Conferences Events Member Insights

Member Insights: If we always frame things in the same way, we will get the same results.

October 4, 2022

In this piece Richard Brinkman, looks at some of the trends he has picked up at different conferences he has been attending over the past few months.

With the sports conference season in full swing over the past few weeks I have been watching with interest some of the key questions, statements and language used at these events. It is fascinating to observe the different tones and approaches taken depending on the speaker, geography, topic and level of involvement with the sports industry.

The questions we ask and the language we use can be hugely influential in guiding the actions we take and, hence, the results we get. This is because they steer the way we think, and every action we take is thought about to some degree before we take it. 

Thus, what we ask and how we say things is important in determining our future direction of travel.  We can speak to ourselves in a way that is helpful, or we can speak in a way that is hindering. The choice is ours. The problem is that it is often happening unconsciously so we are unaware of that choice.

It was fascinating recently to see the stories and testimonials coming out of iSportConnect’s recent Web3 summit. The nature of the topic, and where it is in its evolution, meant there were no “experts” to call on. There were none of the usual senior faces saying similar things to what you have already heard on the standard podcast circuit. Sure, you had some individuals and organisations that are some way down the road with certain elements of the ecosystem but by no means was there anybody professing to know the whole story, what the destination looks like or what the journey will be.

Rather, what you see and hear is an attitude of inquiry, of discovery, a world of possibilities to be explored – because, by its nature, we are all in a “test and discover” phase with this technology. It was a similar ethos at the Token2049 conference that was running in Singapore last week whilst Leaders week was happening in London. There was an energy in a collective belief that we are all on this journey together.

There was also a healthy dose of scepticism that was embraced and confronted at both the Web3 summit and Token 2049 – after all, there are still many in the sports industry that lived through the Web 2.0 bubble bursting. The jury is definitely out on whether NFTs are desirable and/or the way forward.

The language reflected this – there was a lot of future imagining, a lot of “what ifs” and questions aimed at opening the mind to opportunity – “how can we possibly…..”, “what can we possibly…..”, and, crucially, “who can we possibly involve to…….”.

This last point is critical. Collaboration and involving others in helping us achieve our goals are going to be more important than ever given the economic uncertainty and choppy waters that are ahead for any rights holder in sport. 

Sport organisations, given that their very purpose is either to foster or overcome competition, are infamous for their unwillingness to co-operate and share. However, lashing your boat to another or sailing as part of a flotilla where you can watch out for one another and share intel is definitely a good idea as any kind of major storm approaches. And lack of access to easy capital, the rising cost of servicing debt and the customer’s increasing inability to pay to attend, bet or consume via third-party media is definitely going to constitute a major storm.

Opening the mind to possibilities, assessing them all and then prioritising the best ideas is absolutely critical in helping to achieve your goals. This is because it helps plan the journey and stops one fixating solely on the final result. When the waves are huge and the wind is howling it is no good thinking about your end-point in port as it can seem a million miles away and unrealistic – you just need to focus on getting through the next few hours and miles. You can then reassess, take on learnings and proceed. “Follow the process, focus on performance and the result will take care of itself” is a cliché in sport for a reason!

At Leaders last week Jordan Schwarzenberger – a man whose background is very much in media and entertainment, not in sport – was fascinating in how he embraced this open and always learning approach when considering opportunities for the Sidemen. These were not limited to any kind of activity or platform – indeed, the very concept of what and who the Sidemen are is incredibly open and inclusive – and almost everything they do relies on a high degree of collaboration. It is very much about enjoying the journey and building on each experience to get better.

Equally, sometimes the innovative route forward can sometimes be through exploring possibilities and building knowledge independently of others. FIFA’s recent bold decoupling from EA is a prime example of brave and creative thinking and not defaulting to the safe, known option.

Unfortunately, as we become older, and invariably professionally more senior, we naturally feel the pressure to have “the answers” – to seek definition, focus and precision. As a rule of thumb, that makes goal-setting and, thus, leadership easier. This can very easily and quickly lead to closed thinking and a habit of falling back on past memories of what we have done or seen that has helped one get to that senior position. This can be dangerous and often those memories can hinder progress as it imposes engrained behaviours, assumptions and thinking onto dynamic and evolving situations.

I was struck by the contrast between Jordan’s “open” language and approach and some of the debates and comments reported about more “conventional” sports topics at Leaders. Clearly there is a lot of change within the industry at the moment with many moving parts up in the air. And yet, whether discussing topics as diverse as finance and ownership, governance, the growth of women’s sport or the opportunities that new technologies present, a great deal of definitive “closed” language and thinking seemed to be in evidence. This kind of language creates the best soundbites but does not help productive thinking that will drive innovation and the ability to adapt to challenging situations.

Even taking into account the fact that the most valuable conversations that take place at any conference are those that take place amongst peers and individuals (rather than on the stage) it is important to remember that our language and thinking will invariably steer our actions and, therefore, results. The projection of “known knowns” onto unknowns (such as what the future looks like) stifles imagination, collaboration and opportunity.

With this in mind it is always a good idea to be wary of any “how to….” session at any conference. There may well be some useful nuggets that you can apply to your situation and circumstance but there is never going to be one way, one answer as to “how to” do or achieve anything in sport. There will be helpful hints and learnings that may save time, money or effort (or perhaps all 3 if you are lucky) but it is up to all of us to assess this information for our own situation.

Ultimately the right question to the right person at the right time remains the best way to get the information we want and need. 

It is up to all of us to look at all possibilities, work more closely with others and ask questions that are as open as our minds if sport is to continue to develop through the tricky times ahead. The future is not so rosy if a more homogenous look and feel is generated across the industry through grooved “me too” thinking. 

Conferences Events Member Insights