Decreasing productivity and how what got you here won’t get you there

One of my favorite people to listen to (or, in this case, read) is Patrick Collison – widely known as the CEO of Stripe.

Patrick is one of the most thoughtful people I’ve heard speak on various podcasts, and his ability to hold complicated networks of bidirectional causality and multiple layers of abstraction in his head at once – while footnoting himself extensively in his normal speech – is a feat to be admired.

Patrick recently published an article in The Atlantic called “Science is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck”.

And, if you want to go really deep on it, you can listen to my favorite podcast (EconTalk) where Russ Roberts and Patrick break down the article in more detail.

The fundamental thesis of the article is that the individual productivity rate for scientific discovery is going down – meaning that it is requiring more people and more effort to produce scientific discoveries that are also seemingly of lower quality than in the past.

If we assume that this is generally true (and – as a non-expert in this area, I find the case made quite compelling), there are a variety of potential causes of this phenomenon.

I see significant parallels to long-term athletic development and business growth; “What got you here is not what will get you there.”

After athletes have used up their “newbie gains,” it requires much more intelligent and dedicated training to continue to make progress.

Athletes also tend to spend a lot of time on performance plateaus where they feel stagnant in their abilities.

Then, they suddenly have breakthrough performances where they reach a new echelon of capacity.
If I were interested in speaking in hackneyed and trite phraseology, I may say something like “we’re building a bridge not a road.”

Meaning that, when building a road, each piece of incremental progress results in increased ground covered. However, when building a bridge, incremental progress does not necessarily result in increasing the distance someone can travel.

Until suddenly it does when the bridge is connected and you’ve suddenly connected two landmasses.
Does this mean that productivity rates will ever return to what they were? Not necessarily.

At some point, we may reach new innovations that open up entirely new layers of abstraction on which individuals can begin making discoveries (think of the confluence of factors that facilitated Instacart being a multi-billion dollar company like smartphones, GPS, and a cultural understanding of the “gig economy” – as opposed to Webvan which was a notorious dot com bust posterchild in the early 2000s).

What could these new layers of abstraction be? Certainly, the ability of machine learning (ugh “AI”) could facilitate an ability to model the complexity of emergent systems in biology, weather, economics, and social sciences in heretofore unseen ways that allows us to get a stronger foothold into the inherent chaos (meaning “extreme dependence on initial conditions”) of these systems.

If I had to put my money on any sort of path forward for major scientific discoveries, that’s where I’d be looking.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the individual productivity rate will rebound – it may in fact continue to be trending downward, but the possibility of new layers of technology and an understanding of how to model chaotic phenomena may result in individuals being able to harness these new technologies and bust through a productivity “plateau” [or potentially “downward sloping steppe” based upon the data in Collison’s article].

And, if we couple an increased productivity rate with Stripe’s mission of creating an economic infrastructure that brings the entire world’s population online in such a way that there is a much larger pool of innovators in a position to potentially make scientific discoveries, we may just save the world after all.

Well, until the universe wheedles, whimpers and whines to an untimely heat death.

Todd + Friel

Do you are about looking good naked?

Do you care about six pack abs?

Do you care about setting a personal record on your back squat?

If so, congratulations – you’re probably already an athlete in some form.

But not everybody cares about these things. In fact, some people find these kinds of competitive or aesthetic goals to be a turn-off.

What – if anything – should motivate these folks to train?

Is it worth the time and energy spent in the gym if you don’t have very specific performance or aesthetics-based goals?

In this episode, my childhood friend John Friel interviews me about why a non-exercise-inclined person might actually care about physical training.

Possible reasons include: mental acuity, healthy longevity, and stress reduction.

John was one of the kids in AYSO soccer sitting in the back picking grass – so that should give some framework for where his athletic ambitions lie.

He is a self-taught programmer currently working on an NYC-based start-up called Art in Res (creating a marketplace connecting artists with collectors – and mayhaps disrupting the entrenched gallery structure???).

John and I have honed our conversational sparring skills over decades – and I thought it would be interesting to have him ask me more detailed questions about some of the health and fitness related topics that we’ve discussed in the past – this time with microphones present.

Check out the full conversation to hear:

  • How training affects mental acuity and cognitive energy – and how the discipline to get unpleasant things done and the ability to deal with stress in training can transfer over to increased focus and resiliency in other areas of life.
  • How the “domains of health” (training, nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, and social connection) affect performance and longevity – with consistency being the key to unlocking results.
  • How self-experimentation may not be the best way to achieve results – most people don’t have enough knowledge to self-experiment in a reasonable way and will be far too reactive to noisy results. It’s often better to enlist the help of an expert.

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from John here:

Show Notes

  • [03:25] How fitness is still important for people who don’t care about chasing six pack abs or a back squat PR. “To what end is fitness valuable?”
  • [08:44] Training may increase your overall “pool of energy” throughout the so – even though you’re taking time out of your day to exercise – your overall productivity may be higher
  • [17:21] Understanding the concept of asset allocation for fitness goals in terms of trading-off short-term performance improvements for long-term longevity losses – and how to maximize healthy longevity
  • [26:59] How does the concept of “antifragility” compare to the concept of mechanical wear and tear in biological systems? And what are the mechanisms for injury or loss of range of motion?
  • [35:20] How does the nervous system control range of motion? And how does this relate to stretching? And does lifting weights make you tight?
  • [46:37] How does a layperson go about integrating this information into their training? How do you decide what information to trust? “Anything is better than nothing” – gaining traction to build momentum and develop consistency.
  • [51:15] The 5 buckets of health that affect performance and longevity: training, nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, and social connections. Nutrition is the “biggest bang for your buck” for health – and how consistency in one bucket of health “breeds consistency” in other buckets.
  • [57:41] How training helps with stress reduction management by improving “your overall ability to tolerate stress…by stressing yourself appropriately” (but not excessively). And how great athletes are able to mount very robust stress responses – and then recover very quickly.
  • [1:08:25] What do you think about the idea of someone treating themselves as a guinea pig? Should individuals engage in self-experimentation? And the need to set goals and iteratively approach them with the guidance of an expert.
  • [1:20:19] Do you have recommendations for resources that people can use to self-educate on the different pillars of health?

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Up And Down the Layers of Abstraction with Mental Toughness

As we move up and down the layers of abstraction regarding “mental toughness,” we encounter varying frameworks and strategies.

The tools needed to perform well on a specific workout are not necessarily the same tools necessary to perform well on a week of workouts or a month of workouts.
In many other sports, a truly transcendent ability during game play can supersede all other aspects of athletic development. If you are that good at basketball, football, or soccer, the marginal gains of proper sleep, nutrition, training and planning may not offer enough of a percentage improvement in your performance to make a true difference in your competitive abilities.

However, in sports like CrossFit – where the ability of an athlete is very closely tied to how much training they’ve done and how well they’ve adapted to the training – the aggregation of percentage point improvements in recovery and physiological adaptation are worth quite a bit more in terms of performance during competition than in field sports that are much more heavily determined by skill during gameplay.

So, what variables do matter for the long-term development of CrossFit athletes?

One of the major ones is the accumulation of quality training sessions over time.

You can’t control your genetics (which are going to be one of the main factors dictating how well you can recover from and adapt to these training sessions), but you can control your attitude and your discipline such that you are maximizing the amount of quality training sessions you have in a specific time period.

What time period is that? Well, that depends on specific goals. For many athletes, we are looking at a time horizon of several years to achieve their competition goals – and in this case, we are often looking to accumulate the maximum tolerable dose of training (meaning as much training as we can do without causing negative consequences).

For many people looking to “live long and prosper” (as James FitzGerald would put it) rather than “compete and win,” that time horizon may be decades – and here we are looking to accumulate the minimum effective dose of training (meaning as little as we can do while still creating progression towards goals or maintenance against entropy).

In this context, “mental toughness” does not refer to the ability to push harder.

It does not refer to the ability to be rigid and routine-based and get up at 4am every day and push yourself through an ass-kicking workout.

It refers to the ability to maximize your number of quality training sessions over the amount of time over which you are attempting to reach your goals.

(With the caveat that competitors are going to always be looking for ways to add more training into their routines and every day folks are going to be looking to find the leasts amount of training that progresses them at a reasonable rate towards their goals or maintains their fitness.)

So, from a more zoomed out perspective, mental toughness for both competitive athletes and every day people in the gym requires them to have enough discipline to do the things that matter – creating time in their schedule to train consistently, developing habits and consistency surrounding sleep and nutrition, developing an awareness of how they are feeling so they can give appropriate feedback on their training load, etc – while also building in enough flexibility in their schedule and their plans that they don’t become overly obsessed with achieving specific results in training sessions, hitting exact numbers of macros on every single day, or making sure they complete every session prescribed to them even if they have the flu.

Justin LoFranco (Morning Chalk Up)

Justin LoFranco

“When everyone else zigs, you should zag.”

Like most quotes, this concept can – without context – become quite dangerous and lead to all sorts of crackpot ideas.

But, when there’s an obvious push in a market in one direction, crafty entrepreneurs can quickly start to find holes that need filling.

In the world of CrossFit, visual mediums like Instagram seem to be king. People love video of other people working out. They love photos of fit people wearing minimal clothing. And CrossFitters seemingly can’t get off their social media long enough to complete a training session.

So, what in the world is a long, almost entirely text-based newsletter doing racking up thousands and thousands of subscribers?

Justin LoFranco, the founder of the Morning Chalk Up has this to say:
“I just decided to go the opposite direction. Let’s focus on on doing words right. Not driving clicks.”

With a background in campaign politics that resulted in a detailed understanding of creating audience archetypes and a passion for CrossFit, Justin has been able to turn the Morning Chalk Up into one of the premiere sources for CrossFit news.

In fact, with the restructuring of the CrossFit media department to focus on CrossFit Health instead of the CrossFit Games, the Chalk Up was the first outlet to break the news on the completely revamped competitive CrossFit season for 2019.

Check out the full conversation with Justin to learn:

  • How Justin thinks about creating long-form content via e-mail in an era when everyone seems to be saying that the future is in short content posted on social media
  • How Justin mapped out the theoretical archetypes of the readers of the Morning Chalk Up – and how reality has met his expectations
  • How Justin worked to align the content of the Chalk Up with his audience – and how including more content from every day CrossFitters (not just folks competing at the CrossFit Games) has grown the business

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Justin and the Morning Chalk Up here:

Mike Hranica (The Devil Wears Prada//God Alone)

Mike Hranica

Most musicians in the world toil in obscurity – hoping that anyone at all will find and resonate with their music.

For those select few who do achieve some level of success via their music, they quickly become part of a machine focused on touring, album cycles, support acts, and management companies.

So, for the established artist, they long to be creative without restrictions and baggage from expectations from their fans and the music business that sustains them.

I discuss this dichotomy with Mike Hranica, the lead vocalist (“screamer” lol) from The Devil Wears Prada (a band with a lot of fans, and thus a lot of expectations) and God Alone (a band that purposefully defies expectations). We also discuss how he views discipline – or lack thereof – in his creative process, and how he scratches various creative itches through different outlets.

Check out the full conversation with Mike to learn:

  • How he balances “consuming” content and art vs “creating” – and finding the right balance between seeking out new art, digging into the classics, and making your own work
  • How he balances the demands of various stakeholders in the music industry and fan expectations in The Devil Wears Prada – and why it’s a relief to operate without expectations in God Alone
  • How he decides which relationships to maintain and which opportunities to pursue – and the resentment that builds from the shallowness of a lot of contemporary relationships and art

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Mike here:

Ask Me Anything #1

Danny Soul

Here it is…at long last. My first ask me anything episode!

I put out a call for some questions on the e-mail list, and got some pretty good responses.

I picked three to discuss in detail…then I started recording without plugging my computer in or checking my battery so I only got through two before I started getting warnings about my dying battery.

So, we get two questions in about 40 minutes. Hopefully that is in alignment with the level of detail you have come to expect from me.

Here’s what I discuss:

  • [00:32] How do you motivate yourself to train during the “black hole” times?
  • [20:47] How do you teach coaches to modify or scale workouts for an aging or deconditioned population?

Check out the episode at the links below – and share with your friends if you enjoyed it!

Listen Here

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Danny Lopez-Calleja (CrossFit Soul//Wodapalooza)

Danny Soul

You know when you’re walking through the airport wearing a CrossFit shirt and you see someone else in a CrossFit shirt?

Or when you’re going about your business at the grocery store wearing a Morbid Angel shirt, and someone down the aisle has an Incantation shirt on?

Well, maybe you don’t know that feeling of t-shirt related camaraderie and acknowledgement, but rest assured that I do.

As we discuss in this interview, Danny and I are often the two guys at CrossFit related events wearing punk or metal apparel.

When Danny told me that he liked my podcast, I was thrilled because if one of the only other people who owns a CrossFit gym in a major urban environment who grew up playing in bands in a DIY punk and hardcore scene didn’t like my podcast…well then I don’t know what the hell I’m even doing.

If you’re not familiar with Danny, I’d recommend checking out this interview on Barbell Shrugged where he details his past battles with addiction and how he got into CrossFit.

He’s also coached athletes like Samantha Briggs and Brenda Castro – and Team Soul has made multiple CrossFit Games appearances.

He is also the competition director for this coming year’s Wodapalooza, so he will be architecting the programming for one of the largest CrossFit events in the world – this time with the opportunity to qualify athletes for the CrossFit Games.

In this conversation with Danny, we discuss:

  • Growing up in a real melting pot of a DIY punk scene in South Florida – and how that has both helped and hindered Danny in entrepreneurship
  • How staying true to his own taste (and trying to make Team Soul like a 90s skateboarding company) has resulted in raving fans…and some harsh detractors
  • How CrossFit Soul has seen the CrossFit bubble in South Florida pop – and why they’re still standing while many others are not
  • Becoming involved in the programming for Wodapalooza – only to learn a few weeks later that Wodapalooza would be a sanctioned event sending qualifiers to the CrossFit Games

Check out the conversation at the links below – and share with your friends if you enjoyed it!

Listen Here

Check out more from Danny here:

Josh James (Stick to Your Guns//Eighteen Visions)

Given that Josh has already told the tales of being kidnapped in Egypt and playing one of the first shows that an American hardcore band in Kenya has played, I was worried that he might not have any stories left for me when he agreed to do this interview.

Never fear. Josh delivers the goods – and this is probably the hardest I’ve laughed during any podcast that I’ve recorded.

Josh has been a full-time touring musician with bands like Evergreen Terrace, Casey Jones, Stick to Your Guns and Eighteen Visions for many, many years. In his spare time, he often travels to countries with unstable governments. As such, he’s accumulated a lot of hilarious stories.

When Josh is in Chicago, he stops in at South Loop Strength & Conditioning to train, so it’s always a treat to get to chat with someone who likes the two things that I like: heavy music and extreme fitness programs.

In this conversation with Josh, we discuss:

  • The long-lost art of digging for information on bands – and how this affects the way that people consume content in the digital age
  • Why Stick to Your Guns regularly goes on tour with bands that they don’t sonically “fit” with – and the trade-off between large upside for taking risks and the failures when those risks don’t pay off
  • How to force yourself to adapt by constantly putting yourself in uncomfortable situations (like traveling in Egypt, Kenya and Tunisia) – and how Josh balances his desire for control with pushing outside of his comfort zone
  • How Josh accidentally ended up on CNN throwing rocks (Hint: It’s hilarious)

Check out the conversation at the links below – and share with your friends if you enjoyed it!

Note: There was an issue with Josh’s mic during the first 10 minutes or so of the podcast. We caught the issue and fixed it – and I did a little bit of post-production management to adjust the levels – so just skip the beginning part of the quieter audio is annoying. Apologies for that!

Listen Here

Check out more from Josh here:

Show Notes

  • [01:00] Working out on the road – and some perils of awkward men working out
  • [07:21] Josh’s first “real band” (Evergreen Terrace) and growing up in punk music – including buying a Misfits shirt without knowing who the Misfits were
  • [10:53] The mic is fixed!
  • [11:17] The process of digging for bands as a child in the pre-internet era (thanks lists, interviews, zines, etc)
  • [15:19] Joining 18 Visions and Stick to Your Guns
  • [19:55] Purposefully blending genres on tours – and the struggles of playing to an audience that isn’t into you as well as the upside of catching an all new audience
  • [32:44] How does Stick to Your Guns write new music while keeping in mind the expectations of fans who like their previous output?
  • [41:43] When is the last time you moshed?
  • [45:04] “I want to be a janitor at a mall or something like that” – and being forced to learn an instrument by your mother
  • [49:09] Going on crazy adventures in countries without stable governments – and the learning that occurs from being in unfamiliar situations
  • [56:34] Accidentally ending up on CNN throwing rocks

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Berkeley Dietvorst, PhD (University of Chicago)

Even though we live in an era of “big data” and huge amounts of our internet usage and content consumption are governed by algorithms (Facebook’s newsfeed, YouTube’s related videos, Google’s predictive search, the advertising we’re served online, etc.), many people don’t trust algorithms when they’re presented with the opportunity to use them in their own decision-making.

Berkeley Dietvorst thinks this results in people making a lot of very foolish decisions, and wasting a lot of time, money, and effort.

So, he’s been researching the concept of “algorithm aversion” for several years and he’s published several highly illuminating papers on the topic.

Berkeley has developed a theory of why humans don’t like to use algorithms (they’re probably chasing perfection in their predictions and they excessively punish algorithms for making visible errors) and he continues to work on understanding ways in which we can increase the trust that human decision-makers place in algorithms.

Check out this conversation with Berkeley to hear:

  • Why humans avoid using algorithms to make decisions – and what Berkeley has discovered about how to make people more comfortable with algorithms
  • What – if any – are good reasons to avoid using an algorithm to make a decision?
  • How our cognitive bias can cause us to make bad decisions (about where to invest, what route to take to get to work, etc.) – and how basic algorithms can make all of our lives easier

Listen Here

Check out more from Berkeley here:

Show Notes

  • [1:28] Berkeley is a marketing professor – yet studies algorithm aversion
  • [4:22] Humans are algorithmically averse – what’s our problem?
  • [12:10] Humans are risk-seeking so will choose not to use algorithms in order to seek outsized reward
  • [19:02] Humans err by regularly changing the weighting they give things based upon emotions
  • [26:22] Humans are more likely to use algorithms when they’re allowed to modify an algorithm
  • [35:20] Increasing human adherence to using superior algorithms to make predictions
  • [40:58] Are there ever good reasons for humans to distrust algorithms?
  • [1:04:17] How do we optimize the decision-making for individual decision-makers? And what would Berkeley like to know about how large tech companies get humans to use algorithms?
  • [1:11:15] How can people learn more about Berkeley’s research? And what research projects is he currently working on?

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Brian Blake (Real Friends)

Brian Blake from Real Friends

Many people dream of achieving success – thinking that once they achieve at a certain level that they will be happy. Tara Brach calls this “If Only Mind.

If only I got that promotion…If only we hadn’t broken up…If only I made this much money…then I would be happy.

My friend Brian Blake plays drums for a band called Real Friends that has achieved a level of success that most bands only dream of. Headlining tours across the country, prime billing at the Vans Warped Tour (RIP), and millions of streams on their YouTube videos.

But, that success did come with a cost for Brian in terms of his constant self-judgment relative to his performances – and it created an almost crippling anxiety and self-awareness surrounding his playing.

We dig into Brian’s experiences with meditation to come out of these negative feedback loops, but don’t worry – it’s not all serious. We spend a decent amount of time talking about nu-metal and JNCO jeans as well.

Check out this conversation with Brian to hear:

  • What it feels like to be in a band that suddenly has a lot of people paying attention – especially after years of playing music that not many people cared about
  • The dangers of excessive self-judgment – especially when playing to thousands of people per night – and what Brian did to overcome these feelings
  • How Real Friends thinks about balancing their creative output with the expectations that fans have of them – and how they wrote a more “mature” pop record without giving up their roots

Listen Here

Check out more from Brian and Real Friends here:

Listen to Real Friends here:

Show Notes

  • [01:16] Early creative output with the Baa Baa Show
  • [07:20] Being nu-metal and having ridiculous hair – and early musical experiences in school band and local metalcore acts
  • [16:00] Improving the craft of drumming – both through formal instruction and without formal instruction
  • [27:21] Being your own worst critic – and finding the balance where that enables you to improve without cosntantly beating yourself up
  • [32:56] Getting into meditation to combat self-judgment
  • [40:57] The judgment of the crowd vs the judgment of your peers
  • [47:34] The negative feedback loop of hyperfocus on technique and worrying about screwing up
  • [52:37] Joining Real Friends and experiencing a bunch of fans suddenly caring about your band
  • [01:04:26] Finding the balance between your own creativity and keeping fans engaged
  • [01:15:19] Working with a producer and creating more of a pop” record than a “pop punk” record”
  • [01:24:45] Writing songs in the studio – and writing as a group vs separately
  • [01:33:49] How to learn more about Real Friends

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