The Killer App is You

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The ad said something like:

“This ride will very likely kill you or, at least, seriously injure you…and your ego.”

The ride described was a weeklong guided mountain bike trek. It started with the famed Kokopelli Trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah, then took you along the razor edge of elevated moonscapes and mesas. Massively technical, physically grueling, there were points where one wrong move would’ve led to perilous outcomes.

Six of us came together for the first time at the trailhead, sizing each other up. We did the usual “how do you do’s,” but the question on everyone’s mind was “who can actually ride, and who’s most likely to get us killed?” There’s a lot you can tell just by looking at a rider.

I kept things low key, mounting a well-worn Specialized hardtail that didn’t absorb bumps all that well, but gave me pinpoint control and hyper-efficient power. Stripped-down, it was a bare-minimum ride. Nothing flashy. Same for my garb. A ratty old bandana under a beat up helmet, threadbare t-shirt, broken-in riding shorts and battle-tested shoes.

On the other end of the spectrum was Ed (named changed to protect the innocent). Sporting a week-old $4,000, spit-shined full-suspension ride and a body festooned with a festival of skin-tight neon lycra, spanking new gloves and helmet, near patent-leather shiny shoes and hi-tech wrap-around shades. He. Was. Styling. I’d ridden with enough Eds to know there were really only two possibilities. He was a gobsmackingly good rider, or he was delusional and about to die.

Two hours later, Ed was gone.

Literally, gone.


For the next 24 hours, we thought he was dead.

Without permission, on a monstrously dangerous trail, he sprinted ahead of the pack. Building on a foundation of arrogance and enough high-end gear to delude him into thinking he knew what he was doing, he ignored warnings and his own complete lack of skill, took a wrong turn and didn’t look back for hours.

Search and rescue had four people looking for him all night. Two on ATVs, two more on motorbikes. Risking their lives in the dark to find him. He wasn’t found until the following day. Physically battered, but okay. His bike, well that was another story.

When he finally made it back, his first move was to take a swing at the group leader. Blaming him for “abandoning” him to die in the desert. In fact, he’d actually heard the rescuers looking for him but didn’t flag them down because he was angry at us for leaving him.

Absolute height of denial and arrogance.

But, it’s also the story of “instead of,” rather than “in addition to.”

Before committing to this “challenge of a lifetime” ride, Ed spent weeks researching and then buying the lightest bike frame in a quest to get a slight performance edge, instead of, rather than in addition to focusing on the monumentally larger edge that would’ve come from riding more often and losing even a portion of the 40-plus extra pounds his personal frame carried. And, no, it wasn’t just that he was a bigger guy, but had put in the time and was super-fit in his larger frame. He hadn’t. If anything, he was recklessly physically unprepared.

He bought the most-expensive, fastest shifting gear system, instead of, rather than in addition to spending thousands of hours riding, wiping out, grinding up mountains and down trails, developing the ability to intuitively forecast and make the split-second shifts that drive epic performance, even on the crappiest equipment.

He bought the most expensive, plushest suspension, instead of, rather than in addition to learning how to feel the billions of data points that scream from the dirt up through the tires, spokes, frame, seat and handlebars and into your body with a firmer ride, and give you the information needed to understand traction, power, leverage, impact, force, acceleration, speed, steering and control on an embodied, expert level.

He’d invested all of his money in the external stuff, instead of, rather than in addition to owning the fact that you can strap a true rider, someone who has done the work, on a 1983 Schwinn Stingray clunker and she will destroy the arrogance-driven, gear-deluded newbie who thought winning was more about window-dressing than going deep and working your ass off.

Thing is, this story isn’t about mountain biking.

It’s about life. And business.

It’s about you, your career and, if you aspire to build something great, it’s about that vision.

I see this all the time both in the world of aspiring or new entrepreneurs and established business builders. It’s so much easier to just buy better stuff, build a better app, use a better platform, install a better system, build a flashier marketing funnel, write more compelling copy, wrap your product in better packaging.

You look outside of your own personal emotional and cognitive ecosystem for “the big leap.”

All those external tools and systems and strategies and platforms and bells and whistles matter. They can make a difference WHEN they exist in addition to, not instead of a fully-optimized, aligned and utterly lit-up YOU.

In that case, they become complimentary vehicles of growth. But, alone, they don’t fix the biggest problem. The thing that is really holding you back.


The single biggest simultaneous fail-point and success catalyst is you.

Not your gear, your platform, your system or technology.

Technology didn’t make Steve Jobs better, Steve’s voracious mind made technology better.

Stop looking outside yourself for the big win.

You want to grow faster, know yourself better

You want to make more money, be a better problem solver.

You want to attract better talent, build a stunning culture of one.

You want to make a bigger difference, train in empathy, intuition and compassion.

You want to leave a legacy that matters, be a better human and leave people profoundly changed.

You want to live a better life, before anything else, invest in a ruthless self-knowledge, then build every effort, every action, every element of your vision around the fiber of your being.

You are the killer app.

The ultimate, yet most ignored technology lies in the space between your left and right ears.

Bake a profoundly better human cake.

Everything else is frosting.

So, why don’t we do this?

Because it’s hard. And, with rare exception, we’re wired for the easy win.

It’s the same reason you go for the pill from your doctor, instead of changing the way you eat and move and live.

Because it’s easier. On occasion, it’s truly necessary. But, whenever it’s taken “instead of, rather than in addition to” the behavior change that’s often the root cause and lifetime fix, it also serves as an illusion and a panacea. Something that, like Ed’s zillion-dollar gear, deludes you into thinking you’re doing what you need to do to be the best you can be and build what you want to build.

But it’s a lie. And, it will come back to haunt you. Always does. Always will.

The best of the best, the people who are now and will in the future eat you for lunch, build themselves, through fierce effort and expert guidance, into unstoppable human engines of intelligence, creativity, intuition, compassion, service, expression and heart. Then, they build a culture that empowers the people they bring into their enedeavors to do the same.

They exalt self-knowledge, personal growth and meaningful expression as the heartbeat of success.

And they are hyper-aware that they, on an individual level, are both the keys to the castle and the sand in the machine. Equally capable of fueling acceleration and impact or delusion and collapse.

So, when you look at the year to come, my question is this…

Which will you choose?

Delusion or determination?

Ownership and effort or glitz and blame?

If you really want to invest in something this year…

Make it you.


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54 responses

54 responses to “The Killer App is You”

  1. Micky Wolf says:

    Awesome. ‘Nuff said.

  2. Shikha says:

    Amazing insights. Almost reminded me of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras that laud the potential and vitality of the human consciousness. Splendid post Jonathan.

    Hate to be critical but quick correction…”Someone who’s done the work, on 1983….” Who’s instead of whose maybe? Sorry about being a grammar Nazi!!!

  3. Chris Willey says:

    I get so much email. Most I delete. Some I read, time permitting. Yours — I always read. Great article. Now off to build my app.

  4. Joe says:

    Love this. The technology/gear/platform card is played all the time in the Olympic movement. First things first – that card isn’t it.


    – Someone who rode 1987 Nishiki Ariel on the Slick Rock trail in Moab in the mid-’90s and today proudly mountain bikes on a 10 year-old hard tail out of a rental fleet 🙂

  5. Jonathan your writing has improved drastically. I’ve read your book uncertainty and it was great on content but a bit choppy on reading, but now it feels like content is great but the flow of reading is even more delightful.

    Couldn’t agree more with what you have written.

  6. “Stop looking outside yourself for the big win.” It’s my new mantra for 2015, Jonathan. Seriously, thanks for this shot of wisdom! (you’re really good at that…)

  7. Kristina says:

    Thanks for this boost Jonathan! Good to hear that there are more people, with a lot more experience than me, who believes this too! All the best! 🙂 /Kristina

  8. Great post!

    The best return you will ever receive is the investment in yourself.


  9. Clare says:

    I love this post. I think it’s all too easy these days to fall into the trap of believing you can only become truly great, do the things you’re meant to do, fully work on personal growth AFTER you equip yourself with the latest tech devices and gadgets, after you’ve read the latest books and websites, and after you’ve figured out all the extraneous details of living. We get so comfortable with this belief system, that it’s hard to see it for what it really is: a lie.

    Your post sums up the real truth: Everything you need you already have.

    Thanks for sharing your insight!

  10. merry cox says:

    You really want to see the Colorado mountain west on bikes, ride the hut to hut trail from Telluride to Moab. Gorgeous and tough. Doable if you are in shape and go light.

    Love the article’s premise: “The single biggest simultaneous fail-point and success catalyst is you.”

    “Grammar Nazi” is wrong tho. Who’s mean’s who has or who is. Whose is possessive.

    • Shikha says:

      Apologies if the remark was out of place. But – who’s means
      1. Who has (done, given, written – past participle of verb)
      2. Who is ( present continuous/simple present of verb)

      In any case, the article’s message is beyond excellence and a slightly technical/cosmetic issue should not drag the tone of commentaries down. Peace to all!

      PS: I did try emailing this directly but it failed. Hence why I profusely apologised to the one living author I respect the most!

      • Jonathan Fields says:

        No worries. In an effort to make everyone happy, I’ve just eliminated the contraction. 🙂

  11. Yes. Thank You! I have chosen. So fed up with the Eds (nothing personal).

  12. Susan says:

    Really? This story was about the greenhorn with the flashy clothes and not about the equal-sized ego who decided to enter the race that would likely kill you or seriously injure you? sounds like maybe the author hasn’t moved past thinking extreme sports are just about technical skill. Perfecting a skill is one thing. Participating in events with the promise of great hazard is a completely different creature.

  13. Lori says:

    I’m a writer. And — Yeah, the newer computer won’t put my butt in the chair. The whiz-bang app won’t work out the plot points. The “Be a better writer” manual doesn’t take the place of lots of words wrestled onto the paper.

  14. I think a little bit of delusion in addition to (not instead of) ownership, effort and determination is a good thing. Sometimes we have to deceive ourselves into believing and expecting that we can make this big and crazy dream that we have happen. “You are the killer app” — love it!

  15. Monica says:

    What an inspiring article. It’s so very true. Thanks.

  16. Carsten says:

    Spot-on! “Spot-on” being the biggest understatement ever 😀

  17. Doug Weinfield says:

    Beautiful! One small suggestion: might change “between your ears” to “in your heart”.

  18. This was great and timely JF! Ruthless self knowledge first, then build everything else around your authentic self = the most fulfilling and authentic offering you can present.

    With that ruthless self knowledge, for me, comes the need to engage with others who are on a similar quest, allow them to truly know and understand me and my contribution to the world so that they can hold up the mirror and remind me when difficulties or distractions arise.

  19. Great story and metaphor and message!
    And, it’s a great argument for showing up with a garbage bag for a rain jacket, a heavy outdated clunker of a bike, no bike shorts, and a duct-taped helmet. This has two benefits — it means you’re not trying to buy your ability or who you want to be, but also importantly, others’ expectations of you and your abilities are so low that all the pressure is off and you can only surprise people when you perform. You can also fall last in line, and not feel like you have to ride the technical parts of the trail. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Great points, Shelli! In fact, that was always my approach. Even though this was quite a while back in the #youngandinvincible days of my life and I was a solid rider, I still got off and walked a bunch of segments, when I felt I wasn’t yet skilled enough to ride safely.

    • A mantra I use when I’m clearly in over my head is: “I’m earning my seat in class.” It takes lots of humility and always helps me learn and adapt faster.

      Loved this story! Can’t believe that guy took a swing. I mean his ego. He clearly knew not what he was doing.


  20. Roopa Dudley says:

    The classic case of ‘A bad workman blames his tools’. As a painter, I witness similar things around me — People without a vision or conviction of being an artist, they buy the most expensive materials and delude themselves into thinking they will become amazing artists and will make loads of money.

    Everything takes time, patience, perseverance, commitment and dedication whether it is to have that perfect sculpted body one desires, or becoming an athlete, musician, a biker or a painter (in my case). It would not be worthy of respect if anyone can do it. What separates the good from the great is the natural ability or genius in addition to (like you mentioned) training, commitment and yes proper tools.

  21. Dave in Seattle says:

    Jonathan, I want you to know just how much you are loved and appreciated

  22. Rick says:

    Truth. Preach. Absorb. Rock on brother Jonathan!

  23. Wow, what a profound, fantastically written and inspiring piece. I love it! I can feel the fire in my bones. “Build a profoundly better human cake…” Thanks for the reminder that there are no shortcuts… No substitutes for sweat equity. We have to put in the work to build what matters. And I totally agree with Linda about engaging with others on a similar quest and being vulnerable with them. I think that is what saddens me the most about Ed – he allowed his shame and anger to isolate him from others who were trying to help him. It is true… Sometimes even when we can do all the work, we can get off-track, even get lost, and it takes humility to allow fellow questers to help you find your way and get back on track. As usual Jonathan, you have shifted my paradigm and given me a lot to chew on. Much love to you!

  24. Andrea says:

    Wow!!! I was spending some time germinating, really fostering my quiet and took a break in my Einstein time to open this message. There are no coincidences. Glad to be a student in the Fields University of Life and Business. I am working on all of the above and can’t wait to share what the world has in store. Thanks for leading and showing up as you do so I can produce ripples in the universe in my own way. Wait for it….


  25. Lauren Rader says:

    Such a great post, Jonathan. Beautifully written and so very true. I will share. Thanks, Lauren

  26. Katherine P says:

    Such an inspiring post. Thanks for writing it and reminding us about the important stuff.

    Immediately Vishen Lakhiani from Mindvalley came to mind when reading this. That man is truly on fire and is eating people for lunch in that realm of self actualization.

  27. JR says:

    Well said. Very inspirational.

  28. Tracy Hill says:

    This was simply the best! My boss is Ed,but I have my own company and I am moving in the direction you always send me in. All the best to you and yours in this new year. Thanks so much Jonathan. Love your work.

  29. Egirlrocks says:

    Loved the post, Jonathan . . . you’re an inspiring storyteller.

  30. Jeina says:

    Jonathan, I’ve been listening to your podcast for over a year now, I get excited very time I listen. I loved this article, especially being an avid cyclist and lover of hills. Your life philosophy and vision to share are truly appreciated. Thanks for being who you are and leading this tribe to a greater tomorrow.

  31. Lorna says:

    Beautifully put Jonathan, thank you. Our mission is to build the greenest townhouse we can in Manhattan and we are realising that there are no simple one off solutions like;”just stick solar panels on top of an ordinary house and all will be well!”
    The process is a steady series of lessons, research, experimentation and questioning. This is followed by choices and trade offs, none of them which are perfect, but all of them based on solid research, listening carefully to others experience and our own earnest, honest hearts.
    We were hoping for the quick fix in the early days (your beautifully put “instead of, rather than in addition to”)but now, we wouldn’t trade this process of the steady yards….thank you for putting the process into words.

  32. Andre says:

    So moving and inspiring Jonathan! Thank you.

  33. […] to it I also give you the article he send me today. It’s so valuable to […]

  34. Leanne says:

    Love your work Jonathan, you always manage to write about what I need to hear. I think there’s a little ‘Ed’ in all of us and this post is a great reminder to get real and do the work. Thank you.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Indeed, we’ve all got bits and pieces of Ed and others inside. The puzzle is to find and feed the ones we want to grow. 🙂

  35. Jim B says:

    Thanks Jonathan – I really needed this.

    Agree there are bits of “Ed” in all of us and personally a closet full of a bit too much gear gathering dust is a testament to that.


  36. Otiti says:

    Holy crap. This just smacked be between the eyes and left lightning burning in my blood. I just finished journalling about the need to back up my words and intentions with solid action, otherwise those words and intentions remain just that: words and intentions. The only way to prepare for the harvest is to sow my seeds and nurture them for all I’m worth.

    If I believe I’m the killer app (and I do), then it’s up to me to show up and make. It. Count. If I put in the time and effort to master myself (and I do), then I can create from the razor’s edge and stay super sharp on why I’m here and what I’m here to do. I can go beyond styling and exude substance that stands the test of time.

    Thank you for this. Fuel for my fire and all that. Good shit.

  37. myra says:

    I was expecting to hear this post in sound cloud. But, after reading I am so very, very happy to be reading your writing. It’s what you say at the beginning of every Good Life Project; that “you are a writer”. An excellent one.
    You inspire us all to let our own best self show up in the world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the amazing work you do!

  38. Kate Zakrzewska says:

    This made me think of the ‘tourist-traveller’ distinction and the most visible aspect of it: ‘tourist’ with a professional camera which s/he uses once a year and a ‘traveller’ with a camera phone s/he uses every day. It’s not about the tools, but about accumulated effort that helps us rewire our brain.

  39. Darroch says:

    The perfect note to end my Friday on…

    Simply awesome – Thanks for continuing to inspire!

  40. Rachael says:

    Jonathan, I love to read and listen to your work. Never delete. I find you authentic to the bone…in a human way ;). Thanks always

  41. Jose says:

    Thank you for this great post.

    I had a question: I am currently in the middle of a ten-month master’s degree. I’ve been quite disappointed in the quality of the program.
    Now I’m thinking that the master’s degree is not just another example of “zillion-dollar gear.”
    Besides the fact that I’ve paid a lot of money to fly halfway round the world to enrol in the course, I am already working in the field I am studying, and I haven’t paid the full tuition amount, I am thinking that I should drop out at this point.
    Might it not be better to invest the money in something that would improve me? Perhaps transfer to a better program in a better university, preferably on a scholarship?
    And as you said, I have to choose between delusion and determination, but in this case, I’m not sure which is which. Any thoughts?

  42. […] The Killer App is You – Jonathan Fields. I was thinking about this post in the context of teaching and the things I hear teachers say about why their classrooms aren’t working, but Fields is right. It’s about much more than that.  If *I* want my life to change, if I want to achieve and be greater, to have those things on my Mondo Beyondo list, then I’ve got to know me and do the work. […]

  43. Jamie Mello says:

    Love your podcast. Love your messages.

    Thank you!