Our surfer is at the line-up, the area just offshore where surfers wait to catch a wave. This area is located just behind the rip current and is where waves break.
The goal of any surfer is to be at the line-up in the right place at the right time. For as many waves breaking regularly and at the same place over rocks and coral there are those which break irregularly and unpredictably, often due the permanent shifting of sandbanks. The surfer is rarely alone at the line up, waiting to catch the right wave.
So many things in common with the world of business. A manager must scan the horizon to spot the wave taking shape, put himself at the right place and then push off at the right moment. All this so that you, the manager or the surfer, and you alone catch the right wave -the one everybody wants.
The surfer must sometimes wait a long time for a wave to swell right in front of him, after its journey of several thousand kilometres. He will have to paddle so as not be left behind by the wave, which has its own momentum: and it is right there, the magic moment for all surfers, the moment of being lifted by the wave, being perfectly synchronised with its speed and its motion. There is a great lesson here for managers – always try to be perfectly synchronised with motion and change, so as not to be left behind.
A surfer can only exist on the edge of a wave, if he finds himself in the foam his trip will rapidly come to an end, for lack of speed or simply due to falling off the board. He must get used to adapting to the unpredictable nature of a wave if he wants to remain at this legendary edge. So too must a manager stop trying to want to control everything, he or she must be connected to the immediate surroundings and to use the strength of interconnected elements – networks and communities, in order to move forwards; being flexible and staying in touch with and attuned to changes and shifts.
Another lesson to be learned from this sport is the ability to change attitude quickly: in reality surfing alternates between calm, explosive and smooth adjustment phases. So, in your company learn to observe your surroundings, think, launch your ideas and then paddle like crazy to see your ideas gain momentum.
Finally, the two most essential qualities of a surfer are courage and humility; and every manager must also possess these. Firstly the courage to risk everything in front of the swell, to get into the right position and then try to adapt to it so as not to be left behind, but rather be carried along by it; and secondly humility in front of the strength of the wave – because suddenly you have an enormous incontrollable wall of water before you. At best, you will find a way to move in harmony with it.
How many managers fail for lack of courage or of humility? How many run away from external events? How many refuse change? Refuse to adapt? How many show no humility, are sure they are all-powerful? Ending up by being swept away by events they didn’t try to understand.
Next edition: the take-off, another of surfing’s key manoeuvres. This is the moment you make the decision to catch the wave – and it is no time for doubt.