Greatist.com published their annual compilation of the 100 most influential people in health and fitness yesterday. I spotted the link in my Twitter feed, and clicked through right away.
Perhaps prepped by Coach Boyle’s use of “interesting,” I began reading with cynical intentions. Who had mastered business and social media to extent that their knowledge, or lack there of, didn’t matter anymore?
Right, because that’s a good mindset.
The list started with several big names who I scoffed at. I scrolled past more names that I scoffed at. I read on, eventually finding the figures who are held in high esteem amongst my peers. “Finally,” I thought, “Here are the good ones!”
My cynical self was pleased.
In that moment, I was concerned with who has created the most informative content possible. That’s not what the list is about. The list is about who has been the most influential. In a footnote at the end of the 100 person list, the Greatist editors added a paragraph that’s worth reading:
A note on our metrics: We take this list seriously, and took every measure we could to ensure its accuracy. This list is meant to highlight those people who had the most actual reach in the health and wellness space in 2014—not those we personally consider to be influencers. The order of this list was almost entirely based on numbers. We considered more than 200 names gathered from last year’s nominees (and resulting comments), input from social media, and suggestions from our Expert Network. We then created a scoring system based on eight measureable categories: website page rank, social media presence, Klout score, number of studies or research published, number of products, professional degrees and certifications, and number of Google News mentions in 2014—all with variable levels of impact on the final score. Finally, we arranged the list from highest to lowest score and used our qualitative judgment as an editorial team to fill in the gaps that the metrics couldn’t. We are damn proud of this list, but we of course always welcome your comments and concerns. Apologies we can’t give credit to every person playing a significant role in the health, fitness, and happiness world. But don’t let our list stop your Mama, Bro, BFF, or pets from serving as your biggest influences!
And with that I realized the most important thing that this list can teach those who are concerned with serious fitness:
I was missing the point.
If you’re a young, passionate fitness professional who scoffs at these kind of lists, I’m going to ask you a favor. I’m asking you to keep reading. I’m about to tell you why I, too, used to scoff at these lists, and why a personal project of mine is to understand their importance.
We should first clarify that influence and quality are not the same things. This is not a list of the people who have had the most profound impact on evidence-based training, or a metric of the greatest fat loss in a single facility in the past year. No, this is a list about influence.
Before you X-out the Greatlist list or this article, consider this: The best coach in the country will never be the most influential person in health and fitness. Maybe re-read that last sentence, too.
When you consider influence, I’d venture that the First Lady of the United States will always have more reach than an in-the-trenches trainer who has figured out the most effective way to do push-ups. You may find it frustrating, or you may find it freeing, but there are things in the world that are more important than push-ups.
Let’s take a look at one of the people on the list who I think is winning at the wisdom game: John Berardi.
I remember the first time I saw Berardi speak. It was at a Perform Better Functional Training Summit, and the room was packed with folks who were waiting for knowledge bombs. Thing is, Berardi didn’t actually say anything that mind blowing. What he did do, however, was beautifully demonstrate a skill needed to communicate on a bigger scale.
Berardi didn’t use big words. Berardi didn’t talk about cutting edge science. Berardi didn’t even remind us that in academic cirlces I should be calling him Dr. Berardi, as he holds a Ph.D. No, Berardi was a man who talked about simple behavioral change in a way that made it accessible for everyone. This is why, as Greatist notes, “his science-backed approach to coaching has gained Precision Nutrition 200,000 clients in the last decade and a half.”
Influence isn’t about information.
Influence is about communication.
I can think of hundreds of influential people in health and fitness. If I created my own list, and then cross referenced it to this Greatist list, there would be one variable tying the two together: The most influential people curate communication better than anyone else. The people on my list who have made it to the Greatist list are active on social media, at fitness events, and are regularly contributing with others in the training world. If you’re not creating those relationships, you can’t create influence.
I’ve spent years trying to collect as much fitness information as possible. I wanted to be the most knowledge person in the world. I thought that by collecting information, I can best follow the advice of Yoda:
“Always pass on what you have learned.” – Yoda
To pass on the best information, you have to learn the best information, right? This is what I told myself, and this is what I learned. If you’re a coach or trainer that is as excited about things as I am, you may be thinking the same thing. As I’ve continued to learn, I’ve come to believe something that I think is more important than learning more. My realization is that we can’t be succesful in passing on what we’ve learned by learning more. We get better at it by practicing it. For me, this has meant more wisdom from Yoda:
I learned that collecting ALL of the fitness information was the key to success, and that’s simply not true. Creating a system that let’s you communicate that information efficiently and effectively is something that I’m actively engaged in learning. It’s something that I believe can benefit many of my bright peers who do have great knowledge or thoughts, and haven’t yet been able to share it. With that great knowledge comes the responsibility of sharing it, and that’s a skill that we must learn.
It’s a skill I get to practice everyday at MFF, and I’d be remiss to let you know that Mark Fisher is sitting at 94th on the list. I’m sure we’ll see him climb it in the coming years, in no doubt due to the fact that Mark has developed an uncanny ability to unpack the highest-quality training information from the “pretentious asshole” jargon that often packages it. Cheers!
In this way, it’s not about information or intelligence, but about influence. So what the hell does that mean?
A Google search told me that “influence” is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself. Greatist didn’t publish a list of the most intelligent, or information-laden people in health and fitness. No, they published a list of influencers.
That’s a list of people who can share that esteem with their own followers, who in turn pass it on. This should stand in stark contrast to those who are bitching about Dr. Oz’s quackery to their friends, or Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Coffee being not-the-best-idea in caffeine consumption.
Greatist compiled those who have reach, those who have perpetuated their practice, magical or mystical, not because of their information intelligence, but because of their influence. It’s because they’ve cultivated the art communication, which can be scarce in the information age.
If you care enough about having influence, don’t knock the list. Learn how to influence, and do it so well that you make the next list.