The RIDE THE WAVE Series - #15

Marketing and Sales Blog

The RIDE THE WAVE Series – #15


“When you come to a crossroads, you can either be crippled by doubt, or you can start down an inspirational new path. You have to put one foot in front of the other and remind yourself there are no wrong choices.”

Maynard James Keenan

Lead Singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer and Wine-Maker At Caduceus Cellars





The concept of riding the wave is a universal lesson, and while it’s derived from surfing, it can be applied to business as well as to any aspect of life. The three principles can be a guide for overcoming any new challenge, and the process is a way to navigate the new challenges we face and to overcome the internal obstacles that we encounter when trying to change who we are and what we do. Regardless of whether we are talking about surfing, business, or our personal lives, the principles and process are a way to create change. When surfers ride a wave, they have a certain feeling. Surfers refer to this feeling as “stoke” or the feeling you have after accomplishing something of significance on a wave. This feeling of stoke is universal and can also be experienced in business or in our personal lives. In order for surfers to experience stoke, they go through a process of preparation to learn how to embrace the conditions and prepare themselves for whatever risks they encounter in the water. I think we do the same when preparing for business- related endeavors or otherwise.


Surfers, like any athlete, will prepare by going through a training process that breaks down each aspect of what they will need to do in the water. There is a process of learning and building new skills, but also understanding the conditions that they will be putting themselves in. Surfers learn each time they paddle out on their board, since the conditions are always changing and the knowledge needed to surf is continually evolving as well, keeping them on their toes, literally and figuratively. This type of constant learning has focused the sport on progression and always moving forward. Whether it’s learning more about the ocean, a new surf sport, or new tricks, having a progression-based mindset toward training and preparation is vital to a surfer’s success within the sport. Without that mindset of embracing the conditions and learning new skills, surfers would struggle and expose themselves to greater risk.


As surfers prepare by training and learning more about the conditions, the idea of progression is always at the forefront of what they do. Surfers have a mindset that is wired to think about whether or not their skills will be suited for the conditions or if there’s something new they need to learn how to do, using what they have learned to take on tougher and more challenging conditions. In order to achieve that feeling of stoke or accomplishment, surfers focus on progression to get there. Progression is what drives the surfers toward stoke, and that feeling cannot be achieved without it. As surfers progress, they achieve new levels of success within their sport and new levels of stoke as well. Progression leads to that sense of accomplishment, but it is achieved from preparation, practice, and trying to do things that are new.



The surf stoke is a result of preparation and practice. It’s that feeling of being in the moment, riding the wave, and feeling the success of accomplishing a new trick, cutback, or aerial maneuver. Having prepared for this moment, the surfer lets the training take over and goes more by feel than anything else. The surfer practiced for this moment by building new skills and capabilities, systemically building new skills over time and then putting those skills into practice. The moment can often be short and fleeting for the surfer, but that small taste of success, even if just for a few seconds, can be all the reward the surfer needs. It’s the culmination of practice and preparation coming together in a single moment to give the surfer the reward he or she has been working toward. Surfers mentally prepare themselves for this moment and align their physical abilities with what they have set out to do in their mind.


The moment the surfer catches the wave and feels the stoke, it’s a moment when the mind and body have come together to accomplish a goal. The surfer has set out to catch a wave and has prepared for the moment by putting together a mental roadmap of what to accomplish, and then physically executing on the plan. The feeling represents a synergy of intentional and thoughtful planning with physical preparation and training. All of this work and effort culminate for a moment of spontaneity on an unpredictable wave. Hours of planning, training, and preparing go into moments like this, with the final step focused on execution, making that moment a surfer catches a wave and the resulting feeling of stoke even more incredible. For the surfer, the rarity of that moment and connecting the mind and body to nature is what makes the sport of surfing so unique and the surf stoke so elusive.


After riding a wave, there is an instant feeling of success and accomplishment. That moment when surfers know they have pulled off a new trick or accomplished something risky is all part of the stoke. That feeling of success is tied back to the effort made in planning, preparing, and training. The surfer knows that the work was directed at a specific goal and that the goal was accomplished: thinking about a trick, planning for it, visualizing it, and doing the work necessary to pull it off. The stoke leads to a cycle of satisfaction that fuels the surfer to search for that feeling again, to use it as fuel to build new skills and abilities through progression. That sense of accomplishment is what the surfer has worked for and will continue to strive for each time he or she paddles out. A feeling of success in the moment and stoke from riding the wave.



After riding the wave, the surf stoke moves from a feeling of euphoria in the moment to a sense of resolution and calm, as if the surfer had been experiencing a problem, and it was solved by simply catching a wave. A feeling of calm comes over the surfer as if the volume has been turned down in the rest of the world—the finalization of a frantic moment to the gradual coming down from the experience. This calm is also a sign of progression for the surfers. It means something challenging was accomplished and gives the surfer a reason to try again. When the surfer is able to move forward through various tests and failures, to reach that point of accomplishment and have that feeling, it fuels the surfer’s motivation to continue the progress for the new challenges to come.


During the calm, surfers will replay the moment in their head and reflect on how they were able to achieve their success. This fuels their motivation for more and helps motivate surfers to think about what should come next. Surfers are motivated by this sense of accomplishment and driven to think beyond what just happened to something new. They have renewed motivation to try something new and are already thinking about the next ride. The mind of the surfer is based in progression, so success is a strong motivator and starts the process of working toward the next goal. After working through the process of planning for a new trick and accomplishing it, the surfer does not stop there. Instead, the surfer begins the process all over again. For the surfer, the stoke is motivating and always fuels what will come next.


This process is repeatable for the surfer and helps them to keep building new skills over time. Surfers know how to leverage progression on wave after wave, and they can quickly move through a series of tricks and challenges to improve their surfing. The surfers that have mastered the process of building skills through progression will not stop and bask in their accomplishments. The process for the surfer is about accomplishing something and then building on it toward something new, using a repeatable process to build upon their accomplishments instead of resting on them. Most sports are built on static skills or abilities that change very little over time. Surfers are continually raising the bar to surf a bigger wave, do more spins in the air, or catch a longer ride. A process built on progression is more challenging, and there is more fluctuation in terms of success and failure. The stakes are also far greater because of the risks. Surfers have created a blueprint for overcoming new challenges and created a way for business leaders to do the same.





For business leaders, the surfer’s stoke and that feeling of riding the wave is similar to when a marketing campaign goes viral— it’s just described in different terms. The process to get there is the same, but the context is different. The surf conditions are very different from the business environments we work in, but the principles of the surfer can be applied to the work that what we do every day.  The way to achieve that feeling   is to apply the three principles when faced with challenging business situations. Just like the surfer who embraces the conditions, adopts a progression-based mindset, and uses risk as a compass, marketing and sales leaders need to do the same in order to find success. Business leadership must face new challenging business conditions and then use a progression- based mindset to ride the new waves in challenging markets. Having the right mindset and thinking strategically about what you are doing will help you to find success.


When embracing the new conditions, business leaders will need to think strategically about what they want to accomplish and how they will overcome their new challenges. Thinking strategically is about identifying the business factors that will impact what you want to do and using strategic planning     to manage the change you are working toward. Using a progression-based mindset and thinking strategically, just like the surfer thinking about trick progression, will help you to create a mental roadmap from where you are to where you want to be. It can be difficult to keep an open mind while you are trying to analyze or evaluate new market situations, but strategic thinking, much like a surfer planning his or her journey from the shore, will help you to make smart decisions about how to plan for new risk and make progressive improvement toward your goals.


Keeping an open mind and thinking strategically will naturally help you to improve on what you are doing. You will have to progress and do things that are new, but it will feel more natural if improvements are made using a strategic process that you are managing. If you keep yourself open to new ideas and push yourself to evaluate your level of improvement, there is a natural progression of skill and ability that will develop. Planning for the risks involved with making these changes and then taking action will help you improve, even if you experience failure from time to time. Making changes in yourself professionally will take focus, perseverance, and the motivation to execute, even when it feels tough or when the stakes are high. Executing on your plans will help fuel your motivation, and like the surfer, you will experience the professional stoke of accomplishing your goals.



For the business professional, achieving the business stoke requires planning and execution. After the business professional has strategically planned what to accomplish and created the plan to get there, execution of the new initiative will require focus, perseverance, and a high level of commitment. Planning will guide the sales and marketing professional on this journey and keep the focus on the objective of accomplishing a new goal. However, business leaders will be especially challenged to stay focused in the new conditions and will be pulled in multiple directions because of the distractions competing for their attention. Focus and discipline will be required since what you are trying to do is new and untested. Not fully committing 100 percent of your attention can lead to failure and expose you to risk. When taking on any new challenge with the process, know that your attention will need to be focused on the task at hand to ride the wave.


Focused attention on your new initiatives will give you a better chance of finding success, but will also help you stick to the process and work through it to the end. Just like the surfer, you will be progressing toward a new goal and will need to persevere in order to accomplish it. You will need to persevere and not stray from the process or from what you originally set out to do. Riding the wave requires focus and the willingness to persevere through the process, even when obstacles arise and setbacks occur. You will need to make multiple attempts at what you’re doing because it will be new, it will be hard, and it will be in direct opposition to what you have traditionally done. You will need to persevere with the immediate task, but also with the entire process. This will take time and a full commitment if you plan to ride the wave. Focus and perseverance will help you through the stages of the new change, but your commitment to the process will move you forward to the next steps.


As you start to work through the process and experience both success and failure, your commitment to the process will be needed to achieve success. The surfer knows and understands that progression happens over time and that, while stoke is rare and fleeting, it’s still very possible to achieve on a consistent basis if you stick with the process. Commitment comes from the focus and attention that you give to the process, but also from the commitment you make to yourself and the organization. Surfers commit to the process to progressively build their skills and capabilities, but they also commit in the moment and to the wave they’re trying to catch. Hesitation in the ocean can get you killed, and hesitation in business can cause professional harm and your organization to suffer. Without a commitment to change and the process, marketing and sales professionals will expose themselves to risk and miss out on the opportunity to find success.



As you go through the process of riding the wave, you will start to feel the natural momentum build from your efforts. You will start to notice changes occurring in how you think and what you do. Through commitment and perseverance, the three principles will help you to catch a wave and create a pathway to success. Once you have found momentum in your market, your new initiatives and strategies will start to build like a wave. You will find that achieving new initiatives is easier, you will have more insight into customer needs, and you will work through a progressive set of steps like the surfer moving through a set of tricks on the board. The stoke comes from that feeling of setting out to achieve something new, building a plan to accomplish it, and using the momentum you have generated to find success.


The closest thing that business leaders have to the feeling of stoke is when a product, service, or strategy goes viral. Going viral is when a new company or product becomes a household name or is known by a majority of people. A marketing ad   or campaign can go from being unknown to a mainstream audience in a short period of time and almost overnight. Catching a wave in surfing and feeling that stoke is similar to when something goes viral in business. If you think about the commercials or ads that have gone viral, there’s something unique and novel about them. It could be the song or the actor, but it all seems to come together naturally and almost out of nowhere. That’s what riding the wave and stoke is like for the surfer. A wave builds up on the horizon out of nowhere, and the surfer is in the right place at the right time, has prepared for this moment, and is able to successfully ride it into shore— just like the ad that connects with an audience at the right time with the right message and solves the exact customer need at the right time.


As marketing and sales professionals, there is more to our work than just getting customers to buy products or services. There is a bigger purpose than brands and a bigger reason we all do what we do. We chase the professional stoke and achieve that feeling of going viral or knowing that you put together a great sales or marketing plan and that it was you that made it happen. For professionals, the bigger purpose for them personally is to achieve that satisfaction or feeling of success, but our duty or our responsibility as business leaders is to transfer that feeling to our customers—giving the people who are buying our products and services that stoke or that feeling of riding a wave when they use what we have created in their everyday lives. Customers can become very attached to brands, and that product or service can create an important connection for them. Customers are inseparable from the brands they love, they can become a part of who they are, and a product can become an important part of their daily lives. Our responsibility is to work to achieve that feeling for ourselves, but also to do what we can to give that feeling back to our customers.





The Ride the Wave analogy is used to make sense of the new and changing conditions within business. Marketing and sales professionals will need to embrace the conditions, adopt a progression-based mindset, and use risk as a compass in order to achieve success. The Ride the Wave Process is about using the natural momentum within markets to find success rather than resisting or pushing back against these strong and powerful changes. The analogy not only works for business, but it also works as an example for everyday life. Regardless of your skill level, education level, or professional or non-professional background, anyone can use the three principles in their own lives and overcome any new obstacle or challenge. Ask yourself, what is the situation I am in and what are the conditions that are holding me back? Embracing the conditions is first about understanding the context in which you are in and then deciding what the desired outcome is that you want to achieve.


After you understand the conditions, you need to understand what is required in order to make this change happen. Without knowing what the conditions are and not understanding them through experience, you will be planning for change without knowing the challenges you will face. In order to set a new vision, you need to get out there, see what the challenges are, and identify where your gaps will be. You can then start to create your vision of what it will look like for you to accomplish your goals and what new skills you will need in order to do so. You will need to be bold enough first to test the waters and see what the conditions are like. Get out there and experience them firsthand because you will never understand them from the shore. Once you have your plan in place and your journey mapped out, you will need to commit to the process and start your new journey. This new journey will be challenging because you will be learning new skills as you go, but let the vision pull you through the process and just commit to taking the first step on your new journey.


When you begin the journey, think of it as a long-term process, not a short-term one. Real and significant change takes time. Especially when that change involves a new mindset, new skills, and a new process. Know that the road is long, bumpy, and full of numerous twists and turns. You have tested the conditions and know the gaps you need to close, so stick to the process you have established and work toward slowly building your new skills through a progression. We tend to look at making a change like we are cramming for a test. We try to do too much in a short period of time. The results are usually mixed, and we give up because we have not given the new change the proper time to develop. Progression as it relates to your skills and abilities will take more time than you think since you are building new habits as well. This process takes time and a mindset based on slowly building new capabilities over time while planning for what new skills you need to develop next.



When you change your mindset from thinking about your skills and capabilities in terms of being static, and instead as being more fluid, you have an open rather than a fixed mindset. You are more willing to expose yourself to opportunities that are new. Rather than being closed off to new opportunities in your life, such as a new job, a new city, or a new partner, you start to think about your approach to these decisions as more of a process or an evolution. You are proactively making decisions instead of making reactive ones. Riding the wave and having a mindset toward progression is about asking yourself, “How will I make these changes and what new skills do I need to do it?” Progression changes how you view what is happening in your world and how you are responding to these factors, which also helps you to manage and meet the demands of changing conditions better. It’s a mindset based on pursuing what is new and leaving the old behind.


Once you have identified your new skills and your mindset    is based in progression, you will need to push yourself to do things that are uncomfortable and new. You will need to start working on the skills you planned for and focus on what you need to change in order to close the gaps to get there. A mindset of progression will, in a positive way, force you to start making changes and decisions that support your new vision. “If I’m going to do this, what will I need to change about myself? What do I need to do differently, and how can I start creating this new world I want to exist in?” These questions will help you determine which new skills and capabilities to build and help move you from where you currently are to where you want to go, but in a focused and disciplined manner. As you begin to add and develop the new skills, the context you are working in will need to change as well. It’s easy to start doing something differently and to make small artificial changes, but the larger changes that you are working toward will need to be supported by a new context as well.


The new journey will begin when you have created a new context to manage the change. You will need to drive the change yourself, but be supported by others who will also help make the new journey possible. You will find that some people who share your progressive mindset will be supportive with your process to change. Others, however, will want to keep the context the same and not let you become the new you. They will be comfortable with the old you, the old context, and the old way things were. They will see your push for change as a threat. Working to change the context for yourself will be important, but it will also change the context for others as well. It will be important to recognize this as it happens and to be open about what you are doing with others so that they will see why the change is necessary and that it’s ultimately not about them, but about you and your new journey. This will be important as you move from planning to building your world. Be prepared to work others through the process just as you are doing the same for yourself.



As you begin to change your mindset and develop your new skills and capabilities, you will need to free yourself from the risks associated with what you are doing and act as well as live without regret. You will most certainly make mistakes, ruffle some feathers, and do things that just simply fall flat. That’s part of the process and the important part of progression: testing what you think might work, having success or experiencing failure, learning from it, and moving forward because of it. Ask yourself, “What risks am I willing to take in order to achieve this?” Are you okay feeling embarrassed if you mess up? Can you accept bad results and not regret those decisions? You will need to test ideas in practice and then in reality. As much as you try to plan for challenges in advance, things will sometimes go sideways. Prototyping ideas, piloting them, and testing are not just strategies for business, but they can be applied to any aspect of your life and any challenge no matter how big or how small. You have no regrets when you approach challenges this way, and this mindset will give you the freedom to make bold new decisions.


When you explore things in your personal and professional life without regret and with a process that minimizes risk, you are more willing to accept failure. You can create a new sense of freedom with what you do. Instead of changes or challenges being an all-or-nothing approach, you have a way to overcome obstacles that creates a sense of new freedom and confidence to try things that were once perceived as risky. This new dynamic changes your ideas around what is possible, and there is a new sense of freedom with the way you live. Risk is viewed in terms of what is next, instead of something to be avoided. Over time, you will build new skills that will support you and bring you success, but there will be others that come and go as you embrace the changing conditions. Know that it is okay to progress this way and that it will help you feel less pressure and more confidence as well as make you more likely to enjoy the risks.


Ride the Wave is a strategic planning process for business, but it provides a universal lesson for anyone who wants to change, do something new, and not let risk dictate choices or success. During my personal journey through this process, I learned that with the new conditions and changes in sales and marketing, I had to embrace the conditions, change my mindset about how I developed new skills, and just get out there and explore risk to do something new. The new knowledge I acquired is powerful, and the process I developed has helped me find a new kind of stoke in both my personal and professional life. What I learned is a universal lesson that anyone can use to take on risk and overcome new challenges. There has never been a time when we’ve had more access to people, technology, information, and resources. Things are moving faster than ever, but this is no time to stand on the shore. It’s important that we all get out there and ride our own personal and professional waves.


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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