Our opinions often are formed by our personal experiences and the facts of which we are aware. Those opinions are the foundation for our actions. It's not hard to see why people who aren't open to new experiences and additional facts might cling to opinions and actions that make little sense to others.

That's why I admire people who are open to other people's opinions and to new data, even if they differ from their own opinions. During my interview with this year's Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder and CEO of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas (see profile starting on page 62), I was interested in how open he was to change, especially when it came to changing his mind about certain fitness tenets he had made popular.

It shouldn't have surprised me that Cooper readily admitted to having changed his mind about certain things. One of the biggest changes in his thinking was that diet did not matter when it came to fitness. However, after hearing from distraught widows who told him that their husbands ran marathons and exercised regularly but did not eat healthy foods and died of heart attacks, he researched the subject and realized that a healthy diet is essential to longevity. So, in 1982, he began using the term “wellness,” and included within that exercise, proper weight and a nutritious diet.

For a long time, Cooper also promoted that exercise had to be intense for people to get any benefits. However, a 1989 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that even moderately fit people lived longer than unfit people. Based on that research, Cooper changed his exercise recommendation, saying that people don't need to train for marathons to live longer, they just need to stop being couch potatoes.

“He wasn't afraid to admit that he had been wrong before,” says Tedd Mitchell, CEO of the Cooper Clinic, part of the Cooper Aerobics Center. “Too many people make their name off a particular thing and stick to their guns on that, even when data suggests something else.”

If Cooper can see new research, conclude that his opinions are incorrect and start preaching something new, then it should be easy for club owners to change their direction as well. How many times have you tried the same action only to find that it doesn't work, and yet, you keep trying it hoping for a different outcome because you are certain you are right? With the economy as tough as it is today, basing your actions on opinions that may be outdated isn't the smartest move.

What caused Cooper to change his mind each time? New data that proved that something was different than he had theorized. How many of your marketing actions are based on theories about what will attract people into your clubs, and how many of your programming decisions are based on theories about what your members want? Where's your research to back those theories?

You don't need the Cooper Institute (the research arm of the Cooper Aerobics Center) to change your theories. You simply need a professionally developed and administered survey that will collect the data that you need and a professional to analyze that data so that you can turn it into new actions. Oh, and an open mind willing to admit that your old direction wasn't working would help, too. It sure seemed to work for Cooper.

Advisory Board

Rick Caro, Management Vision • Casey Conrad, Communications Consultants and Healthy Inspirations • Bill McBride, COO, Club One Inc.• Gene C. Grzywna, Director of Campus Recreation, Department of Athletics & Recreation, Northeastern University • Kelly Powell, Navy Fitness • Douglas A. Ribley, Akron General Health Systems • Stephen P. Roma, WOW! Work Out World • Steven Schwartz, MidTown Athletic Clubs • Karen Woodard, Premium Performance