I wake up – the sun is shining and it’s 20 degrees in the middle of April; not a very common situation in San Sebastian where it rains 185 days a year. I have the typical Spanish breakfast which consists of talking more than eating (I really love it) and I have a look at the beach of La Zurriola where I have been surfing for many years. And there are they – big waves waiting to be ridded by… Me? Tough decision. But I take my surfboard and a little bit of courage and there I go! Because if I don’t give it a try, how will I improve my surfing? How will I be able to make any progress?
And this is it! Life, people, nature, companies, industries… The basis of humanity and its ecosystem has always been about only one thing: evolution. The human being is and will forever be conditioned by its own need to adapt itself to the change in order to survive. And so do businesses too. Either we adapt or we die. So, the question is now, how to survive in an always changing environment? How can companies manage the upcoming swell? How to know which wave to surf?
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” (Alan Kay). Alan Kay is an American computer scientist who is best known for his pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design. His sentence really inspired me because where would we be now if we wouldn’t have invented our future and innovate? I mean, you can’t invent a new ocean, but you can build a wave garden and decide the waves you want to ride. Just turn the tables and create a framework that you can predict and control to build your own future.
For the ones who are not that aware of the surfing industry, Wavegarden is a cutting-edge engineering company born in San Sebastian dedicated to the research, design, manufacture, installation, and operation of world-class wave generating systems and surfing lagoons. Yes, you read well, they kind of replicate a little ocean with real surf-able waves. Isn’t that amazing? If we reflect on this again, the first thought that comes to my mind is the following one: someone had to think about the crazy idea of replicating an ocean with surf-able waves and believe this was possible somehow.
Isn’t that gorgeous? As Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Very often, when we talk about innovation we refer to “problem-solving”, meaning that in order to innovate we first think of an existing problem and then we try to find a solution. Well, there is nothing wrong in this approach but if we only focus on “problem-solving”, of course that we will solve a concrete problem and improve but will we necessarily innovate?
What about Einstein’s imagination and our creative capacity? Going back to the example of Wavegarden, do you think they just focused on solving a problem or do you think, they maybe went further and allowed themselves to dream about how they wanted the future of the surfing industry to be like? Fantasy allows us to go to the next level. When cars didn’t exist, people just thought about faster horses except of someone who was able to imagine something which didn’t exist at that time and believed it was possible to achieve. If we don’t think big, we will never make a big impact.
So, what to do now? How should innovation be approached? Is it about solving problems or is it about dreaming? What is the best way to make innovation happen? Actually, the combination of both is the best. We need fantasy and pragmatism, fiction, and realism. A mix of qualities that reaffirm and contradict themselves, finding their balance through common sense. On one hand, we need fantasy to break down established barriers and feel, only this way, the freedom we need to think out of the box, to visualize the impossible and get all necessary energy to drive the vision of our future forward. We need passion.
On the other hand, if we really want our dreams to become real, we have to be pragmatic and calibrate our possibilities. We need focus. I mean, if my dream is to become Kelly Slater – eleven times winner of the world surfing championship, it won’t make any sense to think that I would achieve it tomorrow, especially if I never surfed. Everything in life has a learning process.
The thing is, if I don’t build my own vision for the future, if I don’t dream of becoming Kelly Slater, will I even learn to surf? And if I do, will I stay strong enough to confront and overcome the challenges I will meet during the path? Because every path has its own challenges.
One of the most challenging moments in surfing when the ocean is rough is getting in and paddling to the peak, for example. You have to face a tide of white foams and water walls that explodes above you. Did you know that a wave of just 1 meter high, 50 cm wide and 1,5 meters long weighs about 500 kg? So now imagine all this weight falling on your back over and over again. You must be a very strong, resilient, and positive person, otherwise you will lose control and end up being washed ashore again (and believe me, this is not funny).
So here we have it: strong, resilient, and positive – the three key skills that together with the vision of the future you invent for yourself, will help you to overcome the first bunch of waves until you get into the pick and will also lead you to your innovation goals. Because changes and uncertainty happen all time, everywhere. Because if we don’t invent our future, dream big and innovate to reach our goals, someone else will do it for us. Because if we don’t stay strong and positive, we will be washed ashore again. Let’s nurture passion with curiosity and stay focused to make it tangible. It’s all on us. If we want, we can.
Just think again the way you feel about innovation.
Olivia Mendiburu is a seasoned professional with expertise in sales, project management, digitalization, and innovation. She has worked with Siemens Financial Services for the past seven years in different countries. She is also a part of the Siemens Leadership Program which promotes talented women in the area of technology and innovation. In parallel, she is also leading as a freelancer an innovation project for the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona. Olivia is a creative enthusiast. She takes a keen interest in painting, photography and surfing.