This morning I had the privilege of meeting Greg Glassman after a Crossfit Q&A session at Brooklyn Barbell Club. The thing I admire most about Glassman and the Crossfit organization is a set of strong first principles combined backed by empirical arguments. Today, Glassman laid a few core Crossfit tenets:
Crossfit is constantly varied high intensity functional movement. Functional movements are categorically unique in their ability to express power. Power across broad time and modal domains is fitness. Fitness measured across lifespan is health. Affiliates are a distribution system for the above.
All of these are simple but broad declarations, but instead of relying on dogma, age, experience, or any sort of certificate as a reason Crossfitters should accept these tenets, Glassman always points to results and data derived from experimentation as the grounds for these core principles. “Study data, pay close attention to method, and ignore narrative” when reporting back new findings, he instructs affiliates.
The strength of the Crossfit way is that it is based on the scientific method: we recognize phenomena (elite fitness), form a hypothesis about why / how it happened ( training constantly varied high intensity movements ), and seek to duplicate the results through experimentation ( everyone does the same workouts in Crossfit and witnesses huge increases in functional strength, range of motion, endurance, etc ).
When I spoke with Glassman after the lecture, I thanked him not for Crossfit training program, but for his execution and for building such a strong community around the Crossfit organization. Crossfit for me is the quintessential 21st century org, something between business, government, and church, that exists only because it creates authentic value for participants and encourages lateral connections instead of a top down hierarchy. The affiliate model, group workouts, and competitive/game aspects of Crossfit do not simply motivate everyone to work harder and become friends with everyone involved: all of these things are the bedrock of a scalable business/organization/community. The training method breeds new leaders and more members gain enough experience to teach newcomers, the capacity to handle accelerating growth keeps up with new demand.
Requiring participants to give back to the community (in this case via support and instruction) is what I think makes camaraderie so strong in organizations like Crossfit. It is because you give back that you become vested, you care more deeply for those you help because they are realizing the fruits of your contribution.
I felt a strong void after leaving school and team sports; finding a place to give and receive help, to compete or work towards a common end, is how we fill this void. Others find a substitute in dogmatic groups (religious ones) or cultural communities (national pride/sports team based groups), but as science makes dogma more unacceptable and as global connectedness continues to erase national boundaries, the importance of lifestyle communities grounded in hard science is greater than ever.
This has been a bit desultory, but the community and methodology of Crossfit are truly inspirational to me. I look to this organization with gratitude for providing examples that help me make business decisions every day. Business in this century cannot afford to operate by dictating “needs” to consumers. The new foundation for scaling a large org is providing authentic value that inspires your community (formerly known as customers) so much that they cannot help but become vested in your cause and become your ambassadors, your teachers, and your leaders.