Marketing and Sales Blog

The RIDE THE WAVE Series – #6


“To convince people to back your idea, you’ve got to sell it to yourself and know when it’s the moment. Sometimes that means waiting. It’s like surfing. You don’t create the energy, you just harvest energy already out there.”

– James Cameron, Academy Award Winning Director





To help business leaders manage the changing conditions, the surfer and the three principles create a new process to solve market challenges. The surfer analogy is a way to help organizations break away from the traditional methods of solving problems and embrace a new way of approaching market challenges. The three principles are rooted in the idea that business leaders now need to be more like the surfer and approach business challenges by embracing the conditions, changing their mindset toward skills, and using risk exploration to find success. Be more like surfers by learning how they approach new challenges, and use the three principles as a guide to solving problems. Just as surfers “ride a wave” in the ocean, business leaders can use the principles as a process and discover a new set of benefits by adopting these behaviors.


The three principles are a new approach to managing the changing business conditions, using the natural momentum in markets along with an organization’s strengths to find success. Too much of what we focus on with processes and methods is based on trying to improve our weaknesses or deficiencies. Improving our weaknesses is oftentimes not impactful because it’s hard to overcome the things that we are not naturally good at. We value action over inactivity, even if it’s misdirected, and we are reactive versus proactive with our approach to new challenges and obstacles because it’s easier. We value “hard work” and long hours instead of strategic consideration, and we try to have overworked teams do more without any thought to the actual benefit those additional hours might bring. More work has become “better work,” but this approach doesn’t offer a realistic solution when business leaders are faced with new challenges, and putting more hours against a problem will not make it go away. The three principles create a new approach to thinking strategically about business challenges and can help organizations focus on the important work instead of doing more of it.


There is a lot of doubt, anxiety, and concern about how to solve the new business challenges we are facing. The three principles will provide you with examples of how surfers overcome challenges and how you can overcome new business challenges as well. For surfers, there is a set of principles that can be applied to situations regardless of the conditions. Surfers increase their chances of success by using the principles every time they surf. The same can be true for business leaders. The examples that follow are from research on how organizations have used these three principles to be successful. These proven strategies will provide you with innovative ideas that can be applied to what you are trying to accomplish within your organization. The principles present a new way to overcome market challenges and build new skills, as well as a process for testing new ideas in the face of risk.



As I worked with the three principles and applied them to business situations, I could see that there was a natural connection and business leaders were receptive to the concepts. The principles helped change how organizations viewed their markets, and we found ways to make strategic changes in how they sold or marketed products. The revelation occurred when I regularly heard things such as, “We just need to get in the water,” or, “We’re still on the beach,” and even, “We need some new tricks.” In my discussions with business leaders, we talked about the challenges in business terms but used the examples from surfing to outline the strategies and tactics that organizations wanted to explore. The surf concepts allowed me to have a low-pressure conversation with leadership, and the process created some novelty around talking about the problems that organizations were facing.


Marketing and sales leadership explored the ideas that came out of our discussions about the three principles. The process put new challenges into a different context and liberated leadership from old ideas by giving them confidence in new ones. The three principles became the bridge from challenges or problems to an entirely new and unique set of solutions that were customized to their organization. The organizations that were successful with the principles had a new contempt and disdain for the status quo. They used the principles to identify old ideas and clear out the “deadwood” that had held them back from exploring new strategies. I would regularly hear comments such as, “There’s no reason why we can’t do this.” Leaders were invigorated and energized by the process and embraced the new context they were working in, evaluating the external conditions and also looking internally at the organization to critically assess their own skills and the capabilities of the organization.


A sense of new knowledge came from what was learned from the process. Much like their surfer counterparts, these leaders were catching a wave of new ideas. Companies were more focused and consistent with their efforts because they now had a process-driven approach to overcoming new challenges. The companies that found success as a result of going through this process were able to generate new strategies to overcome challenges they had not attempted before. The companies not willing to embark on this new journey continued to flounder in the new conditions, barely making it off shore, fighting mental battles with themselves or others, and resisting any kind of real change. The pressing needs of the day-to-day prevented them from seeing the big picture of what the process could produce. There was a noticeable difference between the companies that stuck with the status quo and those that departed from the norm and embraced the principles of the surfer.



The principles are important because we need a new process for success. We are struggling in the new conditions with old tactics and strategies, wondering why our efforts have failed or didn’t go according to plan. At the same time, there’s pressure to invest in new technology platforms, software, and social media without organizations having a real understanding of their true benefit. The Ride the Wave Process provides clarity around market challenges and uses a new set of principles that will help make organizations successful in the new conditions. The process reevaluates changing market conditions, aligns internal skills with the discovered market challenges, and encourages exploration of new strategies through testing, prototyping, and learning from mistakes. Framing the process around surfing helps make the strategic planning process new, motivating, and fun.


The principles will help business leaders uncover new ways to innovate and develop new solutions to traditional problems. The process pulls leaders out from  under the weight of the status quo and creates a new perspective that is more consistent with the business conditions they are working in. The process also forces leadership to think differently and more critically about the strategic changes that need to be made. The principles are used to look both externally at the market conditions and then internally at the organization to provide a holistic process for building skills in the market. Many of the traditional processes, models, and methods do not take a holistic look at the external challenges or the current skills inside an organization. Innovation occurs when an honest assessment of both the external and internal is used to create new strategies and a new way to think about success.


Ride the Wave is a process that helps organizations to reframe success. A new approach to risk is the starting point for finding success in the new conditions. The surfer exemplifies the new approach and how to use risk exploration to find success. For surfers, it’s a steady progression of building new skills and smaller accomplishments over time. Companies that embrace this new approach by using the principles will embrace a new way to think about and find success. They can use incremental changes as a way to progress successfully over time, thinking about success over a series of progressive moves toward a new initiative instead of betting the house on short-term gambles that can be hit or miss. Companies can find success by thinking about their efforts as building toward future success and not trying to force it in the short term.





In understanding the three principles, it’s important to provide some context around the sport of surfing. Surfing is one of the most popular and progressive sports in the world. The single most important factor in surfing is the conditions and the waves. Surfers get in the water and put themselves in the conditions to catch some waves. Surf reports and forecasts help to give surfers insight into what the ocean might hold for them on a given day, but the timing of waves is an unknown, and catching them at the right time means that you need to be in the water to do so. Surfers embrace the uncertainty of not knowing exactly when a wave will break, but put themselves into the unknown conditions in order to catch one. Surfers have faith that at some point a wave will roll in, so embracing the conditions is the first step to making that happen.


After getting in the water, surfers must be in the right position to catch a wave. That place in the ocean where surfers wait for waves is called the line-up. Surfers form a “line” in the water and will take turns paddling into waves. Being in the line-up and in the correct position for an incoming wave is critical. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could miss a wave or get caught in the impact zone of a breaking wave that could come crashing down on your head. In addition to the breaking waves, you’re also contending with other surfers in the line-up. You might be in a line-up with locals who have been surfing that spot for years. Localism is an intimidating part of surfing and can cause you to miss waves or even physical pain if you’re not respecting or acknowledging the local surfers. If you disrespect the line-up or act like a “kook,” expect a verbal tongue-lashing or physical beat down that could put you out of the line-up and out of commission.


After you have braved the conditions and put yourself in the line-up, you’re now ready to catch a wave. Waves are strong, powerful, and unpredictable. They build natural momentum miles out in the ocean and then make their way toward shore, traveling a great distance to break on reef formations under the water and causing them to release all that energy as they come crashing toward the shore. Waves will “pitch” up or come out of the water as they move toward shore. As they pitch, waves start to “break” either straight over the top or to the right or the left. Knowing how a wave will break or knowing which direction it will break determines how a surfer will catch a wave. A wave will also barrel and create a steep slope with a small pocket for a surfer to ride as it breaks into shore. Understanding the conditions and how each unique wave will break is critical. Knowing where to be in the water and what the wave will do once it breaks is important, but you will also need a unique set of skills if you plan to ride it successfully.



Once the surfer understands the conditions and is in position to catch a wave, having the ability to paddle into a wave and catch it is the next set of skills needed. However, this is much harder than it sounds and being able to take what you now know about the conditions and apply it to surfing is more of an art than a science. Mastering the basics of a pop-up and standing up on the board is a large part of what’s needed to catch a wave. But surfing with style and progression is what separates the beginner from the pro. Surfers use progression to describe moving through a set of tricks or learning a new skill on their boards. Progression is so ingrained into the sport that any comparison between two surfers is based on progression. It’s also used to describe the sport as a whole and how the sport is “progressing” in terms of tricks, wave size, and technical ability. Surfers that understand progression know that it’s the key to building any new skill. Without progression, surfers would not move forward and would remain static in their skills. Progression is about being adaptable to the conditions and having the mindset not to settle for the status quo.


The mindset needed for progression in surfing is focused on action toward learning something new. A surfer’s mindset is focused on adding a new trick to their repertoire and building upon their previous accomplishments.  Progression, then, is about learning from and using those accomplishments as a starting point for doing something new. The mindset of a surfer is focused on movement or progress. “Progression-based mindsets” are what surfers use to describe someone who is committed to building new surf skills. It also reflects the mindset of someone who is determined to accomplish a goal. Forward movement that is progressive builds on previous success and reflects a mindset committed to change. In order to successfully build your skills as a surfer in the ocean or a business professional in the new conditions, you will need to adopt a progression-based mindset toward new skills.


As skills are being built with a mindset focused on progression, surfers enter a type of zone or a calm where they react and execute rather than think about what they’re doing. After hours of practice and execution, surfers will see consistency in their riding and naturally improve their trick progression without thinking about it. Surfers don’t need to think about what they are doing. Instead, they use their training and react to the changing conditions. Pattern recognition and instincts take over, and actions become instinctive rather than planned or managed. Surfers often describe a “flow state” where they are physically committed and mentally focused on the task at hand and not anything else. Surfers can then react to whatever is thrown in their way and feel the sensation or “stoke” as a result of the culmination of preparation, practice, and that sense of accomplishment when everything comes together on a single wave.



As laid-back as surfers are, there is an aggressive side to their sport that is important to understand as well. Surfers take on risk when riding waves and use that aggressive approach to feed their trick progression and style, building skills and exposing themselves to risks that are more severe than in any other sport out there. Surfers use risk as a compass that points them in the right direction, and they practice a controlled method of risk exposure in order to progress at what they do. Surfers in the ocean, regardless of skill or ability, willingly expose themselves to new risk every time they paddle out on their boards. There are risks that come from attempting new tricks and risks from the conditions that are within the ocean. The ocean can cause the surfer harm if they are not mindful of the conditions and risks that are always there. The risk exposure continues to increase every time a surfer decides to do something new.


With exposure to risk come consequences. As a surfer, if you are not managing the conditions and do not have the skills to catch a wave or the mindset to progress and improve, you will face the consequences of your actions. The conditions can change and spiral out of control if not managed properly. The unknown or unpredictable risks can catch even the best surfers in the world off guard. Surfers can get “caught inside” or within the “impact zone” of where the waves are breaking. This can happen when a surfer is paddling out through a set of waves and doesn’t make it to the line-up or when a surfer takes a wipeout, gets caught in the impact zone, and is unable to get back to their board and out of danger. This can also happen when a set of large waves comes through and creates what’s called a “clean up set.” This can physically take out the entire line-up and “clean up” everything in its path. All of these are examples of the consequences of risks that surfers face when embracing the conditions and trying to progress by building new skills.


After a surfer manages the consequences, the level of risk continues to rise as surfers take on bigger waves and attempt new tricks. Surfers who want to improve and use risk to progress will all experience wipeouts, slams, and bails if they want to progress. Wiping out on a wave presents another set of hidden risks that are buried just below the surface. Reefs, fish, and plants all become potential risks to the surfer underwater. You’re now at the mercy of the ocean and the elements in the depths below. Surfers can get pushed down to the very bottom of the ocean floor, among the reefs and rocks below. The conditions can be unforgiving, and the waves are relentless. There are no do-overs. You can’t press pause, and you can’t have a second chance once you’ve committed to your wave and the risks that come with it.





After gaining some insight into surfing and the background of the principles, here’s what to expect as you begin to learn more about how to use these principles as a process. Just like the surfers who paddle out into unknown conditions, focus their mindset toward progression, and use risk to point them toward new challenges, you will face new obstacles as you begin using this process. The first challenge will be the initiation of the process and just getting started. For some people, this will be the toughest part. Anything new takes time to understand and even longer to implement. However, the three principles are meant to give you a simple and easy process for overcoming any new challenge. Just like the surfer, you will need to be in the water to get started and understand the principles.   The process will only begin after an initiation and once the principles are put into practice.


As you begin to use the process and take a hard look at your individual skills and organizational capabilities, you will intentionally try to avoid this new change because of the risks involved. Whenever you can and wherever possible, avoid trying to protect yourself and be open to these new risks.  This process will be hard and almost counterintuitive to what you’ve done in the past. But just like the surfer, you will want to change your mindset about your skills and take on risk in order to improve. This might mean failing to execute a new marketing or sales strategy or struggling with something new that was outside your comfort zone. This is okay, but you will need to be disciplined and work hard to solve these internal struggles. As you use the principles and this new process, you will go down the road less traveled. There will be trials and tests along the way. Remember that this is a process and that the principles are a guide to take you on a journey to somewhere new. The road will no longer be paved, but will now be bumpy, full of obstacles, and give you a few scars along the way.


Along the road of trials, you will find that your actions will either garner allies or enemies. People will either be 100 percent supportive of your efforts to do something new or they will potentially become an obstacle in your way. More often than not, you will find that colleagues will support you and will even go out of their way to help you accomplish what you have set out to do. If you are passionate, prepared, and have positioned the new initiative in a way that people can support, you will have people who will get behind you. Unfortunately, there will also be people who stand in your way. It’s just human nature. There will be people who see your efforts to create change as a threat to their way of doing things. It’s human nature to protect one’s self, so if you are pushing an agenda of change that might be good for you and the organization, there’s a good chance that others might undermine your efforts. The principles and the process will help you to eliminate those kinds of professional obstacles and build support among allies—not enemies.



As you use the three principles, you will be tested repeatedly and will need to overcome various challenges along the way. There are considerations you will need to make in using the process and how your organization will make changes. You will obviously want to avoid challenges that cause harm as a result of your actions, but you need to be open to failure if you are going to do anything new and bold. The challenges you will face will cause you to question your actions and the decisions you will need to make. It will be easier to abandon your decision or stray from the journey since the processes within your organization will support the old way of doing things. Your challenge will be to persevere in the face of these new challenges, and when it becomes difficult or hard, remember that this is a process and that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term trade-offs.


The temptation will be to go back to the old way of doing things. It’s harder to take a new path than it is to slip back into old habits, so using the new process will be hard. The temptation to revert back to the old way, even if it doesn’t produce new or better results, will be favorable to anything with a perceived high level of risk. You will need to avoid these temptations, overcome the new challenges, and know that exploring the risks will be important to the overall process as you begin to ride the wave. Again, it might be colleagues or even customers that will push you back in the direction of the old way of doing things. Establishing milestones and check-ins will be important, but so will having a long-term view, which will help you to avoid temptations that are comfortable or easy.


The process will give you a sense of control and a better understanding of how you can improve at what you’re doing. Organizations and leadership that are struggling often complain about not having control or not having a sense of control. A big part of the Ride the Wave Process is about regaining that sense of control—gaining control through new knowledge but also through understanding that this is a process and that you will need patience on the journey. The process shows results over time, and like anything in life that is new, it’s important  to think about the process as a path to mastery. While on the path, it’s important to work through the process and develop new skills or capabilities over time, mastering them the longer you travel along the path. The process helps you to take a long- term approach to developing new skills and capabilities as well as solving short-term challenges that present themselves.



As you go through the process, you will encounter a series of tests for you and your organization. Successfully managing each of these tests will be as important as implementing the new marketing or sales initiative itself. Creating a new context around your initiatives will be important for the organization, and having accountability measures in place for your teams will help to support the successful execution of your new plans. These tests are more manageable when the initiatives are supported by the entire organization and reinforced through company-wide training and development programs. Each part of the process will encourage you to take new action, and having a management process to support the organization during each of the tests will give you a better chance of success. The process will ensure that new initiatives stick around and do not become another failed project that had a lot of steam and momentum up front, but was beat down over time by new obstacles that tested the organization.


Throughout the process, there will be new challenges that will be hard to overcome. Anything new is difficult and the new conditions will be in opposition to what you’re trying to do. That feeling of “catching waves” is what will keep you on the path, moving you toward the next obstacle. Just like the surfer who encounters bigger and more challenging waves, as a business leader, you will have to take on new and increasingly difficult market challenges. The challenges, like waves, will become more difficult as you create more and more change within your organization. Your new mindset will force you to take on these challenges and to develop the new skills to overcome them. The risk will increase the more you push yourself and the organization through the process. As your skills develop, you will conquer bigger and more challenging “waves.” Your new role as a big wave surfer will be to challenge the status quo and face greater risk versus trying to avoid it and play it safe.


While you are riding the wave and overcoming greater and greater challenges, you will have moments of ecstasy where things will feel like they’re working and that you are building momentum. These moments are important to acknowledge and celebrate. They will provide you with a sense  of  progress and accomplishment. The process will frame these accomplishments as small steps along a much a longer path. You will be satisfied with what you’ve done but will still want more. The surfer catches a wave, rides in the barrel, and feels the stoke from the accomplishment. Once the surfer completes the ride, it doesn’t stop there. The mindset of the surfer is to do it again and recreate that moment. There will also be moments of agony that you will encounter, but that sense of moving the needle forward and accomplishing something new will keep you pushing beyond the small setbacks. Just avoiding complacency and knowing that the process of riding the wave is preparing you for the next opportunity will put you in a position to capitalize on it.


All the RIDE THE WAVE Series posts are available in PDF format.  

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Excerpts taken from: RIDE THE WAVE: How To Embrace Change And Create A Powerful New Relationship With Risk


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