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Archive for June, 2010

Goodness as a Prereq for Great?

 This whole Tiger bashing thing has never seemed quite on the mark for me, but until recently I really haven’t been able to put my finger on just why. Leave it to two of my touchstones, Crossfit and Sports Illustrated, to bring it into focus.

Selena Roberts opined this week that in some way Tiger is not worthy to take the crown from the great Jack Nicklaus, that his personal failures, his lack of “goodness” somehow disqualifies his results on his particular field of play. She goes even further, conflating l’affaire Tigre with the whole Barry Bonds/Mark McGuire debacle in MLB. Somehow Ms. Roberts is channeling Tiger’s aggrieved mistresses on our collective behalf, coming to the inevitable conclusion of the offensitive that Tiger’s behavior off the course nullifies his accomplishments on it.


Unlike Mssrs. Bonds and McGuire there is no credible evidence that Tiger has altered the balance of the playing field through anything other than talent and effort. Not unlike our growing Crossfit competitions, it is nothing but the result that matters on the competitive pitch. Tiger has 14 majors, 70-something wins. Count ’em.

Ms. Roberts commits the amateur’s error of amnesia, a particularly disappointing error given her experience and position as a national sportswriter. You see, most of the extraordinary athletic feats we extoll were performed by jerks, at least at the time of their performance. Raving egomaniacs, barely tolerated by their competitors, if tolerated at all. Think about it. Think about the signature athletic accomplishments in your lifetime and the lifetime just prior. Does anyone qualify as a genuinely nice guy? Happily married, kind to children and small animals alike? I’m sure there are others, but I come up with a very short list of Lou Gherig  and…Lou Gherig.

Jack Nicklaus? Ridiculed behind his back as “Fat Jack” by the jealous, and “Carnac” for his self-righteous know-it-allness. Possessed of an outsized ego and not really at all concerned with how he was perceived by anyone in his heyday, it was only at the end of his PGA career that the “Golden Bear” became teddy. Jack possessed that certain arrogance and dismissiveness of any and all not strictly necessary to achieve his lofty goals, similar in scope and kind to the various corporate chieftains of his generation (Se Welch, Jack, et al).

Babe Ruth? Come on. A veritable bull in the china shop of life, he mauled his way through the 30’s indulging appetites as outsized as Tiger’s. Openly jealous of the afore mentioned Lou Gherig, our collective memory of The Babe is air-brushed in the azure of ages past, just like Ms. Robers. Mickey Mantle? Spend a little time reading about his treatment of Roger Maris, or re-read Bouton’s “Ball Four”. The guy was a ton of fun, but virtuous is nowhere to be found in any true-to-life memoirs of The Mick.

Philanders, drunks and gluttons, or arrogant chieftains lording their superiority over their minions, the owners of most of our cherished athletic records are nearly uniformly men besotted with themselves, consumed in and by their pursuits, convinced only that they deserve whatever it is that they desire. At the very least they are possessed of overriding ego and an ability to channel their every effort in the pursuit of records, leaving in their wake a sea of collateral human damage.

Well, that…that…that just seems so WRONG. They don’t deserve our support, our worship. They should PAY for their misdeeds. Ah…here Ms. Roberts gets it just a little more right. They do, indeed, pay for being miscreants off the field, at least nowadays they do. Kobe loses millions in endorsements for taking liberties with one who was unwilling. Barry Bonds makes nary a cent off the field, and hasn’t since long before his hat size grew.  Mark McGuire is driven underground for YEARS after his retirement, cut off from both the succor of adoration that might come to the clean holder of a cherished record, and just as completely shut out of the riches that such adulation would bring. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe Louis and others in that era largely escaped this fate because of a fawning media who protected them. Ms. Roberts is quite right to decline that role, and quite right to unravel the tightly woven tale of Tiger that allowed him to accrue his nearly obscene off-the-course riches.

But “goodness” as a pre-req for greatness as regards epic athletic feats and achievement? Nonsense. It’s still exactly 100M, and it will remain so whether or not Usain Bolt becomes a bonehead. A home run is still over the wall, whether it’s hit by The Mick or Junior. We shouldn’t care where Joe Willie spent the night before as long as he beats the Colts the day after. We are indifferent that Lance Armstrong leaves everyone he touches with his bike in a flaming heap by the roadside, we simply yearn for Tour de Lance v 8.0.

Tiger will pay a price, has paid a price, for his behavior. He is down…what?…somewhere between $25 and $100 Million A YEAR in lost endorsemant money right now. You know, $25 Million here, $25 Million there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money, eh?

Me? I hope Tiger laps the field at both the British Open and the PGA. He plays golf by the same rules as Jack, Arnie, and Old Tom Morris; no gimmes, they still putt ’em all out. Like Crossfit, every second counts, eh? Records are made to be broken and I want to experience the thrill of witnessing athletic feats of grandeur. I’ll decide whether or not to like Tiger based on his People Magazine profile, sure, and I’ll think about whether or not I buy something on his say-so a little more closely now, but I wanna see greatness on the golf course.

That’ll be good enough.

Father’s Day

From Sunday musings on Crossfit.com:

Sunday musings…

Really just one thing on my mind today, Father’s Day. It’s a funny little day, really, in just the opposite way that Mother’s Day is a funny little day. On Mother’s Day we are prompted to remember to thank Mom for all of the thankless stuff she does for us, putting our needs first, before hers, on a daily basis. Mother’s day is our one day to expunge any guilt we might have for not noticing all that stuff as well as a day to tell her how much we love her.

On Father’s day we remember Dad’s in the house.

That is, of course, if Dad is actually IN the house on Father’s Day. Have you taken a moment to think about our time honored Father’s Day activities? You know…Dad goes off with his buddies to play golf, or he’s on a boat or in a stream somewhere fishing. It’s kind of a throwback I think to the days when Dads were the sole breadwinner in a one-income family and worked 6 days a week so that they could do a week’s worth of fix-it duty on Sunday. Father’s Day was that one “get-out-of-work” pass.

I always thought this was kinda weird, actually. I mean, Dad was gone all week at work, and he was sorta at work even when he was home during the week, engaging only when forced to by our transgressions or if we as kids asked him to help with some very major issue. It wasn’t malicious or unkind, just…distant.

If you’re a wonky egghead like yours truly you read stuff about the effect that Fathers have on their kids and the kids’ development. Turns out that just having a Dad in the house (as long as he’s not hurting folks), even one who mostly occupies a rocking chair with life swirling around him rather than through him, is actually really beneficial for healthy growth for both boys AND girls. Makes it all the more strange that we traditionally give the old guy the “day off” on Father’s Day.

I think I’ve always felt this way, even way back when I was too young to either know it or articulate it. When my Dad would play golf on Father’s Day I would make sure that I was a caddy assigned to his group. After my brother and I did the lawn I would plop myself down next to that rocking chair for whatever ball game or golf tournament was on the tube, ready to catch any stray words that might fall my way. Those could be some quiet afternoons, for sure, but those were also the rare days that ended in a hug.

Mrs. Bingo asked me what I wanted to do today for MY Father’s Day. She knew the answer, of course, because I’ve given the same one for 21 years now. I said I wanted to be included in all of the kids’ stuff, whatever they might have going on. I wanted to be THERE, even if there is not typically some place I might choose to be (garden, barn, etc). I thought I’d do some of the Dad stuff that they know me for, too, if they’d have me. I’ll be off to make buttermilk pancakes in just a minute.

So Happy Father’s Day to all of you Crossfit Dad’s. Remember to give your own Old Man a call; most likely he really DID love you and really DID like being your Dad, he just didn’t know how to say it. Then, if you can, jump right into whatever the kids have going today. Fully engage in the act of “Dadship”. Your kids will think that it’s you who is giving them the gift, but really it’s still your day and it’s still all about you today.

Giving yourself a day to be nothing but Dad. 3-2-1…GO!

The Genius Gene

The genius gene. I didn’t get one. To be fair, I was born in the deep end of the gene pool for all kinds of really cool stuff. I did get a very healthy dose of the “smart” gene; my mother is still convinced that I’m brilliant. But a genius? Capable of creating something totally new? Something that is earth–shaking, a game-changer? Nope. Don’t have it. I didn’t get that gene.

I got the “Salieri” gene.

You remember Salieri, don’t you? Salieri was the miserable soul who was not only capable of recognizing the genius of Mozart, but he was instantly aware that he would never possess that particular kind of genius. What  made him miserable, of course, was the fact that he was insanely jealous and bitter that his particular gift was the ability to identify someone else’s genius. This is one thing, though, that Salieri and I do NOT have in common. Rather than being bitter and jealous when I identify someone else’s genius, I am instead delighted, simply ecstatic to have made the discovery. Even more so, I am happy to trumpet my discovery, to tell everyone I know about a new genius or a new genius idea. And then I STEAL it!

Any genius ideas that I have ever been given credit for have essentially been derivative. I do have the gift of taking someone’s really good idea, maybe even a genius idea, and making it a little bit better. I have learned to take someone’s genius in one area and apply it somewhere entirely different, in a slightly different way, making something that appears to be totally new in that new place. Now, I always give credit for the original idea. It just wouldn’t be right to either take the credit for the “aha moment” or to fail to give attribution for the origin of my derivative. That would be a little bit TOO much like Salieri, wouldn’t it? It’s just really interesting how powerful the work of a true genius really is, for a true genius creation is applicable in areas that can range far and wide of its original intent.  It’s fascinating how few people do this, take a really good, original idea out of its universe and apply it somewhere else.

Take for instance Skyvision Centers.  From the outside sSkyvision looks like any other high–end specialty medical practice. But if you look just a little bit deeper you notice that Skyvision is actually a consumer service business; our product just happens to be eyecare. When I talk to other physicians about how we run Skyvision I get all kinds of feedback that includes the word “genius.” Looking not too terribly far below the surface, though, and you see lots of really good ideas from other parts of the business world that are simply being applied in a different setting. Our patient–flow principles are lifted directly from Toyota whose manufacturing principles, moving something through space and applying different processes to that something along the way, are widely viewed as a true genius breakthrough in manufacturing.

Skyvision is the first truly patient–centered eyecare practice in America. We built the entire business around one single patient, and every single member of the Skyvision team is borderline obsessed with maximizing the pleasure of a patient’s experience in our office. The office itself is designed to evoke other settings where patients have had a good consumer service experience. Our lobby looks much more like the front of a high end spa. High ceilings and wide hallways give the constant impression of space… elbow room… uncrowded. Even our carpet pattern was chosen to maximize comfort and minimize stress; it turns out that certain patterns make older patients unsteady on their feet and we gave our designers the task of avoiding anything that would cause subtle discomfort.

Not a single one of these ideas is new. I do not own the creation of any single element at Skyvision. What we have simply done is acknowledge good ideas elsewhere and put them together in a slightly different way in a slightly different place. Kind of like what would’ve happened if Salieri had been free of jealousy, free to simply revel in Mozart’s genius.  That’s me, a kinder, gentler, huggable Salieri, content to discover other people’s genius and then maybe  apply that genius in a little different way in a little different place. It doesn’t always work of course. Imagine if Salieri tried to adapt Mozart to the harmonica!  I’ve certainly done the equivalent of that, too.

Have you ever met a genius? A true genius? I think I’ve met a couple over the years. There’s a guy in New York, a neurologist, who may be the smartest person with whom I’ve ever actually spoken. He had about a dozen patents by the time I finished my residency. Of course, there’s also my brother-in-law Pete, the electrophysiology idiot savant. Pete’s actually probably a real, live, across the board genius, but he IS my brother-in-law and, come on now, there’s only so much credit you can give a guy like that who’s in the family! Pete can see stuff in an electrical tracing and relate it all the way down to the electrons changing spin, and then figure out how to fix what he sees with some new, off the wall solution. While he’s doing this, of course, what he’s really interested in is how he’s going to ambush me just before bedtime with something like “so, what do you think about God?” Genius.

There’s a genius in every walk of life. It doesn’t have to be something phantasmagorical like the gates to calcium channels along the heart’s electrical highway. No, it can be something as mundane as trash disposal. Baking bread. Or fitness. My most recent brush with genius has been in the world of physical fitness. That’s right… fitness. The most recent genius I’ve met is a fitness trainer from Southern California who came up with something no one else had ever been able to figure out. Something that no one has been able to dispute, argue, or contest. Greg Glassman defined physical fitness.

Herein lies another one of the characteristics of genius. You’re thinking to yourself, physical fitness, everyone knows what physical fitness is. Sure you do. Give me a definition. Define fitness…I’ll wait…ahem… still waiting… thought so. That genius thing always seems to make us go “of course!  why didn’t I think of that?” So it is with Greg Glassman and fitness. Work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Work, something you can measure. How much did you move how far how fast. Simple. Everything is now measurable. Every program designed to increase fitness can now be observed, measured, and compared.

Like most geniuses Coach Glassman didn’t stop there, though. The next little bit of genius was figuring out HOW to improve fitness in the most efficient and effective way. By utilizing “intensity”, by maximizing power  output while exercising Coach Glassman  as postulated a more direct, efficient, and effective route to producing physical fitness. Unlike most geniuses he didn’t require the help of any “derivative genius” like me to apply his two great discoveries. The creation of Crossfit, the broadly applied commercial version of his two genius breakthroughs, has done quite nicely without any help from me, thank you very much!

Nope, the place where I might be of some little help is in applying Greg Glassman’s fitness genius in the area of health. Not too very different from what I’ve done with the best practices that I found in manufacturing and consumer service in building sky vision. Coach Glassman has recently offered that fitness is a proxy for health; he has actually stated that measuring fitness is tantamount to measuring health. I think there’s a little more to it, just like I think there was a little bit more to applying best practice consumer service principles to medicine than just putting Nordstrom’s shoe salespeople in a doctor’s office. Sometimes the genius idea is just the starting line when it’s applied in a new way in a new place. Not too surprisingly, Coach Glassman and I don’t agree entirely on this at the moment, but that’s okay! Like Salieri I can find genius and geniuses frustrating at times. Unlike Salieri, though, I’m a patient man, comfortable with my role  when in the company of geniuses.

After all, they’re the ones with the genius gene.

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