Make Your Own Waves

The Surfer's Rules for Innovators and Entrepreneurs

 Make Your Own Waves

Author: Louis Patler
Pub Date: July 2016
Print Edition: $21.95
Print ISBN: 9780814437230
Page Count: 192
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814437247

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Consider this:

- Facebook, the world’s largest social media site … creates no content.

- Wikipedia, the world’s most active reference source … employs no scholars.

- Airbnb, provider of more beds than Hilton and Marriott hotels combined … doesn’t own a single mattress.

- Uber, the world’s largest cab company … has zero vehicles.

- The most valuable global retailer, Alibaba, has no inventory.

- Skype is the largest telephone company but has no telephones.

- The world’s largest movie house, Netflix, has no cinemas.

- protects more people from bullying than all local school boards combined … using only algorithms.

- And, Open Table seats more people for dinners than anyone in the world… yet owns no restaurants. (1)

Wave after wave of change keeps coming, thanks to the internet and mobile devices, and every one offers entrepreneurs and innovators the opportunity to ride them.

This is more than just a surfing metaphor. I have spent much of the last 25 years writing about and researching how serial innovators and entrepreneurs succeed by looking at the mindset, skillset and toolset they possess rather than examining only the end product of their endeavors. I have studied the process, not the conclusion, the path not the destination. I have examined how start-ups can be successful when they replace an “exit strategy” with a “sustainability strategy.” I have created a very successful training program, Innovating for Results, that offers skills and tools to entrepreneurs, startups and corporations. I have done a deep dive into the world of social entrepreneurs who seek solutions to massive global challenges like disease, hunger, sanitation, and environmental protection to see how it is that they persevere—even thrive— in the face of the enormity of the challenge.

I am also a surfer. I have spent the last 25 years or more speaking and researching surfers –especially Big Wave surfers—about the enormous challenges, the dramatic conditions and the life or death experiences they face every time they paddle out into the line-up to take on an approaching wall of water. They are philosophical and wise, as well as deeply knowledgeable about what the ocean and what they do. And the set of steps they follow for a successful are just what entrepreneurs and innovators need to follow as well. This is why, throughout the book, I will describe ideas and themes from both the surfer and the innovators perspective.

In 1991 I wrote about “The Surfer’s Rules” in my first book, the New York Times bestseller If it ain’t broke…BREAK IT! (2) In the decades since, the Surfer’s Rules have evolved and deepened. For this book I gathered information on more than 150 men and women who paddle out into the most challenging conditions imaginable.

One of the best-known Big Wave surfers in the world is Laird Hamilton. Hamilton pioneered Big Wave riding and tow-in surfing. He’s also an entrepreneur who has helped pioneer products such hydrofoil surfboards, stand up paddleboards, and golf boards, as well as health drinks and fitness programs. His secret?

That was revealed by his wife, volleyball player Gabrielle Reese, in an interview for the TV show popsugar. She was asked: “Do you ever get scared of him being out there (in Big Waves)?”

She said, “There have been days when you get these weird dreams…but it doesn’t happen often because Laird’s pretty diligent about his preparation and he’s actually, believe it or not, very careful … It’s a lifetime of being ready for (Big Waves). …(3)

Indeed, preparing for and adjusting to changing conditions is one of the most common skills innovators share with Big Wave surfers.

My research has shown that surfers, like innovators, also are comfortable in changing conditions and thrive amidst chaos. Both are able to think like beginners, maintaining “fresh eyes” and an open mind. Since no two waves or opportunities are identical, both pay attention to the “anomalies” — instead of relying on the familiar. Both know that in mastery over the exceptions to the rules they can make breakthroughs. And they experiment, test, iterate, whether it’s with new products, processes, products and services or new forecasting apps, waxes, fins, and surf spots.

To some, Big Wave surfers may seem like risk takers or adrenaline junkies, but my research shows that like any good entrepreneur, they take smart calculated risks and they make astute, quick decisions. They don't just “roll the dice” and take random chances. They study. They prepare. They remain patient. And then they GO!

Big Wave surfers subscribe to the time-tested axiom of carpenters: “measure twice, cut once.” To them, adrenaline is related to elation and helps to stave off fear. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it is the lifeblood of innovators and surfers.

Innovators and Big Wave surfers also play to their strengths. In fact, that is precisely one key to their success: they capitalize on their own unique set of strengths. They do not attempt to be what they are not. And when working with others my research shows that the most productive teams are built via complementary strengths.

Innovators and entrepreneurs, like Big Wave surfers, are self-confident, which gives them the courage to face the many unanticipated challenges. Armed with unconventional wisdom, they are better equipped to overcome the roadblocks and barriers. Courage and confidence, combined with preparation and practice unite in the face of daily challenges.

I recently asked South Africa’s World Champion surfer Shaun Tomson, “Are there things you learned from surfing that you immediately applied or still apply to business, because you have that experience now of 30 years of various kinds of entrepreneurial activities?”

“I think there’s an absolute, direct relationship between surfing and business, in a number of ways,” he said. “I think one is that surfing’s a solitary sport and you’re dependent on your individual powers for success. And whilst business is often conceptualized as a team sport, as teams meshing together in pursuit of common goals, I still think that success or failure—for one’s self and in business, depends on one’s own actions– in the same way that you paddle out, and that wave comes to you, and then you ride it,” Shaun said. “The way you ride it is not dependent on a team, is not dependent on anyone else. And in the same way in business, it’s important that you have the support and respect and help of other people, but still you are evaluated on your personal performance. So, in that way it’s very similar.” (4)

GoPro executive Steven Baker points out the overarching quality of surfers that innovators and entrepreneurs will recognize in themselves. A boat captain for seven years at the legendary Big Wave mecca Tavarua, Fiji, he had brought many of the world’s best XL surfers out into harms way long before Tavarua was on the global surfing map. I asked Steven to describe the mindset of Big Wave surfers in one sentence.

With no hesitation he succinctly said, “Big Wave surfers are cut from a different cloth than humans.” (5)

What makes them different, and what we can learn from them, comprises the ten chapters that follow. The Surfer’s Rules are a ten-step strategic roadmap from start to start up— then onward to starting anew on the next opportunity.

Far too many innovators and entrepreneurs veer from (or worse still are unaware of) “the basics” and jump two steps ahead of themselves. They want to ride the Big Waves before they even know how to paddle. It’s no wonder that 9 out of 10 startups fail.

But you have to begin at the beginning. And the most basic rule of all is the first: Learn to Swim.

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