3 Lessons Learned From Running the World’s Only Unicorn Fitness Cult in 2016: The Mark Edition

The end of 2016 marks the end of MFF’s fifth year in business. (What the hell?! Where’d the time go?! Where’d these gray hairs come from?!)

In an industry where most businesses don’t survive past year three, we are so proud and humbled and grateful that we’ve made it this far. It’s truly a testament to the incredible MFF Team of ridiculous humans, and our brilliant community of Ninjas.

As we both take a moment to reflect on this year (and the four before it) we’ve each identified three of our biggest lessons learned in 2016.

Today, let’s dive in with Mark’s lessons.

Mark’s Lesson #1: “The most useful comments are accurate criticisms.”

You know what fucking sucks?

Being criticized. Particularly because it takes a lot for many humans to be candid about an issue. Often times it means they’re discomfort has majorly escalated. This isn’t always a recipe for kindness or thoughtfulness when sharing their frustrations, hurt, rage, etc.

Sadly, the tough truth is the feedback most of us need most is the feedback others are reluctant to share. And this is the kind of feedback that can be the hardest to hear.

This was the year I fell in love with a guy named Ray Dalio. Ray Dalio has his own cult in Connecticut called Bridgewater Capital. They’re a hedge fun, so they don’t do anything unicorn-y or fitness-y. But they have a very extreme view on management and culture that emphasizes radical levels of transparency. You can read the book for free HERE.

If you talk shit about someone behind their back, they fire your ass. You’re a “slimy weasel.”

Now for those that fear conflict, this is terrifying. But for people like me, it sounds GREAT. No doubt, this is because my greatest fear is “everyone thinks you’re an idiot and is mad at you, and no one is telling you.”

(Also worth noting, Bridgewater’s culture is a pretty controversial place, and there are indeed downsides to that level of extreme candor.)

In many ways, I feel like this year was another step forward in my five year journey around feedback. I admit, when MFF started, I was too scared to read the feedback Keeler would compile about our Snatched in Six Weeks transformation program. I was afraid to get my feelings hurt.

But now I really do welcome people’s thoughts about how I could do things better. If possible, I still prefer them to be kind when they share it. But ultimately I know most people are never going to be great at giving feedback elegantly. (Though if you’re a manager, I HIGHLY recommend you get good at being both candid AND kind. It can be done, I promise! Read Crucial Conversations.)

Ultimately, as a human with goals (and the leader of an organization), your job is to find out two things:

1) What is actually true
2) What should I do about what is actually true

Most people go right to step two and make decisions without being close to seeing actual reality or confronting their own potential biases.

To be clear, I can’t say I love getting negative feedback. And some days I get a bit too much all at once, and I have to fight the urge to crawl into a hole and die. But I’d rather hear it.

As Dalio says, if it’s not true, then it doesn’t matter anyway.

And if it is true? Far better to know it, so you can take action to improve your behavior.

(Scared of feedback? Read Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.)

Mark’s Lesson #2: Give the right amount of fucks about what people think.

Whoa boy. This is a big one.

I can’t say I’m 100% there yet, but I think I had a big shift here this year. In part, I think it was this shift that led to me to become almost enthusiastic about hearing negative feedback (see Lesson #1).

An ongoing challenge for many humans is “wanting to be liked.” Deeply engrained in our brain is a yearning to be accepted by our tribe. In old timey days, people that fell out of favor were kicked out of the tribe. In sociological terms, these people were what we would call “super-fucked.”

None of us want to be super-fucked.

However, if you run an organization, you will have people disagree with you. Your clients will not agree with all of your choices. Your team will not agree with all of your choices. And if you wind up being very successful, you will also have total strangers not agree with all of your choices.

And for most people, disagreeing comes with emotion. Particularly when their life is affected by the decision you’ve made. They may get pissed at you. And this stings like hell. Particularly if you’re really trying to do your good-faith best to make the best choices that balance the needs of all parties.

This is something I see often with owners looking to grow their facility and spend less time on the floor. Yes, they are afraid they’ll lose the clients. But oftentimes the greater fear is of emotional resentment from long-term clients. Sometimes you and your clients will have different visions of your dream business.

And you should have empathy and consider their thoughts and feelings. After all, it’s reasonable to be loyal to people who’ve worked with you for a long time. Plus, their criticism may be accurate.

But of course, sometimes criticism isn’t accurate.

And if you’re not following your personal mission because you’re nervous about what people will think, you’re not doing anyone any favors.

(Do you give too many fucks? Read The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson.)


Mark’s Lesson #3: As the leader, you have to communicate, communicate, communicate. Then you have to communicate. After that, a good follow-up step is communicate. And lastly, COMMUNICATE.

Every time you rollout a new program, system, marketing initiative, internal process, whatever… you have to communicate, communicate, communicate.

I think this is especially challenging for people who are entrepreneurial.

First of all, if you opened up a fitness business, the odds are you’re a “vision” person. You think about the big picture. You like to move fast, and you’re comfortable with change. (And if that’s not you, it’s likely you’re probably not seeing tons of growth in your business.)

However, your team is probably going to have at least some people who are not wired in the same way. And that’s good! Let’s never forget; we give each other what we lack. Your team members that like things to be methodical and stable are a great counterbalance. They help entrepreneurial types from moving too quickly and consider all the potential consequences of a given decision.

Furthermore, all humans suffer from what’s sometimes called “The Curse of Knowledge.” The Curse of Knowledge is defined as “a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes others have the background to understand.”

We see this happen all the time when a young fitness pro forgets what his new client doesn’t know, and starts using jargon-y words that simply leave Mrs. Rossini feeling confused and stupid. He thinks he’s sounding like a scientific professional. She thinks he’s an asshole.

As fitness business owners, sometimes we do the same thing with our teams. We simply forget to loop them into our thought process or forget to share important details. While I made great strides this year and feel I did better work than ever keeping everyone looped in, sadly one of my last moves of the year was a bumpy rollout of a new program. Doh!

One must be ever-vigilant agains the Curse of Knowledge, it can sneak in the back door at any time…

Remember, when you’re in the driver’s seat and your hands are on the wheel, some brake pumping and fast turns may seem like no big deal. To you, they may even seem fun! But never forget your team is in the backseat of a passenger van and very possibly getting nauseous.

To be fair, as your business grows, sometimes you do have to make “command and control” decisions. Ideally your organization has the flexibility to move quickly when needed. But just as you may need to coach your team to be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing every single detail, you can help them out by giving them as much information as is useful.

Whenever you’re rolling out something that will affect your team’s workflow, make sure you keep them looped into WHY you’re making the change and how they/ the organization will benefit. Share the calendar of what will happen when. Clearly communicate what the changes will mean for them and what your expectations are for them personally.

Lastly, consider the appropriate communication delivery system based on the complexity of the initiative. A quick email to the team and a full team meeting with a presentation are very different kinds of rollouts.

(Want to learn more about the “Curse of Knowledge?” Read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.)

Well that’s all for me!

How about you? What did you learn this year? How’s that affecting the way you run your business?

Leave a comment and lemme know!

6 thoughts on “3 Lessons Learned From Running the World’s Only Unicorn Fitness Cult in 2016: The Mark Edition

  1. Thanks Mark

    Great point about communicate, communicate, etc. We are reading “Made to Stick” now as a staff.

    It’s ironic how we talk to our clients about finding out their “why” and then have a tendency to tell employees to “just get it done.”

    Learned so much this year….thanks for all the insight on BFU.

    1. Thanks so much for following along Jeff! And GREAT point about remembering to start with “why” with our team.

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