Although we Stanford alums had a bit of a setback in the Rose Bowl this year, we still have a football team of which we can be very proud. Part of what I believe makes this team so appealing to Stanford alums is not only that it wins, but also that it wins with an interesting mix of power and intellect. Part of what has made Stanford so successful in recent years is the ability to harness both of these traits in its unique approach to strength and fitness training, as described in The New York Times.
This is a fascinating article in which Shannon Turley, Stanford’s Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance, shares his perspective on the kind of training that builds high-performing college football and NFL players. Surprisingly, Turley points to factors such as ankle mobility as a key to success on the field, instead of traditional measures like bench press or 40 yard dash times. And given the very low rate of serious injury on a team that is known as one of the most physical in college football, it would seem like he is on the right track.
There are a lot of parallels between what Stanford is looking for in its football players and what CEOs are looking for in their employees. In the most recent IBM Global CEO Study, CEOs identified flexibility as one of the core traits that they seek in new employees. As noted in the report, “CEOs are increasingly focused on finding employees with the ability to constantly reinvent themselves. These employees are comfortable with change; they learn as they go, often from others’ experiences.” Although I’ve also heard CEOs and other senior leaders use words such as agile and resilient to describe what they are looking for, I think they are all describing the same thing. They want people who can be successful in any circumstance, and who are able to change direction quickly as the world changes around them.
As more companies look for these kind of employees and skill sets to secure their future, they would be remiss if they did not have a Shannon Turley of their own on staff. While it is easy to agree that having a flexible, resilient workforce is a benefit for an organization, actually building one can be difficult. And, just like a winning football team, a winning organization requires someone who is solely focused on building its “players” to achieve their very best.
Who do you know that is doing a great job at this? Or has made a commitment to do so in 2014?
For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been part of CrossFit for the last year. It’s not only been a great way for me to get into better shape than I’ve been in at least a decade, its also provided a fun opportunity to meet new people not only here in Miami Beach, but also in Seattle and other places I’ve visited around the country.
One of the things that makes CrossFit unique is the competitive nature of the sport. Whether competing against friends, ourselves, or the steady march of time, the idea of getting better everyday is ingrained into the sport. Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the CrossFit Games Open. The Open is a series of five workouts that competitors compete over the course of five weeks, with the top scorers moving on to a regional competition. For the vast majority of people, there are no dreams of medals, the only physical trophies are bizarrely-mangled-hands-that-most-closely-resemble-what-you’d-see-at-a-crime-scene-and-clearly-show-that-someone-needs to-work-on-his-pull-up-technique. Instead we’re there to prove that we can and to see if we have improved since last year’s competition.
And I think that last point is the really important one. Its so easy to fall into the way of thinking that getting older means that we start slowing down, getting weaker, accepting that we’re not going to be as fast or as strong as we used to. While that will probably be the case for Usain Bolt, its not necessarily the case for the rest of us. And that’s why I have so much respect for the people that I see at the gym everyday. I might not know everyone’s name and we might not hang out on the weekends, but I have a special respect for how hard they push themselves in order to improve, week after week and year after year.
Two of my good friends, Gabriel Baldinucci at Singularity Univeristy and Nigel Smith at AARP, often talks about the coming future where the average life expectancy will get longer and longer as medical science and technology continue to improve. What will happen when our average lifespan is 100? What will that mean for how we think about concepts like retirement and old-age? Will we start to outlive our bodies’ usefulness and need to rely on prosthetics to get around?
Personally speaking, I made a commitment to fight that decline and that’s why I often spend my evenings doing pull-ups, push-ups, squats and box jumps until I can’t do any more. And that’s why I’ll be back again next year, pushing myself harder, and hoping that with the work I’ll put in over the course of the next 12 months I’ll be in the top half of competitors in 2014. This year I’ll probably end up around the 40th percentile of competitors (the snatches killed me). And while I’m not really competing against anyone else, I know that personally speaking there’s no way I can be happy about being in the 40th percentile of anything for very long. None of us should. Not when we can start getting better, everyday.