Survivorship Bias & Bad Advice

xkcd on survivorship bias

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s terrible advice from successful people.

If there’s another thing that drives me crazy, it’s magical thinking.

A lot of the advice thrown out there on podcasts and articles comes from successful people offering post hoc rationalizations for why they were successful.

And, believe me, as an avid consumer of online content, I often want to hear what successful people have to say about how they accomplished what they accomplished.

However – particularly in business and athletics – listening to the stories of those who have “made it” can give a pretty twisted perspective on why they were in fact successful.

The concept of “survivorship bias” is used when only those who have made it past some sort of threshold are considered – without taking into account the entire cohort of people who started a process.

So, for example, there are literally thousands and thousands of people who want to work hard in training, push themselves day in and day out in the gym, and make tremendous sacrifices to their personal life and their career in order to maximize their physical potential.

And a huge number of them will never qualify for anything.

So, when you hear elite athletes saying that they outwork everyone and they just “want it more” – they are not taking into account all of the other individuals who worked just as hard and wanted it just as badly who didn’t make it.

This can lead to a form of magical thinking, where the idea of pushing yourself and “wanting it” becomes the key variable that dictates success.

In reality, there are a few key things that probably make the difference between businesses and athletes who “achieve” – and other variables are either marginal or noisy.

And listening only to advice from those who made it without considering the others who didn’t is a recipe for confusion.

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.

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Marcus Filly (Revival Strength)

Marcus Filly (Revival Strength)

“The next level of growth is going to come from letting go and taking more risks. You’re trying to control things and you’re good at that, but the next level isn’t going to arrive with that mentality.”

This is what James FitzGerald told Marcus Filly before Regionals in 2017. Marcus ended up qualifying for his first CrossFit Games as an individual that year after “letting his hair down” so to speak and pushing the pace harder than he was comfortable with in the final workout.

Since then, Marcus has popularized the concept of Functional Bodybuilding and a more measured approach to intensity in fitness training – especially for people whose goal is to look good, feel good and move well.

Marcus owns multiple businesses including an online coaching company, a brick and mortar gym facility in San Rafael, and a supplement company called Revive-Rx.

Check out the full conversation with Marcus to learn:

  • How Marcus thinks about content creation – and how to approach writing to have a record of what you’ve done, writing to self-reflect, and writing to solve a problem for an audience
  • The difference between systemizing and going with the flow – and how to decide when a system is helpful and valuable, and when it should be ditched for being overly restrictive
  • How being overly analytical can cause roadblocks – and why the behavior that got you to where you are now won’t always get you to the next level

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.

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Check out more from Marcus, Revival Strength & Functional Bodybuilding here:

Show Notes

  • [01:51] The differences between posting training on a WordPress blog and posting training on social media – and the differences between posting to have a record of what you’ve done, posting to self-reflect, and posting to share for an audience.
  • [11:17] What was the tipping point to move from the personal fitness blog to social media?
  • [15:20] The difference between systemizing and going with the flow – and how to decide when a system is helpful and valuable, and when it’s overly restrictive.
  • [20:04] “Letting your hair down” – how being overly analytical can cause roadblocks, and why what got you here won’t always get you there
  • [31:53] Training with Danny Nichols – and strapping him to the pull-up bar with lifting straps to teach him kipping. And tales of folly and intensity from the Grid League including a broken hand from touch-and-go power snatches.
  • [42:59] Tying multiple different businesses together – and the challenges of running an in-person gym when you’re running a successful online business.
  • [52:38] How to create content for a large audience – and how to think about people misunderstanding the message
  • [01:03:25] How to handle and react to negativity on the internet – and how handle the opportunity cost of helping everyone who reaches out for advice while still being grateful for the fact that people are paying attention.

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Orion Melehan (LIFEAID)

Orion Melehan (LIFEAID)

“Being a Pollyanna actually works in your favor in business since you don’t really understand all of the obstacles.”

Orion had an intuition that he was onto something a few years back when he and business partner Aaron Hinde went on a domain registration spree for all things ending in “aid” and found that just about every iteration they tried was still up for grabs.

From hustling to get their first product into golf course pro shops (GolferAid) to rapidly scaling and simultaneously running out of product while broken computer systems left them unable to match inventory to customer orders, it turns out that original intuition was correct.

Orion and I talk about the challenges of managing a company growing so quickly that things start to fall apart, and LIFEAID’s mission to change the landscape of beverages outside of the fitness subcultures that got them their start.

Check out the full conversation with Orion below to learn:

  • How Orion learned to feed off the energy of the crowd – and adjust on the fly to keep them dancing – as a house DJ – possibly some carryover to the role as CEO of a rapidly growing beverage brand? Who can say?
  • How to prioritize as you’re scaling – and how to know what to allow to break as you grow and what needs to be a top priority
  • How LIFEAID plans to stay true to their mission as they expand outside of the fitness subculture into more mainstream markets in grocery stores – and why just helping already fit folks get fitter isn’t enough for LIFEAID

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.

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Check out more from Orion and LIFEAID here:

Show Notes

  • [01:43] Orion’s seemingly contradictory background as both a certified financial planner and a DJ, as well as his early entrepreneurial ventures (including a record store).
  • [08:30] The process of crafting a DJ set – and balancing your own desires with the desires of the audience. The differences between being a “technical” DJ and going off the feel of the crowd, and developing DJ skills in a time before comprehensive DJ software.
  • [15:25] Starting LIFEAID with multiple different SKUs, and figuring out how to prioritize the many different options. The benefits of understanding direct response marketing and split testing offers with different markets.
  • [24:33] How to manage ultra-fast growth – and how to figure out what you’re going to let break and what you’re going to stay on top of. And why being starved of capital during a growth phase is better than being flush with capital.
  • [33:18] Breaking into the very high barrier to entry beverage space through direct response marketing, understanding the long tail and subcultures, and hiring during rapid expansion.
  • [40:47] How LIFEAID plans to manage its expansion from a niche community (CrossFit) into mainstream areas like grocery and convenience stores while maintaining the vision for the company. Just continuing to create products for already healthy people doesn’t serve the mission of getting the population off of sketchy energy drinks.
  • [52:45] How to find the optimal balance between optimizing things that are already working while still being innovative and expanding into new markets. LIFEAID’s goal of solving different problems for their customers throughout the day – the goal is to have products for all the different “jobs” customers buy beverages to accomplish.
  • [01:00:32] How to think about the sequencing of growth in a company and do things in the correct order. Crafting new quarterly vision statements and creating alignment across the team based upon objectives and key results – as well as creating an environment in which the best ideas can percolate throughout the organization from the bottom up.

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Socratic Questioning

Socratic Questioning

In a stunning and ironic twist of fate, I hereby offer a rambling and prescriptive solo podcast on utilizing Socratic questioning in elevating the thinking of both employees and coaching clients.

As someone who is prone to being – let’s say – argumentative and potentially even bossy, I’ve had to learn to back off from telling people what I think that they should do.

I’ve learned this lesson with coaching coaches at South Loop Strength & Conditioning, since I used to dominate our coaches meetings with long theoretical lectures on advanced topics in fitness coaching.

While I’m sure that some of this stuff was potentially interesting and occasionally valuable, it resulted in very little change in the actual daily actions of our coaches when they were coaching.

Based upon that, I’ve completely retooled how we run our coaches meetings to focus on creating opportunities for our coaches to present problems that they are struggling with and for us to work through the assumptions and thought processes necessary to solve them as a group.

Sure, I can still sometimes jump in and tell everyone how I think something should be done. And I’m sure it’s also occasionally obnoxious when I keep asking leading and clarifying questions to try to get a specific answer that I’m looking for, but I’ve seen massive changes in our coaches’ abilities to think through complicated problems based upon these meetings.

For anyone who is looking to teach something complicated or create behavior change, learning to back off and instead facilitate an environment for others to come to conclusions on their own is a crucial skill.

Check out the full episode to hear:

  • Why some people build mental models and others form collections of rules – and how to push everyone to create more robust mental models
  • How to help people recognize their own sticking points and problems – since people only work to solve problems that they know that they have
  • How to cultivate a genuine curiosity – since this is crucial for your Socratic questioning to be authentic

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.

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Show Notes

  • [00:00] How to become an obnoxious person who people don’t want to be around in social situations
  • [05:45] How some people build mental models of the world – and how they constantly check their models against both their real life experiences and theories from experts
  • [13:52] People only work to solve problems that they know that they have. Everything else is just intellectual entertainment.
  • [21:57] How to cultivate a genuine curiosity to guide questioning rather than being a pedantic blowhard

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James FitzGerald (OPEX)

James FitzGerald + Todd Nief

Isaac Newton discovered the physics of classical mechanics and essentially invented calculus – but also spent a huge percentage of his time fiddling with alchemy and digging around in scripture looking for numerical codes.

Many brilliant scientists put a lot of effort into quirky, eccentric theories – some of which turned out to be paradigm-shifting insights, and some of which turned out to be crackpot level buffoonery.

So, how do you pattern match in chaotic scenarios? How do you know if you’re on the right track to having an insight or if you’re doing the equivalent of Linus Pauling obsessing over Vitamin C?

One thing I worry about is that my cause and effect meter can be dialed a bit low. I think everything is chaos and no one knows anything – but James FitzGerald has certainly taught me a lot about what we can know in fitness.

In this conversation, I wanted to dig into how James pattern matches, how he tests and discredits his own ideas, and how he creates systematic thought both for his own internal mental organization and in order to communicate his thoughts and beliefs to others.

Check out the full conversation with James to hear:

  • How to develop the skill to “notice your noticings” – which allows you to move up the layers of abstraction and build more complex systems
  • How to balance content consumption for “learning” vs content consumption for “pleasure” – and how James thinks about updating his mental frameworks based upon new information
  • What creates fatigue in mixed modal settings – at what separates the best from everyone else at the cellular level in terms of how they create energy

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.

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Check out more from James, OPEX & Big Dawgs here:

Show Notes

  • [2:03] Special Newfoundland pronunciation of vowels and consonants – and how to build and extract systems from reality and reason from first principles.
  • [9:27] How James builds and updates his mental systems based upon both thoughts and experiences – and how to build the metacognition to “notice your noticings”
  • [15:37] How James goes about confirming or disconfirming his beliefs. And one thing that James has changed his mind on over the years: the role of muscle endurance in mixed modal sport.
  • [24:11] The role of chaos in mixed modal sport – and how to systemize mixed modal sport as a whole in terms of monads, diads, triads, etc.
  • [34:03] How to pattern match in a chaotic environment like mixed modal sport – and finding the appropriate amount of variance in the skill acquisition process for mixed modal sport
  • [48:13] How do you know when the patterns that you’re seeing are real? What is the application of something like peer review in fitness? What incentives would pull people out of silos as far as best practices in fitness coaching?
  • [56:54] When did system building behavior start for James? And what resources have helped him in building mental models and systems?
  • [01:05:38] How does James approach content consumption? How does he balance consuming content for fun vs trying to solve a specific problem?
  • [01:13:24] The balance of giving people what they want vs what they need – especially in the context of fitness vs sport
  • [01:19:09] What is happening in individuals who are resistant to fatigue in mixed modal sport? What would the process look like to truly do research on the various fatigue models for how people utilize fuel in a mixed modal setting?

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Heather Gabel & Seth Sher (HIDE)

HIDE

“I just want to make heavy brutal shit that makes people feel anything at all.”

Check out the full conversation to hear:
How Seth and Heather use the spirit of their backgrounds in punk and metal and channel it to HIDE’s aestheticThe role of minimalism in HIDE’s songs – and how they find the appropriate balance between repetition and variation
Why Heather uses loaded symbols from religion in her art – and how she subverts their meaning without resorting to “art school” tactics

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 Heather, Seth & HIDE here:

Show Notes

  • [01:23] Seth wasn’t into pop punk growing up. Heather was on tour with pop punk bands, but only liked “real punk.” And the value in sitting with albums and listening to them deeply in the pre-internet era.
  • [10:45] The association between live performance and recorded music – and filtering the amount of content you consume through the lens of live performance. How the spirit of HIDE relates to Heather’s punk background and Seth’s metal background even if the surface aesthetics may be different.
  • [27:53] Overanalyzing repetitive watching and listening behavior in viral videos as well as music. And what is the role of repetition in HIDE’s music? And how do Heather and Seth balance competing desires for minimalism and variation?
  • [50:42] Use of symbols and iconography in association with HIDE’s imagery, and Heather’s bizarre and uncomfortable experiences with the way that people react to her body in art, in performance and in daily life
  • [1:08:21] Humans are humans no matter where they go and engage in shitty behavior even in subcultures that ostensibly value more progressive views – and the reaction of creating online “call out culture” is probably not the best response
  • [1:23:00] Check out “Castration Anxiety” and do whatever you want – as long as it is exactly what Seth wants you to do

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Jim Crowell (OPEX)

Jim Crowell

A lot of people have been lead astray by an apocryphal Confucius quote.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Guess what, morons – Confucius didn’t say that and just because you love working out or coaching doesn’t mean you should open a gym.

Most coaches who open up gyms in pursuit of their passion for fitness and to escape the 9-5 grind quickly discover that the business of owning a gym goes far beyond great coaching and programming.

How do they differentiate themselves in saturated markets?

Who should they target to buy their services?

What problems are going to pop up provided that you are actually fortunate enough to have enough clients that you can actually cover your monthly expenses?

CEO of OPEX Jim Crowell joins the podcast to talk about the necessary pieces for succeeding in the fitness industry and how OPEX is pioneering and creating the “personalized fitness” category.

Check out the full conversation with Jim to learn:

  • How to think about competition in the fitness industry – you’re not just competing with other gyms offering similar services (like CrossFit or other group fitness), you’re competing with at-home workout options, large corporations with sophisticated marketing, and laziness and inertia on the part of the consumer
  • How to find the balance between creating systems and structure – while still allowing for the creativity and craftsmanship of the coaching profession
  • How to leverage tribalism in your target audience – and what lead channels are actually effective for finding at attracting good-fit clients

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 Jim here:

Show Notes

  • [3:21] How Jim’s background as an MBA hedge fund guy with degrees in finance and economics set him up for entry into the CrossFit market as a true capitalist. “I need to build this thing because somebody else is going to build it if I don’t.”
  • [11:18] The winner-take-all dynamics of local fitness businesses – and why you must be the leader in your subcategory
  • [20:48] How OPEX is seeking to create the “personalized fitness” category in the market – and how they are looking to position themselves compared to personal training or group training
  • [26:38] The necessity of targeting a specific audience to reap the benefits of tribalism – versus risking speaking to no one at all. “You don’t create your brand; the market tells you what your brand is…You can just try to influence what that market reaction is.”
  • [32:53] The growing pains of restructuring and the importance of not confusing and alienating your target audience – and how OPEX decided to split out the remote coaching business of Big Dawgs from the work of certifications and licensing.
  • [40:40] Tribalism and the desire “to be a part of something…[and feel] a deeper meaning behind why they’re doing what they’re doing” – and how this relates to marketing and retention in facilities
  • [56:06] Allowing for creativity in coaching while still providing standardization and consistency in processes.
  • [01:04:34] How the start-up cost and business structure of opening a CrossFit gym has changed since 2005 to now.
  • [01:10:25] Differences in managing a gym with 150 members versus a gym with more than that, and attempting to get in front of problems before they happen.

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Michael Cazayoux (Working Against Gravity//Brute Strength)

Michael Cazayoux

It’s no secret that I’ve been roasting a bunch of fluffy “mental toughness” content on the e-mail list recently. (You’re not signed up, you say? Well, fix that by filling out the link below this post or on the sidebar if you’re not using mobile.)

So, what am I doing talking to Michael Cazayoux about mindset?

Well, aside from wanting to have a conversation with a fellow with such an impressive pedigree – co-founder of Brute Strength and host of its eponymous podcast, president of Working Against Gravity, and 2012 and 2013 CrossFit Games Champion as part of Hack’s Pack – I wanted to clarify my own thinking on the topic.

Michael has a lot to say about mindset – both from his history in counseling and treatment from addiction as well as his current path in terms of developing an internal training program for the staff at Working Against Gravity.

This is not just aimless #fitspo. These are strategies that Michael has used to develop comfort with vulnerability and improve his own mental resilience.

Check out the full conversation with Michael to learn:

  • How to prioritize the things that matter most – and how Michael has learned to recognize the true cost of saying “yes” to too many things
  • How the cultural norm of the “strong and silent” male is unhealthy – and how to learn to feel your emotions and authentically express yourself
  • How goal setting requires “crystal clear” metrics – and how to balance focus on an outcome without emotional attachment to a specific result
  • The value of personal development and “deep work” – and how to create true behavior change through accountability and being part of a culture with values that you want to emulate (like at Working Against Gravity for example…)

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 Michael here:

Show Notes

  • [2:20] How podcasts facilitate having deep conversations – and how Michael brings that curiosity to his every day interactions. Plus: reframing small talk.
  • [8:22] The importance of prioritizing and saying “no” to things, and how to make room for (and actually schedule) the things that really matter to you. And, how to figure out what matters to you by being crystal clear on your personal values – and what people you want to spend time with and what activities you want to spend time doing.
  • [16:43] How to learn to recognize your own emotions and utilize those to develop your priorities. And how Michael used group therapy in his rehab process to build self-awareness – and how he learned to dismiss the negative cultural role models of quiet gruff men who are out of touch with their emotions.
  • [24:52] The need for defining specific and measurable goals, and the formula of breaking down a long-term goal into sub-goals and processes that make it “inevitable” to achieve that outcome.
  • [30:40] The importance of picking a goal that gives you a certain amount of pleasure, and the fallacy of “falling [totally] in love with the journey.” And how to focus on a specific on a specific outcome without becoming emotionally dependent upon achieving those results.
  • [37:44] Rolling out a personal development program for the staff at Working Against Gravity – and getting real buy-in and accountability for behavior change (rather than just having people treat the concepts as “motivational quotes”)
  • [41:55] Committing to truly sharing emotions in group therapy, and the value in being authentic in expressing emotions – and Michael’s history of walling himself off from others during his addiction
  • [49:19] Being surrounded with other people who are into self-development and getting spacey with the Barbell Shrugged guys and Angelo Sisco. And how diving into your past and looking at what your faults are “will naturally and quickly improve your mindset tenfold.”
  • [01:00:14] How the Brute Strength Podcast both builds trust with Michael’s audience – and how it facilitates having deep discussions with thought leaders

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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?

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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: