In the early part of the twentieth century, the French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote ‘to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly’. Today, nearly a century later, in our fast-changing, technology-infused world, these words ring truer than ever. As I enter 2016 with a mix of excitement and trepidation at the change that lies ahead, I keep Bergson’s wisdom close to my chest. I am ready to go on creating myself. Endlessly.
Imagine a world in which you wake up at dawn, roll out of bed bleary-eyed, and start your day by curving like a cobra, stomping like a rhino, hopping like a frog, and crawling like a bear…
This imaginary world is closer to reality than you think. This year, I’m recreating myself in a rather different way. I start my mornings with primal movements from the animal kingdom through Zuu, an innovative and quirky workout where one mimics the moves of different zoo animals. I lunge, crawl, slither, push, pull, scramble, squat, and even roar in a sweat-soaked workout, blasting over 300 calories in 20 minutes.
Founded in Australia by Nathan Helberg, Zuu has been used to train armed forces and elite athletes and is now finding its way into the lives of entrepreneurs and business leaders. I can say (or grunt) with great pain and conviction - as my sadistic personal trainer Mr Argent would gleefully confirm - that the ‘bear crawl’ is a lot harder than you would think, and the backwards bear crawl is simply excruciating.
But what does Zuu have to do with entrepreneurs and business anyway? To thrive in the animal kingdom of Zuu, one must harness the core values of an entrepreneur. This High Intensity Interval Training is mental as much as it is physical. It’s about working smart, not necessarily working hard. It’s certainly not about staying in the gym for hours and hours. My animal-inspired programme is about having a plan and sticking to an intense routine that is quick, precise, effective and efficient.
Zuu conditions the brain to deal with surprises - the moves change quickly and you don’t know what’s coming next. It trains you to get comfortable with risk – these moves are far from the tranquility of your rhythmic work-out on the cross-trainer; you need to push physical and psychological boundaries and bend and twist in unthinkable ways that require a mental leap from even the bravest amongst us. Importantly, Zuu develops a tolerance for pain - a must-have attribute in any successful entrepreneur who is destined to see a myriad of failures before the darkness of early business losses turns to the light of first-time profits.
Is it any wonder that many entrepreneurs and CEOs have obsessive gym routines to match their militant business timetables? This trend goes back to the values and lifestyle of the modern day entrepreneur. The entrepreneur is an intense and relentless beast by nature. Unleashing the inner animal in the gym is how a lot of us release the stress and pressure that comes with our over-taxed lifestyles. In the Economist article ‘Here Comes Superboss’, the writer points to a cultural shift in our attitudes toward leisure and hard work. Whereas the pre-industrial world was defined by ‘conspicuous leisure’, today’s code for leaders seems to be about ‘effortful superiority’. There is a notion that the successful deserve their success because they get up at some unfathomable hour, jump on the treadmill, and sweat profusely. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is known to be at the gym as early as 5am. Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, is said to get up at the ungodly hour of 4am.
As entrepreneurs, our workout is an extension of ourselves and reflects our values and approach to business. Like the body, a business is only as strong as its weakest link. There is no point in having mammoth biceps held up by frail legs as these parts rarely work in isolation. Imagine a business with a top-tier marketing department but a substandard product. Dissatisfied customers would be inevitable. Just as a lack of muscular balance leads to injury, a lack of balance in your team may cause your business to ‘pull a muscle’. Think of your business as an organism as complex as the human body - all parts must be performing in order for the entire entity to be considered in good health.
Mastering our bodies helps us to master our businesses. As we transform our bodies and our physical condition, we also rewire our brains and edge ever closer to our best possible selves. Physical fitness leads to ‘cognitive fitness’ – a state of optimised ability to reason, remember, learn, plan, and adapt.
We are, after all, animals that have transcended the animal kingdom and over time unknowingly disconnected from our roots, while getting immersed in the banalities of modern day living. Instead of our natural habitats, we now live in the concrete jungle that steals from us our primal need for physical activity and fitness. The long-lived CEO and entrepreneur is the one who is at peace with his inner beast and recognises the balance needed between physical push-ups and ‘mental push-ups’, between agonising, sweat-soaked labour and cerebral labour.
In 2016, let's embrace our inner beast and keep our bodies sharp, lean, lacking in excess, and under continuous scrutiny and improvement - just as our businesses should be. And while you’re tapping into your inner creature, dig deep and seek out the carnal wisdom. You are an animal. Evolve like one. You are a chameleon who adapts to its surroundings. You are a butterfly who is unrecognizable from its previous form. Exist, change, mature, and recreate.