The Ethos of Skateboarding

The other day I was out with my dog exploring my new neighbourhood, when I came across a skateboard park that I never noticed before.  As I approached, I could see young people of all shapes and sizes exploring the park.  I was struck by a couple of things, including that, although skateboarding is an individual sport, there was a lot of collaboration being played out in the form of encouragement and quiet competition.  This made me think about how creative organizations operate when they are at their best.  It seems to me that there is some common ground to explore.

Skateboarding is all about persistence and practice. Tricks are repeated over and over, with many spectacular crashes and falls along the way to mastering a move. Some riders are more gifted than others, but the majority of mastery comes from putting in the time to get it right.  Learning comes from observing others and seeing how they do a move.  In fact, most of the time the riders are waiting for their turn, but the time is well spent by observing what their fellow riders are doing.  A second way they learn is by crowd feedback.  When you come close, but do not quite master that new move, there are groans from the audience.  When you crash, there are howls of laughter and trash talk from the sidelines.  And when you finally nail that move, there is cheering and clapping from the sidelines.

Skateboarding is about doing it for your own satisfaction, but it also about doing it for the audience.  Whether you like it or not, at the park, you’re being watched.  This pushes you to do better, because you don’t want to let down your audience.  In addition, you are always in quiet competition with your fellow skateboarders.  Nothing is written down about who is the best, but it is easy to see that there is an unwritten hierarchy that is constantly evolving at the park.  The boarders code is learn, perfect, and move up the invisible ladder.

Media played a big role as well.  In addition to the boards and helmets, video cameras and mobile phones were part of the equipment.  Video was constantly being taken to capture the moment forever and for all to see.  YouTube is full of videos of the best and the worst of skateboarding.  It helps propel the sport forward and provides a greater audience beyond the skate park.

The one thing I did not see at the park was a lot of instruction.  Nobody was teaching another person a trick.  Instead, you saw learning through observing, trying, failing, and repeating until perfection arrives.

As communicators, we need to push ourselves further by mastering newer and more difficult techniques.  While continuing to learn our craft, we must observe those around so that we can master the fundamentals and innovate where others have not.  We need to listen to the audience, because they quickly will tell us if we are on the right track.  Lastly, don’t forget to show your work, both good and bad.  By putting yourself out there you are showing the world where you stand and what you are made of.

I see the skateboarding world paving the way for new type of collaboration and innovation.  As the boarders move from the park to the boardroom, a new age of business innovation and collaboration will arrive.  Are we ready?

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  • Jeremiah Doubt

    Thom, came across your entry wanted to spread the good word. Hello to everyone at the St. John group!

  • Jeremiah Doubt

    Thom, came across your entry wanted to spread the good word. Hello to everyone at the St. John group!

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