Competitive sport and the creative process

The giant wave of disruption in a literal version: surf lessons

The journalistic notes, the academic researches and the reports of consultants on innovation have a favourite metaphor territory: that of natural cataclysms. Exponential technologies are “meteorites” and traditional business models are “tectonic plates” which move and cause earthquakes in the economy. But perhaps the most cited analogy is that of the disruptive tsunami, where most people will have to surf giant waves to keep us afloat.

There is a sport where this last metaphor and reality merge into a single entity. For history, philosophy and openness to creativity, surfing has dozens of points of contact with the innovation agenda. Beginning with its rate of change and unique reinvention: in recent years, the diffusion of tow surfing (surfing by tow, where a person transfers the watercraft to the surfer hundreds of meters offshore, impossible to reach only through swimming with the table) allowed to multiply several times the height of surfable waves, which in their most recent records exceed 30 meters.

The phenomenon is explained in several books and documentaries. In Take Every Wave, available on Netflix, tells the life of Laird Hamilton, born in 1964 in San Francisco and raised in Hawaii, a legend of sport but, above all, according to his colleagues, a born innovator, who thinks of techniques, new materials and new technologies to overcome. His discovery and diffusion of big wave surfing summarize several lessons:

* Momento Eureka: Hamilton says that the idea of surfing by trailer came up with a relaxed day, when he was doing water skiing with a friend who was riding a jet ski while exploring the sea. The occurrences usually come in these moments in which the filter of attention opens, but from a previous process in which one thinks a lot – sometimes obsessively – in the challenge. Hamilton wanted to solve something: the beaches of Hawaii – the backyard of his childhood and adolescence – were overpopulated with surfers and you had to find ways to decongest these places.

* There is a very direct analogy between highly competitive sport and the creative process: there is an equation in which the sum of a lapse of stress and demand and another of rest and recovery results in results. In sports, it has been demonstrated that to improve a muscle or a skill it is necessary to challenge it, adding intensity and duration for a period. Then comes a recovery and rest period. Repetition and consistency are key. The students of creative processes distinguish, analogously, a stage of immersion -with focus and commitment to an issue or problem to be solved-; a second of “incubation” or maturation of the idea, in which the mind relaxes and works the unconscious, and a “Eureka moment” or “aha!”, the epiphany that can arrive at the least anticipated time. * Comfortable in discomfort: Big wave surfing is a very high-risk sport that takes several lives per year. Hamilton was asked if his internal thermometer had been broken to assess risks. The American athlete replied that since childhood he had felt terror so many times in the sea that, somehow, he learned to relate to fear and to use it to his advantage. In his book Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg spoke with surf world champion Nic Lamb, who told him that one of his mental keys was to learn to “feel comfortable in discomfort.” This area is not naturally pleasing to anyone, but it can be trained by “stretching” the sports routine beyond the preconceptions, “choosing to say ‘yes’ when our body and mind say ‘no’,” says Lamb. “There is a lot of scientific evidence in psychology that shows how self-control can be exercised like a muscle, and that this can start with physical routine, but it moves very directly into cognitive work.”

* Literature and high performance: More and more scientific research links the agenda of innovation with that of well-being and sports, tells LA NACION Lucia Gagliardini, director of a DeRose Method school and student of the theme on “future of well-being” and “this is a round trip between the physical and the cognitive”. Among the best sellers that address these crossroads are Barbarian Days, where journalist William Finnegan tells how surfing is more than a sport “away”; The Wave, another non-fiction book where Susan Casey tells stories about surfing and monster waves, and Yvon Chouinard’s classic book My People Go Surfing, recently reissued,

* Flow and passion: The stories of extreme surfers and climbers are the favourites of the students of the process known as “flow”, or “enter the area” for high-competitive sport. A state where the ego is suspended, the focus becomes extreme and creativity and performance multiply. Hamilton’s engine was his passion: he and his friends spent years without telling anyone about surfing with a trailer – with a high opportunity cost – to be able to enjoy the waves alone.

* Cross-pollination and next adjacent: Hamilton had to leave “the box” of traditional surfing to imagine the surpassing version, but for it was devoted for years to an intermediate step, windsurfing, where he brought ideas and new materials to give the disruptive jump In innovation this is called moving by “adjacent adjacent” – which is the path that usually has great ideas – and take advantage of knowledge of another discipline (cross-pollination).

* Focus on the process, not the result: Stulberg calls to focus more on the processes than on the results. “Achievements are usually a motivational fuel, but we often put too much emphasis on them – which may include a significant share of chance – and not on the incremental steps involved in the process,” he says. This leads to tolerate failure better and to keep the passions in a state of harmony and not obsessively. The expert in high competence believes that the first ones -which are healthy passions- are energized by intrinsic motivations, and the second ones depend on external validation and are much more fragile to failure. North Shore, before age 20, to earn some money that would allow him to continue surfing quietly).

* Diversity: In its origins, it was a “club of males”, but today surfing has diversity age, gender and nationalities among its fans. If you write “surf” and “Hamilton” on Google, most of the results do not refer to Laird, but to Bethany, a surfer born in 1991, a star of the sport even after a shark ate her left arm.

* Numbers game: Creativity is a numbers game, explains UC psychology professor Davies Dean Simonton. That is, persistence pays more than ever. “In surfing, there are waves for everyone, each one is different, but you always know that you will have a rematch, as in business”, tells LA NACION the social entrepreneur and surfer from Mar del Plata Lolo Schauer. The title of the documentary about Hamilton alludes to this phenomenon, not to speculate as a philosophy of life. “Take every wave”: “Grab all the waves”.

In the photo: Surfer and DeRose Method practitioner Ricardo Cabrita

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