Recently Michael Arrington wrote a very open blog post about being fat and wanting to do something about it, which really struck me. He was inspired by the scientific approach of one of the characters in Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, who uses a treadmill while working. The post struck me not just because of Arrington’s honesty about his own challenges, but also because I remember reading the book and having exactly the same reaction. This was really smart, and finally the blog post stuck me, because I’m fat—and, worse than that, I’m fat and smart.
Most people assume being smart and fat are opposites; in fact, you often hear overweight associated with stupidity, which makes it an even bigger taboo to talk about. I’m not fat because I’m stupid; I’m fat because I obsess about things to an extreme degree. In fact, I’m anything but stupid, having started three companies since I was 19, becoming the youngest ever Head of Division in the Danish Government – responsible for the Danish IT infrastructure when I was 30 – and later starting Tradeshift and taking it from 3 to 67 people in under two years. I should by now have proved that I’m anything but stupid; but I obsess, and that can be a problem.
When I do something, I do it to the exclusion of everything else in my life: the only thing in focus is the project – the goal. That is what makes me a great, but also quite uncompromising, person to be around; I just keep trying, keep attacking, keep finding a way to succeed with whatever I’m doing. The only rule is that it has to pique my interest; if it doesn’t, I will never, ever obsess about it and will rarely succeed. If I do obsess, well, then I succeed—every time. Unfortunately, my body has never been one of those things: it has, more than anything, been a victim of my other obsession with trying to change the world (like a lot of other people, family and so on) unfortunately overweight is seen as a sign of low intelligence in most societies today and I have often seen people judge me by my size before they know me, in fact one of the small joys I have is the advantage you can get just because people instinctively think that fat = stupid. That should of course not be understood as me wanting to be fat or that I don’t care about the negative consequences, it’s just that when I obsess about a something I shut everything else out.
That kind of obsession is great when you are trying to build a company—maybe even a requirement: you need to be able to focus to the exclusion of everything else or you will have a very hard time succeeding against the odds. So what to do? For me, the revelation came with the same book that inspired Arrington, but in a different way: for me, it was about the feedback loops. In Tradeshift, one of the things I obsess about is our data; we have data dashboards creating very visual feedback loops on how we are doing, and suddenly, after reading Reamde, I was curious: could I do the same thing for my body? After all, the body is an organic thing, which unfortunately is not built with a set of Bluetooth sensors, but I started researching what was possible today (and, yes, started to obsess a little bit).
Within a week, I found that there were gadgets that could wirelessly monitor and measure my weight, steps, blood pressure and sleep, and finally I needed a way to monitor what I ate. For that I picked WeightWatchers after reading a Wired article about the science behind points. In other words, I suddenly had complete data tracking on everything I did, and it instantly changed my behavior. I can’t wait to get up and exercise in the morning to see if there is an effect on my blood pressure or weight, and I’m curious as to how altering my diet will affect my BMI; and suddenly I can monitor this in near real time.
This made me think… I suspect we are on the verge of a revolution. These tools seem to be only the beginning: What if food could report wirelessly its exact composition in the supermarket? What if we could monitor every aspect of our health 24/7? I know a lot of stuff is already going on in this field, and it’s not my area of expertise, but my instinct tells me that this could be an even bigger revolution than the transformation that tech has made to information and knowledge over the last 10 years, all fuelled by the ability to have computers everywhere in the form of smartphones.
Anyway, if nothing else, next time you see a fat guy or girl, don’t think ‘stupid’; they might just be focusing their energy another way than you are.