Books, Blogs & Business – Installment 3

Book Report - Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

There is just a single book that I made time to read more than once this past year, and that is Zero To One.  I recommend this book just about every time I’m asked for a reading suggestion, and routinely revisit the text for inspiration when preparing my blog or assembling a fitness business presentation.

 If asked to boil this book down to a single message, I’d go with the following:

 The best businesses thrive because of their ability to differentiate, as opposed to their ability to compete.

Thankfully, I don’t need to limit myself to a single message.  Here are three quotes from Zero To One that resonated with me as it relates to operating within the business of fitness:

1. "Instead of working tirelessly to make yourself indistinguishable, strive to be great at something substantive -- to be a monopoly of one."

When are aspiring gym owners going to stop assuming that the world wants more fitness facilities instead of different ones?  If you’re going to thrive within this hyper-competitive industry, you should be working hard to capture a specific niche. Thiel effectively described the importance of this concept when he wrote:

 "All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem.  All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition."

This concept also applies to internship and job applicants.  My email account is full of candidates who appear to be indistinguishable in a resume format.  From academic experience to prior employment descriptions, the majority of the coaching candidates I consider appear to be the same person on paper. 

So, why is it that I often end up accepting guys like Roger Lawson to our internship program?  Roger came to CSP with limited coaching experience and an English Literature degree.  The difference between Roger and everyone else was his unmatched charismatic nature, an impressive ability to engage with strangers on the training floor in a moment’s notice, and a televised top-ten finish in the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Championship (true story).

Roger tracked me down to hand-deliver his internship application while in between presentations at a 2009 fitness seminar. He approached me with a firm handshake, looked me in the eye, and told me how his positive attitude and desire to learn would be an asset to our team and our business as a whole.  He was anything but indistinguishable.

Roger was (and continues to be) great at something substantive.  Roger was a master at the art of being an extrovert.

2. "A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator."

Yesterday I found myself in the midst of an extended discussion regarding the design, development, and implementation of an internship program that proves to be beneficial to both the intern and the employer.  One of the questions I was asked related to the risk involved in providing access to 100% of our instructional videos, recorded staff in-services, and other proprietary continuing education materials knowing that an accepted intern could choose to bow out of the program early, or even before getting started. 

I explained that any former CSP intern, including those who were with us for as little as a few weeks, will ultimately become an extension of our brand.  The sooner I can get them “up to speed”, the more likely they are to reflect our business in a positive light moving forward.  I also explained that there’s a big difference between having access to our resources, and fully understanding how to put it all together to create effective programming for an athlete with unique needs.

The great thing about “sharing your secret” is that, when done properly, it demonstrates your unique area of expertise or skill set.  We share free content every week within our “Technique Tuesday” video series featured on Facebook.  These weekly video installments allow Tony Bonvechio to push the powerlifting world in a positive direction by emphasizing proper and safe execution of common movements and exercises.  With over 100,000 views after just 25 instructional videos, Tony is adding “fellow conspirators” on a weekly basis. 

3. "The most valuable businesses of the coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete."

My wife and I recently stopped at a restaurant at JFK International Airport for a meal during a layover.  We sat down at a table equipped with an iPad for every single customer.  Instead of conversing with a server about the intricacies of the menu, we had a flashy collection of stock food photography and a “user-friendly” interface that would theoretically streamline our ordering process and improve our dining experience.  Instead, I found myself wavering on a simple meal decision that would typically be settled by asking my server “which would you recommend?”  By the time I was done eating I felt connected to the internet and disconnected from my wife.

As we inch closer and closer to a world involving cars that drive themselves, it stands to reason that options will continue to pop up allowing fitness enthusiasts to automate just about every aspect of their exercise efforts.  Thankfully, one arena that will never be commandeered entirely by technology is human-to-human interaction.  Much of the value in our services here at CSP is tied up in the interaction an athlete experiences with both our staff and fellow clients while on our training floor.  Apple could ship us a pallet of free iPads for athletes to use as they track their program execution here at CSP, and we’d still return them all in favor of our preferred method of pencil, paper and a clip-board.

For as long as we are in business, the personalities and skills possessed by the coaches on my staff will take precedence over the technology available in the market.

Next on the bookshelf -- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

Happy holidays to all!