Innovation is all around us. We encounter its results regularly in our jobs as engineers. But, thinking about the concept more broadly for this blog, I was struck by an example from a Business Week article on Kelly Slater.
Now, I’m not a surfer. I swim, bike and run (sometimes all together in mini-triathlons) but even I’d heard of Slater, whom the magazine described as “the world’s best and best-known surfer.” So I had to wonder what he was doing in a magazine devoted to business, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Well, it turns out Slater accomplished the ultimate goal of the surfing community. His quest to innovate led him to make the “near perfect man-made wave.” You can see video of him surfing this feat of modern ingenuity on the BusinessWeek site.
What struck me in the article was the familiarity of his process. It started with the concept to make a perfect wave, 7 – 8 feet, with a much coveted “right break” (why this is so special is unclear from the article, and a cursory Internet search for the answer didn’t help me differentiate why the right break is better than any other kind).
From concept, Slater and his team endured a long phase of expensive and speculative engineering involving prototypes and yes, research labs, to get it right.
Then, he finally experienced the excitement of getting it right — and promptly put it on Instagram.
At every step of the way we could relate to the struggle for him and his team. Even down to the elation and social media sharing of the success — I’ve seen many of my customers’ videos of their products “getting it right.” Although, they’re typically wearing more than swimsuits!
With the case of the man-made wave innovation, as usual, you have the supporters and the nay-sayers. The nay-sayers believe that mechanical waves take away from the exotic nature of surfing. Supporters believe this could open up the sport to resorts, competition in the Olympic games, and expand the sport to places in the world where oceans don’t exist.
All in all, this is not so different than developing a new chemical application. Having pursued his goal through creation, evolution, and refining, Slater has now found an investor to fund and grow the technology. It’s exciting to see innovative minds succeed — whether it’s chemicals or “cowabunga dude” success changing the face of surfing.