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Surfing And The Art of Innovation.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 31, 2008

John Hagel and John Seeley Brown have written the most amazing piece on surfing and the lessons it teaches for innovation.

Let me crib:
“While all attention was on the athletes riding their surfboards, the technology and techniques used to master big wave surfing have evolved over decades, driven by dedicated, perhaps even obsessed, groups of athletes and craftsmen. Executives can gain significant insight into the innovation process by looking at this sport.”

What are the specific lessons?

Find your edge:
Greg Noll and other California surfers went to Hawaii to search for ever-bigger waves. They moved to the edge and began to change their boards and techniques to match tougher and tougher challengers. The edge is where business people need to be--anywhere in the world--to hone their competitive advantages.

Assemble your innovation hothouses:
Attract the very best to these places and set up shop to create.
"In the late 1950s, Waimea Bay, on the North Shore of Oahu, became the next test bed for athletes seeking to push the boundaries of big wave surfing. In the isolation of the North Shore, dedicated surfers spent eight to ten hours each day, every day, challenging themselves and each other on the big waves. The real advances in surfing technology and practices occurred at the breaks where surfers gathered and formed deep relationships over extended periods of time. They learned rapidly from each other and pushed each other to go to the next level."

There is more from these brilliant minds. And for the most wonderful description of the rise of modern surfing, check out John Hagel's site. It will make you cry with joy.

Reader Comments

Jon King

February 1, 2008 2:23 AM

Innovation lessons gleamed from this article are similar to those found in the book by Yvon Chounard: "let my people go surfing". Both much more interesting ways to approach growth then traditional means, and both complement each other... "must reads."

John Hagel

February 1, 2008 11:14 PM

Thanks for the praise - this was one of the most fun pieces to write. If anyone is looking for inspiration from big wave surfing, they should check out the outstanding documentary Riding Giants - it is visually powerful and the narrative helps to add texture to a lot of the innovation themes discussed in our column. We can't really grok the challenges of big wave surfing and appreicate the innovations without seeing video.

Frank Thiele

February 3, 2008 8:05 PM

Innovation is about passion. For me this is the main lesson to learn from the surfing example.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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