Updated: Oct 23, 2019
For the inaugural edition of our Storyteller Profile series, we sat down with author, podcaster, keynote speaker, and Team Canada Australian Rules Football coach Cody Royle.
Who is Cody Royle?
Cody Royle fused his passion and personal experience to tell the story of how pro sports has been quality-testing corporate strategies for decades – from recruitment to leadership, culture and high-performance. In his book, Where Others Won’t, he speaks with prominent sports professionals from around the world – including former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars, former Denver Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist, Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov, and former Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger – to shine light on the treasure trove of ideas and cues that businesses can harness from the world of pro sports. As a passionate sports fan, a long-time coach, and a one-time HR and recruitment professional, Cody’s foray into storytelling began years ago as a blog before evolving into something much bigger.
Check out our conversation with Cody below:
TMC: Cody, thanks for taking the time to speak with me and share your story. You’ve got a pretty diverse background which has led you to where you are now. Can you tell me a bit about where you started out, where you’re at now, and how you got here?
CR: I actually studied HR and business in school, so I’m not a classically trained writer. I taught myself, essentially. I started out in the business world and just never found the right role. I tried sales, I was in HR itself, I was in recruiting. And I really got into writing and storytelling through sports and starting my own blogs. I found it was a really good way for me to put my thoughts down – on the world, and also deal with some frustrations.
So, what was your blog all about?
My first blog was called Sports Diatribe and it was a simple WordPress. I just wrote about things that I saw in the media that I knew weren’t true within the sports world. So, I started writing about that, and it sort of snowballed from there.
How did Sports Diatribe evolve into something a little bit more substantial?
I ended up having a quarter-life crisis one day and walked into my then-boss’s office and saying, “I can’t fucking do this anymore, I can’t make cold-calls selling things I don’t believe in. And I just decided that I wanted to be a writer. I’d had a couple of successful blogs and one had been featured in Ryerson Review of Journalism, so I had a bit to work with. I just found a way through creating things – just creation, creation, creation. Then, after about 6 or 7 weeks of trying to find a job as a writer, one of my best buddies from recruitment, funnily enough, told me that [a major bank] was looking for a writer and they didn’t want somebody classically trained. They wanted somebody from a business background. So, when that worked out, it was kind of the “corporate” validation that I could do it, and also allowed me to write the book and do all my passion projects on the side as well.
I write full-time now, both at my business [as Managing Editor and Partner] at NTSQ Sports Group as well as my own stuff – books and blogs and ideas on LinkedIn. Writing is the one thing I’ve found that I can do 24-7-365 and absolutely love every second of it.
You were writing the book while working full-time. So, that must have really come from a place of true passion. You said you were frustrated with what you were doing, and you had something to get off your chest. How did you decide that this was the story you needed to tell?
I was at a major bank working in what I saw to be a pretty backwards way of utilizing people - things like recruitment and culture and leadership. At the same time, I was head coach of Canada’s national Aussie Rules program, and was trying to find the most effective ways of utilizing people and teams. I started to realize that there was a real overlap between sports and business, and that I had some unique ideas about how they could blend. I started to contact coaches and leaders that I knew and asking if I could interview them, and they started to accept, so I figured I was on to something.
It sounds like the bank job was offering you a pretty good wealth of insights to work with.
I probably stayed at the bank longer than I should have, but it was because it was fueling the book! The random shit that would happen and the meetings you’d be in – you know me, I’m a leadership geek and a coaching geek and I just love that sort of stuff – and I would just sit in meetings and listen to the way people would talk to their subordinates. And I just thought, “you think you’re motivating people but that’s not going to work!” And so, it was just those observations and frustrations building up, and I started to realize in my head that I had the framework for a book, and that maybe there was more than just a blog.
And at that moment in time, it came to a point where you could self-publish. So, I thought to myself that, if I don’t need to go through an editor and have somebody change my thoughts, then that’s a great outlet for me. I didn’t want someone else saying that a chapter doesn’t make it, or this idea isn’t strong enough. I just wanted to put my ideas out there. And these things all sort of snowballed.
Then, at the end of 2017, [the book] ends up coming out.
Coming from writing blogs – which is a pretty unfiltered way to tell your story – I can imagine it would be challenging to have somebody editing what you’re saying.
Absolutely. I didn’t really want to go down that road.
In your opinion, what’s so important about storytelling? What was it about your story that made you realize that you had to share it with other people?
At a fundamental level, stories are how we communicate and how we track our own history, and how we identify that history. And so, I think I started to realize that this could be valuable for someone, and I don’t think I’d ever had that thought before. I spent a lot of time wondering why anybody would want to listen to me. I don’t know if there was a particular moment, but I started to realize that everyone should be sharing their stories.
All people have a story but most feel like they don’t have an outlet. Maybe they feel like they aren’t a good speaker, so they don’t want to start a podcast. They can’t play the guitar or they can’t sing, so they don’t write music. I was fortunate enough to find an outlet that would allow me to share my story.
And once you’re in it, it becomes liberating. Writing is a massive decompression session for me, getting all these things out of my head. I think I finally realized that sharing my story could be pretty significant – even for one person.
I think that’s part of the power of storytelling. Whatever your story is, there’s somebody out there that it will resonate with if you can figure out how to share it with them.
Totally. And you don’t know it or realize it at first, and that’s the scary part. You don’t who it’s going to resonate with, and that’s part of the risk of putting yourself out there.
How did you find that process of writing the book?
It was tough. It was probably a year of actually writing and editing. And there was probably five years’ worth of blogs in there as well. And I got about halfway done in May of 2017 and then I couldn’t see the way forward. And it was more so structural things in a book that you need to have – what the chapters look like, wondering if I have enough to fill out a chapter with a particular title and if not, where do I find additional content? It wasn’t writers block, but it was just that the structure of the storyline stopped making sense to me.
I actually did AltMBA, Seth Godin’s online seminar, which is all about people challenging people. And I used the book as the case study on those projects, so I’d have people challenging me to put timelines on things or offering me an idea of how to move forward. And that constant iteration actually got me back into the right way of doing things, and I actually met my editor through that process as well.
I owe a lot to that program for kicking me in the ass and getting the book over the line. But there were certainly periods of time where I had that same paralysis, thinking nobody’s going to read this or nobody’s going to care, this doesn’t make sense, this is dumb.
So, you had to overcome a bit of a rollercoaster.
I think a lot of authors go through that phase. You look at it so much, you just stare at the same piece of text for a year, so you’re bound to go through these up-and-downs where, in the downs you’re thinking, “this is fucking dumb,” but in the ups, you’re thinking this could literally be a New York Times Best-Seller. But that’s also part of the fun, I think.
I can certainly say that, as a content creator, I’ve had those same moments, even looking at a piece of work for a month and getting so close to it that you need to draw yourself back from it in order to refocus.
Yeah – and I think that’s where the Seth Godin thing really helped. The course is based around this idea of “Just Ship It.” You do 12-or-so projects and the deadline was always midnight. And if it wasn’t done, or it wasn’t good enough, you still had to post it anyway - the idea was to just get it out there. So, there were something like 25 errors in my book, but we shipped it anyway and, because we were self-publishing, we could fix those errors on the spot. So, it was just this mental barrier that I had, but the idea is to just get it out there.
We spoke about that risk of putting yourself out there and worrying about how it will be received. How did you find the reception to the book?
I think it was pretty overwhelmingly popular with the people that read it. I wasn’t looking to be earth-shattering; I wasn’t looking to write a Start With Why or change the world. What I wanted people to say was that it made them think differently. And that seems to be fairly consistent with people who have read it, even now that it’s been out for 18 months. They say there are some ideas in there that changed the way they think about how they lead or how they recruit. So, I think it was good in that sense. For me, I judge it as a success because that is consistently the feedback that I get from it, and that’s what I was looking for. The sales didn’t matter to me so much. It was more the validation of learning if the ideas stack up.
Since the book, you’ve been able to branch out into your podcast and share other peoples’ stories as well. What’s it like to be able to do that?
Yeah, that’s really cool. I get to talk to people that I’m interested in, which is amazing. It’s not a bunch of my friends – or my mum – or anything. They’re heavy-hitters. It’s really cool to have those conversations. And I try to give the guests something different as well, so it’s not just two people having a conversation, but we make it into more of a panel discussion around a topic. And when it’s around a topic that they both have expertise in, you can hear how excited they are to get to talk about what they’re passionate about. That’s really cool for me, because I’m interested in what they’re talking about, and to get three people riffing on one idea and going off on all these tangents, it’s great. I hope that, by giving people this platform and introducing them to somebody new who has a similar way of thinking about the world, that I can help inspire people and help tell that story in a different way.
What advice would you give to somebody who has that passion and has that story?
Now that I’ve written a book and had a blog and a podcast, I encourage everyone to find whatever that outlet is for them because all these stories are important, no matter how insignificant you think they are. I know it sounds like a little bit of a cliché, potentially, but it’s like anything else. Initially you’re scared to ride a bike, but once you learn how to do it and you stop falling off, you realize, “this is pretty cool!”
And, you know what? Even further than that, you could start a blog and not even make it public. You could spend the next year writing for yourself. But the idea is, you “just ship it” – even to yourself, so you can see it, and see your progression, and see yourself getting better. And eventually, maybe you get the confidence up to put it out into the world.
Since releasing the book, that’s the best business card I could ever imagine. It becomes a topic at parties where I don’t know anyone. People are interested in having you on their podcast just because you have a book. And they may not have even read it! But just the fact that you sat down and did it, and told your story in a particular way, people resonate with that.
And that’s why I’m so big on people actually publishing their work. It sets in motion other people and attracts people to your energy. And they will find you. It might not be Oprah who finds you, but people who resonate with you and have similar challenges, they’re actually attracted to you because you told your story. And that’s the coolest thing, because then you realize it’s not just you. You get to talk to people and jam on this stuff, and you realize that you can impact people – just by telling your story.