Why the best innovators have a surfer’s mindset - and what you can learn from that

Nexxworks Partner, keynote speaker and author Rik Vera explains why you need to develop a surfer’s mindset, if you still want your company to be alive and kicking in 2030.

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October 15, 2019
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If you are a business leader, it is time to take a break.

Book yourself a trip to Nazare, Portugal, sit on that lovely beach and enjoy the sun, sand and sea. There will be surfers, too. And big waves

Observe the surfers. For days. I know that they are all a bit crazy, but that is exactly why you need to observe them. Your company needs some lunacy as well, because it has to navigate a world gone wild. Bottom line: if you want your company to be alive and kicking by 2030, you need to develop a surfer’s mindset.

To be or not to be

Surfers love great waves and so should you. Nazare is the holy grail for surfers. It is the battlefield of trial and error, of flirting with dramatic accidents and the thrill of riding the biggest wave ever. Riding a 25 meter ship-killing water-scraper is going all in, and that is exactly what a crazy dude named Rodrigo Koxa did in November 2017, when he surfed the biggest wave ever. You can check on Youtube how the moment was caught on camera.

The Brasilian lunatic that survived the big one had a dream the night before:

“…where I was talking to myself, ‘You gotta go straight down. You gotta go straight down.’ I didn’t really know what it meant. But I figured somebody was talking to me. When I got my wave, I let go of the rope, I started to use my rail to angle towards the shoulder, but then realized, if I used my rail, I’d never get deep. And then I remembered: ‘go straight down.’ When I said it, I remembered my dream. I turned and I almost fell, but then I got my feet again and went super fast. I’ve never had a big wave like that where I didn’t use the rail at all. Just went straight down. It was amazing.”

We do not even have to guess what would have happened when he would not have been ‘informed’ in his dream and if he had just used ‘the rail’ like he was supposed to do, because that same day another a less fortunate surfer, Andrew Cotton, got caught in a giant collapsing funnel of water and broke his back.

To be or not to be is still the question. To be Rodrigo Koxa or to be Andrew Cotton.

A surfer’s mindset

When sitting on the Nazare beach, you will notice that

  1. Surfers never give up finding that Biggest Wave Ever. When it is the season of the big ones, you can feel the vibes of excitement in the air
  2. Surfers need to catch on very early and then they have to work extremely hard to get on top. When they are too late, they miss the momentum and the base speed and get crushed.
  3. Surfers have the guts to keep going once they have decided to surf the wave. One small moment of doubt, fear or hesitation is deadly. ‘Straight down’ is the only way to go.
  4. Last, but not least, surfers most obviously have the skills to surf the big ones.

What does it mean for you and your business? Why do I need you to think like a surfer? Well, first of all: digital was never a tsunami. Digital came in waves and those that spotted the waves, worked hard to get on top and surfed the wave, were and are referred to as disruptors.

After the Great Wave

Many of us were still waiting in the quiet water, because we did not see the wave, or did not want to see it, or because we did not want to be too early or because we gave up half way. Companies that surfed the first wave developed skills to surf the second and the third that crushed even more of us. Companies like Amazon surfed the internet wave, surfed the wave of mobile and social and the wave of the platform economy. As we speak, it is already surfing the next great one. This one is going to crush all that are waiting in the quiet waters. No more escaping this time. When the next Great Wave crashes down, all old business-lines and protective entry levels will have been destroyed, online will have merged with offline and mass production will be replaced by mass personalisation.

The Great Wave and how to surf it

We all know that the Great Wave is to be the combination of big data, AI and robotization (aka autonomisation (which is not the same as automation, obviously)). This wave is growing by the minute. You are not too late yet, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. So you better find a surfboard, take a deep breath and start swimming like crazy in the right direction, to get on top in time . Here's what you need to do:

  1. Your surfboard is data. Collect it like crazy. Data about your customers, I mean. Not to upsell, deep sell or cross sell and make money straight away, but to get to know your customer better than you know yourself. Companies that loose track of their customers and do not know them better than competition, do not have the right board to surf the wave. Do not only collect static transactional data, but create conversations, so you get access to dynamic contextual ones. Mass personalisation will be contextual. Nobody is the same all the time.
  2. There will not be a business case from day one. There will not be a ROI you can calculate. There is just a dream and the thrill to ride the big one. When you wait for the very moment you have developed your full strategy based on facts and figures on how to ride the wave, it will be already be tipping over and then the end is near.
  3. You have to develop that data and AI driven business to go for mass personalisation without a timeline and without milestones. It will be a frightening, crazy and very bumpy ride. You will be scared and doubtful pretty often, but there will be no turning back of giving up. Forget what you have always done. Forget what you have learned. Straight down is the only way to go. Not the rail. Nobody has ever done it before. There will be accidents and broken backs. But there is no alternative.
  4. There will be no time to develop the right skills, practising on the beach, or in the quiet waters or riding some baby waves. It is too late for that. Too bad. You will need to develop the right skills while surfing the big one. By the way, some will be more skilled than others, but nobody knows exactly what skills you will actually need. Maybe it is just straight down after all.

Surfing is fun

It may be clear by now that you need to become as crazy as that lunatic Rodrigo Koxa that surfed the biggest ever. Please don't make the mistake of surfing the Great Wave merely because you know that you will be crushed if you do not. That is definitely not the right attitude. If you do so, you will lack the guts to keep going and it is going to break your back or even worse. Surfing the wave because it is a once in a lifetime thrill, knowing that it will crush all others that are too late, or too afraid or too calculated, is the one and only mindset: that of the real surfer dudes who so passionately want to surf that biggest wave ever.

Become a surfer, dude.

Rik Vera
Rik Vera
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October 15, 2019
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