Innovation: Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle… #1

Jono Byrne
Aug 1, 2017

I failed athletes.

I failed colleagues who needed more than I could give.

I failed people who were following their passion.

These failures would be painful enough by themselves, but brutally examining why they happened hurts far, far more.

In so doing, I hope those of you working in sport right now can avoid similar mistakes.

In the ‘mini-series’ I’ve called Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle, 4 more short and punchy posts will recount my personal experiences from 2 years working in the UK’s Olympic sport system.

I’ll describe specific mistakes; what factors promoted them (both personal and systemic); and important lessons about errors of judgement that needn’t and shouldn’t be blindly repeated elsewhere.

My goal isn’t to publicly ‘flog the guilty’ (except, perhaps, myself). The personal cost of these failures has been considerable: loss of confidence; loss of reputation; loss of income; loss of security; and (for a time) a debilitating loss of personal and professional direction.

But, in a period of personal reflection that has (sometimes literally) involved ‘wandering in the forest’, I’ve given myself time and space to ponder the true root cause of failures that cost me and others dearly.

Time for reflection deep in the woods…

Lacking moral courage, I failed (repeatedly) to “speak truth to power”.

Living the opposite to Brenda Ueland’s 1938 exhortation to a life of ‘Art, Independence and Spirit’, I couldn’t follow her simple advice:

“Be Bold, Be Free, Be Truthful”.

Even if I’d heeded that advice, some of the mistakes I’ll describe might still have occurred. My role in those mistakes would, however, have been less.

So now is the time to take personal responsibility for my part in a catalogue of damaging errors.

New Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle posts will be published thick and fast over the coming days and weeks. I’ll unleash a concentrated burst of insights that will hopefully be of use to any of you working in sport, and perhaps beyond.

These posts will cover (in more detail) some really important things that I’ve learned:

  1. First contact. Early conversations are critical. Be honest. If you have ‘gut instinct’ concerns, voice them.
  2. Silver bullets. What happens when you transplant ‘solutions’ that apparently worked elsewhere into new and unfamiliar environments?
  3. Why are you here? Really. Why does a sports organisation exist and who does it exist for?
  4. Learning organisations. How can sports organisations most effectively develop themselves?

We’re heading up Shit Creek.

Without paddles.

Get ready for a bumpy ride…

Read episode #2