Category : analysis

The end of organised sports

The end of organised sports

What sport did you do when you were a kid? Played football? Basketball? Tennis perhaps? I bet you quit doing this by the age of 18 (probably even earlier). Whatever the reason, you’re not alone. In the Netherlands 80 percent of all kids quit organised sports by the time they turn 18. In the United States the situation is even worse. A staggering 70 percent of all kids quit by the time they turn 13 (!). Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF wanted to know why and what they can do about it. We helped them and turned our idea into a company along the way.

logos netflix cnn facebook twitterAs it turns out the answer to the first question (why do we quit organised sports) is fairly simple. And no, it’s not because we don’t like to sport anymore. Instead, the world changed, we changed. Because of the Internet our world slowly changes in an individualistic and on demand centric society. Want to buy music? Visit iTunes. Watch a movie? Launch Netflix. Interact with people? Use Facebook. Check out the news? Visit Twitter or CNN.com. These modern technologies change the way we live, the way we communicate and even change the way our brains work. We’re so accustomed to buying and doing things whenever and wherever we want that we can’t imagine ourselves to schedule anything weeks in advance anymore. Hence, we even start to treat our jobs like this. Many of us are allowed to do our job whenever and wherever we want, as long as our results are good. As it turns out this is exactly how we think about sports as well. We don’t care how we sport, as long as we get the result we want.

So, what results do we want? To meet other people? Sure, this used to be a primary reason, but it’s not our goal anymore. We see other people 24/7 on Facebook, hang out with friends and love to meet new people. For this, we don’t need sports anymore. Instead, most people use sports to stay in shape, lose weight, gain muscles, feel healthy or simply to show off (yep, those people exist too). The fact of the matter is we can achieve these goals without organised sports. Of course, playing football in a team is lots of fun, but it needs to fit my schedule. I want to practice it whenever and wherever I want, I only care about the results.

You must think I’m exaggerating. Do we really think like this? Well, yes. What are the most popular sports for students and (young) professionals? Jogging, running, cycling, swimming or the gym. Yep, these are all individualistic sports which can be practiced wherever and whenever you want. This is exactly why starchitect Rem Koolhaas loves to swim. He travels the world and has a schedule which doesn’t allow  fixed moments to sport. But he can swim whenever and wherever he wants (every city has a swimming pool). Another example is Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of The Next Web. Every once in a while a tweet comes by where @Boris proudly presents us with his running time (“2,15 km at a 5’11″/km pace”). As is the case with Koolhaas, Boris sports wherever and whenever he wants and reaches his goal while doing it.

Most of us travel a lot less, but the idea stays the same. I for example love to bike. On quiet days I sometimes bike for hours, on busy days I don’t bike at all. So, why always sport on the exact same time and location every week? The world doesn’t work like that anymore. Heck, my brain doesn’t work like that anymore, which obviously is bad news for all traditional sports clubs like tennis, football and basketball.

After we discovered the problem we came up with a solution. Together with Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF we created a website which offers organised sports on demand. As you know, we branded it kiozk.com and tested the idea in Groningen. Amsterdam is next. Kiozk essentially is a long list with sport activities based on the users current time and location. Think of activities like ‘play tennis for an hour’, ‘join our basketball team for training’ or ‘try Taekwondo’. Users browse the list of activities and there’s always a sport which can be practiced.

Sounds great? Well, not so fast. To our surprise most organised sports clubs couldn’t be persuaded to join Kiozk, not even with the help of Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF. The most important reason not to join? Most clubs were unhappy about the idea to offer sports on demand. As someone put it, “we’re in the business of memberships, we’re not interested in someone who joins our club just one time.” This forced us to let go our sport-centric model and approach other organizers of activities, not related to sports, as well. With huge success. We now have museums, lot’s of nightlife, lectures, tours and big events in Kiozk. Suddenly some commercial sport clubs saw the potential and also joined. Even FC Groningen, one of the most well known professional football clubs, is now part of Kiozk. Ironically we now have everything but the traditional sport clubs. It seems they continue to deny what’s happening.

Desktop en mobiele Kiozk

Let’s hope the organised sports soon realise their way of doing business needs to be adjusted to again excite students and (young) professionals to join. We still love organised sports… Their system just doesn’t fit in our world anymore.

iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iCampus

Apple is busy building a new campus in California. Their soon-to-be headquarters costs several billions of dollars, is set to be net-zero energy and is designed by one of my favourite architects, Sir Norman Foster. It’s gonna be a remarkable building for sure. But there’s more to it than just these facts… because there’s a video!

This video made me think of something I always knew, but never fully realized; A building is basically ‘just a product’, thus the same compared to other products like cars, electronics and furniture. Similar to these products, a building also needs to be designed, sold and ultimately be used.

We’re not gonna focus on the design of this ‘product’. I think it looks great, both the design and functionality are awesome and the campus looks transparant but essentially is a fortress… in other words, it’s exactly what we think of Apple and its products. Instead I want to talk about the ‘selling-part’ and explain what this has to do with this building ‘being a product’.

New-Apple-Campus-Rendering-cupertino-steve-jobs

Apple didn’t have to sell the project to their Board of Directors. Steve said yes, which is all you need. The project also didn’t have to be sold to the architect (“Norman, will you please design this building with us?”). When Norman Foster got the call he probably said “yes” before Steve could even ask the question. However, the building needs to be ‘sold’ to the Cupertino City Council. If they don’t like the design, think it’s too big, too whatever, the project is off.

Although few can imagine the city council to disapprove the project, it’s still a possibility (remember Steve Job’s battle to tear down his own house?) This is why Apple left nothing to chance. In 2011 Steve Jobs personally presented the proposal to the council. In October 2013 Apple again presented their plans in front of the council. This time they also showed a short video (see video above).

In this video, Apple presents their campus as if it’s a new iPhone. They talk more about the process of the design than the actual features. Typical for Apple, they don’t talk about the giant size of the building, or the costs, or the jobs it will bring to the area (the ‘specs’ so to speak of). Instead, they focus on trees and the landscape; “80 percent of the site will be green space”.

jony ive and norman foster

The video itself is a typical Apple production. We see the product (the building) and its designers. Norman Foster functions as as Jony Ive and designers use phrases which can also be used to describe the newest iPhones. What to think of:

“This project is pushing the boundaries of what’s technically possible in almost every aspect.”

“Everything is hand crafted for this project.”

Remember they’re talking about their new campus, not a new iGadget. To me this proves Apple really has design and marketing in their DNA (as if I ever needed any proof, which I didn’t). They did an incredible job to market this building as if it’s a consumer product.

Steve Jobs was proud to be involved in four revolutionary Apple products: the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. Let’s add a fifth revolutionary ‘consumer product’ to the list… the iCampus.

Note: The Cupertino City Council unanimously approved the project in October 2013.

Stupid strategy

It’s stupid strategy and doesn’t make any sense. Or… does it? Fast rewind to the beginning: I watched the movie Glory the other day. It’s about the first all-black volunteer company fighting in the US Civil War. The movie includes some great battle scenes which are fought using Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous military strategy.

American Civil War musket close formations

Napoleon’s strategy involves so called ‘muskets close order formations’. Put simply: Formations from both sides walk onto the battlefield until they see each other. Then something strange happens. First hundreds of soldiers from one side shoot at other side, effectively killing and injuring many enemy soldiers (who don’t even try to evade the bullets). Subsequently the enemy soldiers are allowed to shoot on the friendlies, with basically the same lethal result.

It’s not the first time I watched such a battle scene, but every time I do I think it’s strange, no stupid, to fight like this. If I’d been a general I’d never allow anyone to get a clear shot at my soldiers. Why didn’t the Civil War generals use a different strategy. Were they stupid, or…?

Napoleon’s strategy

When the French Emperor used ‘muskets close order formations’, muskets were very inaccurate weapons. Napoleon figured if hundreds of soldiers shoot their rifles at exactly the same moment, at least some bullets must hit the enemy. The French essentially created the world’s first machine-gun, an inaccurate but highly effective weapon on the battle field.

Slag bij Wagram 7 juli 1809

So, what went wrong in the Civil War

Well… muskets improved a lot. They were far more accurate. The fact that the Civil War soldiers could now hit what they aimed at made all the soldiers at the other side ‘sitting ducks’. For the first time soldiers didn’t randomly shoot their rifles in the hopes of hitting something. This time they actually managed to hit the enemy.

I wonder… Why didn’t the generals change strategy after a few of these battles?

The answer is simple, but shocking: They didn’t know better.

Many of the officers on both sides of the war received their military training at West Point. At West Point all cadets studied tactics under the same professor, who turned out to be fascinated by Napoleonic Warfare. In other words, both sides knew and thought alike. They were so focussed on Napoleontic Warfare that no imaginable alternative to this strategy existed. The only thing they could do… continue the war, minimise the loss wherever possible and hope for the best.

1861 – 2013

Back in 1961 Americans studied and copied Napoleon, who’s army became the world’s model of a fighting machine. Americans wanted to copy this success thus recreate the “Grande Armee” in America, which turned out to be a disaster. Technology improved but strategy didn’t. Today, the same is happening, but this time it’s the Europeans who make the mistake. The United States have the worlds most advanced army and won a string of victories in the past decades. So, it’s no surprise that European countries modeled their armies after their American counterpart, much like the Americans copied Europe 150 years ago. The problem is… the European armies and strategies never evolved after that. They’re still very much the same compared to 30-40 years ago, although we now have new technologies like drones, highly advanced missiles and the threat of cyberwar.

predator drone USA Civil War

What I’m saying is… we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes America made in 1861. Technology, weaponry and wars evolved during the past decades… it’s time to adjust our strategy (and expectations of war) likewise.

Note: I didn’t intent to write about strategy or the military. I simply couldn’t help myself after finding out the reason behind the ‘stupid strategy’ of the US Civil War. Suddenly I realised we still make (some of) the same mistakes today. Sometimes history does repeat itself

Skeuomorphism

These days, everyone seems to talk about skeuomorphism, not in the last place because of Jony Ive’s design revolution at Apple. I follow this discussion closely because this discussion also applies to Kiozk.com, a company I co-founded. More on skeuomorphism later, first a little introduction on Kiozk.

When you visit Kiozk.com and set the location to Groningen (a Dutch city), you’ll see a long list with activities based on your time and location. The activity at the top of the list is about to start, the more you scroll down, the later the activity takes place. Essentially, this is all you need to know about Kiozk, although there’s much more to it.

screenshot Kiozk Groningen

Kiozk, a modern kiosk

We see Kiozk as the modern equivalent of a kiosk. No need to collect dozens of flyers or search the Internet to find something to do. Instead, use Kiozk and you’ll immediately see activities taking place nearby. This led to an important design-question. If we see ourselves as a modern day kiosk, shouldn’t we look like a kiosk as well?

Skeuomorphism

We quickly learned this is called skeuomorphism… Skeu-what!? In short, it means that a digital object closely emulates objects in the real world. Check these examples: 12 and 3. In other words, a digital button looks like a real-world button, so our digital Kiozk should resemble a real-world kiosk as well.

To Skeu or Not to Skeu

Last year, there were many arguments in favor of skeuomorphism. After all, Scott Forstall still worked for Apple and iOS was filled with real-life objects, materials and shapes. Since many people were (and still are) used to this skeuomorphic design, it made sense to apply the same design philosophy to Kiozk as well. So we did (well, only during our mock-up phase).

We tried wooden textures…
kiozk skeuomorphism - wood
Made the activity-feed resemble paper…
kiozk skeuomorphism - paper
We even used leather stitching at some point (yes I know, it looks terrible).
kiozk skeuomorphism - leather stitching

We literally tried hundreds of designs for the Kiozk homepage. Some were skeuomorphic and some used the so called flat design. In the end, we choose the modern and more minimalist look and ditched skeuomorphism. In hindsight, this is the best decision we could’ve made. After all, with the current design revolution at Apple, skeuomorphism is now officially outdated.

kiozk skeuomorphism - current flat designThis is the current activity-feed.
We hope to perfect the design within several weeks.

Fyra fiasco

Icedome Almere, fiasco in the making

Forget the financial crisis, global warming or conflict in the Middle East. A high speed train and national ice skate arena is all we currently talk about in the Netherlands. Why? Well, one of these topics is a fiasco, the other will be in a few years.

Fyra, which is should be a high speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels, is something that turned out to be too good to be true. Several years ago, the government and railway officials of Belgium and the Netherlands painted a bright future with two possible outcomes. 1) Everything would work out exactly as planned, thus creating a perfect train connection between the two countries… or 2) the project becomes a fiasco… guess what, it’s the fiasco that happened.

In 2013, exactly the same is about to happen with the national ice skate arena.

Here’s the situation

1. The Dutch are crazy about ice skating (it’s one of our national sports)
2. All the major national and international ice skate events allocated to the Netherlands take place in a single ice skate arena, which is Thialf.
3. Thialf, our national ice skate arena is outdated and needs to be modernized
4. Local politicians waited too long before making any decisions regarding a modernized Thialf
5. This prompted the Dutch national ice skate federation to write out a competition. ‘Which city wants to build the next national ice skate arena?’
6. Three cities responded, including the city where Thialf is located. But another city, Almere, has the best plan thus possibly wins.
7. There only seems to be one problem… Icedome Almere (the best entry), feels too good to be true…

It’s all about the money

Thialf, the current arena, presented a plan which costs about 80 million euros. The plan is divided in three phases, the first and most important one costs 50 million, which is covered for by the local government. The other contender, Icedome Almere, presented a much more ambitious plan which costs over 180 million. Paradoxically, this plan doesn’t need support by the government. Instead, businesses cover all costs involved. Although this sounds great, it feels unrealistic. Especially when the initiators are tight lipped about any (possible) investor involved.

In addition, Icedome Almere expects 1,2 million annual visitors, which equals more than 3000 people a day. To be fair, they plan to host non-skate events like musicals, festivals and concerts as well. Still, it’s a large number which feels a bit optimistic. What if ‘only’ 600.000 people visit the arena (still a huge number). In that case, who’ll cover the investment of 183 million euros + 15 million in annual operation costs?

A perfect stadium or fiasco?

Let me rewrite the second paragraph, but instead of Fyra (the train), It’s Icedome Almere we talk about. Here we go: Recently, initiators of Icedome Almere painted a bright future with two possible outcomes. 1) Everything works out exactly as planned, thus creating the perfect ice skate stadium… or 2) the project becomes a fiasco (which forces the government to help out, again)… Guess what, I think the latter.

Let’s see how this project develops. I’ll keep you posted.