Round Wheels Work (4 of 5 Rules of Change)

by abclarke

(4 of 5 Rules)

As a reminder, my goal is to get to 10-12% body fat by November 2007 (starting from around 20-23% in August of 2006). This series of articles talks about the approach I’m taking by turning some business management techniques onto myself. In prior posts about changing body fat, I talked about how I “learned what I was changing” and how I had early some success by remembering “less is more” and continued that success by realizing that evolution trumps revolution. But when you don’t know how to evolve…

Miss Scarlett, I Don’t Know Nothing About Skinnin’ No Cats!

When I’ve been faced with tackling a new problem I’ve never had to tackle before I often find out there are many ways to solve the problem. Worse, lots of people claim success at each approach I find, so it’s hard to decide what the right course of action is.

For example, recently I’ve had to figure out the following things: How to structure the legal framework for a startup company; how to track customer support issues for a new Internet product my company is building; and how to start training for a marathon. For legal structures for companies, people can use “partnerships”, “c corporations”, “limited liability corporations” and other forms. To keep track of support requests (e.g. why was I billed for this?) some people just use a simple spreadsheet and communicate via e-mail with customers (and swear by it); others buy software dedicated to tracking support. When training for a marathon, some people run a gazillion miles; some people slowly ramp up and never run more than 30 miles in a week, and some people train by carrying their wife on their back.

In other words, there always appear to be “many ways to skin a cat“.

Now, truth is I don’t know anything about skinning cats. I’ve never done it. I’ve never wanted to do it. So, where the hell do I start? Well…

Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits

…I did grow up on a farm in Ireland and we raised rabbits commercially for a few years. And it turns out I know quite a few things about rabbits:

  • If managed intensively, Rabbits can produce 12-18 offspring every 3 months.
  • Rabbits mature at about 6-months-old, and can then breed year round.
  • You don’t need many males (bucks) to maintain a high reproductive rate, so they are automatically used for meat (sorry guys, at least in rabbits, we’re expendable).
  • You can wean offspring (and slaughter for meat) after about 8 weeks.
  • That many rabbits produce quite a lot of poop (which I had to clean), fur (which I had to clean off of water pipes) and meat.
  • Every rabbit we killed for meat had to be skinned before delivered to its final consumer.

And so in my life I’ve skinned lots of rabbits. After doing that over and over, I’ve come to this conclusion:

While there may be “many ways to skin a rabbit”, there’s only one good way to skin a rabbit.

I won’t describe it directly here, but click the link if you really need to know. But, it’s the most economical way. It takes the least time. It causes the least mess. And over decades (maybe centuries) of rabbit farming, it’s used by all rabbit farmers.

What’s my point?

Well, disgusting as it is, if you’re thinking of getting into rabbit farming and want to figure out the best way to skin your rabbits, you’d be a fool not to ask a rabbit-farmer how they do it. If you don’t, you’ll waste money, you’ll waste time, and you’ll cause a big mess. Who wants that!

The same thing applies to anything you’re trying to change; if you don’t know how to evolve what exists today, you’d be a fool not to find the rabbit-farmers of that problem and ask them.

You Are Not Unique

And yet, very often when we’re trying to change, we don’t look for what other people do. We convince ourselves that we’re different than anyone else, we succumb to “not-invented-here” syndrome, and we forge ahead on our own. When you have direct experience this may make sense. Or if what you’re trying to change or create has to be different (like when you’re building a new technology) it may make sense not to look at what others do (but probably not).

But when you’re trying a change you’ve never done before, and it really doesn’t need to be different, it’s good to remember that you’re not as unique as you think you are. No matter what the challenge is, be it social, business or personal, chances are tens to millions of other folks have faced nearly the exact same challenge before. And if you look for those people, they can teach you real shortcuts that are much more likely to succeed that trying on your own. They’ve made millions of mistakes so that you don’t have to.

They’ve invented a round wheel. You should use it.

(There is an exception to this rule: If the industry’s way of doing something is clearly standard, but you have an existing system you need to change that isn’t standard, you’ll likely have more success evolving the existing system towards the standard rather than just imposing what the industry thinks is best. If you don’t evolve the existing system, you’ll end up with the resistance and rebellion I spoke about last week.)

Which Wheel?

Great! So we should use round wheels. Yet I started this post talking about the many perfectly good solutions there are for different problems. How do you pick the right wheel? Simple:

Don’t look for the wheel; look for the wheel-maker.

Describe your problem and what’s important to you, ask yourself who has tried to solve similar problems, and ask them what they did. They’ll tell you their wheels.

Let me give three examples:

  1. How to legally structure a startup: First, ask yourself what’s important to the founders. In the Stolen Bases case, it’s good tax treatment during the investment stage, but legally structured in a standard way that minimizes tax headaches and makes it easy to add investors later. Once you have noted a few of your goals identify similar companies or people who have tried to achieve the same goals. And then, go ask them what they did. It turns out that folks love to give free advice J. We chose a Limited Liability Corporation.
  2. How to track customer support requests: First, ask yourself what’s important to you. Will you be immediately hit with a lot of customers requesting help, and how will they ask (by phone, e-mail, etc.)? Do you even know who your customers will be? If you’re like me in the early stages of a company, you can’t answer most of those questions. However, I can easily come up with companies that also could not answer those questions. So, I asked those companies (I know several founders in this situation, and there are online communities to post to as well). And our answer was obvious: research but don’t pre-buy or pre-install software. Instead start with a cheap spreadsheet or bug-tracking system, make sure I spend lots of time dealing with our initial customers, and then upgrade to a middle-tier solution with ticket tracking when we better understand our support patterns.
  3. How to run a marathon: First, ask yourself what’s important to you. I want to finish my marathon successfully, but I don’t care about my finishing time. I don’t (contrary to how it appears) want to spend a lot of time training for this. And I want to minimize my chances of injury. So, I looked for people who ran marathons with those criteria, and they suggested I run with a group like Team-In-Training or Team Continuum. So, that’s what I’m doing.

My Fat Loss Wheel

So, let’s bring this back to losing fat. I mentioned last week that I chose to eat 6-times a day as a change. How did I figure that out there? Well, I first asked what my goals were for how I lose fat:

  1. I want to lose fat (not necessarily weight), but more importantly I want to keep off any fat I lose. So whatever change I make has to last me a lifetime.
  2. I don’t want to diet – I think ‘diet’ is a four letter word. Instead, I want to change how I eat so that my normal mode of eating allows me to gain or lose weight with only minor changes.
  3. I do want to lose weight, but not at the expense of my health.

Then, I looked for people who had similar goals and visibly succeeded over long periods of time. I didn’t care about people who lost 20, 30, 100, or 300 pounds. I cared about people who lost mostly fat, and then kept it
off for more than 3 years (my wheel-makers). What did they those folks have in common?

Well, here’s a bunch of them: John Stone, Anthony Ellis, several stories at sites like this, and others.

There’s a lot of stuff in there (good and bad), but if you read through it and look for people who have lost a lot of weight and kept it off for 3+ years, you’ll see the following trends:

  1. All of them decided to make permanent changes in their lives, not just short-term diets.
  2. They measure what they weigh, and what they eat.
  3. They figure out how many calories they should consume a day to maintain their current weight, based on their basal metabolism rate (BMR) (which is how many calories their body expends based on normal activity).
  4. When losing weight, they try to never lose more than 0.5 to 1 pound a week. This means they try to eat 500 calories (about 1.25 Starbucks muffins) a day less than their BMR when losing weight, or 500 calories a day more when gaining. If they consistently lose more than a pound, they INCREASE what they eat!!!
  5. They eat 6 times a day, with small meals, making sure their body never feels hungry (and therefore never starts reducing metabolism to adjust to lower calorie intake).
  6. They drink lots of water, which helps the stomach stay full and hence feel less hungry.
  7. They all lift weights because that encourages the body to use any additional calories for muscle, and more muscle means a higher basal metabolism rate (and therefore more food you can eat without gaining weight).

And here’s what they don’t do:

  1. None of them recommend going all protein all the time.
  2. Almost none of them went for crazy surgery, and those who did often gain weight back or get some additional health problems.
  3. None of them go on crash diets (at least not for long, and they all seem to regret it when they do).
  4. None of them sweat it if weight goes up one day, or if they pig out one day. But the next day, they get back on track and they look at long term trends.

(Note: Some recommend supplements or weight reduction pills; others say they’re extremely dangerous. I’m conservative, so I tend to be with the latter folks on this).

Big Wheel Keep On Turnin’; Body Fat Keep On Burnin’

So, I figured out my BMR (about 2,700 to 3,000 calories a day), subtracted 500 calories (my target zone is 2,200 to 2,500 a day), started counting what I ate, and ate six times a day (I was already lifting weights before I started this).

And I discovered a few things:

  • While I feel hungry when I stop eating my smaller meals, 10 minutes later I no longer feel hungry (it takes the brain time to catch up with the stomach).
  • In order to put together six meals that add up to 2,200 calories a day but also ensure my body never feels hungry, I have to eat more fruit and vegetables because they make me feel fuller throughout the day. And that’s good for many long-term health reasons.
  • I rediscovered cooking as a fun hobby again (and sites like this help me find meals that are really easy, tasty, and good for me).
  • I kept losing body fat (15.1% by June 24th).
  • And I discovered it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I feared it would be.

The question is can I keep doing this? Well, enter the last rule: Iterate, Iterate, Iterate.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

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