A few weeks ago I went to see my nutritionist—Dr. Philip Goglia, who has been a featured expert on shows such as The Doctors and Dr. Phil—for several reasons. First, I liked the results I was seeing in a tennis partner in terms of fat loss, fitness and overall performance. Second, I wasn't entirely happy with my own physique or performance. I felt like I should be in better shape, be faster and have more energy—especially considering I wasn't eating much and exercised like a maniac.
What I learned, and what has happened over the course of two short weeks, is not only amazing, but contradictory to what I thought I knew about both personal and professional performance. And I believe that lesson has a parallel in business.
The first thing I discovered was that I was starving myself and getting slower and bloated in the wrong places because of it. In an effort to get leaner and faster, I was barely consuming one thousand calories a day. And the way I was consuming them in what, how and when I ate, was entirely wrong for my specific metabolism. Through a body composition measurement, blood test and lipid profile, my nutritionist was able to tell me my exact eating patterns without even asking me. And through the same test, he showed me how my specific metabolic type fell into the 3 percent of the population that is equally efficient at burning fat, carbohydrate and protein. (Seventy-four of the population is fat and protein efficient, and 23 percent are carbohydrate efficient.) It didn't take much for me to see why simply cutting calories and one-size-fits-all diets don't work.
I was essentially shutting my metabolism down, making myself "run cold." Here's what happened:
When I reduced my calorie intake, my body perceived it as a starvation threat, sensed weight loss and cooled its metabolic rate down in an effort to become more efficient. As I kept cutting calories, my body perceived it as trauma and further cooled (slowed) down, causing my body to hoard fat to survive. My metabolism then looked to a new source of fuel for energy, consuming muscle tissue that had no caloric support for repair. As it used muscle tissue for energy, my lean muscle mass declined while fat stores remained constant, or even elevated. Then I began to get sluggish and tired, craving sweets and fats. The release and utilization of insulin and blood sugar became inefficient. Psychologically, I became emotionally distraught as my body fat and weight began to rise. I started binging, so my blood sugar utilization got sporadic, creating an inability to utilize nutrients effectively. The increased inconsistent calorie intake lead to further weight gain since my metabolism had cooled to compensate for the original lack of fuel in my diet.
I see the same kind of thing in business. A startup in its infancy grows like crazy, progresses through adolescence and young adulthood, all the while maturing in structure and performance until finally full maturity sets in. The founding group is not necessarily complacent, but comfortable. But growth slows, and at some point performance just isn't what it used to be. Layers have been added, walls and silos erected, and the vim and vigor that once characterized the company is somehow missing. Innovation wanes. Competitors start nibbling at market space. Costs swell in proportion to growth and senior management puts the squeeze on to stem the tide. In other words, they go on a diet. They cut and cut and cut, and eventually begin burning the equivalent of lean muscle tissue. Speed bumps get put in place and all of a sudden good ideas—the essential creative nutrients—don't get implemented. But the bad ones do, the ones that run along the lines of what else can be cut. Opportunities don't get fed properly. Company metabolism and performance slows even further. Management begins looking for silver bullet "diet" programs, a.k.a the latest management fad. The company, with all good intention, starves itself, unable to figure out why it keeps slowing down.
My nutritionist immediately wanted to reverse my downward spiraling metabolic rate. "We need to rekindle the fire," he said. "Turn up the heat." He bumped my caloric intake 50 percent. But how I got that 50 percent was the secret. It was through six meals—three larger and three smaller—each one strategically arranged in a specific mix of carbs, protein and fat to play to my metabolic profile, each one meant to simply get me to the next meal. And all healthy stuff, essentially single ingredient items. I loved the simplicity of that. And I felt like I was constantly eating!
But that's not all. He ordered me to drink five liters of water everyday. I didn't know how important water is to metabolism. Inactive people should drink half an ounce of water per pound of body weight, active people twice that. Water is a catalyst for the transport of nutrients, a thermostat, and a key protective insulator against environmental temperature swings. If your water level is low, your body perceives it as trauma, and stores fat under your skin to insulate and protect the body. Water is even more important than food in a way. "Miss a meal, but do NOT miss irrigation," he said.
In business, you can not only starve your company of the creative fuel it needs, you can dehydrate it. The equivalent of water in an organization is information. Information must be massive and flow freely to promote transparency and visibility. Otherwise, people will hoard knowledge rather than share it, to protect themselves and their jobs. Innovation cannot happen without sharing knowledge. Lack of free flowing, clear information will eventually wreak havoc on performance.
In two weeks of eating correctly and drinking water constantly, my body fat dropped three percent. I loss five pounds on the scale, which because of the change in my body fat to muscle ratio really meant I had lost about six pounds of fat and added one back in muscle. I was amazed. Based on the shift, he then laid out an adjusted plan for the next week. We set a long term goal of 8 percent body fat, down from the original 18 percent. It'll take a while, but I'm now a believer. I'm never hungry, I have no cravings, and it's actually quite a lot of fun creating meals. The options seem endless.
The health of a company, I believe, works much the way it does with the human body. Both need proper care feeding to maintain performance. Are you inadvertently starving and dehydrating your company? It's easy enough to reverse.