Wipeout: What Business Leaders Can Learn About Failure From Surfers


In business failure is rarely an option, but in surfing failure is not just an option but a requirement. Even the best surfers wipeout every time they enter the water.  This is an important life lesson from surfing.  If you are going to fail, you have to learn to fail the right way.

When Bella, LeaderSurf's ISA (International Surfing Association) certified surf instructors teaches the first surfing lesson to LeaderSurf participants, the lesson begins with a focus on safety. Surfing is an inherently dangerous sport, but the dangers can be minimized by following the correct safety precautions.  Bella's safety lesson focuses on how to fail safely.  An interesting concept for a group of accomplished business leaders who are not accustomed to failure.  There is actually a right way to wipeout and a wrong way.  Head first is clearly the wrong way.  When falling off a surfboard, the goal is to minimize the impact and to protect ones' body from the ocean floor, rocks, other surfers and the board.  To do this a surfer should try to fall in a starfish position so as not to plunge too deep.  When surfacing it is important to keep ones' hands above the head so as not to get hit in the head with the surfboard.  These seem like somewhat obvious tips, but during a surfer's first few tumbles it is easy to forget this advise.

Bella how to wipeout

Image teaching leaders how to fail gracefully at work?  If we made failure not only an option but a requirement at work, would we innovate faster and would we create more success for our organizations?  I have adopted the philosophy that failure is not finite and that all failure is learning.  The more I fail the more I learn.  This philosophy changes my risk tolerance.  I take more risks because I know that the learnings from the risks will always out way the costs.  Dale Dauten an author I admire once said, "Experiments never fail".  I love that quote and find it a good one to live by.  

Learn to wipeout

Failure builds resilience a leadership competency that is becoming increasingly valuable in the business world.  Learning to surf teaches many life lessons, but the art of wiping out the right way is one of the most valuable lessons for business leaders.  If you knew how to fail more effectively at work, would you take more risks and would your organization iterate faster?