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Boardroom: Lessons from Surfing (1) – In the Water

The first rule of surfing is that if you want to learn to surf, you have to get in the water and go surfing. There is no substitute for time in the water actually trying to do it.

All the articles you read, videos you watch, dreams you may-or-may-not have about how enjoyable surfing might be, how much fun you’ll have and how good you might get, mean nothing (nothing!) if you don’t get in the water.

Near-domain experience (snow- or skate- or bodyboarding) will help, but it still feels fair to say that you can’t really understand a video of someone surfing until you’ve had a proper go at doing it yourself. You might ‘understand’ some of the fundamentals in the abstract, in the same way that you understood about changing gears in a car with a manual gearbox before you learnt to actually drive one, but the gulf between theory and practice-in-the-context-of-sensory-overwhelm is so vast that at first the theory means nothing.

So What?

I have found this to be true of almost everything I’ve ever learned, and particularly those things that happen in real time in a context that’s beyond your control. Learning to drive; learning to speak a new language outside the classroom; learning to juggle; contact sports; in my limited experience of combat sports and military training; plumbing; parenting; manual camerawork; public speaking or performance; working to build organisations and programs that serve people in poor communities. The less kind (the more wicked) the learning environment is, the truer this becomes.

For the art you wish to learn, for the craft you wish to acquire or perfect, and for the change you want to learn how to make… you have to get into the water.


DO the thing you’re learning about before you touch another secondary source.

See Also:

The Toolkit – Part 0: Action. Now. (1) – action first (also posts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 2: Do it Now
Do it now: Fred Rogers on action, life and learning
Malcolm Gladwell on creativity, quality and quantity
Marc Andreessen on Scar Tissue, Trying and Failing in the Probabilistic Domain
Setting the bar low

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...