2018 Thought Leader Highlights
LISTENING, LEARNING AND PLAYING IN BEAVER CREEK: The 2018 Thought Leaders retreat was a success in every respect, from the location to the speakers to the discussions, interactions and comaraderie displayed by our 130 attendees. This year’s retreat was purposefully a little hard to get to, but the mountain setting at the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain in Colorado was conducive to the relaxation, learning and reflection that we so rarely have time for in our day-to-day lives. Most attendees were drawn from our classes of Forty Under 40, Game Changers and Champions honorees, but we also had a select group of high-level invitees. For several days this week, we took over the meeting rooms, restaurants, bars and outdoor seating areas of the hotel, where we visited, debated, ate, drank and enjoyed the cool mountain breezes.
WHAT WAS SAID: Thought Leaders is an off-the-record conference, but there were plenty of takeaways that were not proprietary and will give you a good idea of the quality of the discussions. Among the speakers who had everyone buzzing were two who did a good job pushing us out of our comfort zones, Verna Myers and Duncan Wardle. We put on a lot of events every year, and recruit a number of speakers, but we can’t recall speakers who generated as much positive feedback as these two."
BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT: “Why We Miss Talent: How Unconscious Bias Derails Merit,” was the theme of the kickoff keynote by inclusion strategist and author Myers, who talked for an hour about how diversity and inclusion must work hand-in-hand in the workplace. With an engaging and dynamic presence, Myers stressed that “group-think is the enemy” when trying to improve workplace diversity and foster inclusion, and greater focus must be made to who is getting opportunities and whose voices are being ignored. She also delved deep into unconscious bias: “If you think you aren’t biased, you are less likely to see when you are. Even as good people, you have biases. Denial is the worst situation we can possibly have.” In addition, when asked about how employers should assess whether job candidates will fit into the corporate culture, she said, “When you hear ‘fit,’ your antenna should go up. ‘Fit’ is the word of the status quo.” Every dinner conversation on Tuesday night hit on themes from Myers’ discussion earlier in the day.
MORNING CREATIVITY WITH DUNCAN: Wardle kicked off day two of the retreat with an interactive and absorbing discussion on creativity and innovation in the workplace and as a mindset of today’s leaders. The former Disney executive had a charming, self-effacing style as he revealed some of the biggest barriers to creativity, and, in many cases, had attendees shaking their heads as his points hit home about the way their own workplaces stifle creativity. “Innovation was trending five years ago,” he said. “Now it’s about survival.” Among his points: There is a big difference between “to iterate” and “to innovate,” and one of the biggest barriers is time. He stressed, “Give people the time to innovate.” He also pointed to the transforming power of shifting “my idea” to “our idea” as one of the most powerful ways to inject new thinking into an organization. He had a fun group exercise that stressed not to respond to ideas with, “No, because….”, but use “Yes, and….” Other takeaways: Be playful as leaders, think more about “what if?,” and talk to the “naïve experts” – people on the ground floor of your organization who have the closest contact with your customers. Most importantly, get out of your “river of thinking,” which keeps you thinking and acting the same way over time. Finally, he encouraged everyone in the room to think about “bravery.” Innovation, by it’s very nature, is about trying something new, so be prepared and open about the element of risk. Wardle’s 60-minute tour de force left the room excited, and he was generous with his time and ideas later in the day after the retreat had concluded. The consistent feedback on Wardle was that his keynote provided actual tools and tactics to employ in life and at work.
ACTIONABLE INTEL: Conde Nast Entertainment’s Croi McNamara was peppered with questions during a 45-minute interview about the successful video strategy that she’s implemented at a company that has traditionally been known for the success of its consumer magazines. When McNamara asked the crowd how many were trying to grow their own video business, more than half the people in the room raised their hands. She then demonstrated how most companies overthink — and overspend — when it comes to producing video. Touting what she called a “light lift, low-fi” approach to content, McNamara showed examples of videos produced by Conde Nast using iPhones, limited lighting and only a few people. “We try to keep our core staff as small as possible,” she said, “and then freelance out as much as we can. One of the keys is to go as thin as you can, especially early on.” McNamara touted YouTube as a primary platform, because Google has the know-how to distribute video and consumers are used to finding it there. Other keys from McNamara: Be clear about your goal (is it revenue? audience reach?); create a format that you can use repeatedly; and be consistent.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS: Last year, Tony Ponturo closed out the retreat by interviewing TV production legend David Hill. This year, it was Ponturo’s turn to be grilled, as SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour talked to the long-time sports business leader about career development and reinvention. Here’s some of what Ponturo had to say about what he’s learned and what he tries to pass on to others:
— Experience builds your confidence in yourself that you can do the job. If you speed through jobs quickly, but don’t stay in any of them long enough to get enough experience to build confidence, then you can become president of the company but still not have the confidence that you can do the job.
— Life is short. Don’t waste time with bad people or a bad environment.
— Leaderhip is not the job, the position or the title. Leadership is getting people to follow you because they believe in what you’re saying, they understand what your’re saying, and they know you’re down in the dirt with them and you walk the talk.
— Once you’re a leader, it’s 24/7. You’re always being observed. The team is always looking and thinking: Is it about us? Or is it about you?
SPEAKING OF REINVENTION: During a session on athletes as entrepreneurs, former NFL players Marques Colston (Saints) and Robert Smith (Vikings) talked about their careers since they left the playing field. Colston has become an investor, mostly in sports technology companies. “It all leans on leveraging playing 10 years at the highest level and having access to a lot of resources and opportunities,” he said. “I started to lay the foundation about halfway through my career. I was fortunate to have some really good advisors.” Smith is founder and CEO of Fan Health Network. “The seed was really planted when I was a young child, with my interest in science and medicine,” he said. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid. With Fan Health network we’re using sports and celebrity passion to drive up engagement rates in corporate wellness programs, and, in turn, to drive down health care costs.” Fan Health Network has a new deal with the NFLPA that will allow it to use players in corporate wellness challenges and other initiatives.
GROUP THINK: The retreat ended with a one-hour group discussion facilitated by CSM LeadDog’s Dave Mingey and Madkour. Most of the discussion focused on opportunities, challenges and unforeseen issues related to legalized sports gambling in the U.S., but there was also ideas offered about ways to increase diversity and inclusion in sports. The session ended with discussion on topics, format and content for next year’s retreat, and future event locations.
WORK HARD, THINK HARD, PLAY HARD: Attendees took full advantage of the beautiful surroundings and ample recreational opportunites in the Beaver Creek area. There was a long list of planned activities to take advantage of, from the traditional golf and tennis outings to art lessons (the aptly named “Painting & Pinot” session), a Jeep tour that went about 9,000 feet up into a wilderness area, a sporting clay shoot and a three-mile mountain hike that went up more than 8,000 feet. Oddly enough, while the hikers were told to watch out for black bears, the only one spotted was on the golf course.
THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS: We couldn’t have pulled off the retreat without the support of Winstead, CSM LeadDog, UCHealth, NFLPA and MGM Resorts International.
Click HERE to request information on Thought Leaders 2019.