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Relentless Podcast

Dan Calista: Business in the Desert, Clear Company Values, and Dropping Zbombs

It’s time for episode five of the Relentless: Real People, Real Results, Real World podcast!

In this episode I welcome in Dan Calista, founder and CEO of Healthcare Management Consulting firm Vynamic (named “Best Place to Work” by Philadelphia Business Journal), Jerry Maguire enthusiast, husband and father, and lifelong entrepreneur.



  • Morning Coffee: Starbucks’ Via coffee with Hazlenut half-and-half.
  • Snap Out of a Funk: Take a nap.
  • His excitement about the rapidly declining cost of game-changing technology and putting it into the hands of the world. “The fun has just begun.”
  • Professionally Helpful Media: Glengarry Glen Ross and Jerry Maguire.
  • Relaxation Oriented Media: Steve Jobs’ Stanford graduation speech.
  • “Who is Dan? I try hard. I have failed countless times…get knocked down, try something else, pivot. I have learned a lot from mistakes.”
  • Receiving an Apple computer as a kid on Christmas morning and having it revolutionize his thinking and writing. So much so that he was accused of cheating. “If I didn’t have that computer, who knows where I would have ended up.”
  • “Things can always be better.” Embracing continuous improvement.
  • Going to Babson College (named #2 return-on-investment school) with a focus on entrepreneurship. “My goal was to start a business right out of college…I wanted all business all the time.”
  • Targeting a double drive-thru coffee place. “I didn’t even drink coffee. I just loved the concept of it. High margins, efficiency – I can compete in that market.”
  • Having the concept fail due to a conservative town, traffic patterns, and the cost associated with regulations, zoning, and upgrading the surrounding environment. “I had to realize that this isn’t going to work out…I had no job. I had no income.”
  • How did he decide to pull the plug? He talked to people he loved and trusted and confronted the problem. “I’d like to think that I’m not afraid to ask for help.”
  • Turning back to a home exterior painting business, his college summer job. “It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because I didn’t know how to paint. I didn’t know how to hire people. I didn’t know how to buy equipment. I didn’t know how to sell. It was literally a crash course.”
  • Translating the painting principles of production management and operational flow to Vynamic and business today.
  • Performing a utility role in his senior class play – Guys and Dolls – and why you can call him “the Ox”. Gaining behind the scenes experience and seeing how the production pieces came together at showtime.
  • Why you can also call him Desert Dan, after his high school company that purchased a used tent and rented it for parties. He rented it for $400 and after assorted labor costs, cleared $300 each rental. Company tagline: “We cover all your needs.” Later expanding, purchasing, and renting 50 chairs.

DD Crew

  • “I’ve always been a magnet for being around other like-minded, inspirational people.”
  • Seeing a critical mass of people he respected going to one firm, Anderson Consulting, which became Accenture. Working in management consulting and tackling strategic challenges alongside a solid team. “There are a lot of perks to working with tremendous people.”
  • Having his Jerry Maguire moment in 2002. “Suddenly the answer was pretty clear…When is going to be a better time than now?”
  • Growing Vynamic to 90+ employees via steady, healthy growth over time.
  • “The thing that is consistent is from the very beginning is valuing and prioritizing people…What is the value proposition to the people working inside the company? That’s not discussed nearly as much as the value proposition to the customers.”
  • Learning from Tony Hsieh, of Zappos and Delivering Happiness.
  • Basing the name Vynamic on dynamic – dynamic for change and V for values and vitality. “The only thing constant in life is change. Hey, let’s be in the change business! Because the reality is we’re all in the change business and change is happening whether we want to acknowledge it or not.”
  • The consistent theme of growth – make the experience better for the 4th, the 10th, the 20th, the 80th employee.
  • Looking back at the early days – “I had enough money to buy a laptop and a big dream.” – when there was no room to risk take, versus the current time when there is room to experiment and try new things.
  •  On Culture:
    • “What is the definition of culture? I like to think of it as your values and your behaviors. What do you say is important and what do you do?”
    • “Culture is a function of commitment, not size.”
  • “Hire slow, fire fast.” Taking your time in selecting as your business grows and getting many people – often 10+ – involved in the hiring process. “Would you want to work with this person on your next team project?”
  • Targeting experienced employees versus those fresh out of school, for which they lack a protocol. “If we’re not ready for it and the structure isn’t there, it’s not going to be a success yet.”
  • Asking a prospective employee to present a process and requiring them to think on their feet. “You see people in a different light.”
  • Vynamic Colors: Having each new employee choose a unique color with personal meaning. The company’s color? Vibrant green representing a fresh, healthy start. Dan’s color? Sunrise yellow.
  • Post employee orientation never missing a debrief and always asking “How can it be better? What needs to be re-enforced?”
  • Deciding to expand geographically to Boston by asking the team and receiving a positive response.
  • “The story of Vynamic is the story of the V…You have to look for opportunities to express your values. What is the value of values, meaning monetarily? It’s to position you in the right direction when faced with a fork in the road. Values will help guide that. When we’re operating at a high level, those values are clear and we know where to go.”

2014-10-27 at 8.34.11 AM

  • Choosing their industry focus, as well as their original location (Philadelphia) in 2002 by reflecting on values. “The business plan for Vynamic was the letter V. It was the shortest business plan in the history of business plans.”
  • “You take an A team with a B idea any day of the week…Ideas are cheap. It’s how you connect.”
  • Personal Wellness: “It’s holistic.”
  • Energy Management: “Who are the people that you are surrounded by that you get energy from?”
  • Planning ahead of time to include health related activities in an extra busy week.
  • Appearing on NPR and discussing the company concept of Zzzmail – outlawing work email between the hours of 10:00pm and 6:00am – and Zbombs – a frowned upon strategy of bombing a co-worker with a thought provoking, lengthy email at 9:59pm. “I believe the HR of the future will have a Zzzmail policy.”
  • “Work when you want to work, work when you have the inspiration, and manage your energy and flow how you like. Just don’t put that on somebody else.”
  • Having fun with their marketing and “stories worth spreading”. Having a meeting on a double-decker bus and buying a Vynamic ad to cover its exterior.
  • Going through the Relentless Transformation in 2011 (how we met) and carrying on the concepts of anywhere workouts, making strong choices when on the road, and supermarket strategy.
  • Advice to Young Dan: “Stick to your values…ask for help…go all-in and go as aggressive as you can…invest in people.”
  • What’s Your Endgame? “I immediately think of my kids…I want my kids to be able to pursue a healthy life.”
  • Preferred Vice: Sweets. “Any sort of candy, fruit item.”
  • Continuously learn from others and have conversations.

DAN’S Relentless Action: 
Say thank you to someone for anything big or small.


Vynamic Music Video:

If you like what you hear on these episodes, please help me out by subscribing to, rating, and/or reviewing the podcast on iTunes.  Thanks for your support!

Relentless Podcast

Keith Norris: Exercise Efficiently, Embrace the Suck, and Expand Your Mind

It’s time for episode four of the Relentless: Real People, Real Results, Real World podcast!  (Scroll to the bottom for all listening options.)

Podcast Description:

A deep dive into how real people get real results in the real world. Relentless mixes stories to provide context and the actions you can take right now in both short-format episodes and long-format interviews. Get ready to tackle anything from your morning cup of coffee to your exercise and nutrition regimens to building a million dollar business.

Keith Norris: 

In this episode I welcome in Keith Norris, a real life Incredible Hulk, former football player, current Efficient Exercise and ARX equipment rockstar, Paleo FX conference co-creator, ID Life investor, blogger, and unfortunate Dallas Cowboys’ fan. Here’s the rundown:

  • Drawing inspiration from the drive and initiative of his wife, Michelle Norris.
  • Podcasting fasted with a double strength black coffee in hand.
  • Loving the Jura Impressa espresso machine.
  • Re-entering the workout rap scene courtesy of Bo Alexander.
  • Last 2 Workouts: Sprints (lower body) and next day landmine rows and dips (upper body).
  • Snap Out of a Funk: Embrace the Pomodoro technique (breaking work down into small intervals and determining your optimal work/rest ratio). “It does really enhance one’s productivity and output.”
  • Learning the most from a Paleo FX panel on shamanism – specifically plant medicines and Ayahuasca – and leveraging the conference’s lifestyle component.
  • “If your spiritual alignment is out of whack – and you can define spiritual anyway you want to, this isn’t a religious doctrine – whatever your North Star is, if you’re not aligned with that, everything else isn’t optimized.”
  • Having a longstanding love for Johnny Manziel and the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Professionally Helpful Book: Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz. “He is so far beyond everyone else in the Strength & Conditioning community right now.  He’s kind of the Robb Wolf of the S&C community right now.”
  • #1 Dietz takeaway = Eccentric repetitions.  #2 = Turnaround speed.
  • Relaxation Oriented Book: Tao Te Ching.
  • Looking ahead to an Ayahuasca retreat and being prepared and open to fantastic insight. “I’m apprehensive, yes, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
  • “As you get older you realize – and I’ve done a ton of reading and talking with close friends – that certain plant medicines and certain drugs can give you insight into optimized self. It can help you clear blockages and see things as they are – not how you have colored them. Because all of us see life through our pre-made prism. My hope is always to find truth, not what I think to be true but what is actually factual. And this could be with mundane things, this could be with strength and conditioning practices. What actually works? What actually helps people? That is really what I’m looking for. Clarity and the ability to perceive the world as it is and not how it’s coming to me funneled through my preconceived conditions.”
  • Being a lifelong athlete, starting as a hyper-competitive kid surrounded by the best coaches in AAU track and field.
  • Maturing, experiencing a physical change, and having to transition to football, ultimately at Texas State.
  • Spending 9 years in the military and diving headlong into the pharmaceutical industry. “I thought I was doing the world a huge service by being in what I thought was a helping profession.”
  • Balancing the “ugly underbelly” of pharmaceuticals with the positive side of creating life changing drugs.
  • Alongside Michelle ditching life as they knew it at the worst economic time – “we took a bath on the house” – and moving to Texas. “Family and friends were going – have you lost your minds?”
  • Experiencing personal tragedy and asking “What’s the absolute worst case? Is potential bankruptcy that big a deal compared to the death of a daughter? No, it pales in comparison. If we look back on that, yes Brittani’s death was devastating to both of us, but we try to spin it into a positive and say that her death has inspired us to do some pretty ballsy things. People have been like ‘you’re completely nuts and there’s no way this is going to work’. But we’ve forged through and we’ve done it. And really we’ve been able to do it with the strength of Brittani behind us.
  • The rough early days of Paleo FX: “All of that hard work for the benefit of going into debt. It was a tough road.”
  • Balancing stable, linear progressions of the ARX equipment and Efficient Exercise businesses with the groundbreaking, volatile nature of Paleo FX. “You want to get a PHD in entrepreneurship? Paleo FX is it.”
  • Allowing Paleo FX to be its own entity. “It’s like raising a child. You can raise a child within certain parameters, but at the end of the day you have to let the child be who he’s going to be…If we’re smart about it we get out of its way and let it be what it’s going to be.”
  • Learning from the Ancestral Health Symposium and bringing the science to a more accessible platform for the layperson.
  • Going from expecting 50-100 people at an Efficient Exercise location and later renting out the Texas University football stadium. No other venue in the city was available and held their capacity.
  • Having Robb Wolf on board as the first speaker and leveraging that to attract others.
  • “In our infinite brilliance at the time we decided to do it during SXSW, a massive music and interactive festival which just shuts the city down. People are flooding into Austin anyway, so why not just have another conference? Which was the worst business decision we have made to date…Paleo FX has survived in spite of our follies.”
  • Why have a conference in Austin, Texas? It’s ground zero for the Paleo movement.
  • Advice for Tough Times: Hold strong to your vision.
  • “One thing that has never wavered for Michelle and myself has been the overall vision of what this thing should look like. We have the vision and we feel this pull to be able to do something good for society. At the end of the day, is PaleoFX a money making business now? Yes it is. Now that it is a money making business we can parlay that profit into making it a larger bullhorn to spread this word. And that’s exactly what we want – we want a large bullhorn because we believe in the power of what Paleo can do for people.
  • The necessity of an education process to take what we know works and spread it.
  • Revisiting a discussion from the Summer of 2010.
  • “The truth of the matter is that I could have realized my athletic potential – and there is no exaggeration implied here – by performing a fraction of the training that I actually endured.  In fact, I would argue that I would have been a much better athlete then if I would have trained under the principles that I know today to be true.  That, for me, took many years of self-reflection, chipping-away and letting go to fully realize.”
  • Coaching football and making a difference in kids lives by relating to them and reigning them in.
  • Workout addictions and training to run away from something, not to become better at a sport.
  • Two types of adult overtrainers: those who believe they are doing better and those who use it as a physical/mental drug.
  • “I’m not a trained shrink, but I can also help the other people start to understand that exercise can be a drug like any other if you are trying to mask something else that is going on in your life.”
  • “If you want a degree in psychology – Masters or PHD – I would suggest [personal] training or bartending.”
  • “I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s just something brutally effective about a hard lift set, followed immediately by a sprint.  We did versions of this theme back in my college days, but Dan John is the only person I know who has actually written anything about, what he calls (and what I now have come to call), the Litvinov workout.  Here for instance, is what I did today: – 20 fast-as-possible (yet with good form) front squats with an 11’ by 4” diameter slosh pipe, then, immediately following that – a 40 second sprint for distance recover just long enough to get your lungs, spleen and pancreas back in their right place, and hit it again.  I did 4 rounds of these today in about 15 minutes.  Did I do anything else?  Yeah, right.  Hit it hard, and go home.  Hey, I like hanging with the guys and the gals and talkin’ smack at the gym, too – just not when I’m actually working out.  Know the difference, and don’t mix business with pleasure.
  • A week in the life of an “average” person looking to improve: (1) Walk everyday. “I tell my clients that you cannot walk too much.” (2) Every other day: one of or a combination of deadlift, dip, sprint.
  • Formula: push + pull + drive + walk.
  • Not necessitating a Fitbit: “Just walk as much as you can.
  • Jogging does not beat walking. Walking is effective no matter how advanced you are. Dorian Yates – a legendary bodybuilder – walked miles after every workout to control his bodyfat levels. “Did he jog? No. He walked.”
  • Still working on top-end sprint speed to this day.
  • ARX equipment and recently entering the large scale manufacturing process (versus building them one-off in the past). This eliminates inconsistencies and ultimately brings cost down.
  • “The people who have bought into [the ARX] the quickest and the most have been physical therapists and the entrepreneur community.”
  • Using tangible data to appeal to the entrepreneur community. Knowing instantaneously what your force output is at any point in a motion.
  • The benefits of autoregulation (“go with the flow”) versus linear periodization (“I’m bench pressing x weight in y sets because it’s on my Excel spreadsheet…life doesn’t work that way.”)
  • Great trainers knowing how to lessen the demand on clients when they come into a workout fatigued.
  • Simplifying lifting in the moment – “you need to do your motion and not think” – then coming back, deconstructing, and fine tuning. Unless there is an unsafe lift being performed.
  • “The human reaction to change is fascinating to me, in that it can be absolutely debilitating to people.  There have been studies done which show that, even if the proposed change is highly likely to affect a positive outcome with very little in the way of potential risk, people will still prefer to maintain the status quo – even if they consider that status quo to be quite miserable.  How is that?  It’s the old “devil you know vs angel you don’t” mentality; quite simply, change scares the hell out of people.”
  • “You have to embrace the uncomfortableness. Embrace “the suck”.
  • Discerning what triggers work for what people: “Everybody has different triggers, and the tricky thing about being a trainer is that the trigger that may work for person A may turn person B off.”
  • Using vanity goals to help people ditch sugar.
  • Getting involved with a supplement company – ID Life. “Where is a supplement’s position within the overall diet? It’s exactly that – it’s a supplement. It’s not meant to take the place of an otherwise crappy diet. It’s not. So we always push for let’s get the diet straightened out, and then let’s supplement to go from good to great.”
  • Why supplements are equivalent to “curls for the girls”.
  • Our society dealing with higher toxin levels than ever before.
  • How to work with your wife. “You have to both realize that your vision is the same.”
  • Preferred Vice: Beer of choice is “the thicker the better”. Pick of the moment is Modelo, Dos Equis, Tecate for summertime and temperature. Guinness for winter.


KEITH’S Relentless Action: 
Do something. “Take a swing, get in the batter’s box, and take a crack at whatever you’re passionate about…Nothing is going to happen unless there is forward momentum…Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is just knowledge. Action is power.” Don’t be the coulda, shoulda, woulda guy and treat failures as feedback.

Follow Keith:

A Favor: If you like what you hear on these episodes, please help me out by subscribing to, rating, and/or reviewing the podcast on iTunes.  Thanks for your support!


Relentless Podcast

Chris Plentus: Crush Crossfit, Travel the World, and Endure 26.2 Hours in a Diner

*QUICK NOTE: There was an issue with iTunes audio (now fixed). If you downloaded the episode early, delete it, and grab the new version. Thanks all!*

It’s time for episode three of the Relentless: Real People, Real Results, Real World podcast!  (Scroll to the bottom for all listening options.)

Podcast Description:

A deep dive into how real people get real results in the real world. Relentless mixes stories to provide context and the actions you can take right now in both short-format episodes and long-format interviews. Get ready to tackle anything from your morning cup of coffee to your exercise and nutrition regimens to building a million dollar business.

Chris Plentus: Crush Crossfit, Travel the World, and Endure 26.2 Hours in a Diner

In this episode I welcome in Chris Plentus, one of only five Level 3 Crossfit coaches in Pennsylvania, international traveler, blogger, passionate photographer, soon-to-be-father, and coffee lover. Here’s the rundown:

  • Drawing inspiration from athletes overperforming in workouts.
  • Breakfast: Breakfast tacos – 3 corn tortillas, bacon, over easy eggs, and salsa.
  • Coffee: Americano with 2 long shots drawn from a Pixie plus equal parts water.
  • Workout: Bench press and pistol squat strength plus metabolic conditioning – back rack lunges, double unders, and ring muscle-ups.
  • Snap Out of a Funk: Go for a drive to get the juices flowing.
  • Coming face-to-face with a lion, overcoming the moment, and snapping a legendary photo
  • Business Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Top Takeaway: Experiencing empathy and knowing people’s names.
  • Relaxation: Nic Cage movies.
  • Being born in South Korea and coming over to the US at 3 months.
  • Using public transportation and commuting over an 1:20 each way to a high school in NYC.
  • First following what he “was good at” and engineering in college.
  • Then realizing that he wanted to work directly with people and switching majors.
  • Leveraging a summer internship to learn what he didn’t want to do. “I can’t do something that I don’t like for very long.”
  • How the Myers-Briggs Personality Test made all the difference.
  • “I don’t know if I necessarily believe in destiny, but it happened for a reason, and I had to pay attention to it.”
  • The macro theme of most jobs having unseen day-to-day stressors. “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You don’t really know what someone else is going through until you actually try it.”
  • Following an out-of-the-blue career opportunity and transitioning into becoming an education consultant, traveling internationally, and doing professional development with teachers.
  • Being equipped for the modern world and a more transitory professional landscape.
  • The new educational revolution – the Khan Academy being an example – and accessing anything from anywhere.
  • “So you have these kids that are spending 8 hours in high school but they’re learning more on this 20 minute video because he explains it succinctly in a visual way. Obviously teachers are amazing, and they deal with so much – total respect for them. But we’re definitely seeing the market move in a different direction.”
  • Ordering a black eye and getting weird looks.
  • Nespresso vs. Keurig machines.
  • Transitioning from a military bodyweight fitness routine and diving into Crossfit via recommendations from his now father-in-law plus inspiration from the movie 300.
  • “Anytime I started a gym routine I would do it for a couple weeks and then stop because I was bored. It wasn’t holding my interest.”
  • “I went to and stalked the website for a month. I didn’t do a thing because I was petrified. What are these things? What are these movements? Why don’t they run? Why are these workouts 10 minutes long?”
  • Retaining the ability to think like a new client.
  • The WTF moment of first hearing that someone didn’t eat bread or pasta.
  • “No matter what you’re looking to do, we can start at ground zero and work our way up. There’s always a step to be taken. You don’t have to do the crazy stuff you see online and on ESPN2 Crossfit Games. You do you and take it one step at a time.”
  • Committing 3 months to 1 year upfront due to the body needing time to adapt.
  • A call to action to share your opinions via podcasting, blogging, etc.
  • “Even if it’s one person that you can reach out to and touch in some way or change their life, good. It was totally worth it.”
  • “I grew up wanting to do things. I’m very restless. Some people – and this is fine because people are different – can have the 9-to-5, go to work, come home, sit on the couch, watch TV, go to bed, wake up. I can’t do that.”
  • The importance and inspiration of international travel and immersing yourself in foreign cultures.
  • Not waiting until you are retired to travel and embracing your youth and physical fitness. Pulling a Tim Ferriss and taking mini-retirements.
  • Why travel? “I’ve never met anyone who has traveled to another country and also is a hateful person – and by that I mean prejudiced or closed minded. Whether that’s a correlation or a causation, I don’t know, but I imagine it’s more of a causation.”
  • “I realize that traveling costs money, but make it work.”
  • Best starter trip: Iceland.
  • Sitting in a New Jersey diner for 26.2 hours and having over 200 people visit throughout.
  • Embracing life bucket list items – seeing the 7 wonders of the world and cage diving with Great White Sharks.
  • Becoming Crossfit Level 3 certified and continuing to pursue education with the end goal of helping people.
  • Being a big picture guy and focusing on health. “The only thing we have at the end of our lives is our health. The idea of not being healthy at the end of my life is not a fun thing to think about.”
  • Preferring live clinics and seminars as a means to learn. “The ability to adapt and go with the flow and see what the crowd – whether it’s 5 people or 50 people – is there for an to understand their interests is a good skill to have.”
  • The community of Crossfit.
  • Visiting 30+ Crossfit boxes and distilling 11 Tips for Box Owners and Visitors.
  • Recommendations: know the basic movements before you drop in, be humble, introduce yourself, and get to know other people.
  • Pushing himself extra hard due to external motivation.
  • “None of us know everything, and we can always improve upon something…the better you get at it, the more you realize you don’t know.”
  • Shout-out to Robb Wolf for having a humble voice, presenting sound information, and admitting when new information presents itself.
  • Having a bad memory and embracing photography as a means to capture events.
  • Going from in-gym photography to family and wedding portraits. “If I can help someone smile and create memories, that’s a cool thing.”
  • Heading towards fitness being his #1 career focus.
  • Having 100 different possible directions and crystallizing ideas into action.
  • “Very few people actually invent the wheel. You’re doing the same thing that other people have done, but you’re doing it slightly different or at a different time.”
  • Self actualization, the book Flow, and seeking more of that professionally.
  • Ignorance is bliss. “Sometimes I wish that I could do a boring job and be content in doing a mediocre job…but it’s not who I am, and I have to acknowledge that.”
  • Chris and Kristin expecting their first child in the Fall.
  • Owing everything to Kristin – from Crossfit to traveling more to keeping him in line.
  • On the impending baby: “It puts things in perspective. You become more selfless. You have to think of other people if you haven’t already.”
  • Preferred vice: Cabernet wine…but choosing ice cream over it every time if given the choice.
  • Going on a mass gain and housing ice cream and rice all summer (but not together). “It was a very uncomfortable summer.”
  • Avoiding the input of mindless television.
  • Receiving the question “How do you do all of this?” and answering “It’s more about not doing things that waste time.”

CHRIS’S Relentless Action:  “Serve other people. We’re not here for ourselves.” Draw inspiration from the book The Other Wes Moore and remember this quote: “Hell is meeting the person you could have become.”

Follow Chris:

A Favor: If you like what you hear on these first few episodes, please help me out by subscribing to, rating, and/or reviewing the podcast on iTunes.  Thanks for your support!


Long Format

Your Long-term Edge: What Basketball Teaches Us About Trusting the Process

What is basketball?

Is it strictly the game on the court? Plus coaching? Plus player management? Plus business management?

Basketball purists say it’s all about the single game on the court and winning that game at all costs, but are there other valid interpretations?

And how does this all tie into your own evolution? Let’s explore.


We are all witnesses to a brand new sports strategy being pioneered by a few select teams. Using prolonged, aggressive, and unapologetic tanking as a long-term winning strategy is a new version of Moneyball, and within 5 years, I believe we’re going to see a lot more of it.

One of the first teams to introduce the strategy is baseball’s Houston Astros, who after claiming the league’s worst record in 3 consecutive seasons (they are the first team ever to hold that dubious distinction), built up a vast store of talent, and now sit comfortably in their division’s first place. They are covered brilliantly in this Grantland article.

For the purposes of this piece, I’m much more interested in basketball and my hometown Philadelphia 76ers, who are in the early-to-mid stages of their own aggressive rebuild. They’re doing it amid plenty of controversy, detractors, and debate.



In 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers were in shambles. Their team was ill-constructed around a decent 3rd option in Jrue Holiday being utilized as a #1 option, and a failed 2nd overall pick in Evan Turner being utilized as the #2 option. They were a team annually destined to fight for the honor of an 8th playoff seed. To make matters worse, a host of poor and/or unfortunate decisions – among them an Andrew Bynum mega-trade and a draft day trade for the bust formerly known as Arnett Moultrie – whittled away their future assets.

Facing a depressing future, ownership ushered in Sam Hinkie, an 8 year Houston Rockets’ front office veteran. He was named General Manager, bringing a cutting edge analytics approach and a new-school way of thinking.

The team’s direction was forever changed.


What do you do when you have a losing hand? What happens when you realize that your current ceiling is a lot lower than you’d like it to be?

The answer depends on your worldview. Are you content fighting for 8th seeds? Or is a championship all that matters?

In the Philadelphia 76ers’ (and Houston Astros’) case, they emphatically chose the latter.

First you choose, then you pursue.


The pursuit began with a new interpretation of “basketball”.

Typically there is pressure to win now. Winning drives fan interest, increases ticket and merchandise sales, and boosts immediate revenue. General managers and coaches are given short shelf-lives that depend on their season-to-season success. Have a few losing seasons in a row and the axe falls quickly.

The issue with winning now is that it often biases decision making. Instead of going for the gold and increasing the chance of championship(s), it leads to good but not great. It leads to avoiding risks and sticking to safer options.

Philadelphia 76ers ownership allowed Sam Hinkie to think differently. With their blessing, instead of a micro season view, he adopted a macro multi-season view. Cut the cord to winning now, take risks, and pursue championship(s) in the future.

That begs the question – what produces championship(s) on the basketball court?


The NBA is a superstar driven league. 34 of last 35 title teams were led by superstars – top 5 players in the league – with names like Magic, Bird, Jordan, Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron, and now Curry. More often than not these Batmans also had Robins (co-superstars) in Worthy, McHale, Pippen, Kobe (on the Shaq squads), Parker/Ginobli, Gasol, Wade, and Thompson/Green.

Yes, for those who pulled for the Atlanta Hawks and “team basketball” in 2015, it would be both fun and exciting to see a superstar-less underdog win. While idealistic, it’s simply not realistic based on history. The size of a starting lineup (only 5 players) and the time a superstar spends on the court makes his impact monstrous. Throughout history you’ll find the occasional exception (2004 Detroit Pistons), but the rule remains the superstar.


Sam Hinkie’s magic word is optionality.

“I believe in optionality – a lot,” he said. “I believe a lot in flexible.”

Rumor has it that when Sam Hinkie applied to the General Manager position, he prepared an impressive presentation. It revolved around a now infamous trade, when in 2013 the Houston Rockets leveraged a package of assets – draft picks and players – to acquire James Harden.

The web Daryl Morey (Houston’s General Manager at the time) and Hinkie wove to acquire Harden is intricate. On the surface it looks simple: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 first round picks, and a second round pick exchanged for a certifiable superstar. Dig deeper, and you find a collection of many smaller transactions – draft pick acquisition and exchange, salary cap manipulation, young talent, and a veteran player acquired on a reasonable deal – executed over years.

Optionality: The value of additional optional investment opportunities available only after having made an initial investment.

Hinkie’s optionality-based approach revolves around making many initial investments. He acquires and grows assets, consistently trades them up, and compiles a warchest of draft picks, young players, attractive contracts, and cap space. Any move that is an upgrade – even acquiring 2nd round picks that others often dismiss as “meaningless” – matters. All asset upgrades put the team in a better position to acquire a superstar(s) and/or useful pieces.


Optionality allows you to capitalize on the future – however it presents itself.

Monday morning quarterbacks everywhere look back and say “the Houston Rockets got lucky that Harden was available” or “the Oklahoma City Thunder were dumb for trading James Harden”. The point they miss is that the Houston Rockets were ready for anything. They were ready for any superstar to come available. It didn’t have to be James Harden.

They put themselves in a position to be lucky and to have the most attractive collection of assets when opportunity knocked. Sam Hinkie’s Philadelphia 76ers are doing the same. At a moment’s notice, they may become lucky too.

The landscape of the NBA is constantly changing, team needs are constantly changing, and the perspective of most teams is rooted in the short-term.

This offers long-term thinkers an edge.


These are various strategies employed by Sam Hinkie. While certain details are specific to the basketball court, their logic and implications extend far beyond it.

Strategy #1: Sell what isn’t working for maximum return.

Global Takeaways:
Be honest with your present situation. If it is destined for a level of mediocrity that you are not ok with, pivot and pivot hard. If your ladder is on the wrong wall, change walls.

Philadelphia 76ers:
Building through the draft (and/or executing mega-trades) requires picks, which are allocated based on season-to-season success. The 76ers tore their team down to essentially nothing, thus assuring several losing seasons and several prime picks.

Jrue Holiday. Evan Turner. Thaddeus Young. Spencer Hawes. Gone. In their place – you guessed it – draft picks.

Strategy #2: Accept risk in pursuit of high upside.

Global Takeaways:
The public overreacts to risk, thus opening doors. Property values during a real estate downturn. Business assets during a crash. If you remain sane and accurate in your valuations, you have an edge.

Philadelphia 76ers:
Hinkie targets superstar talent that is discounted due to injury. That level of talent is rare enough that the chance of re-injury is an acceptable downside.

In both the 2013 and 2014 drafts, the 76ers drafted two players – Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid – who were widely considered the #1 players in their classes prior to being injured. Both fell into their laps. In 2013, the 76ers traded for pick #6 to snatch Noel, while in 2014, they used their own #3 pick to claim Embiid.

Noel has stayed healthy and developed into a defensive game changer (he looks like a potential Robin to a future Batman), while Embiid recently experienced a significant injury setback. The risk, however, was worth it.

Strategy #3: Exchange your assets for better assets, even if better isn’t a guarantee.

Global Takeaways:
When you make a bet, there is rarely a 100% chance of success (arbitrage is the exception). In fact, your odds of success in a winning trade or bet may be as low as 51%. Sports gambling titans check in with a success rate around 57%. 60% makes you an all-time legend.

If you push all-in on pocket rockets – AA – in no-limit Texas Hold’em, you are at least a 77% favorite over any other heads up hand. Does that mean if 56 hits a straight and beats your AA that it was a bad bet? If you buy an undervalued house and smartly renovate it but run into a shocking real estate downturn immediately thereafter, does that mean it was a bad decision?

Absolutely not. You do your due diligence and take a calculated risk (the part you control) and then hope for the best outcome (the part you don’t control).

Philadelphia 76ers:
Sam Hinkie recognized that his 2014 point guard – Michael Carter-Williams – was flawed (he has an abominable shooting stroke) and not suited for his championship aspirations. So he traded him for a sweet Los Angeles Lakers pick that was top-5 protected in 2015 and top-3 protected thereafter. Unfortunately the Lakers received the 2nd pick in the 2015 NBA draft (thus assuring that the 76ers didn’t receive it this year) and their record in 2016 is so far undetermined. If they have a good year and the 76ers receive a lower pick, does that make it a bad trade?

Absolutely not. My guess is that Sam Hinkie knew down to the percentages the chances to receive the pick in 2015, as well an accurate projection on the Lakers in 2016 and beyond. He also knew that most teams valued the pick more than MCW himself, opening doors to future trades. He held the pocket rockets, weighed the odds, and pushed all-in.

Sub-Strategy: No regrets.

Strategies #2 and #3 are closely tied together and revolve around smart risk-taking. If risk rears its head and the downside transpires, have no regrets. You acted intelligently, and regrets are wasted energy. Sink your energy into future opportunities, and do not allow yourself to become gun shy. Pocket rockets win in the long run.

Strategy #4: Find ways to use existing assets and competitive advantages creatively.

Global Takeaways:
Get creative with what you have in your possession – your unique combination of skills, opportunities, and material assets. People everywhere are AirBnB’ing their homes while they’re away, making low risk loans with stagnant capital, and renting vacant lots to seasonal beer gardens. Heck, one of my favorite stories is my grandfather finding a vacant lot (not his) and charging people to park in it!

Philadelphia 76ers:
The NBA has a salary cap, an amount each team must spend annually to ensure competitive balance. The 76ers didn’t see value in using their salary cap space for the very veterans making them mediocre. Instead, they used theirs to take on other team’s unwanted contracts while adding draft picks as the price for doing so. This goes back to understanding the short term motivations of others. Team X has no salary cap space, Team X sees a player they want to sign, Team X presents the 76ers a prime draft pick for helping them clear the space they need (see Strategy #8 for a specific example).

Strategy #5: Acquire devalued assets.

Global Takeaways:
Do you see an opportunity in something that others see as worthless? Keeping pristine baseball cards that other kids stuck in bike spokes nets a million dollar collection. Or how about an art-aficionado client of mine seeing a piece on the wall of a store she frequented, purchasing it, and flipping it for 16x its cost?

Philadelphia 76ers:
To such an extent that they are now the butt of many jokes, the 76ers sought as many 2nd round draft picks as possible. They relentlessly asked and received these picks as throw-ins to trades, noting that other teams typically tossed them around like candy. If every year 2-to-4 2nd round draft picks become useful players, then holding 5 of 32 possible picks (in 2015, for example) drastically increases your odds of finding one of them. 2nd round picks also allow you to pursue strategy #6.

Strategy #6: Emulate the successful models of dynasties.

Global Takeaways:
If you look hard enough, you find role models in any walk of life. Seek applicable tactics that contributed to their successes and apply them to your own journey. Do this via personal contacts – I have several friends and clients who are invaluable mentors – or via impersonal content circulating web/audio/print media – Gary Vaynerchuk on social media branding, for example.

Philadelphia 76ers:
The 76ers saw the San Antonio Spurs as a model of lasting success (5 championships in 15 years). A strategy the Spurs employ is stashing players overseas. While NBA teams are allowed an active roster of 15 players, they are permitted to sign and hold the rights to foreign players in various European and Asian leagues. This essentially gives them a larger roster, and if a player(s) shows considerable talent, the team clears a roster spot and imports him. The Spurs not only acquired a Robin this way – Manu Ginobli – but they also imported supporting championship pieces like Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills.

In his 3 drafts with the team, Sam Hinkie has stashed at least 2 players overseas each year, with none higher profile than last year’s 12th overall pick, Dario Saric. At a maximum these players are more chances at the elusive superstar and at a minimum supporting team pieces to import when ready.

Strategy #7: Do not take action just for the sake of taking action.

Global Takeaways:
I used to play a lot of no-limit Texas Hold’em poker (hence the poker analogies). Each and every time I sat down, it was easy to pinpoint the player who could not sit still, the guy who simply had to be involved no matter what. If he was being dealt a string of good cards, he amassed chips and looked like a genius. In many more instances, he went broke.

What’s the right move? Sometimes no move is the answer. If there is no edge to be had, sit tight. Patience can be a massive virtue.

Philadelphia 76ers:
Leading up to the 2015 draft, Sam Hinkie developed a reputation as a mover and shaker. Philadelphia fans anxiously awaited a night of big trades. When the team’s draft transpired with no notable moves, many were disappointed.

By all accounts other teams with high draft picks protected them like gold bars this year. In fact, there is a story that Boston Celtic’s GM Danny Ainge offered seven – 7! – draft picks to move to a higher slot and was rebuffed. Sam Hinkie found nothing worth doing, and so he did nothing.

Strategy #8: When the time is right, take massive action.

Global Takeaways:
First you do your homework and when you see an opportunity, you act. Trust the philosophy and system that you have in place. If you second guess yourself, you sabotage the work you’ve done.

Philadelphia 76ers:
Shortly after the 2015 draft, opportunity hit. The Sacramento Kings needed something – salary cap room (remember Strategy #4?)  The Philadelphia 76ers had it. Sam Hinkie struck hard and fast, and in a borderline criminal return haul acquired 2014’s #8 player, a 1st round draft pick, and future draft pick swap options.

In the 2014 draft, Sam Hinkie held the 10th pick. He knew the Orlando Magic, at the 12th spot, desperately wanted Elfrid Payton. Hinkie had no need for a point guard, and instead wanted Dario Saric. He trusted his information, saw an opportunity, and took Payton anyway. Holding the leverage and the player the Magic wanted, he squeezed them for a future 1st round and 2nd round pick, along with the 12th slot. Who did he get at #12? Dario Saric, of course.

Strategy #9: Stay ahead of the curve. Seek cutting edge, outside of the box opportunities.

Global Takeaways:
Get creative. Look for fresh connections between ideas and fields. Make calculated bets on concepts with significant upsides. Seek new technologies that further your existing business interests.

Philadelphia 76ers:
The team leaves no stone unturned.  They employ the best analytics. They experiment with game pace, shot selection, and team construction. They embrace sports science in prioritizing sleep, nutrition, and training methodologies. They are constructing a state-of-the-art practice facility. And if a new opportunity presents itself, you had best believe they’ll explore it too.




Never tank on the court.

This is less of a revolutionary strategy and more of a social commentary.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 76ers get a lot of criticism for tanking, but anyone who watches the team knows that they never tank on the court. From the coaching staff to the players, they’ve developed a culture of working their asses off. Once more talent hits the court, this will pay dividends.

No stage is too small, and the mindset of expending maximum effort no matter what is the sign of a winner. Steve Liberati (listen to our podcast discussion here), who owns Steve’s PaleoGoods, once went to work for his Dad’s pest control company. Coming from the corporate world, he expected to be handed the keys. Instead he ran routes on the streets of Camden, NJ. Did he bemoan his fate? Nope. He dug in, ran those routes, and cultivated relationships that led to his non-profit – Steve’s Club. Interact with Steve today, and he is humble, hard working, and leading an exceptional company.

Consistent effort is underrated.


There is a lot to be gained from long-term perspective.

It’s not natural. We’re wired to be short-term thinkers. We’re wired to look for and shy away from the risks in our immediate environments. When you overcome your wiring, go macro, and think long, you capitalize on a huge opportunity.

Relentless Actions:

  1. What’s your game, what is your definition of a championship, and are you playing the game to win it? There is nothing more frustrating than striving for the top of a mountain when your ladder doesn’t reach the summit. Does your strategy need subtle tweaks or do you need to pull a Sam Hinkie and hit the restart button?
  2. What is your collection of assets? Where are your competitive advantages?
  3. What is everyone else doing, and what can you do differently (and productively)? Can you leverage a long-term outlook? Are others missing the forest for the trees?
  4. Can you employ any of the 9 strategies listed above? What are other strategies not listed?
  5. Do your homework, develop your philosophy, and be prepared to strike quickly and ruthlessly when the time is right.
  6. Stay humble and pour your effort and energy into every rung of the ladder, no matter how low or how high. If your ladder is on the right wall, every single rung contributes to a better future.

For the Philadelphia 76ers, the only question is time. The foundation is strong – several top flight talents, a growing overseas base, as many as four 1st round draft picks next year, and more. But in the ruthless, short-term sports world with heaps of fan pressure mounting, will ownership stand strong enough for long enough to bear the fruits of Sam Hinkie’s labor?

Fortunately you have a longer timeline. Overnight successes are rarely overnight and are instead a collection of positive decisions and efforts made over years. When you consistently act on behalf of your brand – whatever that means for you – with the long-term in mind, you win. Trust the process.

Relentless Podcast

Steve Liberati: Build Something Remarkable, Remain Curious, and Water Down Your Wine

It’s time for episode two and the first long-format discussion on the Relentless: Real People, Real Results, Real World podcast!

Podcast Description:

A deep dive into how real people get real results in the real world. Relentless mixes stories to provide context and the actions you can take right now in both short-format episodes and long-format interviews. Get ready to tackle anything from your morning cup of coffee to your exercise and nutrition regimens to building a million dollar business.

Steve Liberati: Build Something Remarkable, Remain Curious, and Water Down Your Wine

In this episode I welcome in Steve Liberati, a true Crossfit OG, the founder of Steve’s Club, the creator of Steve’s PaleoGoods, and – he’d say most importantly – a husband and father.  Here’s the rundown:

  • Steve on Seth Godin: “He inspired me not only to build something but to build something remarkable.”
  • He fueled the discussion with Nespresso, although his morning began with French pressed La Colombe coffee.
  • Strategy for breaking out of a slump: “stand up, walk around, go outside, and take a deep breath.”
  • Inspiring book of the moment: Different by Youngme Moon.
  • On the corporate world: “It sounds real fancy. I had a suit and tie. I had a fancy business card. I thought I had everything I wanted.”
  • Soul searching and transitioning careers: “I have to love what I do. I have to have meaning.”
  • Learning on the pest control job as part of his Dad’s company: “It’s one thing to have all of the textbook concepts and marketing terms, but it’s a whole different thing running a business and wearing multiple hats.”
  • A recommendation to keep the daytime job and use it to pay the bills while you pursue other avenues.  “When you’re pressured to pay the bills it changes your focus.”
  • The organic evolution of ideas.
  • Forget “What are you passionate about?”  Ask “What are you curious about?”
  • Seeing the benefits of group training and starting Crossfit Tribe in the park with sandbags.
  • Inspiring youth via creating an environment in which to succeed.
  • Respecting the adversities and challenges of others and realizing it’s not me vs. the world.
  • On spreading himself too thin: “We all have ADD. We want to do so many different things. We want to have our hands in everything. And before you know it, it’s just not effective. I was doing a lot, but I wasn’t doing anything great.”
  • Big Steve to Young Steve: “Keep it real. You have to be realistic with  yourself and what your strengths are. Time management wasn’t one of my strengths.”
  • Ditching technology for a pen and post-it notes to stay on schedule.
  • Growing slow and find the sweet spot – best possible service balanced with good demand.  More is not necessarily better.
  • Advice to online sellers: “Do your research.” Sometimes an idea may not work even though it’s your passion. Map it out and do your homework. “Hope is not a strategy.”
  • Advice to retail sellers: “Make sure you are well funded.” Self-funding is very difficult when it comes to fast growth. Get capital beforehand, not during.
  • Living by strong principles and being proud to sell what you are offering.
  • Resisting pressures to cut costs and quality: “Once you take a cookie from the cookie jar you think you can take another cookie.”
  • Recognizing that managing people is not a strength and finding others to thrive in that role. “I do my best to lead from the front.”
  • Leaving his ego behind: “Even though my name is on it, it isn’t about Steve.”
  • Family is #1.
  • Balancing work and family and deciding to go home on time: “Is the smokehouse on fire? Can it be fixed tomorrow? Can I come back to this?”
  • Respecting “feeling good” as just as powerful an end goal as scale reduction.
  • There are no magic pills and cookie cutters. Everyone has to find their personalized sweet spot.
  • Having an end game of helping as many people as he can, eating good, feeling good, and being good.
  • Emulating Roman emperors and watering down his wine.

STEVE’S Relentless Action:  Counteract.  Balance is key, and it’s at the heart of everything we do.  If you’re going all out balls to the wall, take a step back, relax, read a book, take a walk.

A Gift: My favorite to-go snack is the Dark Chocolate Pineapple Paleo Bar.  Use the code “PaleoSteve” to get a one-time 10% off discount at Steve’s PaleoGoods.

A Favor: If you like what you hear on these first few episodes, please help me out by subscribing to, rating, and/or reviewing the podcast on iTunes.  Thanks for your support!

Speaking of iTunes, you can listen to the episode there, download it via this link, or listen on the player below:

Relentless Podcast

The Relentless Semester: Create Your Own Education

After a lengthy hiatus from the microphone, I’m busting back onto the podcast scene, and I’m excited about it!  It’s time to introduce Relentless: Real People, Real Results, Real World.

Podcast Description:

A deep dive into how real people get real results in the real world. Relentless mixes stories to provide context and the actions you can take right now in both short-format episodes and long-format interviews. Get ready to tackle anything from your morning cup of coffee to your exercise and nutrition regimens to building a million dollar business.

The Relentless Semester: Create Your Own Education

In the first episode I discuss the Relentless Semester, an alternative way to approach education at any stage of your life.  Here’s the rundown:

  • Exiting a life rut by first pulling back aggressively and identifying the contributing actions that are under your control.
  • Talking formal degrees and the opportunity to get equal or better expertise via your own initiative, drive, and creativity (at a fraction of the cost).  Udemy and Lynda are mentioned as examples.
  • Noting that a huge pro to formal degrees – and why they won’t die for a long, long time – is the structure they provide.
  • Proposing the Relentless Semester as a way to chart your course and impose your own structure.  Its criteria:
    • Realistic Aggression – challenging but not enough to be demoralizing.
    • Realistic Timeline – the right blend of short-term and long-term.
    • Accountability – partnering, seeking meetups, establishing reporting habits, etc. with the end goal of holding your ass to the fire.
    • Reliability – choosing course material that you trust.
    • Practicality – each course is tied to something that you can apply in the real world.  The more courses tie into your profession, the more you can take on.  And vice versa.
    • Balance – there is no excuse for selecting material that you hate.  The more boring a block of material, the more you must be 100% positive it will make you better/happier.
  • Encouraging you to include “gym class” or some sort of physical goal.  Advice for those goals: know why, record metrics, seek social accountability, require little in the way of equipment/materials, and avoid overly-stressful plans.
  • Offering my own summer semester as a case study:
    • Course #1:  Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett (book), Goal – become a better trainer by improving mobility.
    • Course #2: The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman (book), Goal – refresh my business roots.
    • Course #3: Practical – Establish Relentless brand and podcast, Goal – become self-reliant and find lowest effort, highest impact ways of publishing and publicizing content.
    • Course #4: Practical – Quickbooks, Goal – better organize Relentless finance management.

Relentless Action: Whether or not you chart a full Relentless Semester, perform a self-assessment.  Is there something under your control that you can improve upon?  Can you apply one single course on the side to better yourself this summer?

A Favor: If you like what you hear on these first few episodes, please help me out by subscribing to, rating, and/or reviewing the podcast on iTunes.

Speaking of iTunes, you can listen to the episode there, download it via this link, or listen on the player below: