Review: Move Your Bus by Ron Clark

I first heard about this book in a talk by a corporate leader, and made a note to add it to my reading list. My Kindle has been the cause of impulse-buying in books, and this book too, sat on my unread pile for months. I finally got around to reading it over the Christmas Holidays, and have since been kicking myself for not doing so sooner!

I can confidently state that Move your Bus is the best management book that I have read in 2015.

Ron Clark is a US-based educator who runs the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. From what I gather, his eponymous school uses innovative methods, reportedly improving education outcomes among students. Clark’s three previous books are on education theory, and this has been his first book on corporate performance. One would expect that an educator would have little to say in matters of managing a company, but Clark is also a high-performance entrepreneur, operating an enterprise that fulfils a critical social need.

The basis of this book is a Flintsones’ style bus, with the floor ripped out. The driver of the bus provides direction with the steering wheel, but it is the passengers who provide the power for mobility in the same manner that Fred Flintstone drives his car. Clark applies this analogy to teams.

Clark describes the passengers on the bus as Runners, Joggers, Walkers, and Riders. The Runners, he states, are the overachievers – individuals who put their professional performance above everything else in life. There are then the Joggers, who perform well, but are not as driven as the Runners, characterised by patches of brilliant performance. The Walkers, according to Clark, are those who just “go with the flow”, doing the bare minimum to stay productive. Clark defines one more class of employee – the Rider, who invests no effort, yet finds fault with people around and is generally “dead weight”; slowing the team down.

In this slim volume that can be read in a single afternoon, Clark paints insightful images of these types and highlights how the first three fit into the team’s dynamic. He also discusses strategies to best utilize them and drive them to peak performance. Clark has an easy, conversational style that makes this book an easy read. Though loaded with anecdotes from Clark’s own life and career, the book does not sound preachy or pedantic.

One major shortcoming of this book is the way in which Clark deals with the Riders – the underperformers on his bus. His language seems to suggest that organizations summarily fire such employees, as any effort invested in them is a waste. This, I believe, is a very simplistic view of a complex issue. Professional underperformance may have various causes – right from willful inertia, which of course warrants Clark’s choice of action, to pathologies such as clinical depression and social disorders. There is a dilemma here – should a company invest in attempting to ‘fix’ an underperforming employee in what could be a poor business decision, or should there be an ethically difficult “culling”?

Over all, Move Your Bus is a great resource for people managers, regardless of their career stage. Clark practices what he preaches in education – this easy-to-read book is rich in information and insight, and will leave you thinking for weeks afterwards.

Simplicity

Since December 2014, I’ve been working on two fitness goals – first, to drop the flab that I’ve put on since mid-2013, and second, to strengthen my left shoulder after a round of physiotherapy. I’ve had a lot of tools at my disposal – because of my background in the martial arts, I’m a strong believer in bodyweight exercises; I also have kettlebells that I’ve used to shed some serious weight in the past. Additionally, I’ve always supplemented any weight-loss effort with High Intensity Interval Training, usually in the form of sprints.

Since February though, I’ve faced trouble with my left foot, which made me drop sprint training. To compensate, I built a weekly programme of alternating bodyweight and kettlebell training. This went on for a while, but the lack of gains in strength and endurance sent me back to the drawing board. After all, to come home on Friday evening with sore shoulders and no energy is not what I expected from my exercise regimen.

Two weeks ago, I stopped the Kettlebells. My exercise regimen now comprises only bodyweight workouts, with alternating days of upper-body and lower-body work. For weight loss, I relied on a high-protein / low carb diet that has served me very well in the past.

The change has been amazing. With a good 48 hours between workouts, my body now has time to recover, and I’m able to push the performance envelope, with data to prove it. I’m also losing fat. The best thing of course, is the improvement in temperament, which makes me look forward to each day’s workout.

There is a lesson in this – simplicity.

My goals were simple. I had enough (too much?) information. I wanted to try everything to get the maximum effect; however, what I did was to just wear myself out. It’s scary to think that I brought myself so close to another injury that would have taken me out of action for 3-4 months.

This is what my current workout looks like:

Upper body: Push-ups; Pull-ups; seated dips; Scapular pull-ups. I do two failure sets of these exercises in this order, with a timed one-minute rest between sets.

Lower Body: Deep Squats (butt to heels); forward lunges; single-leg Romanian deadlifts; side lunges; calf raises. I do two sets of these exercises in this order, with a timed one-minute rest between sets.

Further reading

Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym is a fantastic resource for bodyweight exercises. This is a well-illustrated book suitable even for beginners. A related app available for iOS and Android helps users build workouts and follow a 40-day plan.

Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym (Flipkart): http://fkrt.it/Ggn4MBNN

Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym (Amazon) http://amzn.to/1CycgJ2

Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras is for athletes who want to get more into the dynamics of each exercise. This is a great resource for instructors and trainers.

Bret Contreras: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy (Flipkart): http://fkrt.it/GA~kXYNN

Bret Contreras: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy (Amazon): http://amzn.to/1BR8ZK5

Desperate Measures

Every now and then, I see posts in the social media, where people wishing to “get in shape” go on a “program”, “cleanse” or “detox” for anywhere between three and 30 days. In India, this has hit a whole new level of insanity, where brides to be embark on an extremely aggressive programme that includes weight loss and skin lightening in the weeks leading up to their wedding. It is perhaps thanks to a culture of instant gratification where people expect tremendous results in an unrealistic amount of time. The fad diets aside, these unrealistic expectations coupled with a supersize helping of slothfulness have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry of pills, potions, and machines that are supposed to give you that body of your dreams.

Coming back to the fad diets and detoxes, a large number of these are “very low calorie diets” that will cause a serious calorie deficit, and consequently some weight loss. However, the first few kilos lost are usually “water weight” which will return within days of resuming old diet habits. Frustration aside, there are potentially dangerous side effects. Sustained low calorie intake can destroy muscle tissue and weaken vital organs. Fad diets that focus on a single food or food group can leave the body deprived of essential nutrients and trigger other illnesses. Even if there is some weight loss, it is unsustainable in the long run.

In my journey from 108 Kgs to a peak-fitness weight of 74 Kgs, I learnt 3 key lessons that ALL the information on weight loss breaks down to.

Firstly, no matter what TV infomercials, pumped up fitness trainers, or that overweight diet expert in your office tell you, weight loss is a function of calories consumed vs calories expended. If you burn more than you eat, you lose weight and if you eat more than you burn, you gain weight.

Secondly, good health has a little to do with calories and everything to do with nutrition. Your diet must include a complex range of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum health.

Thirdly, exercise is critical to preserve (if not build) strength, mobility, and endurance.

Getting healthy is not a weekend project or a month-long plan. It is an aggressive reprogramming of your mind and body and includes critical changes to every aspect of your life. If you make the changes and follow what works consistently, you will succeed – else, you will be stuck in the vicious cycle of crash diets and magical supplements.

A Mindful Approach To Emotional Pain

Every one of us nurses some sort of emotional trauma. It could be disappointment related failure, grief at the loss of a loved one, perhaps the agony of a broken relationship or even the numbing melancholy of loneliness. Such pain takes long to disappear, if ever, and often comes right back, triggered by the faintest memory.

Mindfulness, derived from Buddhist meditation practices, is a system that teaches practitioners to focus on sensations and emotions as they occur in the present moment, purely as what they are, by suspending judgment and self-criticism. In the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World, Mark Williams suggests that emotions and sensations are like seasons that pass, and that enduring sorrow and unease is a result of self-criticism and a preoccupation with what is long gone.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a European psychiatrist who claimed to have worked widely with PTSD sufferers. Drawn in by the prospect of obtaining free medical advice, I began to talk to him about some of the unpleasant incidents that I had experienced in my past – that I felt controlled my life, even at that point. Moving our conversation to a more private location, he asked me to get specific, to recall events and emotions.

The exercise was extremely painful, and left me in tears. While I was composing myself, he called for a dozen notepads. When these arrived, he told me to write down my account in as much detail as possible. When I was done, he laid it face-down on a coffee table and asked me to do so again. I did this perhaps ten times while he proceeded to drain the hotel room’s rather varied mini-bar. This took around six hours.

When the coffee table was covered with notepads (or more likely, the bar was empty), he asked me to pick up and read aloud the first account that I had written. When I was done, he asked me to pick up the last one and read it aloud too. It was incredible. In the course of that one evening my recollection of the emotions surrounding those events had changed substantially. I realized that perhaps my mind superimposed emotion on those memories each time I recalled them.

Williams discusses this in his book. He talks about how we exist on two planes – thinking, and doing – and how, while these are states that are essential to human existence and individual growth, their overuse or unnecessary application yields negative results. Williams goes on to describe a third state – being – when one exists in a state of acute awareness of sensations and emotions that one is experiencing at that present moment. This is the state that Mindfulness meditation strives for.

Nowadays, whenever a negative emotion strikes, I look at it objectively, and try to establish if the pain is just because I am being judgmental of myself. While it is normal to experience sadness, anger, and despair in the course of life, a vicious cycle of self-loathing is perhaps at the root of chronic unhappiness and myriad addictions.

Mindfulness has been a useful tool for me to find balance. Never being a meditating person myself, I found it extremely hard when I first began. Now, I long for those fifteen minutes of quiet each day. It has changed the way I think and react.

References: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World

Buy on Amazon India at the link below.

Paperback version:

Kindle Version:

Buy on Flipkart at the link below:

http://dl.flipkart.com/dl/mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-peace-frantic-world-english/p/itme3h3z6myya3zg?pid=9780749953089&srno=t_2&query=mindfulness+frantic+world&affid=ajitnatha

A Fitness Lesson From The Red Queen

In Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice complains to the Red Queen about remaining in the same spot despite running for quite some time.

“Now, here, you see,” the Red Queen Retorts, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

How like fitness.

For the past month or so, I’ve been following an upper body training programme to recondition my shoulders and arms after about six months of disuse in the aftermath of the latest episode of my pinched nerve acting up.

I’ve been doing two sets each of push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and hanging scapular retractions. In case I encounter muscle failure before hitting my target, I cut intensity – moving from push-ups to kneeling push-ups and from pull-ups to negative pull-ups for instance. For the few days I seemed to have plateaued – though somewhat smug about the numbers that I hit.

Today, however, I decided to push harder, and raised my targets by 25 per cent, counting my reps backwards. Interestingly, I hit my enhanced targets on push-ups without any issues, and exceeded my previous counts on all the other exercises. This means that for the past one week, I wasn’t really growing – silly, silly me!

Sometimes, in the absence of an instructor or pace-setter we tend to be too easy on ourselves. This temptation is particularly strong when one works out solo in the privacy of a home. Fitness is like the Land Beyond the Looking Glass – you must run twice as fast just to stay in the same place!

So, here’s the change in strategy – my new targets are a minimum of 25 per cent beyond my highest good-form reps, with targets revised every 10 workouts.

Let’s see how this works. Watch this space!

The Yabut Monster

yeahbut

‘’Yeah, but a diet like that is very hard to maintain when you’re living with a family.’’

‘’Yeah, but after a day at work, even ten minutes of exercise is asking for too much.’’

‘’Yeah, but exercising in the morning will totally throw my day’s schedule out of gear’’

‘’Yeah, but I’m a foodie, sticking to a diet like this will totally drive me nuts.’’

‘’Yeah, but quitting cigarettes really messes with my head.’’

All of us know the Yabut monster – he kills our quest for a better life while it is still a thought. Most of us have some sort of a life goal – something that we want to change about ourselves to be stronger, wiser, healthier, or more attractive. Being thinking people, we also know what would get us there. Unfortunately, the evil Yabut monster rears his ugly head to nip our efforts with a ‘but’.

Growth is a never-ending process, and especially in matters involving the human body or mind, change is never a phase. If you strive towards something, you will have to push far beyond, because complacency and stagnation at your goal will cause you to lose your gains.

This means that any change that you wish to make in your life requires a much greater commitment than you actually think. Indeed, as soon as you make a decision to change, your mind starts putting up resistance, giving you reasons to back out gracefully with the satisfaction of having noble intentions that were unfortunately thwarted by insurmountable obstacles.

All the obstacles are inside your head – it is mainly the really smart people who fall prey to the Yabut monster. Only once you have defeated the voices inside your head, will you be able to make any lasting changes in your life. So every time the possibility for a desirable change comes up, and your response to it begins with ‘Yeah, but’, remember that the Yabut monster is just behind you, setting you up for failure.

It Doesn’t End In Class

Okay, so you’ve signed up for Krav Maga, and you’re regular with your weekend classes. You train, you appear for tests, you get your levels, and you’ve bought the T-Shirt. What next?

A martial art is not just an activity that you complete by showing up – it’s a lifestyle. The aim of this lifestyle is not just to survive, but to win. As a martial artist, you’re learning to use your body as a weapon. Your weapon’s performance is based on two things – how well you maintain it, and how well you know it.

Fuel Up

A strenuous activity like Krav Maga requires rest and nutrition for your body to recover. Without this, you will become more injury-prone. As soon as your session concludes, make it a point to drink one liter of water – this will purge your muscles of metabolic waste, and lower the intensity of cramping and muscle soreness. Within an hour or so, have a meal that is high in protein – this will provide your body with the necessary components to repair muscles, and will also cut cravings for sugary foods.

 

Keep Active

On other days, make it a point to set aside a minimum of 30 minutes for some exercise. Even if you do it in three 10-minute tranches on a busy day, it’s all right. Do push-ups, squats and pull-ups. These three exercises are enough to bring about a serious gain in strength in just a few months. An Android app called ‘Just Six Weeks’ can help you follow a progressive programme to improve.

Get Rest

When you’re in training, you need to get sufficient sleep to give your mind time to recharge, and your body the time to heal. Aim for seven hours a night. Avoid caffeine four hours before bed-time, and avoid staring at a screen for an hour before. Eat dinner in soft light from candles or an incandescent light bulb, rather than a harsh source like a tube-light – this will soothe your senses towards sleep.

 

Treat your Injuries

Injuries wage a war of attrition on the martial artist. Each untreated injury will leave you with lower mobility, lower strength, and increased vulnerability. Spurn the temptation to return to full-intensity training when you’re ‘somewhat okay’. All muscle, tendon, joint, and ligament injuries require a rehabilitation routine that extends to beyond the time that the discomfort ends. A return to strenuous activity before this healing is complete will likely result in further injury, and extended or permanent disability.

Keep Learning!

Your growth as a martial artist must span beyond the confines of a single discipline. Do you know a Jujitsu practitioner? Train with him in locks and ground fighting. Know a Thai boxer? Ask about the conditioning they do that lets them kick with their shins. Know a ballerina? Ask her about training for her insane power-to-weight ratio and flexibility. Spend some time each week reading about new trends in fitness and injury rehabilitation as well.

This article was first published on Krav Maga Hyderabad’s blog;

You could read more about the IKMF’s Hyderabad’s chapter at http://kravmagahyderabad.wordpress.com/