twin Cities for our godson's birthday. You know we love that part of our family because we left NC just as spring was springing, trading the gorgeous weather for the cold and snowy northern midwest. It was very worth it, though, because not only did we get to celebrate our nephew's birthday, we were able to spend relaxed time with much of the rest of Katie's family as well.

The trip was fun and afforded us the opportunity to watch two children-oriented movies that we might not otherwise have seen: Frozen and The LEGO Movie. Given all the buzz around Frozen, I expected to love it more than I actually did. It was visually beautiful and I admired that it didn't send a lesson to young girls that their fulfillment solely depends on the attraction of some prince. There were some funny parts too and I particularly enjoyed all the Scandinavian-ish-ness in the setting and characters. However, it was hard for me to connect with the story - the characters' motivations and actions seemed pretty unbelievable - and I found the music to be unoriginal - if I would have closed my eyes, I would have sworn I were listening to Wicked!

The LEGO Movie, on the other hand, I found surprisingly enjoyable. Possibly I was biased by my love of LEGOs, or possibly by all the business cases we did at IMD on how LEGO was leveraging its brand to innovate in other media. Possibly I identified more with a male protagonist, or possibly I just had lower expectations for a silly movie - which it definitely was. At the end of the day, though, the song from The LEGO Movie is the one stuck in my head.

Now that we are back in North Carolina, we're hoping to thaw out a bit - and I'm hoping to enjoy my last week as a 34-year-old!