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Quest for Sense

Business lessons from surfing

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It struck me the other day that business is a lot like competitive surfing.

So now you're thinking "There's a weird thought, Dave. Next."

OK. I know I might seem weird sometimes, maybe even all the time. But I think this might be worth the ride.

You see, sometimes finding a solution just takes looking at the problem a slightly different way. Maybe that is what "perspective" is all about. So let's see where this goes.

The basics.

There are a few things you need to look for before you jump in the sea to go surfing.

  • You need to look at the currents, or in surfing lingo - rips.
  • You need to look for signs of hazards - particularly rocks.
  • You need to identify the best way to get from the beach out to where the waves should be caught.
  • You need to scan for where the best waves are coming through, so you know where to go and catch them.
  • You need to select the right board to maximise your ride on the available waves.

Now if waves were customers, or deals, then all this starts to make sense.
The objective is to get into the best position to catch and ride the best waves. And once you've caught a wave, the idea is to ride or make best use of the wave.
Seems simple enough. But just like business, once you get into it there's a lot more than first meets the eye.

Behind the basics.

First, there's that scanning. An experienced surfer is going to recognise a lot more of what is really going on than the novice. Whilst the novice just sees the pretty waves and the surface of the water, the expert recognises each swirl and the rocks underneath, the surges, the tidal changes, the very rhythm of the sea.

The new business owner faces a very similar challenge. You can see the clients. You understand the product. And you can see the money to be made. But there are many hidden obstacles to navigate that may not be immediately obvious.

Then there's the paddle out. Are you fit enough to get out there? Are you using the rips to help you, or are you paddling against the rip? Have you timed your paddle out during a lull when the sea gives you the least resistance? Have you found the least energy-sapping route to paddle out? Because once you are out there, you need to compete with other surfers for the best waves.

For the business owner, this is where the scanning and planning pays off. Many business ventures start off without a detailed plan. You might get lucky running around flailing your arms. Raw excitement might get you some results at first. But spending a little time figuring out how you are going to get position in the marketplace will greatly assist your final results.

Next you need to catch some waves. And there are other surfers trying to catch that same wave. Sure, strength and speed helps. But being closest to the right spot is first prize. You are looking for the wave that gives you the best opportunity to shine. That suits your strengths and weaknesses. And that will probably be slightly different to what will work for your competition. Again, the experienced surfer has the edge, especially with local knowledge. He has picked up the rhythm of the ocean and knows where to position himself to get the next good wave that is best for him or her.

For the business owner, we need to find our niche where we can compete for clients better than our competitors. Find your competitive advantage.

Finally there is the actual surfing of the wave. What you can and can't do is determined by the wave first and foremost, then your board and your ability. You need to read the wave and respond accordingly.

In business, the needs of your customer is the main factor that will determine just what you should be doing with any particular client. Whether you can realise maximum potential from a client depends on your ability to identify those needs and how effectively you can fulfil them.

Ultimately, what you manage to get out of any given wave is the culmination of a whole host of factors. Some learnt from others, some learnt yourself through trial and error.

And the rest is conditioning. You need to practice, test limits, get into shape, and keep thinking how to improve your game.

So here's my bullet list of business lessons from surfing:
  • Be disciplined - Some people only surf when conditions are good. They will be cleaned up by people that surf everyday regardless of the conditions.
  • Be professional - Fitness and experience is more effective than raw talent.
  • Work smart - Energy is a limited resource. Use it wisely.
  • Be teachable - When starting or surfing a new spot, it helps to learn from people who have been there before.
  • Test boundaries - Some parts of the experience you'll just have to learn on your own.
  • Be selective - You can't surf all the waves. Learn to pick the waves most suited to you.
  • Be flexible - Conditions change. You will need to adapt your strategies accordingly.
  • Keep going - You are going to fall from time to time before you really fly.

I wish you happy surfing!!
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Updated 26-Dec-10 at 05:46 PM by Dave A

Business , Strategy


  1. wynn's Avatar
    Then you have to make sure you are not caught on the inside when a big set comes through!!!
  2. Sparks's Avatar
    My choice? A bad day's fishing still beats a good day's work or surfing


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